on determinism and free will

The main inconsistency between determinism and free will is the idea that we, as human beings, are responsible for our actions while at the same time, there are causal laws that govern every action we take. This contradiction provides a basis for the argument of free will, whether we are completely free and are capable of doing anything we want in life, or that we mistakenly think we are free when we are not.

Ayer brings forth the two variations of the determinist’s ideology, hard and soft determinism. He initially presents determinism to be the thought that every action is engendered by a cause, which means that, because of the cause, the action itself cannot be avoided. If an individual has no control over his actions because of the causal laws that governs it, then he is not really responsible for the actions he takes since he couldn’t have acted otherwise (Ayer ). This is hard determinism. Ayer later on provides arguments to support the alternate form of determinism, which is a little more lenient in the sense that it allows room for free will since it does not require that every action people take is under the control of causal laws.

One major consequence of hard determinism is the problem with moral responsibility. Not only are we thought to be acting without freedom, but also since we are not in total control of our actions, we are not responsible for what we do. In this train of thought, it would be unreasonable to blame people for the atrocities they commit. For example, the reasons attributed to the Columbine shootings by students Klebold and Harris are the apparent stigma they faced in high school society. Their feeling of loneliness and isolation inspired in them a contempt toward the society they were rejected from, a contempt that prompted them to go on a shooting spree at the end of which they took their own lives. In this incident, Klebold and Harris’s action are highly immoral , but taking the causes that led them to do what they did into consideration, one may feel that their violent spree was, to some extent, justified.

The common individual may retort in saying that the students responsible for the shootings should have had more control over themselves, as there are many people who live in the same circumstances and not crack under the pressure of leading an introverted life. However, the determinist will say that these specific introverted students have a particular behavioral pattern that led them to react violently against their social stigma. So in retrospect they behaved accordingly with what their personality and environment influenced them to do.

Free will plays an important part in determining one’s character. The choices people make in life, if they really are their choices, are essential in the development of their personality. If it is to be thought that these causal laws control all our actions, then there is no true character. The true value of human personality would be devastated and we would be nothing but a mere arrangement of molecules going through endless chemical processes. People are evaluated with accordance of their actions. It is my actions that I am held responsible for because I am the one who chooses to do them. I am respected, admired and even blamed for what I do, but if it turns out that I am not really the one doing all those things, then what are people to think of me?

It is thought that the progress of scientific research in fields such as psychology could allow people to foresee certain actions people might do based on their behavioral pattern (Ayer). For example, a convict or an alcoholic is expected to behave aggressively, but to what extent that person might behave aggressive or violent we cannot yet determine. Some might respond in defense that these details of a person’s behavior can be predicted if the studies of psychology and other fields that could give foresight to human action are perfected to an adequate extent.

So far, it has been discussed that the actions people take can be either a matter of their own choice or a result of some natural law. A third approach to the matter is that all our choices could be arbitrary; that everything we do is an accident (Ayer). Taking in this train of thought as an explanation to the problem of free will would be to liberate people from the fetters of determinism but at the same time it would mean that everything that happens in the world is random. If that is so, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that we’re actually free. Rather, it is a different way of saying that all the processes in the world are nothing but chaotic movements that cannot be explained or foreseen. This would reduce the value of human character. Since every choice taken to determine one’s character would be random, a person’s personality might as well be a product of an accident.

Ayer’s description of hard determinism is pessimistic in the sense that it doesn’t grant people the right to claim that they are acting out on their own. To think that every action one has made throughout his life is not really executed from his own will is very hard to digest. However there is another way to look into the problem of free will. If people are forced to do things they are not acting on their own account, but on the account of the agent that is forcing to do act so . Therefore it is when people are constrained  by some external factor that invalidates them from responsibility. Causal laws are able to explain why we act so and so but that doesn’t mean that they force us to act so and so. Just because extensive research based on my past may give a substantial prediction of what I may be doing sometime in the future soon doesn’t mean that I am forced to act out what was foretold . Therefore, it is only under special causes that it could be said that I am constrained to do something, such as when someone brings me under their obedience by blackmail or some other form of coercion.

To choose between the two variants of determinism, it probably would be the sensible to pick soft over hard determinism since it allows room for free will. It should be noted that the inclusion of free will is important to perceive since it plays a major role in our lives, from shaping our character to giving meaning to our actions . The society in which we’d live in would incline to be more pessimistic had we taken the perception of a hard determinist towards free will; the public’s reaction to an announcement that they’re not free can only be sour, and even after they accept the ideology they will start to feel less of the human happiness that is available in the boundaries of the human conscience . Moreover, the absence of free will would mean the end of human values. Why should we grant value to things we are not responsible for?  If looked at a certain angle, hard determinism could be said to be a minor form nihilism since it deprives people of one of the most important values, the freedom of choice.

Therefore it is self-evident for most moralist that of the two forms of determinism, soft determinism provides an adequate solution to the problem of free will . The important aspect of this argument is that it proves that people are capable on acting on their own to some extent. Whenever we come across two or more different ideologies, we are drawn to the one that appeals to our reason or our sense of happiness. In this case, soft determinism prevails over hard determinism because it does both, satisfying our assurance that we do have the ability to act freely (at least in most cases), thus gratifying us with a glow of optimism while simultaneously maintaining our logical faculties at ease with convincing arguments. In the long run, the ideas of soft determinism would do more good to society than hard determinism and it is mainly for this reason why we should accept the former of the latter, and even though at some point of the philosophical era, a new defense might fortify the latter’s credibility, it could not surpass the many advantages obtained from assimilating the philosophy of soft determinism.

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This entry was posted by Tournapin.

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