Monday, June 11, 2012

Gregg Caruso's "Free Will and Consciousness"

Gregg Caruso is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Humanities Department at Corning Community College, SUNY.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will, and reported the following:
Free Will and Consciousness argues two main things: The first is that there is no such thing as free will—at least not in the sense most ordinary folk take to be central or fundamental; the second is that the strong and pervasive belief in free will can be accounted for through a careful analysis of our phenomenology and a proper theoretical understanding of consciousness. Page 99 does a reasonably good job representing the thrust of the whole. It focuses on the question “Is consciousness necessary for free will?” and sets up a lengthy discussion of recent advances in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences. These developments indicate that much of what we do takes place at an automatic and unaware level, and that our commonsense belief that we consciously initiate action may be mistaken. They also indicate that the causes that move us are often less transparent to ourselves than we might assume—diverging in many cases from the conscious reasons we provide to explain and/or justify our actions. Such findings are threatening to our ordinary conception of free will since they reveal that the higher mental processes that have traditionally served as quintessential examples of free will—such as goal pursuits, evaluation and judgment, reasoning and problem solving, interpersonal behavior, and action initiation and control—can and often do occur in the absence of conscious choice or guidance. They also reveal just how wide open our internal psychological processes are to the influence of external stimuli and events in our immediate environment, without knowledge or awareness of such influence.

Page 99 begins by noting that historically there have been those who have attacked the notion of free will (and compatibilist free will in particular) by appealing to a Freudian or psychoanalytic understanding of the unconscious mind.
Freud, for example, “considered human behavior to be determined mainly by biological impulses and the unconscious interplay of the psychic forces those impulses put into motion” (Bargh and Chartrand 1999, 462). Since the individual was described as usually unaware of these intrapsychic struggles and of their causal effects on his or her behavior, Freud denied the existence of free will. In a similar fashion, John Hospers (1950a, 1950b) has argued that compatibilism is founded on a superficial view of being compelled. According to Hospers, compatibilists proceed as though all compulsion were external, but in fact psychoanalysis shows that there is deep inward compulsion. “What is not welcome news,” Hospers maintains, “is that our very acts of volition, and the entire train of deliberations leading up to them, are but facades for the expression of unconscious wishes, or rather, unconscious compromises and defenses” (1950a, 390-91). Hence, according to Hospers: “We talk about free-will, and we say, for example, the person is free to do so-and-so if he can do so if he wants to—and we forget that his wanting to is itself caught up in the stream of determinism, that unconscious forces drive him into the wanting or not wanting to do the thing in question” (1950a, 392).
Immediately following this, however, I note:
The argument I wish to make here, however, is significantly different than those of Freud and Hospers. My argument will be based, not on an outdated Freudian account of the unconscious, but on a modern understanding of what we can call the adaptive unconscious (Wilson 2002). I will argue that automatic and unconscious processes—which control far more of our day-to-day lives than previously believed—create a problem for compatibilism (and defenders of free will generally) because they undermine our folk-psychological understanding of free will and moral responsibility. I maintain that to whatever extent unconscious cognitive states and processes determine our actions, to that extent our actions fail to be free.
Although page 99 does not fully capture the unique contribution of the book—which is an account of the conscious phenomenology that gives rise to our persistent impression that we do act freely—it does highlight one of the main themes of the book, which is the relationship between free will and consciousness.
Read more about Free Will and Consciousness at the publisher's website, and visit Gregg Caruso's website.

--Marshal Zeringue