I came upon this blog via the Small Wars Journal this morning.: the Kings of War. It’s run by a group of students at the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London, and just looks superb. Great discussions, great topics, and a really nifty organizational scheme. Wow.
For once, I also browsed the headlines in the NYT this morning, and came across this interesting article on free will, human agency, and responsibility, by Galen Strawson. Very interesting, and not a little depressing. However, I’m not sure I agree with his roman-numeral extrapolations from the Basic Argument, first because the drawing on Ian McEwen’s writing, is just weak (what exactly does “ownership” mean?), and second because I’m sensing a shaky assumption in the suppressed major premise–and that is, the suggestion that the human brain has no ability to sort and categorize the sensory data from which the state of being, or “how one is,” to use his expression, draws its substance. In a metaphysical sense, perhaps, we are not truly “free” (cue the Nietzsche quoted in the article), but in my opinion the phenomenon of choice still exists every day regardless of external conditioning.
Say someone runs into me on the street. Whether I simply say “hey, watch where you’re going” or instead turn, haul off, and sock it to the person, depends on a lot of different factors, not least of which is a lengthy social conditioning in the avoidance of the use of force in daily human interactions. If, however, I sense that it could be the beginning of an assault, that sense will factor into my response–which, given conditioning and training, would also almost certainly be defensive. But the choice of aggressive action is always there, and is actively considered, even if only for a moment–and even if it is only considered within those years of external influences, that still constitutes a contingency. [Thinking of this in military terms, Clausewitz comes to mind, as there is much in warfare that could bear on this discussion…but that’s for another time.]
That’s just an example that came to mind–buying lotto tickets even when you haven’t won lately could be another. The point is that, social conditioning notwithstanding, I think it is the way (mentally, psychologically, neurologically, biochemically, whatever) that we internally process this conditioning which creates choice, whether within the conditioning or even sometimes external to it. So, yes, I do think I believe in some kind of free will, this very elegant article notwithstanding. If that makes me a bit of Pelagian (in theological terms), so be it. But, I could be wrong…