I’ve just finished Robert Sapolsky’s (excellent) book, Determined. You should read it for yourself, obviously, but Sapolsky does an expert job of providing the argument that our conception of determinism and what we colloquially call “free will” are to be examined under a much stricter microscope society-wide.
These sorts of philosophical arguments rarely escape the ivory tower of The Academy. However, Sapolsky is a masterful speaker and has attracted a good deal of attention in the mainstream for his seemingly outlandish idea that we do not, in fact, possess free will.
I think he’s right and on to something monumental. If we took his admonishment with intention and began to examine the structures our society (especially our educational systems) place on behavioralism, exceptionalism, and perceived meritocracy… our society would look quite different. Dare I say it would be more just.
I picked up Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871) this morning and began reading. The beginnings of Chapter 4 here lay out a very similar thought construction about where we gather our conception of morality and sympathy in the context of what he labels natural history.
I was taken by his statement that:
“We are indeed all conscious that we do possess such sympathetic feelings, but our consciousness does not tell us whether they are instinctive, having originated long ago in the same manner as with the lower animals, or whether they have been acquired by each of us during our early years.”
Reading both of these texts together is an incredible thought experiment!