Never was the West’s wholesale flight from philosophy and a classic education more evident than in the title of this peer-reviewed paper: Prosocial Benefits of Feeling Free: Disbelief in Free Will Increases Aggression and Reduces Helpfulness.
How could we have forgotten that it is impossible—not unlikely, impossible—to “disbelieve in free will”? Answer: scientism, the curious belief that science and only science is fit to answer all questions. In order to believe you must have free will because to believe is an act of will, and to believe in one proposition is to disbelieve in its contrary; therefore, in order to disbelieve you must have free will.
The paper appears in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and it’s by Roy Baumeister, E.J. Masicampo, and C. Nathan DeWall.
The abstract begins with the words, “Laypersons’ belief in free will may foster a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy, thereby promoting helpfulness and reducing aggression, and so disbelief in free will may make behavior more reliant on selfish, automatic impulses and therefore less socially desirable.”
Laypersons. Laypersons are those unfortunate souls who are not trained in the Ways of Science and who cling to superstitions like they are rational beings.
To paraphrase the abstract: since people believe they can make free choices, the free choices they make are better than the free choices they make when they disbelieve they can make free choices.
Preposterous isn’t in it. Yet there it is. And here is more. The opening words, worth paying attention to:
Belief in free will seems widespread and intuitive. Almost every person every day has the subjective impression of making a choice in which more than one outcome is possible. The most influential religious beliefs in Western culture give prominent emphasis to doctrines of free will, assuming that human individuals can freely choose whether to perform virtuous or sinful actions and even stating that eternal judgment of individual souls rests on the choices they make. Likewise, the legal system allocates guilt and punishment differentially based on whether the rule breaker could have acted differently such that perceived reductions in the capacity for free choice (including external pressures, lack of awareness, mental illness, or intense emotion) constitute valid reasons for reduced punishment or even acquittal.
We could spend a week on this. Almost every person? Phffag. Every person. And why pick on religion, why single out jurisprudence? I’ll tell you why, because these are the areas, religion and the common law, which intellectuals are most keen on dismantling. Now that’s a judgement of psychology and not philosophy, but it’s not made lightly. Here are the authors’ next words:
Intellectuals and scientists, however, seem rather less uniformly comfortable with the idea of free will than the general public. Many scientists regard the belief in free will as untenable if not downright absurd…Although not explicitly siding with them, Wegner (2002) summarized the opposition to free will as embodying the assumption that only “bad scientists” could believe such a thing.
Do the authors consider themselves good scientists?
How in the holy heckfire do you congratulate yourself for believing you cannot believe! The only possible answer is insanity. Scientists are driven mad by love of their pure and perfect theories. They have become Pygmalion.
Authors: “To be sure, the impossibility of free will cannot be proven either empirically or conceptually.”
The reason it cannot be proven impossible is that it exists. You cannot prove that which exists does not exist, though you might conduce somebody a few slices short of a loaf to believe that which exists does not—you might even convince them that what does not or cannot exist does, like bigfoot or Utopia.
The rest of the paper is given over to “experiments” where groups of college kiddies are exposed to the researchers’ particularities and then the kiddies fill out questionnaires. The questionnaires are given numerical answers and technologically sounding names. This is what makes it science. There are statistics and wee p-values. None of this is of the slightest interest.
The end the paper with this:
The broader implication is that many people in Western culture share a belief in human freedom of action and that, moreover, human society benefits from such a belief. (Indeed, we suspect that most cultures will have found beliefs in free will to be socially beneficial and hence will tend to favor and promote those beliefs.)
I despair, I despair.
Thanks to Mangan (@Mangan150) where I first learned of this paper.