For a person who has never heard of compatibilism, it may seem weird. How can free will exist if our choices are determined before we were even around to choose them? One possible response to this is that compatibilists are using a different definition of free will. I do not claim to have thought this out fully, but my own conception of free will is as follows:
An act of free will is that which is proximately caused by human volition.
Take the metaphor of the chain of causation. Each link in the chain causes the next. If one link in the chain is human volition, then the next few links are acts of free will. If the world is deterministic, then the chain never splits off into multiple possible branches. But this clearly has no bearing on free will as I have conceived it.
Free will is on my mind because of Sam Harris' new book, Free Will (via Friendly Atheist). Sam Harris argues that there is no free will. I have not read the book, so I will try to avoid speculating on his arguments. A commenter (Garren) on Friendly Atheist offered the following argument against compatibilism:
I see the situation as analogous to answering "Is the moon made of cheese?" with a 'yes' — not because the moon is made of cheese in the original sense, but because our society is so insistent that the moon IS made of cheese that _whatever_ it's made of, we rename that substance 'cheese.' And then philosophers can avoid the pitchforks from a public who is fooled by the use of language.Funny thing about having a large blog archive... I have made the same argument myself! I will not quote myself, because I was a terrible writer back then. But my basic point was that religion has all these dogmas like "God is good", "The soul exists", and "The Bible is the Word of God." And even as religious beliefs transform, people continue to believe these statements are basically true. The result is a shift in the meanings of "good", "soul", "Word of God", often moving towards metaphorical interpretations.
However, I noted that this does not imply that the metaphorical interpretations themselves are wrong. I invite the reader to name the relevant fallacy.
Now I am trying to imagine times where it is completely appropriate to change a definition. For example, we might ignorantly define a particular person as particular set of cells. But then when we learn that these cells get replaced with new ones periodically, we'd still want to preserve the basic truth that I am the same person as that guy from 10 years ago. So we would need a new definition of a person. Is that wrong?
There is also the question of whether I have in fact shifted my conception of free will. My current conception of free will seems natural, and not like a shift just for the sake of preserving the basic truth of the statement, "Free will exists." Of course my feelings could be wrong on this matter. To be honest, I don't recall how I conceived of free will when I was younger.