Free Will and Schopenhauer

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 22 November 2016

Free Will and Schopenhauer

Free will is considered as having the ability to choose a course of action solely based on one’s character. Immanuel Kant argues that humans have free will and act accordingly, while Arthur Shopenhauer suggests that humans are delusional and desire to have free will, yet they are lead by laws of nature and motives only. Perceiving ourselves as acting with free will is just to satisfy the metaphysical requirement on being responsible for one’s action. Free will is a phenomenon that does not exist; what is perceived to be free will is causes that we act upon and motives that drive us to do so.

Every single action needs a cause to act upon. .Kant connects free will with morality and implies that morality lies within reason. He does not really explain free will but only refutes objections against it by stating that we are free by knowing we have duties. His argument suggests that even though we have morals we can always act immorally, by having the ability to act otherwise we have free will. Shopenhauer’s water example proves otherwise. “This is exactly as if water spoke to itself: “I can make high waves (yes in the sea during a storm), I can rush down hill (yes!

in the river bed), I can plunge down foaming and gushing (yes! In the waterfall), I can rise freely as a stream of water in the air (yes! In the fountain) I can, finally, boil away and disappear (yes! At a certain temperature); but I am voluntarily remaining quiet and clear in the reflecting pond. ” This example is deterministic and proves that in order for the water to do all those things, it needs a cause to act upon. Just as a man must have a cause that pushes him forward in order to act accordingly. The man needs a motive that will act as a cause.

The causal determinism proposes that all future events are necessitated by past and present events combined by laws of nature. It is not a man’s free will that makes him act morally, but rather, it is the motives that make him act in any particular way. Kant would argue that acting morally has absolute worth because by acting morally, we engage in a higher order of existence. Schopenhauer gives the example of a man who gets out from work and evaluates his options which he thinks he can freely choose from. That man decides to go home to his wife.

He thinks he made this choice freely but actually it is because the motive of going home was greater than the other options. If Schopenhauer was to challenge him to say ‘that was expected of you being the boring man that you are’, and he went to the theater with him instead, this would still not mean he has free will. It only means that his motives have changed because there is a different cause. Schopenhauer’s comment causes him to act defying manner. If this man had a more passive character, he might have still gone home to his wife.

Causes would have affected him in different ways and he would have had different motives. Being responsible of our actions is demanded from us by the society; when we act accordingly it is because the society’s expectations cause us to act responsibly. Kant argues that as rational beings, we should consciously and freely choose the responsible thing to do because it is the laws we choose to obey that make us free. Schopenhauer would argue that the only reason we obey rules and act responsibly is because our motives drive us to that direction.

If our motives were to conflict with the rules, we would stop being responsible. If men actually had free will that leads them to act responsibly, we would not be able to explain murder, theft or any illegal action that harms the society. When the murderer, the thief or the criminal perform their actions, it is because their motives are conflicting with the rules society set. Humans are subject to law of nature, without a cause, there is no effect; therefore we have no free will. According to Kant, one should act as if the maxim of one’s action were to become, a universal law of nature through one’s will.

By stating that, Kant is actually making the law of nature subject to human free will, putting the effect before the cause. Schopenhauer presents an argument which explains why man are subject to law of nature: “For man, like all objects of experience, is a phenomenon in time and space, and since the law of causality holds for all such a priori and consequently without exception, he too must be a subject to it. ” This suggests that we are experiencing the same causalities as every other being does, yet we are blind to see what is obvious.

There are too many causes that affect men, which is why we get delusional while recognizing the causes. Both Kant and Schopenhauer use the billiard balls example to illustrate the relation between cause and effect. Kant states that we are not like billiard balls because we have the ability to make our own choices as rational beings. Whereas Schopenhauer suggests that we are like the more complex version of the billiard balls: we will only move if we are hit. We differ from billiard balls not because we have reason, but because we are so constantly hit that we stop perceiving the causes.

Every single component in life cause our motives to shape in certain ways which is why it is so hard to recognize the causes we act upon. All our actions can be reduced to motives we have in order to satisfy our ultimate purpose: to live and to create life. Eventually we are ranned by simple motives such as maintaining our successive continuity of existence, reproduction or protection. Even a man who is about to commit suicide will pull his hand away if he accidentally touches a hot iron. His reflex will send faster signals to his brain before he can even acknowledge it.

He would have no free will over that action; it would purely be him obeying the law of nature without even thinking about it. As subjects to law of nature, the decisions we make in our daily lives are mostly caused by the motives to find the best mate possible to create the best off spring. We do not necessarily recognize it, but even the most trivial choices we make, like the desire to drive a fancy car over a cheaper one, is not an act of free will. By doing so, just like a peacock showing his feathers, we are unconsciously lead by motives that push us into a certain direction which will make us more desirable as a mate.

We want to be accepted by the society for the same reasons, being a part of a community provides a protection and opportunity to reproduce. The reason why a rich man would help the poor, or join a country club is not because he has free will that makes him morally responsible, or that he enjoys playing golf, but it is because that will make him more respected and better accepted by the society which he wants to belong. Our reflexes, hormones, neurons, our DNA and the causes that act on us condition the decisions we make. We choose to believe that we have free will because it makes us feel as if we have control on our life.

As the biologist Lynn Margulis defines “Life is the strange fruit of individuals evolved by symbiosis. Swimming, conjugating, bargaining and dominating, bacteria living in intimate associations during the Proterozoic gave rise to myriad chimeras, mixed beings, of which we represent a tiny fraction of an expanding progeny. Through corporeal mergers disparate beings invented meiotic sex, programmed death, and complex multicellularity. Life is an extension of being into the next generation, the next species. ” Nothing makes us any different than the bacteria, other than being more complex, that solely acted on their instincts.

The only difference is the equation that determines our actions have many variables, whereas it was much fewer in prokaryotes. If we are able to understand that the simplest forms of life were acting upon the basic motives and no free will, we should be able to perceive that our actions are not different. The chemical distribution of our DNA will cause us to have an essence, which will determine our motives and actions under different circumstances. As the being gets more complex, the cause and effect relation will be harder to observe but still, there will not be free will.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 22 November 2016

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