September 25, 2020

Free Will in Scientific Psychology

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Free Will in Scientific Psychology
Roy F. Baumeister

“In my opinion, it would be a mistake for psychologists to argue about whether free will exists and to debate the conceptual details. Philosophers and others have already spent centuries refining the concepts through such argument, and repeating their work would not be a good use of time and effort. In comparison with philosophers, psychologists are amateurs at conceptual refinement and debate but are specialists at conducting experimental tests of causal hypotheses. Our expertise is thus not well suited for ascertaining the existence or nonexistence of free will, which is probably impossible to prove. Psychology’s contribution lies elsewhere. Psychologists should focus on what we do best: collecting evidence about measurable variance in behaviors and inner processes and identifying consistent patterns in them. With free will, it seems most productive for psychologists to start with the well-documented observation that some acts are freer than others. As already noted, dissonance, reactance, coping with stress, and other behaviors have been shown in the laboratory to depend on variations in freedom and choice. Hence, it is only necessary to assume that there are genuine phenomena behind those subjective and objective differences in freedom. In a nutshell, we should explain what happens differently between free and unfree actions. Thus, the optimal agenda for psychology would be to find out what people mean when they use concepts of freedom, choice, and responsibility in their daily lives and then to illuminate the inner processes that produce those phenomena.” -pg 15-16

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