Well I was going to write one answer to this question, based only on the question itself as I initially read it, and then I read your answer Robert, and completely changed my mind about how to respond.
That is an illustration of free will. Why? Because nothing influenced me to look at your answer…it was a somewhat arbitrary, self-willed impulse to scan across the other posts before I wrote my own. Even then, if I had not seen your name - also a relatively arbitrary event that also relied on my (arbitrarily) retaining who A2A’d me - I would not have changed my answer, but this bit was more chance than self-will. Now a determinist of some stripe might argue that a) my innate biology or psychology shaped the impulses and capacities that changed my decision; b) I was moved by some spiritual agent to change my decision; c) I would have answered the same way regardless. Well it is sometimes difficult to prove a negative, but I think these are pretty irrational assertions for one simple reason: consciousness. I’ll elaborate on that in a moment.
But first my reaction to your answer. I want to preface my own response with these assumptions, which directly contradict some of what you have stated:
1. “Free will” is not an invention of religion. In fact I would say most religions have historically tended toward fatalistic determinism, and have downplayed or discouraged individual free will. There are exceptions to this, but those are relatively recent. Aristotle was probably the first (known) philosopher to articulate self-will as distinct from either determinism or chance. I would describe free will as “an intermittent feature of consciousness” that is subject to conditioning, chance and choice.
2. Humans do not follow the “path of least resistance” unless they have (passively or actively) habituated themselves to that method of navigation. Such habituation is another feature of consciousness, and is therefore also subject to conditioning, chance and choice.
3. Utilitarians do not, in terms of the generalization you have made, dismiss all conditions that contribute to a decision. In fact they spend a lot of time talking about them, which is why you have act-utilitarians vs. rule-utilitarians, hedonist-utilitarians vs. pluralist-utilitarians, partialist-utilitarians vs. collectivist-utilitarians, etc.
4. Utilitarianism also does not, as you assert, automatically attach moral consequences to individual action. In fact this consideration is at the center of utilitarian debates around actual consequences vs. intended consequences.
Okay, so with those thoughts out of the way, here is my answer….
Utilitarian views of free will vs. determinism are pretty varied and cannot really be generalized IMO. In fact when we try to delve into utilitarian causality we encounter a lot of contradictions. Mills is a good example. He seems to subscribe to compatibilism, an elaborate rationalization that attempts (unsuccessfully, IMO) to reconcile free will with a “necessary” chain of causality. But why even try to do this? Again returning to Aristotle, if we recognize that there are necessitative causal chains, chance, and the independent agency of human consciousness - all of which can operate without a fixed dependency on the others - then the whole consideration becomes mutlidialectical in nature. There are multiple co-existing paths for everything - from quantum events to human volition - that recombine in every instant. In such a context the debate over determinism is either moot or pragmatically inaccessible; any convictions become either tentative and hypothetical, or articles of faith. Yet another choice for us to make.
Now down to the nitty gritty: consciousness is itself not a granted condition, it is also a choice. Human beings can habituate themselves to function according to their animalistic drives, cultural programming, magical thinking, tribal conformance, irrational groupthink, bizarre ideologies….or any combination of the above. Alternatively, they can develop what I call Functional Intelligence, which engages both our interiority and the world around us in a more conscious and deliberate way. And although this process may itself also initially be conscious or unconscious (again influenced by causal chains, chance and choice), eventually it will arrive at an awakening. It will, in effect, begin to incorporate a metacognition that first distances, then evaluates, then integrates or harmonizes all contributive factors to navigate the clarity and efficacy of any choice. I begin to define this process more fully in the essay Managing Complexity with Constructive Integralism.
You might also be interested in this essay: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom
***For all of the above links, you can read the document online without subscribing to academia.edu…just scroll down the page. Alternatively, you can also download them as PDFs here without a fuss: Essays (http://tcollinslogan.com/code-3/index.html).***
Lastly, for the record, I personally lean more toward a variation of virtue ethics (cultivating sophia and phronesis) than utilitarianism, but I find many of the concepts in utilitarianism do have…constructive utility.
My 2 cents.
Comment from Robert Stork: Thanks for your answer. I suppose the only thing I can say is that all those things you say contribute to free will are in fact causal factors that are a more intricate demonstration of determinism.
Maybe…or maybe not. I think any deterministic conclusions may be oversimplifications, no matter how intricate we can get in our descriptors or calculus. Why? Because the number of variables contributing to each moment is incomprehensibly huge - and those variables are different not only for each successive moment, but for each locus of that moment throughout all of known space. Thus volition layers conscious intentions onto a soup of both arbitrary and causally related phenomena, projecting itself cross those variables. In that instant a deterministic warp-and-weave is introduced, I would agree. But even if there were only one consciousness, this quasi-deterministic manifestation of will would only occur within the moment of conception and projection, as confined to the locus of spacetime involved, with only residual propagations after that (waves of causality, if you will). And here’s the rub: there are multitudes of interdependent consciousness all acting within the confines of their own perception-cognition…sometimes in harmony, sometimes not. Which means that, in all intellectual honesty, “determinism” can only be a retroactive veneer placed over the consequent unfolding of these phenomena. It is a construction of hindsight with a predisposed bias, quickly unraveled by infinite complexity, infinite regress, randomness, and other indeterminate energies.
(From Quora question https://www.quora.com/What-do-you-think-is-the-utilitarian-viewpoint-on-free-will-vs-determination)
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