By far the most unsettling implication of the case against free will, for most who encounter it, is what it seems to say about morality: that nobody, ever, truly deserves reward or punishment for what they do, because what they do is the result of blind deterministic forces (plus maybe a little quantum randomness). “For the free will sceptic,” writes Gregg Caruso in his new book Just Deserts, a collection of dialogues with his fellow philosopher Daniel Dennett, “it is never fair to treat anyone as morally responsible.” Were we to accept the full implications of that idea, the way we treat each other – and especially the way we treat criminals – might change beyond recognition.
Okay, fine—let’s assume, for the sake of argument—that everything has been predetermined since the birth of the universe.
If that is the case, then the unsettling implication of what it seems to say about morality has also been predetermined, as has been whatever reaction we have to that realization. So has our reaction to that realization too, and so on.
These debates are silly. If absolutely everything has been predetermined, but that predetermination operates in a way that we cannot perceive and can do nothing about, then it really doesn’t matter. It’s the same as pointless “What if we’re all living in a simulation?” discussions. Either we have free will, or we are absolutely constrained to believe that we do and live our lives according to that belief.