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Free Will and Determinisim Essay

Both Steven Cahn and W. T. Stace have written essays concerning the compatibility of Free Will and/or Determinism. However, they have opposing views on the subject, whereas Cahn believes free will and determinism are incompatible and Stace believes that they are.

Free will can be defined as one’s ability or power to freely make choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate. On the other hand, Determinism can be defined as the, “philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences” (Wikipedia). So what are the arguments concerning their compatibility?

In Cahn’s article, determinism is defined as the way things will be is the result of how things are and the work of natural laws. If we are completely aware of how things are at the present time and the laws that govern how the world works, then we can predict how things will be in the future. Cahn argues that free will and determinism are incompatible. This argument can be broken down into two premises: Premise 1: No action is free if it must occur.

Premise 2: In the case of every event that occurs, antecedent conditions, known or unknown, ensure the event’s occurrence. Conclusion: Therefore, no action is free. Cahn supports this argument by stating that every action/event that occurs must occur due to predetermined conditions but an action cannot be free if it must occur, therefore he concludes that no action is free. Cahn’s article offers examples of specific types or versions of determinism. One particular view of determinism is known as “hard determinism. ” Hard determinism assumes that determinism is true and, therefore, free will does not exist.

While human beings actions are not absolutely predictable, hard determinism explains that, “each individual is influenced by a unique combination of hereditary and environmental factors” (Cahn 163). In accordance with Cahn’s argument, hard determinism supports both of the premises. Cahn mentions the philosophy of “soft Determinism” as an alternative to hard determinism. Soft determinism is a fusion of determinism and free will, stating that, “an action may be free even if it is part of a causal chain extending back to events outside the agent’s control” (Cahn 164).

While it agrees with the second premise of Cahn’s argument, soft determinism disagrees with the first premise. According to soft determinists, an action is free if the agent could have chosen to do otherwise if they had wanted to. The objection to soft determinism is simply that a person’s desires and wishes may not be their own. Cahn explains that because of the improper definition of freedom used, soft determinism is not a valid argument. The only remaining alternative to hard determinism is to reject the second premise. This is what’s known as “libertarianism.

” Agreeing with hard determinists, libertarians state that an action is not free if it must occur. However, they also believe that humans are capable of random, uncaused free actions. They believe ordinary human actions are evidence that free will exists and that people choose to act in order to achieve what they want. Libertarians claim that people cannot be held accountable for their actions as they were random and uncaused. Cahn points out the libertarian’s dilemma by stating, “If we are caused to do whatever we do, libertarians assert we are not morally responsible for our actions.

Yet if our actions are uncaused and inexplicable, libertarians must again deny our moral responsibility. How then can libertarians claim we ever act responsibly? ” (Cahn 169). Cahn concludes his argument by restating that free will and determinism are incompatible, and therefore one or the other has to be false. In Stace’s article, he argues that free will and determinism are compatible. Stace explains that the disagreement over whether or not free will and determinism are compatible is simply a verbal dispute, which can be accredited to the misunderstanding of the definition of free will.

Stace postulates that if an action is directly caused by a person’s thoughts, wishes, emotions, desires etc. it is free. Oppositely, acts which are not performed voluntarily are caused by outside forces. He continues on to say that because acts of free will have causes, such as desire and hope, free will is compatible with determinism. Stace does admit that there are unusual situations in which his definition of free will does not seem to apply properly, but he also offers clarification on the matter.

He offers an explanation by using the following example: a man gives his wallet to another man who is threatening him by holding a gun to his head. Can giving away his wallet be considered an act of free will? According to Stace’s definition it was done freely because it was immediately caused by a psychological state. Stace describes this as a “mixed” or borderline case and solves the problem by stating that because the gun against the man’s head is so similar to the actual force of the gun shot it could be considered an external force.

Finally, Stace discusses how, “an action may be free though it could have been predicted beforehand with certainty” (Stace 173). He uses the example of a person making the decision to tell a lie and then being told that they could have chosen to tell the truth instead. Stace explains that it is true that the person could have chosen to tell the truth supposing that they desired to do so. However they chose to lie because that’s what they desired to do and anything otherwise would have had a different cause, which would have resulted in a different outcome.

Stace concludes his argument by stating that, “It is a delusion that predictability and free will are incompatible” (Stace 173). Cahn and Stace both make excellent arguments supporting their positions on each side of the argument. Cahn defends his position on the incompatibility of free will and determinism effectively by comparing and analyzing the different types of determinism in reference to free will. He also successfully communicates his position through the use of the infamous “twinkie defense. ”

By offering the possible objections to his arguments and then addressing them, he gives thorough evidence to support such arguments. Oppositely, Stace also delivers a very convincing argument in defending his opinion that free will and determinism are compatible through the use of common sense and examples that make free will appear completely obvious. He also effectively argues that free will and determinism are compatible by declaring that all actions are caused, but some of those actions are free because they were caused by internal psychological states. Although objections can be made against his argument, Stace successfully defends his position.


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