Somewhat in the first, and even more in the second, essay, he insists that free will — or certain types of free will — are connected with what he calls retributive justice.
(In all of this, I'm trying to practice the principle of charity to suss out the argument that I think Caruso actually is trying to make, which is discussed near the end. That said, I've only gotten there through repeated comments by him, and others. And, if I'm coming to a wrong conclusion by that principle of charity, then we have a bigger issue.)
In response to the second essay, specifically, and in connection with the issue of "retributive justice," I set out a laundry list of both logical and empirical or epistemological objections.
The logical one is that there is no logically necessary connection between the two. And, I wasn't alone on this, either. I said:
There may (or may not) be empirical connections, based on psychology; hence my references to neuroscience. But, that’s a different matter.
It’s like reading Rawls as if Rawls trying to justify his ideas by appeal to certain versions of free will. And, what Rawls says about issues of ethics and justice has no logically necessary connection with free will.
I can be a hardcore determinist, yet still believe in the value of retributive justice.
I can be a compatibilist, and believe in retributive justice. I can be a libertarian free willer and believe in… I can be some sort of free will optimist-skeptic and believe … I can be like I actually am, thinking the whole free will “versus” determinism issue wrongly framed ….
and believe in retributive justice.
Or, I can be any of the above, and reject that idea.
Or, I can be any of the above, and reject the idea of objective morality in general.
Essentially to offer a stipulative definition of free will.
The two-way direction of an if-and-only-if is part of the key here.
Let's take the three main schools of normative ethics — consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics.
The details of how to be ethical in consequentialism and deontological ethics are compatible with any school of thought on volition from the hardest of classical determinists to the most libertarian of free willers. Virtue ethics, in that it lays stress on the individual more, and the psychological stance of the individual, is seemingly incompatible with full-on determinism.
But, two of three major schools of normative ethics say that claims that ethical actions in general must be linked to free will are simply wrong.
And, given that justice is a subset of ethics, two of three major schools of normative ethics say that claims that ethical actions in general must be linked to free will are simply wrong.
Some people may think that a hard determinism dehumanizes people.
Actually not, or at least not necessarily. As long as determinism is applied to theories of ethics in a non-Randian way, it should treat all people as equally human. What that means for all people may be different than in a free will system, but, still, it's not proposing to treat all people like livestock or something.
That said, back to Caruso.
In that issue, like Caruso in his two essays and in other writings, wrestled not only with Libet, but also Daniel Wegner and others. Do we have a conscious free will in the classical sense? I think Wegner has, at a minimum, raised some good questions.
That said, if he's right, or to the degree that he's right, that doesn't leave some sort of determinism as a default. And, that, in turn, gets me back to Caruso's thinking.
And, as for Caruso's case for free will being an illusion, in essence for committing to some broad variety of determinism, beyond my issue-by-issue, action-by-action partial psychological determinism? Per a good review of his book on the subject, I think I'm far from alone in finding him wanting, even if it's for other grounds, and beyond those, of the review.
So, Caruso can claim until the cows come home that retributive justice, and a desire for it, are based on free-will stances on volition. He'll still be wrong.
And, yes, he writes a lot about free will. So, I'm not sure if he thinks attacking retributive justice — his claims aside — is a winning "move" because it will appeal more to liberals, whom secularists are more likely to be, or what. But, it seems he also has legitimate concerns about retributive justice.
Fine. Write a separate essay about that. And, I would likely love to discuss it with you.
As for engaging with, or not, the idea that belief in free will could be harmful to society?
First, the shorter answer, as I Tweeted Caruso: How would one even begin to try to scientifically prove such a claim? Surveys would offer correlation evidence, of course, and might point to causation. But that's not guaranteed.
Second, you cite what you do note as "a few studies," while noting that they're limited in what they indicated, but not noting whether they wrestle with either of the two issues noted above:
1. Distinguishing US conservatives from those elsewhere and
2. Looking at how belief in free will may affect liberals' thoughts.
Third, a belief in the existence of free will is about as much like the actual existence of free will as belief in Santa or Jesus is the same as actual existence of Jesus or Santa. If Caruso can't differentiate between the two, or ...
If THAT is his premise for claiming a logical connection between free will and theories of justice, that it's actually some connection between a BELIEF in free will and theories of justice, then I don't want to go further down a rabbit hole about making assumptions to clarify his thinking, assumptions which he might reject even though they seem true.
That said, per that principle of charity, I think that's what Caruso is trying to argue. He may have a point.
Let's assume that we can do research, and ignoring liberal/conservative issues to start, we just confirm that, for society in general, in the US and elsewhere, that a belief in free will leads to a belief in the efficacy of retributive justice.
Let us say that criminology studies show retributive justice in general is not efficacious, and generally becomes less efficacious the more harsh it is.
We can then discuss this in terms of ethics, and relatedly, in terms of political philosophy.
Perhaps Caruso will actually wend his way to that in final comments, or maybe will be given an opportunity by Massimo Pigliucci to write a third essay that comports with my charitable interpretation of his first and second ones.
As for the rest of what's actually in his two essays?
I would say, or write an essay on issues in volition, but ...
On my "mu," not just with Caruso but in general, I'm at the point where I think we should just stop talking about free will for, oh, about another century or so.
Cognitive neuroscience in particular, and science of mind in general, isn't going to move from the Early Bronze Age into the Iron Age for at least that long, and it's ridiculous, ultimately, to talk about issues of volition, and theories of them, before then.