William James and Free Will

I’m not sure what to make of the arguments for free will in my philosophy book. The argument that William James makes doesn’t impress me much (which I summarize and interpret):

    We cannot, from events that have already occurred, conclude that they were determined. Given that the experience we have in everyday life (of what seems to be free will), we should conclude with indeterminism rather than determinism.

James states that in a world possibilities, there are genuine alternatives to events, whereas in the world of determinism, there could never be an alternative. I take it that the same conditions are assumed, from which I establish my criticism. If the conditions leading up to a certain event are unchanged, how could the event be any different? It seems that James, at most difficult point of the argument, appeals to common experience and states that because determinism cannot account for the lived experience of free will (in a way that he wishes, because determinism does account for it by referring to it as an illusion), we ought to accept indeterminism because we don’t have good reasons for accepting determinism.

Having sufficiently established free will for himself, James goes on to explain the utility of holding such a worldview (the common theme of deriving truth from utility, which I discussed in another topic). How does James deal with the implication that indeterminism potentially destroys any possibility for consistency in our world?* He doesn’t (at least, as far as the book is concerned — I hope a sufficiently complete summary of his argument is presented in the book so that I am critiquing something James hasn’t already addressed).

*Examples can come to mind, such as, in one instance, putting the keys into your car to initiate ignition starts the car’s engine, and in another instance, causes the car to spin like a top for no apparent reason (different outcome from the same conditions).


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