Determinism and Free will

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The debate between Determinism and Free will has long been discussed, but while debating both of these subjects there must be an understanding as to what both mean, unfortunately the meaning of both are not as straight forward as first thought.

The idea that we always could do otherwise than we do is often thought to conflict with the view that every event is caused and that human actions cannot be excluded. Resolutions of this conflict have normally been viewed mainly in the light of how they affect moral responsibility. With moral responsibility, constraints are already being placed upon a person.This is because morals have already been determined for that person, through their family, upbringing and the society in which they reside.

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This leads on to how responsible are we for our actions. Which again is dependant on how voluntary our actions are, for example, how voluntary is someone’s action when placed under the threat of death or the threat of death of a loved one? Are their actions voluntary? Aristotle would have said as “One can always resist or ignore threats”, but in our society this would have been viewed as an action but not a voluntary action.It is in connection with moral responsibility that the free will determinism debate has traditionally arisen. It has been the compatibilists who believe that such responsibility is compatible with the truth of determinism and incompatibilists who deny this.

It is incompatibilists who hold that if determinism is true, then no one can be morally responsible. This in turn leads to the idea that if an agent is not responsible, that agent is free to carry out any act, without any actions against that agent. The term Determinism has various uses.It is usually used by philosophers for accounts of our human choices and actions that make them into effects of casual sequences.

These sequences are of such a kind as to raise a question about the freedom of choices and actions we make. The theory of determinism is that all events are caused, or determined by antecedent conditions. So if the antecedent condition has not occurred then the event would have not occurred. In this it is saying that nothing happens by chance.

Some philosophers think that determinism must apply to human action and decision making because our brains control our bodies.Brain processes are physical events that are caused by antecedent physical factors. Any later condition of the brain could, in principle, be explained by the immediately preceding condition of the brain plus any physical input. This form of determinism is called physical determinism.

Like many ideologies in philosophy, physical determinism of the brain has not been proven and is still just theoretical. Another form of determinism is psychological determinism. Looking away from philosophy, one of the most famous psychologists would be an advocate of this form.This advocate would have been Sigmund Freud.

As with Freud’s theory of the mind, psychological determinism is the theory that all psychological states and events are caused by antecedent psychological states and events. Thus all decisions are caused by previously existing psychological factors. With this there are causal psychological laws that govern everything a person thinks, decides and does. These causal laws can be complicated but there is a general understanding about the ideas on how desires, wants, emotions, morals and a sense of duty interact to provide a persons decision.

In everyday life, we constantly predict how people will feel and decide about things. Based on our knowledge of a person’s personality and character, we predict that that person will do certain things and not others. For example, if you know someone likes cats and hates dogs, you can predict and be fairly certain that that person will stop and pet a cat but not a dog. Again with responsibility there are two forms of determinism that are closely linked with responsibility.

These are hard determinism and soft determinism.Hard determinism is the theory that people are not responsible for their actions and decisions because these are causally determined. Hard determinists think that responsibility requires the power to choose either to do or not to do an action. Along with this they believe that free will is necessary for being responsible.

Although hard determinists believe that the power to choose never existed, as all decisions are causally determined by antecedent factors. Hence no one is ever responsible for their actions.This is because responsibility is linked to free will which the hard determinists believe is never present in a person’s decision making. Following on from this, it is easy to see why hard determinists think that people should not be blamed or punished for their actions, as the person was never responsible.

Although this does not mean they don’t not believe that no action should be taken against these bad actions. The hard determinists think that treatment is the answer and not punishment. Society should try to change the factors that cause the person to act.The person’s psychology should be changed in some way so that their decisions and actions will not be unacceptable to society.

In turn this will not make the person more responsible, but it will eliminate the burden on other people, of the other person’s bad actions. Soft determinism is the ideal that people are responsible for their actions and decisions even though these are causally determined by antecedent factors. Soft determinists believe that for a person to be responsible for their actions, that person only needs to decide whether to do it or not.For example, if a person decides to, in a normal way, not to get out of bed in the morning and go to lectures, that person is responsible for the decision that they have made.

This is true if the person’s action’s follows from their character, current desires and their accurate understanding of their circumstances, then they are responsible for their actions. That person decided to stay in bed, so their actions are free actions. This is because the person has an understanding of the consequences of their actions. Another word that is used to describe soft determinism is compatibilism.

This is because it is claimed that freedom is compatible with determinism. This is described as, being able to do what you want and deciding to do it. This is because an action is free if a person decides to do something and also has the option of doing something which they have not chosen to do. This free choice comes about by a person deciding in a normal way, and considers the alternatives and decides, without anything seeming to force their decision.

In saying this, this form of free choice is not a case for free will.This is because there are antecedent factors that have caused the person to choose the alternative, and the causal factors, such as the person’s character, wants and beliefs, are a part of the person. Meaning that the person’s free choosing has come from within and not from outside forces. Hence showing an expression of the person and not the surrounding forces.

This leads on to the argument that soft determinists believe that psychological determinism of decisions and actions are compatible with being responsible for a person’s actions.They argue that a person is responsible if the action derives from the person’s character and personality. Where as if the action had nothing to do with the person’s character and personality then this cannot lead to responsibility. Free will in the context of philosophy can be explained as the power a person has to detach themselves from ant inner motivation and then choosing from several alternatives.

This means that free will itself can contain decisions that are both controlled by the person and not totally caused by antecedent factors.Although there may be antecedent factors the person has the ability to step back from any psychological factors, such as desire or an emotion. Even with desires and emotions, the person is free to decide to do what they choose, for example, to go out to dinner, to study for college, or to do any other possibility that is being considered. The power to make decisions is when a person uses free will.

Although antecedent factors do not totally cause a decision to act, neither is the decision to act completely arbitrary.If this was the case then the decision to act would not be seen as free will. Also the decision to act, according to the theory of free will, it is supposed to be an expression of the person who makes it, for example, when a person does something that is totally out of character, like running around the streets naked and this was totally unconnected with the person’s character and previous thoughts, then this would not be done out of free will. Although determinism and free will can be seen to be ever present in human living, I a practical and liveable sense they both seem compatible.

With determinism it is true that an event is caused by antecedent conditions, but if this was applied to everything then we as human beings would be nothing more than robots, with no responsibility, plus the fact that although our bodies are made of atoms, which we have no control over, these atoms do not control us as thinking beings. Free will on the other hand does give us a choice in what we do but, this does not mean we are truly free to do whatever we wish, as we know there are consequences to all our actions, which in a true sense means we are never truly free to do anything we choose as we are responsible for our actions.But free will in this case says that if something is done out of character, then it is not done out of free will, but spontaneity is one of the things that makes us human and not just predictable objects. It is true to say that our futures can be determined from our up brining and background.

So we are left with the choice to either accept our determined futures or choose to make the choices open to us and change the determined future.

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Determinism and Free will. (2017, Sep 27). Retrieved from

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