Determinism and Free Will

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 9 November 2016

Determinism and Free Will

?What are the implications of determinism for our understanding of free will? Argue your position. There are several implications of determinism that illustrate our understanding of free will. It is a general understanding that we as humans should be free to make our own choices our lives; yet we also understand that events, including human behaviour, may have a prior cause, perhaps due to natural or some other circumstance. This paper aims to identify and present these implications of determinism on free will.

Naturally, we are raised in a society where ‘agency’ or the ability to act freely is a given birth right (in most countries anyway), subsequently followed by the self being regulated over time to develop socially acceptable and rational conduct, through autonomy. Already we are able to identify how determinism holds an impact on one’s free will. How can we have true ‘freedom’ and free will to behave as we wish, when it is already determined that the society will live in will regulate our ability to make choices and decisions in life?

A fear of determinism on free will is that, if it is true, humans are no longer accountable for the consequences of their actions through their freedom. Hence to say that human reasoning has no influence on the final outcome. This raises further topics to discuss, to investigate what free will/freedom actually is, and whether it truly exists if the decision is pre-determined. The perception of free will is open to interpretation by many philosophers and ordinary people. For the purposes of this discussion, we will maintain that free will is a human’s capacity to make a decision freely and openly for themselves.

We must then take in to account the concept of psychological determinism; taking in to account all the elements, which have formed one’s character such as their genetics, childhood, relationships, workplace and social autonomy.

When this is in question, it is plausible to say the person may actually not be making a decision from free will, as they are constrained by their biological and social construct in the process. This form of determinism elucidates how one’s understanding of ‘free will’ can be created within the mind (Skinner, 1948) as they would make a choice in a psychological context that they are comfortable with i. e. ‘the right decision’ for them- but that does not necessarily mean that the choice is made freely.

What if however, whether or not we are able to choose freely, that certain events are inevitable in our fate as humans, and there may be no alternative outcome? Fatalism is the term is what underpins this concept. The concepts of fatalist approaches such as theological and logical determinism are to be explored further within this paper in relation to their implications to free will.

Both concepts however hold a common ground however, where outcomes are not generated from pre-determined events, but emphasise that the outcome will take place regardless of the prior events and therefore, regardless of what choice the human makes. Many theological determinist approaches involve an element of divine knowledge or omnipotence. Most commonly the example of God or a supreme being is used, to uphold that he who is believed to be the creator of all, knows all things timely, as to what will happen as per our fate.

This inflicts the understanding of free will, as the individual is left to ponder as to whether they actually have a power to control the resulting outcome from a choice that they make. Boethius (524) referred to this in The Consolation of Philosophy where he outlines the natural trait of humans to be able to act on their will with reasoning, which is independent of chance or any scheduled fate. His idea was that any sort of divine pre-emptive knowledge could co-exist with free will, and does not necessarily have to imply a sense of a determined future.

Referring to the above-mentioned concept of logical determinism, we may now factor out any element of religious or omnipotent basis. Logical determinism is important to consider for our understanding of free will, as it sets a true/false premise to an outcome occurring (Taylor, 1963). For example, X will happen tomorrow or not, but if Y happens, the premise is still fulfilled by X not occurring. (Aristotle, 350). Arguably, this can restrict free will. When the outcome is fixed and may occur on probability, free will cannot permit us to change this.

Although what is true, will always be true and remain true in the principle of this form of determinism, regardless of whether we know the outcome, can exist a freedom of choice, which potentially leads to the final outcome. It has been enveloped before, if there were some sort of intellect that could calculate everything about the world and the beings in it or ‘condense into a single formula’, we subsequently may be able to predict the future (Laplace, 1814). Yet considering the possibility that an external or unaccountable factor (free will) enters the equation in a sense of randomness (Bohm, 1951), this ‘intellect’ would not be able to be entirely deterministic.

Throughout this paper, there has been a focus on the ‘chain’ or sequence of events prior to an event occurring. If these prior actions could be examined and explained, there may be a reason for a certain event to occur. This is referred to as causal determinism, which has emphasis on events or the acts of ‘free will’ prior to an outcome occurring. This further implies that causal determinism, like other forms of determinism can co-exist with freedom, where we are free to make our choices, sometimes knowing or not knowing what the outcome will be.

The fact alone that the choice is present, definitively shows that free will is present. One who is a ‘hard determinist’ will refuse the possibility that free will may exist or be logically compatible with determinism. Some of the examples discussed can be considered as hard determinist approaches if we rule out this possibility. More importantly though, we should look at the position of a ‘soft determinist’, where free will can exist in a determinist environment, but where the concept of ‘free will’ is not what we think it may be.

We as humans have individual experiences for each and every thing in our lives, including knowing the feeling of how to evaluate, deliberate, and make a decision. We are able to feel that this is our own choice, regardless of what context our personal character or ‘self’ we have constructed since birth, where we also have the ability to change our mind about our decisions. These are fundamental feelings possessed by all human beings regarding their own free will.

What potentially causes a division is the different methods in which people portray this, for example- free will is incompatible with determinism, humans have free will; determinism is false (Libertarianism). Or perhaps a dualist approach where whatever in the human mind is exercising free will, may or may not change the course of the future. Furthermore, compatiblism (soft determinism) seems to provide the most realistic approach. This is on the premise where free will is not incompatible with determinism, therefore determinism is true, so is free will.

This argument is on the grounds that the term ‘free will’ is coined in an ambiguous and poor manner. An example would be to consider an online game of ‘Connect 4’ with one human player and against a computer’s artificial intelligence (AI). When you make a move, you generally feel that you were able to freely choose that despite perhaps several other moves you may have made, but chose the one as the best clear move for strategic purposes. We now consider the AI, which has been programmed with algorithm to be deterministic and produce certain outcomes.

Asides from the human turning the computer off or removing it’s RAM, the AI is in the same condition as the human, with the ability to make several strategic moves to it’s desire. Therefore, the AI is displaying human-like behaviour by displaying an act of free will even though it is a machine; somewhat like how humans over time have been educated and developed to make decisions. Notably, the possibility still exists for the human to strategically and freely choose their desired moves in order to win the game, despite the fact that the AI was programmed with knowledge to also deterministically win the game.

As to whether a machine can actually behave like a human is a potentially debatable essay in its own, but the principle shows us that free will does co-exist with determinism, and that deterministic behaviour can alternate ‘free will’ and vice versa. Ultimately, when you make a choice, you bring your character, judgement, past experiences, memories, morals and desires, and can justify that it was a choice made from free will. This is also the essence of determinism, where an event has occurred from antecedent factors.

Provided that this understanding is present, there is no real implication on ‘free will’ from determinism, asides from the views that take measures beyond accepting the existence of freedom. References Aristotle. , Ackrill, J. L. & Aristotle. (1963). Categories, and De interpretatione. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Boethius. (524). The consolation of philosophy. Bohm, D. (1951). Quantum theory. New York: Prentice-Hall. Laplace, P. S. (1814). Essai philosophique sur les probabilites. Paris: Courcier. Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden Two. New York: Macmillan. Taylor, R. (1963). Metaphysics. Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice-Hall.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 9 November 2016

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