If free will is exposed as a convenient illusion, the whole sense of moral responsibility that underpins the ethical, legal and, for some, religious frameworks of our society would disappear.
Personal responsibility disappears and we become cogs in a machine.
It would mean that “people are no more responsible for their actions than asteroids or planets.”
Both ethics and law are underpinned by the belief in people’s freedom to act or not to act in a certain way which makes them responsible for what they do.
Usually, only actions that occur as a result of free will are seen as deserving credit or blame. Free will is attributed to all human beings as a default, with exceptions such as people suffering from mental illness and people on psychotropic substances.
Without free will, individuals can’t be held responsible for their actions. According to a long-standing philosophical tradition, if someone was not “free” when they did something, they cannot be held responsible for their deed.
Presently, lack of capacity - not having had free will at the time of a crime - is a criminal defence. If no one had free will, nothing would ever be anyone's fault.
Free will provides a framework for striving to live a moral life. God allowed humanity free will, so it is individuals who misuse the freedom and they, rather than God, who are the source of evil in the world.
Belief in an afterlife in which a just God rewards and punishes us according to our right or wrong use of free will was key to motivating us to be moral.
Studies have examined whether people will act differently if they believe they do not have free will. Vohs and Schooler found that if a group were primed to see free will as illusory, they were more likely to cheat in exams and, when given an opportunity to steal, those whose belief in free will had been undermined were more likely to do so.
It seems that when people stop believing they are free they stop seeing themselves as blameworthy and give in to their baser instincts. It is important to carry on believing we have free will, whether we do or not.