26 July 2010

Let them eat cake

Growlery correspondent Pauline Laybourn seeks to return me in a particularly fiendish way to the great free will debate. Echoing my Meaning of Loaf , she persuades Galen Strawson to play Satan on the mountain top by offering me (on her behalf) a cake.

All I have to do for this cake is (a) spend $10 and (b) ignore an Oxfam collection box. Or, viewed another way: not only am I called upon to think though (yet again!) the free will question, but as I do so I must choose between two ways of spending money which, a few seconds before, I didn't have ... outside a cake shop I didn't know existed, and I certainly didn't know that I intended to visit.

I have no intention (assuming I have the free will to have any intentions at all) of getting caught up in the free will question again ... but the cake and the Oxfam box cause so many other questions to float up in my mind.

It is clear to me, immediately, that I must put my $10 windfall into the Oxfam box, and forego the cake. But...

...I probably wouldn't want the cake anyway – certainly not ten dollars worth of cake. And it probably wouldn't be vegan, so I wouldn't be able to eat it. And since I have acquired this $10 out of thin air, donating it costs me nothing. So that makes the Oxfam box a no brainer. But...

...why was I going into an unsuspected cake shop, to buy a cake I didn't want and couldn't eat, in the first place? Was it, perhaps, for somebody else? Am I, by putting the money in the Oxfam box, depriving a child of its eagerly anticipated birthday cake? Am I, in other words, on a road to hell paved with good intentions, doing unknown harm by my casual reflex assumption of the right way to do good? And, if this is the case, the $10 is probably not mine to decide about anyway. On this scenario, I clearly should stop arrogating to myself the right to reallocate funds entrusted to me ... thus, equally clearly, I should buy the cake.

Somewhere around here, I begin to feel that life would be so much simpler if I just accepted the absence of free will....


Pauline Laybourn said...

"Condemned to freedom." So says Sartre.
In your case, further complicated by being vegan, does that allow you a greater degree of freedom? or toss you deeper into the bin of determinism?

Had you considered $5 to Oxfam and $5 worth of cake?
That might be one solution, and, in the process, not make anyone happy.

Free or destined, Ian McEwan suggests it is good to take moral responsibility for the little ship of our being. Now, I wonder if he was ultimately free to arrive at that conclusion.

Dr. C said...

Strawson: And yet we still feel that we are free to act in such a way that we are absolutely responsible for what we do.

Felix (Feb 2009): I am obviously acting as if free will exists because that is what the aggregated biochemical gates have made me do; I had no choice in the matter. I will feel satisfaction and disappointment for the same reason, and neither are meaningful.

I have come to the conclusion that we are addicted to "Free Will." We have to have it. We need our fix. All our Laws depend on it. It would set the whole world ajar if it were not true.