Free will is something that has been debated through generations of philosophers. We have opinions of philosophers that range from believing that free will is free in nature and cannot be constrained, to free will being something that is pre-determined. With the presence of free will, we are in control of our lives and we are morally responsible for our actions. A life without free will simplifies our existence and makes us feel robotic. The implications of free will make us teeter-totter as a human race, and we have not yet found an accurate consensus to the ancient question; “does free-will exist?”. While I tend to lean more towards libertarianism, determinism is oftentimes used in science. “Libertarianism is a branch of indeterminism that holds the future is open and that we have the power to shape it.” (Rauhut, 97). I believe that we are free, in the reference to libertarianism. Although as humans we sometimes fall victim to pressures from society, especially in the scenario of a decision. Ultimately, we actively use free will and make a choice and we must expect the effects of that choice.
Sir Issac Newton is a well-known scientist and contributor to the early world of philosophy, science, and mathematics and was a known determinist. “Hard determinists accept determinism and agree that the future is firmly fixed by the past.” (Rauhut, 82). Newton found fundamental truths, where he would later prove the prediction of motion. This prediction could be used on a number of varying systems throughout the world of science, and provide results with extreme accuracy. Newton’s discovered truths show a deterministic appeal. His truths show that any event that is to take place in the future is 100% based on what is happening right now. Same goes to show that any event that is taking place in the present is 100% determined by the past. As time went on, eventually Newton’s laws were replaced by an even larger set of physics laws and truths. Nonetheless, determinism still serves as an active participant in science and philosophy today.
Physiologist Ivan Pavlov was a determinist and studied the digestive process in dogs. Pavlov believed in causality, “The past causes the future and this causal link determines what the future looks like.” (Rauhut, 82). More specifically, Pavlov studied the interaction between salivation and hunger. Pavlov discovered that they are linked – without salivation, the stomach does not receive the push to digest. He found that an external stimulus could affect this process. Pavlov is famous for his bell experiment; Pavlov would begin by ringing a bell every time he was going to present the dogs with food. The dogs would appear to salivate, then proceed to eat. However, the dogs were eventually conditioned to the point where when they would hear the bell, they would have an instinctive reflex to salivate. Pavlov continued to find that a conditioned reflex could be oppressed if the stimulus is wrong. He believed that conditioned reflexes could also explain psychosis. Pavlov believed that all of a person’s actions are determined by their own unique environmental conditioning.
As an 18th Century materialist, Baron d’Holbach believed that solely matter exists. In no way, shape, or form did any supernatural entity float around in a reality that we could not see – only matter exists. Materialists believe that all matter is subject to the laws of physics. These laws determine how the matter acts and reacts. The matter is not free to simply exist. All human beings and other entities are physical things. “A majority of philosophers are defenders of free will and personal responsibility and are convinced that the argument against hard determinism is basically correct.” (Rauhut, 86). D’Holbach has contributed greatly to today’s philosophical world and has assisted in the development of naturalists.
“How can anyone be responsible for his actions, since they grow out of his character, which is shaped and molded and made what it is by influences – some hereditary, but most of them stemming from early parental environment – that were not of his own choosing?” – John Hospers. Philosopher John Hospers, a determinist, suggests various justifications for moral responsibility. “A determinist holds that the future is fixed by the past; determinism by itself does not say anything about free will.” (Rauhut, 82). While Hospers is proclaiming determinism is not compatible with moral responsibility, he is not trying to say we cannot ever send anyone to jail for a mental disturbance because at times, society may need to be protected.
Another extremely notable philosopher is Jean-Paul Sartre, a metaphysical libertarian. Sartre has developed theories that keep him on the list of most influential philosophers. Jean-Paul Sartre believed that as living, emotional beings, the human race lived in a constant state of pain and agony due to the fact that they are “condemned to be free”. So, while where we are born, whom we are born to, and our upbringing is out of our hands, he concludes that we become conscious and result in the need to make choices and decisions. “‘We cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of….How simple that is to say; how difficult to appreciate! It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when it actually does not.’—Julian Jaynes.” (Bowen, 223). Sartre’s existentialism theory states, “existence precedes essence”. There is no pre-destined fix that God or anyone else condemned us to – our life and choices and purpose fall on us, not any superior being. So, whether it be fortunate or unfortunate, our lives, future, and extension of humanity land on us.
“The philosophical position that claims that a determined future is compatible with free will is called compatibilism.” (Rauhut, 89). Compatibilism is the mindful practice and belief that free will and determinism can live and work together. A believer of this idea is William James. William James was the first to articulate and create a clear decision process. This process took place in the present time and included random pathways that eventually lead to a choice. James also believed that happiness was created by the pursuer, not discovered by an explorer. Instead of focusing and leeching off the suffering of the world, we need to adjust our attitudes and assume that life does indeed have some sort of meaning. If you find your deepest truths, and truly believe that life is worth living, then you will see your life reciprocate your feelings and beliefs.
Emmanuel Kant is an extremely recognizable name in the world of philosophy. Kant is a part of the compatibilism community and believes that whatever comes into existence must only come in by sufficient determining grounds. “Free will—that we’re free to make our own decisions, to decide freely, to choose between one thing and another. It’s somehow liberating to choose freely.” (Bowen, 216). He deduces a strong necessitarian lifestyle and believes that everything that will happen must happen, and everything that won’t happen can’t happen. Nonetheless, Emmanuel Kant made several contributions to almost all areas of philosophy.
Thomas Hobbes was a modern inventor of compatibilism. “The compatibilist claims that this ability to act on different hypothetically possible desires is all that is required for freedom.” (Rauhut, 89-90). Hobbes sternly claims that there is no morality in the state of nature because there is no existing property. He also disregards theological speculations about a God and soul. Because Hobbes was an atheist, he did not have an issue describing his views on determinism. He believed that if individuals are self-centered and only choosing to behave based on their own satisfaction, then there is no free will and humans are a part of a material world that is controlled by determinism. However, only when an individual is forced to deal with the conditions of a material world do they feel free.
“It is natural to believe that our will is free.” (Rauhut, 77). Despite several various powerful arguments and perspectives that lead a team of determinists, it would take an extremely convincing argument to outweigh the human experience of living. Living, breathing, choosing is the only thing we have had the privilege of experiencing first-hand. Yes, there will always be a “what-if” scenario, however, why should the only thing that we are able to experience and comprehend become an illusion? So there must be a reason for our choices, otherwise, we would not be making any choices at all. The choice that we end up choosing will always be the most desirable choice at the time and based off of the given information. If human beings can are able to learn about an alternate reality that we have no experience of, then human beings should also have the ability to believe in the reality that they live every day.
- Bowen, Jack. “The Dream Weaver: One Boy’s Journey Through the Landscape of Reality.” Pearson Education, 2008. Pgs. 215-243.
- Rauhut, Nils Ch. “Ultimate Questions: Thinking About Philosophy. Third Edition.” Pearson Education, 2004, 2007, 2011. Pgs. 77-103.