Essays On Freedom And Determinism

Essay on Determinism and Free will

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Determinism and Free will

Suppose that every event or action has a sufficient cause, which brings that event about. Today, in our scientific age, this sounds like a reasonable assumption. After all, can you imagine someone seriously claiming that when it rains, or when a plane crashes, or when a business succeeds, there might be no cause for it? Surely, human behavior is caused. It doesn't just happen for no reason at all. The types of human behavior for which people are held morally accountable are usually said to be caused by the people who engaged in that behavior. People typically cause their own behavior by making choices; thus, this type of behavior might be thought to be caused by your own choice-makings. This freedom to make…show more content…

Our common practice of thinking of others and ourselves as accountable is simply not justified!

There are those who think that our behavior is a result of free choice, but there are also others who believe we are servants of cosmic destiny, and that behavior is nothing but a reflex of heredity and environment. The position of determinism is that every event is the necessary outcome of a cause or set of causes, and everything is a consequence of external forces, and such forces produce all that happens. Therefore, according to this statement, man is not free.

If we accept the determinist argument and assume human behavior as a consequence of external factors rather than of free choice, then we must realize that our explanation of human behavior leaves no room for morality. If people do not choose their actions, then they are not really responsible for them, and there is no need for praising or blaming them. If determinism were true, then there would be no basis for human effort, for why should a person make an effort if what he or she does doesn't make a difference? If what will be will be, then one has an excuse for doing nothing. Life would not be so meaningful for people on deterministic grounds. Human life, as we know it, would not make much sense without the concept of freedom. In our everyday lives, there are many times when we have to make decisions; what we

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not free. Of course, quantum mechanics is only concerned with the smallest scales of reality, and atthe macro scale we are familiar with the orderly progress of causal determinism still makes sense.For example, although atomic decay is inherently unpredictable, given a large enough number of particles the average rate of decay can be calculated  this is what is known as the half-life of anelement. The human body operates on a scale high above quantum mechanical interactions, and soto establish whether humans are exempt from the deterministic laws that govern other large bodiesrequires a different kind of investigation.The psychologist Benjamin Libet conducted experiments on human subjects to test exactly when it isthat we become consciously aware of willing to do an action (Libet, 1999). His aim was to discover if we are consciously in control of the biological processes which lead to our actions, specifically thosewhich lead to muscle movements. He found that readiness potential  the electrical build-up in thebrains motor region which precedes a muscle movement  begins to increase 350-400ms before aperson actually reports being aware of the intention to act. He concluded that human volitions, atleast with regard to movement, are initiated unconsciously. He argues that this does not precludeconscious control over actions as long as we can prevent ourselves from doing things 50ms beforethey occur, so our freedom could be a kind of vetoing power. However, this hardly fits with ournormal view of freedom  we do not see ourselves as unpredictable machines, waiting for volitionsto appear and then deciding in less than a fifth of a second whether or not to go through with it. Wehave a distinct feeling that our own conscious mind and will are the actuators of our movements andthe source of our thoughts.One of the philosophical cases against freedom is raised by Daniel Wegner. He argues that our senseof having a free will is an illusion. He makes a distinction between the experience of consciouslywilling an action and the actual causation of the action. The tendency to confuse them, he says, isthe source of the illusion of conscious will (Wegner,


004). He builds on a Humean thesis whichstates that our experience of willing an action is mistakenly thought to be the cause of our deliberateactions because it always occurs in causal conjunction with them. We have a natural propensity toinfer rational principles from empirical experiences, and the experience of two things alwaysoccurring in conjunction makes us assume there is a causal relation between them. However, this isnot a rationally qualified inference, and Libets experiments suggest that our assumption that ourdeliberate actions are caused by our conscious volitions is a mistake.There are strong reasons to be worried about the determinist thesis, however, since it seems tothreaten the commonplace notions of personal accountability and self-control which are central tomany of our moral practices such as blame and punishment. For this reason there are many thinkerswho have argued against determinism in favour of human liberty of indifference. Jean-Paul Sartre,for example, argued that agents are consciously responsible for the constraints they place onthemselves by failing to render past resolutions effective  for example, a person with a gamblingaddiction is fully responsible for whether or not they will fulfil their past resolutions to stopgambling. It is by our own conscious willing that we allow our circumstances to constrain us.However, one might argue that determinism does not threaten ordinary moral concepts andpractices. In fact, it is even possible to argue that determinism is


to make morality arealistic idea. To elaborate, if we imagine that people were in fact free agents who could actindependently of causes, they would be inherently unpredictable. The ordinary practices of praise


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