Okay, this is my first day back from a holiday and it's a bit chaotic here, but the discussion on my most recent "true self" post has largely turned into a debate about fatalism, determinism, and free will. Quite a few misconceptions - at least as I see them - are being thrown around, so I think I need to write a separate post setting out my position. This is not that post.
I'm still wondering why so many people are confident as to what the folk think about this issue. It's not a subject that comes up from day to day in my experience, so if I didn't have a fair bit of experience teaching this stuff I wouldn't have a clue what the folk think. As to my teaching experience, I taught a first-year university subject largely about this topic for several years - in fact, for maybe three of those years I was in charge of running the subject on one of Monash's campuses.
I lectured on this material, with a fair bit of interaction in lectures, and also ran a large number of tutorials over the period concerned. I've specifically discussed the issues with hundreds of students coming into university from high school, and marked numerous essays and other papers on the subject, in which students have had the freedom (!) to express their own views.
I've also discussed the issues with colleagues with far more teaching experience in this area than what I've just described, and I've listened to their advice and heard about their experiences. In all that time, I encountered exactly one student who insisted strongly that "free will" means libertarian free will and cannot be what is known as compatibilism ... that compatibilism just doesn't give us what we really want.
That student was one of my best; he was quite a brilliant young man. But I must observe that he came from a religious background. I'm not saying he was the only student who took the libertarian position, but most were not attracted to it, and even those who were were usually not attracted to it strongly. He was the only clear exception that I can recall.
My overwhelming impression is that the bright young people who entered the philosophy program at Monash University had rather vague, inchoate concepts of free will, which they were happy to clarify by engaging with the readings and the arguments - philosophy is largely about the clarification of vague concepts - and which the majority tended to clarify in the direction of a compatibilist conception of free will. I was told by the person who designed the course and had cross-campus responsibility for it for many years, and probably taught thousands of students in that time, that the pedagogical problem was getting students to take libertarian free will as a serious possibility. Students were not pushed towards compatibilism. If anything, the contrary.
All of my own experience teaching the course was consistent with this.
I don't think the people who took this subject were wildly divergent from the typical bright young people entering into Monash's arts and humanities program from high school. They were not a massively self-selecting bunch, as the subject was a bit hard to avoid for anyone who was interested in philosophy, especially on the campus where I did most of my relevant teaching.
Now, maybe my experience is not even typical of other teachers in the same subject, or in similar subjects even in Australia, though as I say it matches that of the person who designed the subject at Monash.
Perhaps someone who has taught this stuff at other universities in Australia will have different experiences - I know some of y'all read this blog, so speak up. Maybe there is something special about Monash (though I can't imagine what in this case).
I don't claim that my anecdotal evidence proves much, but then again neither does the anecdotal evidence of other individuals. We'd really need a proper survey to get an idea of what the folk think, and it would need to be designed very carefully to take into account the fact that a lot of this stuff is very difficult conceptually, that a lot of it goes over people's heads when they first hear it, and that the folk may actually have very vague concepts indeed. At a minimum it would need an "I don't know" option of some kind.
As I say, this post is not meant to set out my position on the "free will" debate. It does, however, set out why I think I know as much as most people do how bright young members of the folk think when confronted with the issues. And it says why I am continually puzzled when I see people claim confidently, even dogmatically, that the folk conception of free will is some kind of libertarian free will in which, when we make choices, we somehow step outside the causal order of nature. It puzzles me when I see the claim that any other conception of free will, however long and respectable its philosophical pedigree, is a redefinition of the concept, by fiat as it were, rather than a legitimate attempt at clarification.
Where does this confidence come from? I'm really very puzzled by it. Even if you have some basis for confidence relating to your experiences in your own locality or country, does it generalise to the rest of the world? I'm starting to hypothesise that there may, indeed, be a difference between Americans and others with this, and that it has to do with the far greater religiosity in America than in most other Western countries. Maybe it also has to do with a more general American cultural ethos. But in any event, I just want to get a handle on why so many people are so confident about what the folk think.