eventually killed by the fact that they depend on the definitions of concepts (such as the concept of free will) that have never been reduced to low-level explanations.
Shall we give this reductionistic exercise a go then? I cannot guarantee a real answer, but this question has potential.
Ok, what is Free Will? Is it something inherent to us or was it acquired? What are the conditions necessary for an entity to say its free will is achieved? Do animals have free will? Must an entity be capable of thought to be considered to have free will? Does free will really exist?
A few basic questions to ask before we can really shred free will down to its basic components.
1) What is free will?
I have good faith that everyone is an independent sentient being who has their own purpose in life, just like me, and are not mindless robots put here by an alien race to entertain me or something similar. One must determine one's own destiny and if someone gives one a destiny, one must first accept it... or fight the power.
A cell must decide whether to turn malignant or continue to contribute to the whole.
A seal must decide whether to catch fish for its offspring... or try and hump a penguin.
And of course, humans have their lives to decide.
I believe that in the greater scheme of things, free will is the chaotic factor in the various evolutionary cycles that brings variety to the order of the cosmos.
2) Is free will inherent?
I believe that as long as a choice is available, free will exists. It does not really matter what kind of choice it is, as long as both paths lead to different endings. What else really matters?
Animals have choices too, even cells have their choices. I'll bet plants do on some level.
3) What are the conditions necessary to say an entity has achieved free will?
In the context of humans, this is not an easy question to answer since we are a finicky and illogical bunch. To a lot of people free will is simply the absence of binding to do what they want within the confines of their morality... but can we say a person who chooses to be bound is operating on his or her own free will?
Is the refusal of free will free will? Its certainly a choice, so by my standards the answer is yes. A refusal to choose is a choice, a simple addition to the paths laid out.
In fact this cuts to the heart to what I believe to be the nature of choices, which I have a hunch are not discrete, but continuous; there are no finite amount of choices, but an infinity of them. It is only through a level of generalization that there appear to be a finite number, which is limited by our imagination and cognitive capability.
So taking that in account, the true probability of every action we take is actually 0. Every living breathing moment we are doing the impossible, seeing the invisible, ROW ROW FIGHT THE POWAH. Either that or I am losing sight of reality as we accept it again.
4) Do animals have free will?
The BBC would have us believe that.
5) Must an entity be capable of thought to have free will?
Well I believe I have somewhat answered that question, but have yet to put it together very concisely yet.
If all that is required of an entity to have free will is the availability of a choice, and the nature of choices is continuous and infinite, the presence of thought seems nothing more than a happy bonus.
That chair you sit on and the mouse you are using the scroll this paragraph have free will as well. Of course not on the same level as you, that would be creepy and just plain crazy.
6) Does free will really exist?
After saying all that, this would really seem a no-brainer question, but is it really?
What is existence? If something is all pervasive does it really exist? Or is it merely just another natural law?
What if something can only exist if it can also be nonexistent? Like air, water, the sun, the moon, you and me. If it has always existed, how would we know if it does not exist? If we cannot know if it does not exist, how would we know if it really exists?
I guess we could look to gravitation and infer that if it were to disappear we would start floating off the crumbling earth shortly before we are engulfed by the massive wave of nuclear fire from our sun that is now unbound and be destroyed and obliterated at levels most of us cannot comprehend yet. So yeah free will exists, but I wanted to be sure.
So what is free will?
An artifact of the continuous and infinite universe.