‘Free will is an issue of pressing social and political importance,’ writes Julian Baggini. This might provoke a splutter from those who think of it rather as the topic of arcane philosophical parlour games. But he is right, and never more so than in these times of growing inequality and overflowing prisons. As both of these thought-stirring books show, differing views on the existence of free will demarcate the politics of left and right and impact on all our lives. What is more surprising is that after two thousand years of trying, we might be making some progress towards a resolution.
Certainly the philosopher James B Miles thinks so. The truth is out there, he believes, and all that remains is for us to face up to the consequences. As the title of The Free Will Delusion suggests, he is convinced that we are fully determined beings, acting unswervingly in line with the laws of nature.
Miles rightly points out that in millennia of trying, no one has ever come up with a sensible account of how a truly free will could work. When you go to make a cup of tea, for example, you might colloquially say that you freely choose to do so. But