Choose Your Illusion: Philosophy, Self-Deception, and Free Choice

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Abstract
Illusionism treats the almost universally held belief in our ability to make free choices as an erroneous, though beneficent, idea. According to this view, it is sadly true, though virtually impossible to believe, that none of a person’s choices are avoidable and ‘up to him’: any claim to the effect that they are being naïveté or, in the case of those who know better, pretense. Indeed, the implications of this skepticism are so disturbing, pace Spinoza, that it must not be allowed to see the light of intellectual day, confined to the nether regions of consciousness. Even those who have ‘done the philosophy’ and disabused themselves here should nevertheless (somehow) continue believing in free will, lest they come to regard our lives as meaningless, spreading despair and social upheaval. Thus, the “Illusionists” who propound this view are themselves circumspect. But is escaping the (putative) truth really possible here? Could a disabused philosopher ever return to something like his former intellectual innocence? Self-deception may not be possible; but would an attempt at it reveal anything significant about choice formation? If one were to try to regain one’s illusion, what would one realize? I shall argue here that one would reflectively discover precisely the opposite of what the Illusionists contend- that there are indeed free choices. Let us begin by considering the inconsistency that supposedly entails the illusion of free will.
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Archival date: 2020-08-20
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