As I've become integrated into Mom Culture over the past 8 months and I've started to develop some friendships, I have started to get into some substantive discussions about people's fundamental views of the world.
One topic that tends to come up a lot when you discuss philosophy is the idea of "free will." People will always take one of two positions on this topic, either that free will exists or that it doesn't. Invariably the rationale behind the person's POV on the topic rests on a series of busts to the alternative idea - that is, a person who believes free will doesn't exist will give examples of human behavior that cannot comfortably be explained by free choice, and vice versa.
It's always been interesting to me that it breaks down like that, since "free will" is not actually a thing that can exist or not exist in a binary sense. "Free will" is a name we give to a certain type of model of human behavior, and thus it "exists" to whatever degree it is useful as such a model.
Put another way, free will is not actually something you have but something you do.
So how do we make use of free will? Well, the human brain is capable of understanding and mastering the forces that induce it to behave in programmed, conditioned ways. A person who can't help drinking too much can, through a variety of techniques, learn not to drink at all, or to drink less, or to make less risky choices when drinking, etc.
The recovering drunk is not then "free" in the sense of having limitless options as to how to act - a drunk who goes out to a bar with his old drinking buddies is likely to revert to past conditioned behaviors and drink too much, for example.
At the same time, personal experience of human consciousness renders absurd the argument that human beings cannot everchoose between one set of behaviors and another. People do, at certain times, consciously weigh the risks and benefits of multiple options, choose to go down one path or another, and then face the results. The idea that this experience is some sort of illusion is difficult to defend without a spiraling into generalities and unfounded claims.
Human behavior cannot be explained by one particular static model as if the brain were just a very sophisticated sort of abacus. At the same time, the biology of the nervous system shows plainly that much day-to-day behavior is controlled by essentially programmed responses that are never processed by the brain's higher reasoning centers.
In other words, human beings can behave in ways that could be usefully described as "free" - under certain conditions. Maximizing the number and quality of the moments in which a person is truly free to choose her path is a matter of preparation, and practice.
In the East, particularly in the Muslim world, the idea that conditioned behaviors exist and can be integrated with the "free" mind through study and mental exercise has been discussed by scholars both secular and religious for many hundreds of years, and the amount of research on the subject is vast.
Yet in the West we still make little study of this idea, preferring instead to argue about which dead philosopher is right about his antiquated, binary view of how the mind functions.