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Free Will vs. Determinism Essay

Society walks about day-by-day living their lives and never really thinking or breaking down how their day unfolds or why it plays out the way it does. Some people have said that individuals have a choice and are able to decide on where their day goes. Others on the other hand would argue this assessment and state that your day and your life as whole are all pre determined. The different is free will vs. determinism. Do you believe we live in a free will world or has everything been planed out and is determined to happen no matter what?

To start out on finding an answer to this question we must first break down the two terms and a bit about their background and what they mean to us as an individual walking around day-to-day living our lives. We will start off with the more depressing of the two, and that being determinism. Determinism is the philosophical view that everything in a person’s life including behavior, human conditioning, and previous events have already been planned out and will happen that way no matter what we do. Mostly this means that our lives essentially our out of our control.

Imagine if you will the universe unfolding from a state of very small matter and as it unfolds and expands and life is form it just continues to grow and build. Life goes on and society works the way it is built. Then over billions of years the universe contracts and everything is essentially erased or reversed. After it completes this cycle it starts it all over again recreating the events that it just created previously. Some believe that this is what is happening in our world and with our universe now.

Some also believe that this is infinite and will happen for eternity, stating that everything has already happened before and will continue to happen over and over again in the course of existence. Now you may be thinking, “I have a choice on what I do” well not according to this theory or any of the other ones in determinism. This idea is what some would put in the category of materialism. Materialism states that the only thing that truly exists is matter in a physical state, “that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. ” (Ott)

SO with this theory there is a bunch of cause and effect included. One physical thing must happen in order for the other to happen, even in your thought process. Yes, that’s right even in your brain. This states that your thoughts are all physical and chemical things happening (hormones cause emotions) to create your thoughts and what you do. Are you a robot? Next we have behaviorism. Many people have studied this idea but Skinner is probably the best known for his research on the topic.

Behaviorism falls in the category of human conditioning. It also states that we are pleasure seeking animals and that we are determined to search and find the things that give us that pleasure. This falls in the determinism section because we have no choice with this essentially. We will only go after the things that make us feel good, all the way down to even helping a homeless person with some spare change. We do this because it makes us as an individual feel good that we helped someone else in need out.

Also a lot of this has to do with when you do a good deed you are rewarded by society, given a nice pat on the back and encourages you to do that more often leading you in the direction you are going. Last but not least there is Psychoanalysis, or know to some as the Freudian psychology. Sigmund Freud is highly attached to this type of determinism and approach to life. Freud believed that we as an individual have an unconscious state of mind and a conscience. Think of it as an ice burg in the ocean. Above the water you have the tip of the iceberg, or the conscience state of mind.

It is there it is aware it is obvious and clear. Then below the water you have a massive part of the iceberg that is not visible. We cannot see it and it is hidden, in fact we choose not to explore it from fear of what it may do to us. The part below the water could be looked at as your unconscious state of mind. Freud believed that your unconscious state was leading and guiding you to do things you do with out you even realizing it. These things were memories and thoughts that you have repressed mainly as a child or due to any traumatic experience.

Freud would use psychology as a method of trying to bring these unconscious states to the surface so that a person could identify what they were doing and why it is that they were predetermined to do so. Sigmund Freud also came to the conclusion that each person holds with in them three states. These three states would be super ego, ego, and id. Ego would be our self-aware state of mind that you are conscience of. Super ego would be your moral value, and your id (translating to “it”) would be the sexually aggressive part of you.

He felt that this “id” was what really guided you to do the things you do. It is almost as if you’re super ego and your id battle each other everyday trying to tell you what to do and when to do it. Freud was an evolutionary thinker and still to this day has many followers in his system. To go in the opposite direction we have free will. Free will is the approach to life that we have choices and decisions, and we make them every day to determine what it is that we do with our day and even with our life. Out of the two this is the less depressing approach.

I personally like this approach and thought on how we live better. Free will contradicts determinism and goes the opposite direction in its logic and explanation. The followers of free will did not believe in determinism for many reason but the biggest and most important is that they believe that determinism erases responsibility for our actions. This is called indeterminism, meaning “a philosophical position that maintains that any form of determinism is incorrect because it is ultimately metaphysical”(White)

So, lets look at some of the ideas and structure of free will and some of the people who had and still do have a huge influence on the approach to how we live our lives. Aristotle was a huge part of free will; he was a Greek philosopher and a student of Plato. Also is thought that he was a teacher to Alexander The Great. Aristotle was known as a common sense philosopher, believing that most of what we do is by our choices. He also believed this choices were voluntary and involuntary as well.

He also believed that “the lives of individual human beings are invariably linked together in a social context”(White) Next we have William James an American psychologist and philosopher best known for his views on free will and philosophy as well as pragmatism. Pragmatism is the belief that what ever works, works because it is true. Basically validity of an idea lies within its practical consequences. This gives an individual free will by letting them think and make choices in an analytical sense.

Coming up with an idea or approach to a situation but then presenting another route that is just as enjoyable or likely to be taken in the situation. If a person looks at a situation and how they will approach it and the outcome seems bad in comparison to goo then they have the choice not to go down that route giving us free will. Determinism would state that you have no choice and that you will go the route you were meant to go along. I don’t know about you but I like thinking that I have choice over if I want to go a painful route or an enjoyable route. Jean-Paul Sarte was a French existentialist and philosopher.

He was famed on believing that existence precedes essences, meaning that everyday life come before the core part of what we (human) are made up of. He also stated that we are all “condemned to be free”. This meaning that we are held responsible for our own actions. There is no getting out of anything that we have chosen to do, this statement hold opposite form determinism in every way. The idea is that we are allowed to make choices but if we make the wrong choice then we must take responsibility for these choices and actions since we made them, and that life is not pre determined causing me to make them.

Some individuals may choose to not take responsibility for their actions by just choosing not to make a decision all together. This is what is called living in bad faith. Living in bad faith is the idea that an individual chooses to not take an action or choices in certain situations. This is still part of free will because you are consciously making that choice and decision to do… well… nothing. Last but not least Sartre stated, “In order to make myself recognized by the Other, I must risk my own life.

To risk one’s life, in fact, is to reveal oneself as not-bound to the objective form or to any determined existence–as not-bound to life” Both determinism and free will have their strong arguments but I guess when you really think about it that is what philosophy altogether is really about, logical arguments. It is interesting how each can present to an individual things that we have all lived or experienced in our everyday lives. When I personally break it all down to decide what I think makes more sense I cant some to a conclusion on what I think is truly going on.

Maybe I am living in bad faith and maybe that is my belief in free will, because I am able and willing to try to make a decision on which means more to me. But if determinism has its way with me then I am doomed in a sense and have no control over what one I will end up siding with. My money says that I continue to debate the two for the rest of my life. Just for my mentality sake I for the time being will side with free will. The idea of free will gives most people and me in this world faith in something, faith in the idea that they have control over their lives and can make decisions and reach things that may seem impossible.

Determinism has its cool points especially when including and involving science, in fact the logic and physical evidence that follows with determinism can be quite convincing at times, but is just to depressing of a thought at the moment. Speaking for most of the world, I am sure that me and anyone else wants to think and feel that our lives are unplanned and that what we do in them will matter not to the world but more importantly to ourselves. Free will takes my vote and I am declaring it as the winner… that is until determinism takes that from me.


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