rambling late night thoughts on free will

I watched a talk Daniel Dennett gave at Google on YouTube today, which touched on free will quite a bit.  And, since it's a half hour to midnight and I haven't been able to think of something to blog about all day, here are some of my thoughts on that subject: One of the big dilemmas about whether people have free will is that if we don't, we're not responsible for any wrongs we commit, because we couldn't possibly have acted differently, meaning it's unjust to punish people for anything.  But, Dennett makes the point, if we do have free will, but we believe we don't, we tend to act more morally irresponsibly, because we feel as though we haven't got any choice in the matter.

I assume that means the inverse is true.  So, the experience of the feeling of choice makes us better people, even if that feeling is just a part of the deterministic path between the stimulus of a morally significant event, and the response of a morally responsible 'choice.'

So, whether or not determinism is true, it's morally right (from a utilitarian perspective) to act as though free will exists, and promote the idea that free will exists.  And from a deontological perspective, if free will exists, then it's morally mandatory to tell the truth about it.  And from either perspective, if free will doesn't exist, there's no sense in which anyone can be held responsible for lying about the fact.

And, in the same case, I'm pretty sure the inverse is true.  If there's no free will, then you're not morally responsible for believing there's no free will, acting as though you believe there's no free will, or promoting the idea that there's no free will.  But if free will does exist, then acting as if it doesn't, and promoting the idea that it doesn't, is a moral failure.  This is true even if only you have free will -- in fact, it's especially true if only you have free will, because if everybody else is totally deterministic, then you have a moral obligation to them (as conscious beings that will experience the pleasure and suffering that their deterministic lives drag them through) to insert the stimuli that will maximize their collective wellbeing.

I realize this is kind of a Pascal's Wager argument for believing in free will, and it raises a question I don't really know the answer to:  is it automatically the case that you should believe something to be true, just because it's true?  Or are their situations where the thing that is true and the thing that it is morally preferable to believe is true are different?  (I say morally preferable because I can't think of any other area off the top of my head in which preference has a place in philosophy.)

Anyway, I do think that the best way to go about the free will question is to assume that you have free will, and that everyone else doesn't.  That way, you can assume you are wholly responsible for the moral consequences of the world, insofar as your influence extends, and you can get over the annoying habit some people have of assuming that because other people act like assholes means it's okay for them to act like assholes, too.

g'night.