A Jaunt into Philosophy 1: Freedom vs. Determinism

I’m no philosopher. But I like to think of the issue and give my two-cents every once in a while. I worked through some of the major philosophical issues a while back by writing a series of short essays. Nothing groundbreaking here, but I thought I’d share my understanding and thoughts on them. Here’s the first one on Freedom vs. Determinism.

Freedom vs. determinism. Are human able to make our own choices and decisions?  Do we truly have free will to change our actions or is our behavior merely the outcome of a series of other actions, which were caused by previous actions?  Philosophers differ in their beliefs and understanding of this issue.  Burr and Goldinger break down the different views into the determinists and the libertarians.  Determinists believe that humans have no free will and that we are merely the sum of our environment.  Everything we do is predetermined. Just as the natural laws of physics and biology apply to our world, there are human laws which govern our actions even if we cannot articulate what those are (30).

Those who doubt the determinist point of view are called libertarians. Libertarians believe that humans are free beings – able to decide what to do in any given situation. The issue of having free will is crucial for libertarians, for without it, they believe personal responsibility is no more. In their view, without free will and personal responsibility, humans cannot be faulted for any actions they do whether benign or criminal because it could not have been helped. If everything is predetermined then criminals should not be punished or heroes rewarded (Burr and Goldinger 31).

Determinists counter by arguing that no other living creature has free will, so why should humans?  They point out that the personal responsibility argument is invalid and perhaps unnecessary. Nagel explains that bad behavior pre-determined or not is just that – bad behavior which in turn may come with consequences (54).

People seemingly do random, unexpected things every day. Suppose this very minute I was to walk out to my street and punch my neighbor in the nose. That would be random and seemingly out of character. I don’t believe that I shall do this thing, but I am physically able and capable. If I did it, would it prove that free will does exist? Or would it merely serve as a reminder that I have been building up to this point all my life and finally my philosophy course drove me to the edge and made me randomly punch my neighbor just to prove that I can. There seems to be a conflict of interests. Our actions can’t be pre-determined if there is free will, yet it seems that our actions could possibly be explained using either argument. Perhaps this is the dilemma to which Nagel refers. He seems unsatisfied to accept that all our actions must have some underlying cause without making ourselves nothing more than puppets; On the other hand, he seems also perplexed to say that our actions are ours without something within us causing them to be so (58). It is this perplexing question that has fascinating and complex consequences on how we view the world around us.

So which is true? I guess it’s all about perspective.