My friend Tom and I were discussing free will last weekend. Tom believes in free will; I don't. In other words, Tom believes that, in at least some cases, people could have chosen, at the same point in time and under the same exact exterior and interior circumstances, to do other than what they ended up doing. I, on the other hand, believe that they could not have acted other than how they did.
I explained to Tom something I've posted here previously. I said I believe that all choices we make are more or less complicated versions of the following scenario: You must choose between chocolate or vanilla ice cream, you love chocolate and hate vanilla, and you have no overriding reason to choose against your strong preference. Under those exact circumstances, you could only choose chocolate; you could not choose vanilla.
But Tom wasn't buying this, and he came up with the following hypothetical: Suppose you have an absolutely equal liking for chocolate and vanilla ice cream and no conscious or unconscious inclination of any kind to choose one over the other. Wouldn't a person in that situation be free to choose either alternative? That is, no matter which choice he made, wouldn't he have been able, at that time and under those same circumstances, to choose the other flavor instead?
I told Tom about Buridan's Ass--a hypothetical mule that starves to death because he can't choose between two equidistant and equally appealing bundles of hay. But Tom says that in my scenario, one must make a choice between alternatives. I replied that I'd have to think about his hypothetical addition to my scenario.
I have thought about it, and I tentatively conclude that it's virtually impossible to actually choose one course of action over alternatives without that choice being the inevitable effect of some cause the existence of which makes the effect or choice inevitable. Otherwise, I believe that a person would, like Buridan's hapless mule, be paralyzed with indecision.
But I said this was my "tentative conclusion," for I want to give the matter more thought. So, Tom, if you're reading this, stay tuned for further developments.
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