Shaun Nichols has done an interesting essay on the problem of free will, and Tierney offers a summary. In all cultures people tend to reject the notion that they live in a deterministic world without free will. From Tierney's review:
regardless of whether free will exists, our society depends on everyone’s believing it does...it's adaptive for societies and individuals to hold a belief in free will, as it helps people adhere to cultural codes of conduct that portend healthy, wealthy and happy life outcomes...The benefits of this belief have been demonstrated in research showing that when people doubt free will, they do worse at their jobs and are less honest.The article and review note an interesting experiment in which people are asked to judge the moral responsibility of Mark, who cheats a bit on his taxes, and Bill, who falls in love with his secretary and murders his wife and kids to be with her. Most people cut Mark some slack but believe Bill fully responsible for his crime. The inconsistency makes sense if threat to social order is being factored into judging moral responsiblity. Again, from Tierney:
At an abstract level, people seem to be what philosophers call incompatibilists: those who believe free will is incompatible with determinism. If everything that happens is determined by what happened before, it can seem only logical to conclude you can’t be morally responsible for your next action.
But there is also a school of philosophers — in fact, perhaps the majority school — who consider free will compatible with their definition of determinism. These compatibilists believe that we do make choices, even though these choices are determined by previous events and influences. In the words of Arthur Schopenhauer, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.”
Does that sound confusing — or ridiculously illogical? Compatibilism isn’t easy to explain. But it seems to jibe with our gut instinct that Bill is morally responsible even though he’s living in a deterministic universe. Dr. Nichols suggests that his experiment with Mark and Bill shows that in our abstract brains we’re incompatibilists, but in our hearts we’re compatibilists.
“This would help explain the persistence of the philosophical dispute over free will and moral responsibility,” Dr. Nichols writes in Science. “Part of the reason that the problem of free will is so resilient is that each philosophical position has a set of psychological mechanisms rooting for it.”