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7.1: Freedom? Is it Real? A Myth? Maybe Not!

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    What is Free Will?

    What is at stake with this issue of Free Will are notions of responsibility and in particular moral responsibility. The more advances in science that present the picture of the universe as being deterministic, the more there arises the question of whether or not human actions are in any way exempt from that idea that all physical events are determined by prior events. How are humans to be considered possessed of free will when their actions might be described as being determined by their prior states of being?

    Free Will or Not? Determinism or Free Will?

    Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors. Factors of historical concern have included metaphysical constraints (for example, logical, nomological, or theological determinism), physical constraints (ex., chains or imprisonment), social constraints (ex., threat of punishment, censure, or structural constraints), and mental constraints (ex, compulsions, phobias, neurological disorders, or genetic predispositions). The principle of free will has religious, legal, ethical, and scientific implications. [1] For example, in the religious realm, free will implies that individual will and choices can coexist with an omnipotent divinity. In the law, it affects considerations of punishment and rehabilitation. In ethics, it may hold implications for whether individuals can be held morally accountable for their actions. In science, neuroscientific findings regarding free will may suggest different ways of predicting human behavior…. The need to reconcile freedom of will with a deterministic universe is known as the Problem of Free Will or sometimes referred to as the Dilemma of Determinism. This dilemma leads to a moral dilemma as well: How are we to assign responsibility for our actions if they are caused entirely by past events?

    Are you free? What makes you think so?

    Humans are either free or they are not. They either possess free will and can use it or they do not have it at all. They either have it and can use it as often as they want to do so or they have only the appearance of free will and really never make decisions or choices devoid of prior influences that determine the outcome of the decision or choice making procedure.

    That there may be social or physical constraints is not the issue here. Humans are not able to fly using only their own bodies to propel them through the air. You could say that humans are not "free" to do so but that would be to misuse the word "free" and change its meaning from "being able to choose" to "being physically able to do".

    There may be repercussions or consequences for our actions so that a person might want to say something like "I am not free to rob a bank and by that mean that if they did they would be pursued and captured and imprisoned. If persons have free will, then that might mean simply that they can make the choice to rob a bank and flee capture. So "freedom" does not mean the ability to make decisions and to act without undesirable consequences.

    Freedom in this context of the freedom versus determinism issue has a meaning that identifies it with possessing free will or being able to make choices for ones self.

    Freedom's Not Just Another Word By DAVID HACKETT FISCHER, February 7th, 2005 New York Times

    .......There is no one true definition of liberty and freedom in the world, though many people to the left and right believe that they have found it. And, yet, there is one great historical process in which liberty and freedom have developed, often in unexpected ways.

    The words themselves have a surprising history. The oldest known word with such a meaning comes to us from ancient Iraq. The Sumerian "ama-ar-gi," found on tablets in the ruins of the city-state of Lagash, which flourished four millenniums ago, derived from the verb "ama-gi," which literally meant "going home to mother." It described the condition of emancipated servants who returned to their own free families - an interesting link to the monument in Baghdad. (In contemporary America, the ancient characters for "ama-ar-gi" have become the logos of some libertarian organizations, as well as tattoos among members of politically conservative motorcycle gangs, who may not know that the inscriptions on their biceps mean heading home to mom.)

    Equally surprising are the origins of our English words liberty and, especially, freedom. They have very different roots. The Latin libertas and Greek eleutheria both indicated a condition of independence, unlike a slave. (In science, eleutherodactylic means separate fingers or toes.) Freedom, however, comes from the same root as friend, an Indo-European word that meant "dear" or "beloved." It meant a connection to other free people by bonds of kinship or affection, also unlike a slave. Liberty and freedom both meant "unlike a slave." But liberty meant privileges of independence; freedom referred to rights of belonging. ...

    Freedom? Is it real?

    Free Will Determinism
    Mind Destiny
    Self Fate
    I have a Free Will Will of God or of the Gods
    I Choose. What will be, will be
    I It was meant to be
    Free Choice Laws of Nature
    Essentialism Determinism


    Without external coercion

    Without ignorance

    Hard Determinism-- B.F.Skinner

    Soft Determinism-- W.James

    Compatibilism- W.T. Stace

    Most people born in the 20th Century were raised with a conflicting set of beliefs concerning the issue of freedom. On the one hand people have been taught or encouraged to believe that they are responsible for their actions and that they are capable of choosing from among the options that are presented to them. Yet there is in the language that is used and in the ideas people claim to hold as true another view entirely, namely that there are forces, or a force, over which humans have no control and that determines what occurs. There are those who claim that they are free and believe that here is such a thing as fate or destiny at the same time.

    Questions to Consider

    • How can it be that people are free to chose their own paths through life and yet all has been set out by the forces (deities) that have determined each person's ultimate end or destiny?
    • Are humans free to make decisions concerning their behavior or not?
    • If humans are not free then what becomes of the notion of responsibility and accountability?
    • What is to be done with those humans who commit crimes if they did so due to factors over which they had no control?
    • Are you one of those people who claim to believe in fate?
    • Do you think that all things occur as they were meant to occur?
    • Do you believe that "what will be will be?" (que sera sera)

    If you do and you think that you are free to make decisions and that the future is undetermined you are a believer in contradictory ideas. The idea of a fate or destiny rests on the belief (in the absence of proof that is clearly convincing) that there is some power or agency that does determine the sets of experiences to be encountered by humans as well as their ultimate demise in both time and manner. You are believing in things that cannot all be true at the same time.

    Does infallible foreknowledge of a human act by a deity or the "fates" take away free will? People that can consistently maintain both free will and infallible foreknowledge are called compatibilists. They have a very difficult time providing evidence and reasoning to support their position. People that prove that only one of them can be true are called Incompatibilists. They hold that free will and infallible foreknowledge by any entity contradict with each other. Here are attempts to explain and argue for each of these views.

    Scenario 1

    C has determined that at time (T) you will be in location (F) and event (E) that you are hit by a meteorite and die. Opps! Sorry! Now, you can do whatever you like but if there is such a fate then at T you will be at F and then E you die. Sorry again. But you can make a decision to remain where you are now at location (l) when time T comes and avoid E. But you do not know the future and so when T comes around you have made decisions that place you at F and you get hit and die.

    Were you free to decide to remain at l or to go to some other location (O) when T came? People are brought up to believe that they are, but if there is a C that has determined that you are to be at F at T and get hit then you do not have such freedom to make the decision to be at O, act on it and to be at O, or I, and not die.

    If it is your C to be at F at T and have E occur then you have been determined by C to make the decisions that put you at F at T. You have no choice to decide to do anything but to be at F at T.

    Okay let's try to get freedom back into this. Let's say now you are at l and it is getting close to T and you decide of your own free will (if you have a free will) to go to a location (O) other than (F). If there is fate then when you decide to go to O something will happen that will force you, against your apparent free will, to go from O instead be at F at T where you get E. But are we still free? Well not quite, because when we make decisions to go from O we do not feel as if we are being forced to go to F. We make decisions throughout our daily life and it appears as if they are free and not forced and that our bodies are not being forced into physical places by physicals agents. So if there is fate and fate determines what happens to us it is not through a series of physical agents acting like thugs and forcing us to do things. No we realize our predetermined fate by actions that appear to be our own choosing. If there is fate it would be fate that acts through us and gives us desires and aims and values and goals and they cause our decisions and they lead to our experiences and to our choices that bring us to F at T to have E. This would be such as to make the decision to go to O and as you are making your way to go to O you are on spot F at time T when you are hit by the meteorite E.

    Conclusion: If there is fate, there is no free will.

    Scenario 2

    OK, let's suppose that there is a cause of events (C), a fate or fates or deity or deities that determine each person's destiny but has no foreknowledge of what will happen and no control over the decision making of humans. The C knows you are at L and wants to arrange that at time T you are at F and have E. So now if there is this sort of fate then some things, some events, will occur where you would react and move from L to F at T and have E. In this case C made you move to F at T. Were you free? Did you have free will? Could you have decided to go to O and not to F at time T? Perhaps, but if there is a C then when you make a decision in your daily life to go to O you would be forced to be at F by some agencies or agents that put you at F at T and boom E. Is this what daily life feels like? Are we regularly deciding to do one thing or go to one place only to be forced to another? If there is fate then it determines everything that happens and the events that lead up to the "Big Events" that are so memorable and the benchmarks of our lives. If there is fate then it determines everything that happens whether large or small events because they all contribute to the production of the memorable and the benchmarks of our lives. If there is such a fate operative we would experience a near constant subversion of our free will choices and the events we do experience will seem forced against our wills. This is not our experience on a minute by minute or hour by hour basis!

    Conclusion: If there is fate, there is no free will.

    Consider this:

    The idea of a Fate or Destiny rests on the belief (in the absence of proof that is clearly convincing) that there is some power or agency that determines the sets of experiences to be encountered by humans as well as their ultimate demise in both time and manner. As there is no convincing proof such an agency exists we will examine another sense in which freedom or free will is challenged.

    Are humans free to determine each and every one of their own actions or is there some force, agency, or process that determines it as a result of prior experiences?

    Consider some simple definitions for the basic positions:

    • Causal determinism - every event has a cause
    • Hard determinism - causal determinism is true, and therefore, free action and moral responsibility are impossible
    • Soft determinism (or compatibilism) - causal determinism is true, but we still act as free, morally responsible agents when, in the absence of external constraints, our actions are caused by our desires
    • Indeterminism - causal determinism is false, since free, uncaused actions that we are morally responsible for are possible

    Examine this chart to learn of the positions of the traditions on five claims.







    1. Causal determinism is true; every event has a cause.




    (free actions are uncaused)

    2. If causal determinism is true, then there are no free actions.




    3. There are no free actions.



    (actions caused by our own desires are free)


    (uncaused actions are free)

    4. If there are no free actions, then there is no moral responsibility.




    5. There is no moral responsibility



    (compatibilist freedom allows moral responsibility)


    (indeterminist freedom allows moral responsibility)

    Problems and Arguments

    So here we have one form of the problem with the idea of human freedom. Are humans possessed of the capacity to make a decision, a choice, that is not fully determined by antecedent conditions or not? Are humans free, so free that they can do things that are totally unbound by the laws of the physical universe, totally undetermined by previous acts and events and physical circumstances? Or, alternatively, are humans potentially predictable as a physical object, say a dropped book. Pick up a book, hold it about four feet above the ground and let it go. The book will drop to the ground. The book has no choice. The book's actions are determined by the laws of the physical universe. The law of gravity operates on the book.

    Well, there are those who believe that there is perhaps nothing more obvious than that they are free. They believe that they make decisions all the time. They believe that they have free will.

    There are others who believe that humans are physical beings that are bound by the laws of the physical universes and that as the human brain are also part of that universe there are laws governing the operations of the brain as well. There are those who believe that the day will come when humans know enough about the laws of the human brain and behavior that humans will be able to predict with great accuracy exactly what a human being will do in a given situation. They believe that human behavior will be as predictable as a book when dropped. They believe that people will need to abandon the idea of human freedom.

    Now you might not agree with them. You may think that you know that you are free. How do you know that you weren't just encouraged to believe that, taught to believe that, conditioned to believe that, trained to believe that, reinforced into believing that?

    Freedom or Myth

    Consider this:

    You lift up a large book, say a textbook, and raise it four feet above the ground. You let it go and it hits the ground. No problem there! No surprises, just what you expected. Now suppose you lift up the book again and raise it four feet above the ground. In your other hand you hold a single sheet of paper, say printer paper, 8 1/2 x 11 inches. You hold the piece of paper at the same height you are holding the book. You let them go at the same time and they both fall to the ground. The book hits first then the paper. Do it again. Raise them both and then let them go and again. Well each time the same thing happens. The book hits the ground first and the piece of paper arrives on the ground a second or so later. Why does the book hit the ground first?

    Did you answer that the book falls faster and hits the ground first because it is heavier? Lots of people think this. If you do you are in some pretty popular company.

    But consider this:

    You lift up a large book, say a textbook, and raise it four feet above the ground. You let it go and it hits the ground. No surprises, just what you expected. Now suppose in your other hand you hold a single sheet of paper. You crumple up the paper pretty well. You squeeze it into a small ball. You hold the paper ball four feet above the ground at the same time you are holding the book. You let them go at the same time and they both fall to the ground. Do it again. Raise them both and then let them go. What happens?

    Well the book and the crumpled piece of paper hit the ground at just about the same time. Do it again if you doubt that. Well if you thought that the book was hitting the ground first because it was heavier than the single piece of paper, you have a couple of choices as to what to believe now:

    1. Somehow the single piece of paper gained a lot of weight and now falls almost as fast as the textbook.
    2. The textbook somehow lost weight and is now about as light as the single piece of paper.
    3. You were wrong when you thought that the book falls faster because it is heavier.

    If you thought that heavier things fall faster than light things, you were wrong! Oh my, now what to believe! Galileo disproved that idea about heavy things falling faster than lighter things because of the weight. He disproved it over 400 years ago. OK, what's my point here. That the idea about heavy things falling faster than lighter things because of the weight is still popular and it appears to a lot of people to be very obvious but, it is wrong.

    On how things fall and why they fall as they do. See the following video for common misconceptions.

    Misconceptions About Falling Objects

    So if your belief about why things fall was not correct or not true at all, then consider this: maybe, just maybe, the belief most people have about human freedom is wrong as well. Not everything is as it appears to be.

    Let's look at ideas of human freedom, even radical ideas. Let's start with exploring what most people already believe and then let's consider the ideas of the critics of freedom, the determinists.

    There are 3 main positions in the free will debate:

    1. Hard Determinism
    2. Libertarianism
    3. Compatibilism

    Hard Determinists and libertarians are both Incompatibilists. They both subscribe to the Incompatibilist thesis that determinism is incompatible with acting freely.

    Do We Have Free Will or is Everything Determined?

    Philosophy Applications

    1. Do Humans have free will, if so, how free is it? In other words, are all human actions determined, if so how so, to what degree?
    2. Suppose that you are a bank teller and are held up at gun point. You decide that heroics are out of the question and hand over the money. Are you acting freely? Why or why not?
    3. Psychologists have found that a belief in Determinism caused an increase in immoral behavior. If science succeeds in showing that there is no free will, should we nevertheless pretend that we have free will? Could we do such a thing?

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