A friend on Facebook posted this article a while ago, explaining the various philosophical arguments on free will very clearly and simply for people like me. Not too long and worth a read.
Basically the whole issue is responsibility. To what extent can we be held accountable for our actions? Does this vary between individuals? Since absolute freedom is clearly an illusion, because every decision we make is determined by so many other factors that led up to it, is it ever right to get annoyed at someone thinking that they “could” be more reasonable or more considerate or empathic or whatever?
It reminded me of a talk I went to by philosopher Daniel Dennett on the same subject a few months ago. It was a bit over my head, so I may not have it right, but what I understood from his argument was this: getting annoyed, or – more formally – having a justice system(!), is natural and a vital part of our social organisation. “Normal” people can respond appropriately to being challenged over their behaviour – by revising their conduct if appropriate, which would take a bit of reasoning power as well as a moral sense – and so they can be held accountable for their actions. The fact that this ability is programmed into us and does not represent absolute free will is neither here nor there. People who lack reasoning power or a moral sense cannot do this and so we have to take this into account in how we deal with them. Some people are more free than others, in other words.
I am still mulling it over. Are any of us really more free than others? Not sure but I find it interesting to think about.