Free Will Determinism

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

Free Will Determinism

Every day in our lives and everything we do involves some degree of decision making or choice selection either mental or physical. We start making choices and decisions from the moment we wake up everyday to the second we sleep. Some decisions we make are blatantly obvious to ourselves because of our need to reflect on the choices before choosing. However, most decisions we make throughout the day are made without much thought. We are even, quite often, unaware that we are making decisions due to habituation and preference.

Before going further, we must define the terms free will, determinism and fate or destiny. Free will is the ability to choose. Furthermore, it is the power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate. Fate, or destiny, can be defined as the inevitable events predestined by this force. However, there is a better position to take when it comes to arguing against free will; and that position, or belief, is called determinism. Determinism states that the conditions at one moment are the necessary result from the “previous” conditions.

Simply put, every effect has a cause, every action is predetermined. Unlike fate or destiny, it does not mean the future is already established. It is one thing to say that our choice is caused. It is another thing to say that we do not choose, and fate says, we cannot choose. This is definitely an endless argument given that it is a matter of personal opinion with no facts involved. However, free will definitely seems like the most plausible standpoint. We do have free will. First of all, we can all experience something within ourselves that we can conclude to be a decision making process.

These decisions we make are obviously made from our own will and not determined by anything other than ourselves. Baron Holbach, an 18th century French philosopher, believes that free will is an illusion. According to Holbach, we have no choice in anything because everything is predetermined. Holbach also states that our decision making boils down to preference. For example, if Bob walked into an ice cream store filled with numerous flavors, it would seem that Bob is free to choose any flavor he wants.

Holbach would have to argue that Bob has already made a decision in his mind before walking in due to vanilla being his favorite flavor, his preference. However, there is no relation between the fact that he chose vanilla and his choice being predetermined. As stated earlier, it is one thing to say Bob’s choice is caused and another to say that he didn’t have a choice. Bob’s preference caused him to choose vanilla. According to fate, Bob didn’t have a choice. He was destined to pick vanilla. That conclusion doesn’t seem logical. It’s obvious that he could have chosen otherwise considering that he wasn’t restrained in any way.

Let’s imagine if Bob’s best friend, John, was in the ice cream shop with him. John says, “I bet you are going to pick vanilla”, knowing that Bob’s favorite flavor was vanilla. He might very well say that the outcome was determined. On the other hand, if Bob knew that John knows his favorite flavor, he could simply choose otherwise to disprove John. This shows that there is no way that Bob picking vanilla was not his choice and was determined before he even “chose”. Perhaps a more substantial argument would simply state that there is no logical basis on which to deny free will.

Even if free will did not exist and we were all helplessly condemned to our particular “fate”, it seems rather unproductive or even pessimistic to think about it this way. One could just sit around all day and, in a sense, let “fate” happen. Everything and anything including life itself would lose meaning. There’d be no motivation for people to do anything if they knew they can’t change their future. With our lives being determined, there would no accountability or responsibility. We cannot be held responsible or accountable if we had no choice to do otherwise. Without free will, morality and ethics are meaningless.

We would also have to throw away the “best” things about people, such as generosity or bravery, just two among countless traits. If we had no free will, one would not be considered generous for giving their kidney away. One would not be considered brave for taking a bullet for someone. They were “destined” to lose their kidney and their life, respectively. If everything was determined, then Adolph Hitler could be blamed no more for his evil actions than Mother Teresa can be praised for good ones. Creativity seems to be another possible foundation for free will.

For example, if Bob was presented with sushi and pizza, then was asked to pick one to eat, it would seem that he is predetermined to eat either the sushi or the pizza. However, Bob can create a new option. He can just get up and go get a hamburger. Or even better, Bob can quite literally just make his own concoction by mixing the sushi with the pizza. His imagination quite literally expanded his mere two choices into a countless number of choices limited only by his imagination. It was his free will to mix and match however he wanted to. He was not restricted to but was only presented two options.

Using the same example, a good point against determinism could be brought up. It seems logical to assume that no one can predict the actions of another person. Now, if Bob were to pick the pizza, then a determinist would say that something caused Bob to pick the pizza. However, if Bob picked the sushi, they’d say the same. At that moment in time, both are possible outcomes and the choice is purely Bob’s. Determinists can only have any validity after the choice is made, at which point, it doesn’t matter anymore. Despite all the arguments against fatalism and determinism, there is definitely no right answer since it is all subjective.

The determinists and fatalists also have plausible arguments against free will. One argument against free will, although not deterministic or fatalistic, states that God contradicts free will of all living beings including itself. If God is omniscient, meaning it knows all, it should already know all of its future actions along with its “creation’s”. If God is all knowing, then it has no free will and neither do us. Excluding God and the metaphysical world, there are still many ways to disprove the idea of free will. “If we put a person back in time, and observe, they will make exactly the same choices, of course.

” This statement may be clever, but not very rational as time travel is impossible. It just seems to be an illusion of time travel habituated into us; where we think that if anything is changed when going back in time, it will affect the future. Causality seems to be the best way to refute free will. Causality is the way that all events are caused by previous events. In other words, all the choices we make were caused by other factors and not necessarily a decision of our own free will. As for the ice cream shop example earlier, a determinist might refute this by saying that Bob was simply not aware of the cause of his decision.

It is undeniable that neurons firing chemicals and so forth could have deterministically resulted in his choice of vanilla. There are arguments which claim that free will is an illusion. It is an illusion that we accept because of our inability to observe all of the processes going on involved with making a choice. Basically, this point of view states that we are unaware and have a lack of understanding for numerous processes present within human thought. Despite the differences between free will and determinism or fatalism, there is some middle ground.

Libertarian is the belief that free will is affected by human nature but retains ability to choose contrary to our nature and desires. This is a balance between the ideas from free will and determinism. This is a good stance because of its incorporation of both views. This whole argument about free will is purely subjective. However, it seems that there are stronger arguments for the idea of free will as opposed to determinism and fatalism. As was stated earlier, it would seem rather pessimistic to view the world as a determinist. Just by being a determinist, one is choosing not to believe in free will which is an example of free will in itself.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 9 November 2016

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