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Free Will and Natural Laws

Free Will and Natural Laws

Chapter:
(p.194) Chapter Six Free Will and Natural Laws
Source:
Huxley's Church and Maxwell's Demon
Author(s):
Matthew Stanley
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226164908.003.0007

Naturalistic approaches to explaining the living world led to intense controversies over whether free will and consciousness could be explained away as illusions in a mechanistic brain. Huxley and his colleagues argued that we were automata blindly obeying the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. They denied that consciousness and volition had independent existence and concluded that the universe was fundamentally deterministic. Maxwell protested that the reality of free will was the most basic fact of our experience, both in our day to day life and in our participation in a society of morally-responsible individuals. His famous “demon,” best known as a thought experiment in thermodynamics, also functioned as an argument for how human souls could have meaningful effects in a world of uniform laws. Consciousness became the wedge issue on which naturalistic and theistic scientists began to profoundly split. The question was whether consciousness was a scientific fact on which theories could be built, or whether it was an epiphenomenon in need of explanation in other terms.

Keywords:   James Clerk Maxwell, Thomas Henry Huxley, William Benjamin Carpenter, free will, volition, automata, determinism, Maxwell’s demon

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