Free Will and Compatibilism

2. What Is Free Will?

2.2 Manipulation

Whereas coercion gives rise to a feeling of psychological pressure in the agent, manipulation does not. Manipulation includes more direct means of mind control, such as hypnosis, brainwashing, brain implants and zombie drugs. As these items and practices surfaced only in the modern era, the original notion of an unfree will as a coerced will needed to be extended. I will say more on this in §5 below. Here, I will give some illustrative examples of how non-philosophers and non-theologians regard free will in these cases. The basic notion remains the same: an unfree will is an encumbered will.

Father Edwin Healy countenanced against the practice of hypnotism because it 'deprives the subject of the full use of reason and free will' [cited by Catholic Education Daily 2015].

In a piece on mass hypnosis in Before It's News [2012], the author explains:

You think that you're in control of your life, that nothing is capable of influencing you without you first judging it, little do you know that you are being hypnotised by many different organisations on a daily basis. The actions you think are of your own free will, are actually influenced by these external organisations.

Whether people under hypnosis are really deprived of their free will or not is not the issue here. As these two examples demonstrate, for ordinary folk who think it does, for them the absence of free will under hypnosis is tied to the person's lack of reasoning and judgment in particular. No deliberation is given to whether the person under hypnosis has uncaused brain states, as the incompatibilist maintains.

Book cover: Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will by Alfred R. Mele

Judgments made about brainwashing are along similar lines. Yeonmi Park fled Kim Jong-il's North Korea with her parents. She claimed she was brainwashed by the regime with the result that 'I had not been a real person – I was created for the regime to work for them. If they ordered us to die, I would've died for them. I wasn't a human – I was something else.' After escaping and educating herself, she said, 'I now have free will' [SBS 2014].

In the case of the Commonwealth of Virginia v. Lee Boyd Malvo, 17 year old Lee Malvo was charged as an accomplice in a string of random sniper killings. An expert witness at the trial, Dr Steve Eichel, said of Malvo afterwards that he 'was indoctrinated ("brainwashed") into his role as John Muhammad's loyal co-perpetrator [and] that Lee was not capable of freely forming an intent . . .' He added, 'Lee's "old" self (a highly vulnerable boy who was and is quite bright, personable and troubled by a traumatic past) became engulfed by his "new" self (he even took a new name, as many cultists do, and became "John Malvo"), a pseudoidentity that was capable of commiting horrendous crimes for the "cause" of his leader, John Muhammad' [Eichel 2004].

As these examples illustrate, brainwashing robs a person of their free will through replacing their personal identity, their character, with another. Central also is the idea that this manipulation is done deliberately by another agent. The notion of contra-causality seems inconsequential.

This theme of third-party control and loss of character appears also with judgments about brain implants. Although mind control through brain implants is still very much the preserve of science fiction, some believe it is happening now. Hodges [2015] writes that the government's aim in microchipping every citizen is 'the complete control of every individual through mind control' and 'to control all thought, all emotion and consequently, all behavior. The end result will be to remove all potential opposition (i.e. free will).' For Hodges, we all currently possess free will even though our minds are strictly subject to causal laws. The tipping factor for this writer is third-party control and not determinism.

This linking of the external control wrought by brain implants to the loss of free will is also reflected, for example, in the writings of Johnston [2002], West [2013] and Jeffery [2016]. Note that both Hodges and Johnston are committed Christians who think that free will is compatible with a mind enmeshed in physical causes. Johnston's [2002] idea that free will is 'the ability that humans possess that allows them to make decisions based upon their own deductive and reasoning skills' is an idea that I will return to in §4 below.

The robbing of free will in the case of brain implants, however, is not so clear cut. As Glannon [2014] has pointed out, brain implants using deep brain stimulation (DBS) can restore the ability to choose freely in some patients suffering certain debilitating diseases. These include Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), Alzheimer's disease and major depression. In these cases, the brain implant can bring back the patient's old self that was lost to the disease. The restoration of free will for these patients hinges on the concept of free will illustrated in the previous types of encumbrances; that is, the reinstatement of the patient's character and ability to reason over their actions.

Copyright © 2016, 2018, 2021

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