In the fantasy-rôle-playing game Moria an adventurer may occasionally find a powerful artifact, "Gauntlets of Free Action". They protect a character against getting paralyzed ... which turns out to be rather beneficial to one's survival when facing a vampire or certain other evil beasts.
But what is free action? The phrase in real life means choice, will, the ability to do (within limits) something not predestined. Daniel Dennett in Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting wrestles with this issue for a few hundred pages. (It's not a topic to be solved in an anecdote!) Dennett argues that most of our problems in thinking about free will come from bugbears, boogey men, and other imaginary horrors that we impose upon ourselves. These free-will-devouring monsters arise from misapplied analogies, from incompletely analyzed stories, and from fuzzy wishing for things that we wouldn't really want to have, if we thought about them in detail. DD concludes that free will is in fact compatible with a belief in determinism, the idea that Nature is governed by physical laws ... and that we needn't seek an escape hatch via mystical means, whether supernatural or otherwise (e.g., bizarre interpretations of quantum mechanics).
Much ado about nothing? Maybe not. If we have freedom to choose, then we have a chance to create meaning --- not just plummet inexorably toward our fates. Through free action, we also gain responsibility. We are, when we so choose, agents rather than objects. Life becomes an enterprise both infinitely rich and infinitely dangerous ... since we can now make mistakes as well as move wisely. Risky business, this free action!
Monday, April 03, 2000 at 05:49:41 (EDT) = Datetag20000403