Ben Shapiro: Free Will Exists Because Politics

Some of you may have heard of Ben Shapiro, a relatively new but interesting and witty conservative political commentator and lawyer who is the Editor-In-Chief of the Daily Wire, and host of the Ben Shapiro Show. Let's look at a video, then dissect Shapiro's arguments, shall we?

The video is here:

I personally applaud Shapiro for saying that it's not just enough to say "god" in an argument, which is something many people don't seem to understand if they themselves are religious, but he is somewhat flawed in his answer of this question about free will.

For one thing, see this article of ours about the topic of free will, and this video where we discuss free will and it's consequences with another YouTube personality, known as Rationality Rules. Some of these ideas Ben Shapiro mentions or touches on are mentioned in our article and discussion on YouTube.

Moving on from our own already-created-content however, the question is essentially, "can you pose a secular argument in favor of free will," which is allegedly due to Ben Shapiro's writing that he could, if the question-asker is to be believed. Shapiro says "sure" and then goes on to speak, but there's one problem.

He openly admits that in order to explain free will, he'd have to essentially say "god, therefore free will," and he never once in his answer to this person speaks of a secular, non-religious reason why he might believe in free will. In my personal opinion, this is for two reasons.

  1. Libertarian free will necessarily rests on religious or at least supernatural premises to function.
  2. Compatibilist free will rests on a redefinition of what "free will" is, in a way that Shapiro likely does not find appealing.

The simple fact though is that our justice system is based on a compatibilist view of free will - if you were not coerced into acting a certain way, then you decided on your own to act against the law, and therefore must be punished according to what the law mandates. This is simple enough to understand, yet poses some problem for Shapiro that he does not go into - he seems to disbelieve the notion that determinists can be in favor of law and order, and when the person asking the question states that they are an atheist who does not believe in free will, he instead turns the question around on them - which is fallacious. The question-asker is not asking for their own thoughts to be debunked, they are asking for your thoughts, Shapiro.

Admittedly, this is the kind of question Shapiro does not get often. Normally, he is asked inane questions related to feminism, social justice, or other liberal ideals which he is skilled in debunking and ridiculing, but he is not used to real philosophical questions during his lectures at universities, from what I have seen (this is not a fact, merely an opinion from observed videos of his lectures). It is understandable that a politicial theorist and lawyer might not have a well-rounded and precise answer to philosophical questions of this nature, if they're also not used to being asked such questions - metaphysics is not something many people give serious thought to. However, we must still point out the flaws in his response.

He implies that the justice system would not work in a determinist world because in determinism, there is no moral culpability (as the student asking the question phrases it). This is untrue. In a determinist system, this means that having laws affects people's choices, and knowing the punishment of law-breaking also influences their decision - they have decided to break the law knowing that there is a slight chance they may be caught (as few criminals would commit crimes if they did not think they could get away with it), but knowing the consequences of being found out. So what is the logical thing to do, at this point?

The logical thing to do is to carry out the sentence. Actually, it's the only thing you can do, since we live in a deterministic world (funny how that works, right?)

If we were to take an abstract view of a deterministic world and ask what kind of legal system would be the most optimal, that is a complex question which would likely require the formation of an entirely new political ideology, not something any one person can write in an article or answer in a Q&A session after a lecture. The easier answer is to admit that humans are biological and emotional creatures, and like Shapiro said, if we did not punish criminals, many criminals would be hounded and executed by people affected by the crimes, in a sort of chaotic anarchic society where gangs ruled rather than organized lawful police forces.

This is all related to a fundamental problem Shapiro seems to have when answering questions that are not intrinsically about politics - he rephrases questions so that they are fundamentally political questions, and then states that since a certain political ideology is more preferable, then the original philosophical question must have a certain answer that correlates to his political ideology.

This is similar to saying "I enjoy a certain idea, therefore reality must conform to this idea." It's stating your beliefs and then trying to fit evidence or truth around them, rather than the other way around.

The simple fact is that in a materialist, atheistic worldview (which I specified because not all atheists are determinists), libertarian free will is nonsense and borders on a religious claim which will never stand up to scrutiny by your materialist atheist peers. There's literally no justification for it. However, if you start with a political ideology and say "I cannot imagine how our justice system would work in a deterministic world," and use this statement to conclude "therefore determinism is false," you might as well say "I can't see how people would be happy without unicorns, therefore unicorns are real." You are stating your beliefs, and stating how you think your beliefs are incompatible with reality, and then assert that, therefore, reality must conform to your beliefs - rather than conforming your beliefs to reality.

This is flawed reasoning, and unfortunate at that, as I am a bit of a fan of Shapiro's. However, he miserably failed in this philosophical question about free will, in trying to turn it into a political discussion which he was ill-suited for.


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