Illusionism (philosophy)

Illusionism is a metaphysical theory first propounded by professor Saul Smilansky of the University of Haifa. It holds that people have illusory beliefs about free will.[1] Furthermore, it holds that it is both of key importance and morally right that people not be disabused of these beliefs, because the illusion has benefits both to individuals and to society.[1][2] Belief in hard incompatibilism, argues Smilansky, removes an individual's basis for a sense of self-worth in his or her own achievements. It is "extremely damaging to our view of ourselves, to our sense of achievement, worth, and self-respect".[3]

Neither compatibilism nor hard determinism are the whole story, according to Smilansky, and there exists an ultimate perspective in which some parts of compatibilism are valid and some parts of hard determinism are valid.[4] However, Smilansky asserts, the nature of what he terms the fundamental dualism between hard determinism and compatibilism is a morally undesirable one, in that both beliefs, in their absolute forms, have adverse consequences. The distinctions between choice and luck made by compatibilism are important, but wholly undermined by hard determinism. But, conversely, hard determinism undermines the morally important notions of justice and respect, leaving them nothing more than "shallow" notions.[5]

Smilansky's thesis is considered a radical one,[1] and other philosophers disagree with it. Professor Derk Pereboom of Cornell University, for example, disagrees that hard incompatibilism necessarily does away with self-worth, because to a large extent that sense of self-worth isn't related to will at all, let alone to free will. Aspects of worthiness such as natural beauty, native physical ability, and intelligence are not voluntary.[3] James Lenman takes a similar line, arguing that Smilansky's expression of the problems is overstated. The problems that he presents are less fundamentally metaphysical than simply practical in nature.[6]


  1. Kane 2011, p. 26.
  2. Holroyd 2010, p. 110.
  3. Pereboom 2008, p. 472.
  4. Lenman 2002, p. 4.
  5. Lenman 2002, p. 6.
  6. Lenman 2002, p. 15–17.

Reference bibliography

  • Kane, Robert (2011). "Introduction: The Contours of Centemporary Free-Will Debates". In Kane, Robert (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195399691.
  • Holroyd, J. (2010). "The Metaphysics of Relational Autonomy". In Witt, Charlotte (ed.). Feminist Metaphysics: Explorations in the Ontology of Sex, Gender and the Self. Springer. ISBN 9789048137831.
  • Lenman, James (2002). "On the alleged shallowness of compatibilism: A critical study of Saul Smilansky: Free Will and Illusion" (PDF). Iyyun: The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly. 51 (1): 63–79. ISSN 0021-3306.
  • Pereboom, Derk (2008). "Why We Have No Free Will and Can Live Without It". In Russ, Joel; Shafer-Landau, Feinberg (eds.). Reason And Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy (13th ed.). Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495094920.

Further reading

  • Fischer, John Martin (2001-10-26). "Review of Saul Smilansky's Free Will and Illusion". Times Literary Supplement. p. 28.
  • Smilansky, Saul (2000). Free Will and Illusion. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198250180.
  • Smilansky, Saul (2011). "Free Will, Fundamental Dualism, and the Centraity of Illusion". In Kane, Robert (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195399691.
  • Nadelhoffer, Thomas; Feltz, Adam (2007). "Folk Intuitions, Slippery Slopes, and Necessary Fictions: An Essay on Smilansky's Free Will Illusionism". Midwest Studies in Philosophy. 13 (1): 202–213. CiteSeerX doi:10.1111/j.1475-4975.2007.00156.x.
  • Garifullin R.R. Personality Illusionism as a New Philosophical and Psychological Concept, Yoshkar-Ola: Mariiskii Poligraficheskii Izd. Kombinat, 1997. 400 p.ISBN 5-87898-124-6

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