17 Jun 2013, 03:11

Discussions with Seminary Students on Free Will


Discussions with Seminary Students on Free Will

Originally submitted by emil10001 on Thu, 12/02/2010 - 14:02

I have a completed four discussions that will be used for my paper. I have included the full, uncut, discussions after the jump.

According to various experimental philosophy papers, the folk intuitions on Free Will are that of Dualist Libertarians. This is in opposition to the views of the philosophical community, whose majority identify themselves as Physicalist Compatibilists. I think that if we take the view that Free Will is an important topic, and that differing views of Free Will shape our discussions of other important topics, then we need to be concerned about the folk intuitions. What I would like to do is to try to start a dialog with people who epitomize the folk intuitions. It seems to me that the Dualist Libertarian view has its roots in the religious tradition, so naturally, seminary students would be good subjects for my discussion.

I would like to try to nail down how they view people, souls and in what sense we have free will, and how those views impact their views of responsibility. Then, I would like to try to tease out situations in which their intuitions fail them, and try to suggest that we should be cautious of leaning too heavily on our intuitions. I will then try to argue that while it may be useful for church-goers to hold these views on Sunday, it may not be wise to allow them the rest of the week. Rather, we should try to focus on more consequentialist views of responsibility.

The first discussion was with Derek. He is in seminary to become a Methodist pastor. His basic view, regarding the topic at hand, was that people have souls, and those souls have one truly free choice, whether or not to accept God. The other decisions are all known to God before you make them. During the discussion, we addressed some of the inconstancies in his views, and whether or not the soul was necessary. The discussion was just about exactly what I was hoping for, we disagreed on a fair amount at the beginning. By the end, in light of my arguments about Free Will and the impact that it has on moral responsibility, we were able to agree that it might be a good thing for society not to worry so much about holding people morally accountable.

Derek (2h 8m):


The second discussion that I had was with Ian. He is in seminary to become an Episcopalian minister. His views were a bit difficult to nail down exactly. Although, it turned out that he agreed with my basic stance from the beginning. While there wasn’t much progress to be made, we did have a good discussion none-the-less.

Ian (1h 4m):


I posted on Reddit to see if I could get a couple more participants, and luckily, I did! My third discussion was with Jackson Wiley. He is currently working on a philosophy paper using Free Will as an argument against evil. His basic position was that our bodies limit the sort of Free Will that we have, and that we might be more free in certain circumstances.

Jackson (53m):


I had one final discussion with fellow Redditor taev on this topic. This one was a bit more tricky, as we started off by getting off track. That was my fault, but I thought that it was a good diversion. Taev is probably the closest to what has been described as the folk view. By the end of the conversation, we were able to find some common ground and agree on some important points.

taev (1h 14m):


The main objection to taking this approach is that I will be disappointed with what the seminary students have to say on the topic of Free Will. That they have likely not given much thought to the idea and will have a hard time backing up their position. So far, I have been very happy with what I have found, and thought there there were some interesting views there. For instance, both Ian and Derek started out with a view that was along the lines of a compatibilist already, which I found quite surprising.

I’m sure that there is a lot of material to discuss here, especially in the first discussion. I was very happy with both of these, and I think that these are the types of discussions worth having with people who have opposing views. The discussions were pleasant, respectful and interesting. I certainly learned a lot in the process.

Here is the outline that I used, including the thought experiments. Here is the survey that shows the leanings of the philosophical community.

Original comments on r/DebateAChristian, r/Philosophy, r/Atheism.

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