Not that long ago I was shocked to find out that Geoff J does not believe animals have free will. A bit later, I found out my brother (usually an advocate of libertarian free will) is not so sure when it comes to animals. The birth of a post.
Let me begin by stating the obvious: There is no test or experiment that can be done to prove whether or not animals have libertarian free will (hereafter simply “free will” or LFW). If there were such experiments, we would use them on humans to settle that interminable debate.
Thus, I expected that belief in animal-free-will would track very closely to belief in human-free-will. The people who believe everything is casually determined will surely believe that animals are included in “everything,” so the determinist position on animals seems pretty obvious. Determinists don’t believe anything has free will, animals included.
On the other hand, I expected the people who believe humans have free will to assume the same thing of animals, but for slightly more complicated reasons. People who believe in free will usually do so for two reasons:
- They want their experience of being free to turn out to be correct.
- They want to preserve some basis for moral responsibility.
Clearly these same reasons do not motivate a belief in animal-free-will. Not being animals, we have no idea how animals experience life and thus have nothing to validate. Since animals are not generally believed to be morally responsible, this provides no motivation either.
However, all the basic elements a free will believer would point to as the basis of free will are present in animals. If free will is tied up in having a spirit, then the standard Mormon belief that animals have spirits would indicate that they have free will. If free will is tied up in mental states locally supervening on brain states, then the existence of animal brains which are very similar to human brains would tend to suggest animal-free-will. Animals exhibit intelligence which seems to differ from humans in degree rather than kind. Animals engage is so many similar activities to humans that they seem very much like generally stupid and morally-unaware versions of us.
All things considered, I expected animal-free-will to be the clear default position for a person who has already committed to a belief in human-free-will.
So, what do you think? Do animals have free will? Does your belief with regard to animals match your belief with respect to people? If you are a believer in human-free-will but not animal-free-will, what is your reasoning?