Note that the site is in archived, read-only mode. You can browse and read, but posting is disabled.
Welcome to Anarchy101 Q&A, where you can ask questions and receive answers about anarchism, from anarchists.

Note that the site is in archived, read-only mode. You can browse and read, but posting is disabled.


+2 votes
I mean "free will" in the metaphysical sense (something like this:, that is, for every action you do, you *could* have done otherwise (the opposite of determinism).

I ask this partially because I have had several conversations with non-anarchists who were shocked to learn that I don't believe, and never really have believed, in free will. It went something like, "But...isn't freedom what you are all about!?"
by (410 points)

Not to be annoying or anything, but you need to fix your link. Take out the parenthesis at end on the link. :^) I'm more of a determinist, possibly a compatibilist, but I can't write that much about it at the current moment that would sound coherent..

4 Answers

+3 votes

i'd never considered the question before, but i like it.

i see life as a paradox. i don’t subscribe to a binary view of free will vs. determinism. i have a choice of actions and thought - i know this because i’ve consciously imagined and/or chosen things that happened –  and, whatever actions i took could only have happened the way they did - i know this because they happened. or from a linear perspective, “free will” takes a perspective of the future, and “determinism” views things from the past. i don’t see it as a distinction to make between one or the other.

i see the relatedness between this view and my anarchic impulses in that both reject the notion of an authoritative answer. i think both also have to do with listening to creative impulses. i came to embrace each view differently, however. i began to see the paradox in life mostly through a lot of thought (my own and others) and reflection over the years, whereas my desire for anarchy gathered strength primarily by listening to the feelings and sensations (physical and emotional) i experienced when confronted with authority. not that each understanding came about in only one way, but i took different routes and experiences in coming to them.

by (8.5k points)
edited by
+2 votes

The belief/disbelief in this binary plays little, if any, part in my sense of anarchy. The short of it is that I dislike the worldview it arises within and within which it finds its relevance. And I don't find the notion of 'free will'  all that anarchic.

When people use this binary it may be helpful to question them:

Are you speaking of absolute Freedom? If yes, how is this possible as sensuous bodies always somewhere, conditioned, whereas 'absolute' has always tried to mean that which is unconditioned?

If no, are you speaking of a kinda/sorta freedom qualified as 'within reason,' that is, determined by some sorta fuzzy limitation? What are these determinations? How do you come to know them? How can they be non-arbitrary determinations?

And so on...

1. What I've usually experienced is a conviction based in absolutes or a confusion of that conviction mixed with a loose determinism; clinging emotionally to an absurd (anti-?)concept while rationally contradicting that concept; conditioning what's held to be unconditional ('absolute').

Additionally, the notion of 'free will' is based in 'the law of identity (A=A),' that 'A' (or 'I') is or may be a thing-which-acts, a thing-in-itself-which-causes-effects. This further presupposes yet another binarism between body and ____: soul, mind, spirit, genes, etc., since 'the body' changes without our will, consent, our 'causing' to happen, 'its' dependent upon food, water, sex, sensuousness, which these type of folks often try to distance themselves from with lingo like 'the senses'. 'The body' thus cannot be included...but one simply can't move where one 'wills' without one. I've yet to encounter a disembodied 'will.'

It's left to the interlocutor to fill us in on exactly 'what' this really real 'A' is and where it lives. I've found they usually decline, particularly if they're humanists. At least the more theistic of the lot will admit to a soul-concept.

2. I don't find the notion of 'free will' all that anarchic despite all the pretense to the contrary, primarily due to the competitive worldview within which arises.  There seems to me a concomitant hierarchy between the 'A' which 'causes' and that which is 'effected.' Most often (in my experience) this is held as another 'A': 'nature,' 'animals,' 'plants' 'the poor,' 'citizens,' 'labor,' etc. Whichever 'A' is effected is never on the level of 'A' The Causal Agent. If the Agent 'effects' then they win; if they fail, they lose.

This is particularly the case when it comes to the concept 'Nature' which is most often held as the uniform, law-driven, backdrop for every 'agent,' the stuff every 'A' utilizes and witnesses the effects of our causing that shit to happen. Sure, we may recognize other 'free willing A's' but only finding our 'equal' after plowing through the dirt of the world, and/or transcending it, pulling ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps out of its mud; or in a slightly more collectivist version we are each 'human' and our kind is top-dog here on Battlefield Earth. No matter. The stench of hierarchy is pervasive: man (as an agent or as collective) vs. nature - either superiority over 'nature' according to The Word (of God) or 'within' nature according to 'natural law.' It's all the same stinky pecking order in either case: the 'freedom' of the master over the slave.

Frankly, I loathe the notion of 'free will' and the binary it rides in on.

by (7.5k points)
edited by
AF, would you say though that your rejection of the binary has something to do with your sense of anarchy?
i would, yes. one aspect has to do with the notion of 'absolute.' another has to do with thingifying as well as the rigid generalizations involved. among others...
thanks...."thingifying"...i like that. :)
yes, 'reify' is cool and all in terms of philosophistry, but 'thingify' just sounds more down-home or homespun. :-)

and don't get me started on 'misplaced concreteness.'
yes, i've tried to use 'reify" in conversations with people and they look at me funny....i think i'll try "thingify" next when talking about "the economy".
My very strong belief in Free Will is basolutely the foundation of my anarchism. Anarchism is the only acceptable form of society for someone who considers Free Will as the very definition of life.

I have to move in a world of absolute moral/ethical binaries "good/bad", "right/wrong", "living/non-living".   In nearly all cases, I recognize that I don't have the information required to see where the fall. I consider those areas "grey" as far as they concern me, and I treat such cases with indifference because to act without understanding could very possibly make things worse. So the "right" thing to do when you don't know what you are talking about is to shut-up (example: Syria).  So, seeing all things as classifiable in binaries, 0s and 1s, does not necessarily make me stupid, bad or worthless -- as long as I recognize that there are very few instances in which I am capable of making the determination. In doubt, I can either try to inform myself or just ignore it. Sometimes, though.... I'm fairly confident in my understanding, at least confident enough to jump in (cautiously).

Second, you say that people like me believe in a soul. Crazy. Binary-type minds just make the distinction "Me/Not-Me."  That needs no further development. Why bother asking what is what? or why? If there is anything more obvious in experience than the extistence of Me and Not-Me as two distinct things, I can't see it. At least not sober.

Third, you scoff at beliefs like mine as implying a superiority of Man over Nature or Nature over Man -- or Man is just part of Nature and ALL living things in Nature have equal rights and duties making some kind of Natural Law that can be discovered through observation of nature.  Well, I take that third route. But I see no hierarchy at all in it. Quite the contrary: My natural law is: find a unique ecological/economic niche: labor in mutualism/symbiosis: exchange value.   There is no God or judge or whatever making this law. It isn't enforced, rewarded or punished on the scale of any individual; it is internal to life. Like a natural law of your body: "if you don't drink any water you will die" we've also got "if you don't participate in mutually supportive activities with other living things life will cease sooner rather than later."  It is important sub-conscious information passed down to you, like your DNA, from your earliest microbe ancestors.  Just like drinking water, it can be ignored.

Since I consider Free Will as what separates the living from the non-living, then to love life is to love Free Will. So my belief in Free Will is the very reason I have no choice but to be an anarchist, opposed to any limit to the survival of Free Will as a natural phenomenon.
syrphant, you do realize nowhere in my answer i pretended it to be other than my opinion.i simply answered the question in my own fashion, as i perceive the world. frankly, i couldn't care less what you believe, how hard you believe in it, or how many words you spill expounding upon it at this point. we simply see very differently.

however, if your were to take ingrate's advice and read perlman, then go and imbibe a beer and share a laugh with funky@ perhaps this would bring us a bit closer in terms of affinity. if you don't, that's ok by me too.  ;)

edited for added thought.
Well. I really liked your response to this question. Tried to give you my opposing view, not to preach but to offer antithesis to thesis. Yeah, spilling words like they were unlimited. As if words were available in infinite abundance absolutely free. I will try to conserve screen pixels. Save the pixel-tree forests.

"Tried to give you my opposing view, not to preach but to offer antithesis to thesis."

cool! and as i'm aware that in internet-no-placeville it can be so very difficult to sense others, just so you know, i don't see (non-)affinity in terms of 'absolutes' or forevers. if i didn't see folks (me included) as kinda fluid i'd probably also see posting here as absurd, at best.

+1 vote
While I can grasp the notion of the properly undetermined (free) will, it being necessary to a meditation on determined wills, my subjective experience renders the distinction moot in practice: I've never once in my phenomenal life experienced myself as having or making anything that might be construed as a "choice." I look, I see, I know, and, where compelled, I act. Where I act, I could do no other, and, frankly, it baffles me when others respond as though things could be any other way than how they have been made manifest.

In this context, if I say I am an anarchist, and an egoist, it is merely a way of describing my sense of the way I perceive that I have moved through space -time. As to its import, one who, as I seem to, lacks an undetermined will has all the more cause for concern as to what things overdetermine the will they have.
by (1.4k points)

"I look, I see, I know, and, where compelled, I act. "

curious: where do thoughts and feelings fit into that? 

To be perfectly honest, I don't actually know what others mean by "thoughts." I've never had an experience of any sort of proper inner world distinguishable from sensory perceptions.

As to feelings, if by this you mean emotions, I experience things that might be described as anger, sadness, or joy as fully external stimuli. Like a kind of weather. I experience them only by their physiological manifestations (for example, shaking muscles at certain degrees of the thing I am calling anger), including the perhaps phantom sensory pulses I experience which I imagine are the phenomenal consequence of shifts in the physical state of my brain (eg. anger sometimes appears as a literal heat moving from my forehead along to the back of my skull, whereas the thing I take to be pride appears as brilliant tingling in the back of my skull which runs sharply over the dead center of my head, stopping well before my eyes). Like pain or fatigue thru appear to effect the way I move through the world implying they are in some sort of negotiation with the urge structures and other compulsions which grip me, but if they are, it occurs in some realm wholly removed from my subjective experience of being.
strawdog, you don't "think" when writing... or consider using language as "thought"?
Right. I see the blinking cursor, I see my hands moving and text appearing, I see the text which then further runs compulsions through me, some text is changed while new text is added. Eventually in the image of the text I experience a recognition of completion, however, I don't know what I am going to write until I see that I have written it. Similarly I do not know what I will say until I have heard myself say it.
hmmmm.....i'll give that a little "thought"...:)

sd, perhaps it's the clunky language we share (english) but i cannot quite sense the indications you're attempting. first:

'it is merely a way of describing my sense of the way I perceive that I have moved through space -time.'

i've never once moved through 'space-time.' i can only sense, using octavio paz's verbiage, that i'm 'always arriving,' always somewhere, always re-em-placing, cumbersome as it may seem. perhaps you can elaborate.


'I've never had an experience of any sort of proper inner world distinguishable from sensory perceptions.'

coupled with:

'... it occurs in some realm wholly removed from my subjective experience of being.' might 'subjective experience of being' be different from 'proper inner world'?

taken with your moving 'through space-time,' if the latter isn't 'subjective experience,' then might this amount to a statement of belief in subject/object dualism?

strawdog's experiences/perceptions are not mine, but i do appreciate the opening up of this conversation - because i'm not sure i know what "thinking" means. my internal sense is a jumble of associations, verbalizations, me talking to myself, memories of various stimulations, and emotions. it's very rarely, and then only briefly, a coherent train of idea/thought.

i don't really need to talk about it, i don't think it's interesting in itself, but it is interesting to poke at the assumptions i have about what thinking is for myself and others.
@AmorFati - It's definitely a problem with the language, which has embedded within it assumptions about subjectivity. When I use the term subjectivity I mean it in the Einsteinian sense of any measurement is only meaningful relative to a given observer, but in this sense I mean myself as an observer only the way we might describe a camera as having a point of view. I am not even a camera, but just the side flip display monitor. If there is some entity, some Subject, looking through the camera, observing the display, I've never met them, but I do note when the display shakes and impute this to happenings elsewhere in the camera, though I can conceive of being held by a subject with shaky hands.
+1 vote

Personally: As someone who has studied philosophy on a "professional" level, I detest the question of free will because it is by far the most misunderstood question ever posed by philosophy.

Essentially, there are a few general positions you can fall on when taking a stance on free will: Either you believe in it, you are a compatibilist who thinks people are *sometimes* free, or you're a determinist. As far as the first stance goes, there are two smaller stances within this: Either you believe in positive freedom (that people have a faculty of decision-making which is capable of actualizing the desires of an individual in the form of an action), or you believe in negative freedom. I'll get back to the latter, because it ties into my answer to the former; the idea of positive freedom carries with it firstly the assumption that you have a desire to do something. Whether or not you can actualize your desire is irrelevant to me, because it presupposes desire itself. And what is desire if not unfreedom, the Self limiting your field of options from the start? And being a bit of an egoist, I think it's ridiculous to suppose that the Self's desires should be necessarily correct, given that who you really are is the Unique One and all.

So, this ties into negative freedom in the sense that there are some like Kant who argue that it is possible for humans to be free insofar as they are able to disavow doing certain things and act only in accordance with themselves. Of course, for Kant, this is to act only in accordance with the Good Will, but you could just replace this with "human nature" and the same issue would arise: And determination of humans, the "true and correct" one that we're "supposed" to follow by disavowing our desires, is just as wrong as placing the Self at the forefront of human activity. The Good Will or any kind of human nature can only be the ideology of a particular person; if it becomes codified in law, it is the ideology of the ruling class enforced as a morality. 

There are compatibilists like the Stoics who argue that though we are unfree in some sense, we can nevertheless influence how we are determined. One can for instance choose to be virtuous, knowing that while they have hitherto been vicious, they can influence their future circumstances and thus the personality they come to form by just deciding to be virtuous and weather the storm. I think this also is a weak position, because the Stoics rely too heavily on "rationality" as a guide for being virtuous, not realizing that humans ain't fuckin rational, that "rationality" is likewise an ideology of the ruling class (there are many different logics, some with more academic influence and thus political power than others). Given this, there is no clear way of saying how it is that humans are just able to choose to be virtuous even if we would otherwise just not choose to do so. There is nothing physically stopping it, but we just wouldn't do it.

And then there are the determinists - most loathsome of all in the free will debate, who argue from a standpoint of naive cause and effect that there cannot be any POSSIBLE way that humans are free. Because cause and effect. Hume already pretty much destroyed this naive positivism by arguing that there is no reason whatsoever for us to believe in a necessary connection between cause and effect, and though Kant tried to save cause and effect, people who are determinists cannot be Kantians because Kant's ideas lead to something other than determinism. And furthermore, determinists are narrow-minded fools who think that the universe is precisely as we observe it, never otherwise, in spite of the findings of quantum physics which seem to destroy all possibility of determinism. They should have just read Lovecraft to see how naive our perception of the universe is.

Anyways, how does this tie into anarchism? Because I believe it is useless or worse to try to argue that we have some kind of mechanical faculty of decision-making, or that we have a lack thereof because we are wholly mechanical. It is clear to me that humans are indeed free, necessarily so, because it is very much the activity of humans to transcend their given conditions and to presuppose something otherwise. We do not reproduce the world, but are constantly imaginative, restructuring it, creating our own values and our own concepts and even outright lies that have nothing to do with reality. And I think it is tantamount to being a violation of a law of the universe to create any kind of hierarchy that would limit the radical freedom of human beings, and in fact it is only because we are so radically free that we can even be imprisoned in the first place by ideologies. We are free to a fault by being able to believe in something that doesn't even slightly correspond to reality, and this makes it possible to contain the actualization of freedom in our actions.

by (610 points)

i am very much not into philosophy in general, so i suspect i am misunderstanding something, but this:

"what is desire if not unfreedom"

makes my head hurt. 

it is kind of like when i first started learning computer programming, and the statement:

x = x + 1

kinda made my head hurt. in that case, i quickly learned what that meant in the context of programming. but i cannot reach the same understanding with the above quoted statement, even with its surrounding context.

That's funny, because for me it makes intuitive sense.

Much as I don't care for John Locke as a person and his ideas in general, one useful thing he brings to the conversation about "free will" is his concept of liberty - which is pretty much the classic liberal ideal that people have the right to the "pursuit of happiness" and that this right shall not be infringed upon so long as an individual's idea of happiness doesn't limit others from pursuing happiness. Basically, for Locke, it makes no sense to argue that there is a free faculty of the will, because it is simply a fact that we don't seem to be able to choose our desires. In fact, choosing our desires presupposes a desire to desire something - thus reducing the idea of an absolutely free faculty of the will to absurdity.
@funkyanarchy: It may interest you to know the etymology of "desire": "early 13c., from Old French desirrer (12c.) "wish, desire, long for," from Latin desiderare "long for, wish for; demand, expect," original sense perhaps "await what the stars will bring," from the phrase de sidere "from the stars,""

"from the stars" evokes a sense of being acted on and through by one's entire environment - to me, it very much dovetails with the view of self as /creative nothing/, a vent through which myriad forces blow and are changed.

yes, i understand what both n1x and bellamy are saying. and i appreciate both of your comments. EDIT: the reason i appreciate your comments is that i think i now have an idea of the context in which that phrase ("what is desire if not unfreedom") can make sense. i just have no affinity with it.

i personally don't tend to look to etymology or ideologies/philosophies - at least not consciously - to explain my own understanding of words and concepts, especially when i already have an understanding that i consider sufficient for my needs (or desires ;-). particularly something as fundamental to me as "desire". i understand it can be used as a synonym for "want", as in: there is something i do not possess that i want or need, and therefore my life is somehow lacking; related to a kind of "poverty". that is NOT how i use the word, typically.

for me, desire is intimately and inseparably related to pleasure. and pleasure is (one of?) my primary goal in life: i am an unapologetic hedonist, without question.

therefore, my desires are a huge part of my life and my happiness. they are part of my emotions, my thoughts, my dreams, my actions and interactions, my critiques, my pleasures. if that felt anything like "unfreedom" to me, i would have long ago discarded it. i am not that unconscious. (depending on how much i have indulged...)

i'm not sure how much this to do with "free will", in the philosophical context i think you all are discussing it.

i like the way you described "desire", funky. i look it at much the same way....related to pleasure....a feeling, or urge, a springing forth of emotion, thought, dreams, that seems to arise within and around me.

this morning, i walked outside and saw a couple of steller jays jumping and fluttering around, landing on the compost pile i made, picking for worms and insects and acorns, squawking at a large crow nearby....and i felt a "desire" to just sit there and watch them. so i did.
one of these days we're going to have an @101 wrestling match between the philosophers and the practicalists,

(look, another false dichotomy!)
dot, yes....perhaps i can play for both "sides"! (depending on my mood).
naked mud wrestling? i'm in! call it the false dichotomy mud wrestling championship. we could fill out the card pretty well:  i'll add individualists vs collectivists. everyone who adds a decent (anarchy-relevant) false dichotomy gets free ass-pinches and a mud-bath massage.

ba@, to your previous comment: as i wrote my comment above, i was looking at the gorgeous mountains in the distance, with sage jays doing their morning sage-hopping, feeling something probably very similar to what you described.

edit: practicalists...  LOL!

bellamy wrote:"from the stars" evokes a sense of being acted on and through by one's entire environment - to me, it very much dovetails with the view of self as /creative nothing/, a vent through which myriad forces blow and are changed."

fwiw, self-wrastler that i am, i'd even say (actually it's already been indicated by my screen-name's most famous coin-ist) 'desire' entails two significant aspects of our lives often, but mistakenly, used interchangeably: that which we can and that which we may. An ongoing agonism *within/as* desire, perhaps. (if one 'desires' to follow the links then the usage notes and derived terms/descendants will perhaps clarify my senses)

Thanks for that answer n1x. good one.