Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On Free Will

For quite some time I had been an adamant supporter of the idea that all beings had free will. I had always thrown the term predetermination in with religion and predestination. Anyone who honestly believed that we were all destined from birth to live a certain way, I felt, was insecure and irresponsible, desperatley looking for someone or something else to pass all of their faults and problems onto. I had read quite a bit of Sartre and a little of Camus, both of whom seemed to make a great deal of sense. I loved the thought that "Man is condemned to be free". Free will was fact in my eyes, up until the day I began to read Ernest Nagel. I knew a little about Nagel's philosophy, which is why I hadn't read any of his work. I knew that he was an advocate of determinism. At this point I was sure that determinism was a joke, a crutch for the weak minded and another mechanism used by the church to control and subject way back when. So, not truley knowing much of Nagel himself, I excpected find another religious zealot spouting about how god had choosen each of us to blah-blah-blah. After I began reading, however, it became clear that this man was not only very intelligent, but he was not a clergyman either. After reading more of his work, I began to try to combine both schools of thought, but simply couldn't. Free will and determinism simply cannot coencide. I thought for quite some time about the choices I made in everyday life. I found that all of them were based on my personality and common thought, which were based on my previous expiriences, which were caused by earlier events, these being caused by even earlier events, all of which can be, theoretically, traced back to the beginning of time itself. For example, I am, at the moment, writing the first entry in my blog. This is because I feel the need to express and share my ideas. I need to express and share my ideas, some would say, because I'm an over-opinionated jackass with too much free time on my hands. If this is true, then it is true that I have too much free time on my hands because it is summer and I am not in school. Most public schools, including mine, have a summer vacation because, according to education historian Kenneth M. Gold, families traditionally take summer vacations, long ago public schools could not afford to stay open all year, and for quite some time it was believed that summer education was inferior. Anyways, there is a long list of factors that lead up to the posting of this rant, all which can be traced back one way or another to the beginning of time itself. This school of thought is validated by one of the universe's most basic principles, that of cause and effect. For every effect, there is a cause of some sort, for nothing can happen without some sort of force guiding and creating it. Therefore, according to causal determinists, aren't all of my actions based on some series of causes prior to my acting them out? Based on everything that has happened and been, are my thoughts and decisions not inevitable? Can we really choose to do what we want, or are our choices and desires based on what we have been preprogrammed by the universe to choose and desire? One might say "Who cares? It doesn't matter whether or not I have free will, because it doesn't change matters either way. If am predetermined to do something, then i'll do it, and it won't matter. It is the action that matters, not the infinite cause or reason behind it." This is what I thought at first. I told myself this over and over, because for a time I wasn't ready to deal with the loss of my once cherished free will. The overall importance that this leads to is not found in the original argument over free will and determinism. The signifigance is tied into the idea of justice. Let's say a man robs a bank. Do the outside factors in the universe that lead him to commit robbery leave him exempt from punishment? Can he be blamed for all of these things? It was existence itself that shaped his state of mind and his morality. Perhaps a parental figure in his childhood condoned stealing, perhaps they robbed stores themselves. Or maybe he had lost his job and needed money to feed his family. He had lost his job because his company had gone out of buisness. The company went out of buisness because the manufactured a product that had been replaced by some technical innovation. The innovation was created because of a social need to do things faster and with more efficiencey. This need was created because of the common belief that progress is divine and nessecary. Can the man be blamed because his mind and situation are the product of such a universe? At the same time, when we begin to believe in this determinism stuff, it can become an excuse. If we are not responsible, than techinically we shouldn't be punished, which can lead to crime and violence. I will leave you with a couple of questions that have been swirling around in my head for a while, and that I hope someone reading this can help me answer. If causal determination is true, do we still have responsibility? Can society still function under this principle? Please tell me what you think.

On a completely unrelated note, if you're bored and looking for something comical, check out the tree at http://spacetree.keentoons.com/episodes.html

3 Comments:

Blogger Mime Narrator said...

I think free will and determinism can co-exist. If one considers that he is not the victim of cirumstances, but in fact, the laws of causality themselves, he sees that his free will is one and the same with the his cirumstances. The past may determine the present, but the present determines the future. As for responsiblity, in light of the continued existence of free will, I don't see a problem. There may be no individule sitting outside our heads making decisions. Those decisions may be the result of the whole universe. But that doesn't mean the universe can't be responsible. And even if its not responsible, can't we just hold people responsible because it makes society run better? Who cares if its not true. If there's no responsiblity, and we hold people responsible, its not our fault anyway.

1:50 AM  
Anonymous dreamdust said...

I think mimenarrator is right, but instead of looking at determinism from a linear perspective, look at it from a circular perspective: If the past, present, and future are linked in a perfect circle, then the past may determine the present, the present determines the future, and the future extends to the past. In a world without beginning or end, we can have free-will and determinism at the same time.

I think determinism and free-will are both laws with which we describe our universe, and I have to disagree with GavriloPrincip in that I believe free-will and determinism can co-exist.

The Lotus. The perfect circle.

6:18 PM  
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