Free Will and Ethics

By on June 10th, 2014 in Ethics, Societal Impact

The June 2014 issue of Scientific American has a paper on “The World Without Free Will“.  The article does not consider the existence of free will, but the impact of the perceived lack of free will on behaviour.  Students who were introduced to text suggesting that man does not have free will where more lenient in hypothetical criminal sentencing, but also more likely to “lie, cheat, steal and feed hot sauce to rude people“. In effect, the authors suggests that memes that deprecate free will may lower the inclination towards ethical action on the part of receptive communities.

The legal system impact is perhaps well addressed in Figments of Reality by Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen (1997) in their chapter “We Wanted to Have a Chapter on Free Will, but we Decided not to, so Here it is.” In which the Judge responds to the convicted criminal’s “no-free-will” plea with complete agreement and laments that he too is without free will, and must sentence the miscreant to jail.

So, are we creatures enslaved by the inevitability of determinism?  Comment if you must.  Or perhaps more in line with SSIT’s challenges — are ethics meaningful in a deterministic world?