Ending the Stigma: How a Causal Deterministic View of Free Will Can Inform Both Healthy and Pathological Cognitive Function and Increase Compassion
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Depression is the leading cause of disability around the world, and in Canada, 8% of adults will experience depression in their lifetimes. Nearly half of those with depression will not seek treatment, one of the major barriers being the social stigma associated with depression and other mental illnesses. Some of this stigma results from a mistaken understanding of free will and agency and the degree to which these are compromised in mental disorders. This thesis aims to show that free will in both psychologically healthy and pathological cases can be understood in a scientific causal deterministic way based on recent findings in neuroscience and psychology. The ‘will’ can be understood in terms of the normal range functioning of mechanisms for control, choice, and valuation. There is no ‘free’ will that is uncaused, but only relative freedom when these mechanisms are not internally damaged and there is no external coercion. Evidence that depression and mental illness can also be understood in a causal, deterministic way is also presented, and it is argued that this understanding can work back to reinforce the scientific understanding of the will in non-pathological cases. The understanding of free will based on healthy function and that based on pathological function are mutually reinforcing. The thesis concludes by showing that, based on a causal deterministic picture of the will, the stigma surrounding mental illness is unfounded, and that this view can lead to more compassion, understanding, and acceptance of both those with mental illness and the mentally healthy.