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About The Conception of Free Will And Its Influence

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The conception of free will and its influence over human control has been at the forefront of philosophical debates and discussions for as long as the theme of philosophical thought has been interpreted. The notion of free will, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is the “canonical designator for a significant kind of control over one’s actions” (O’Connor, Timothy and Franklin, Christopher, 1). Human beings have always been intellectually curious on the development of rudimentary motor skills and advancements, but focus on independent thought and influence over actions has come to light more so in recent decades. The three most generally accepted reasonings behind the topic of free will reside in libertarianism, determinism, and compatibilism. Although all three of these perspectives are salient in philosophy, when it comes to determining the true evaluator of free will, compatibilism is clearly the most important. We are caused to act the way we do with regard to physical process not because we are the sole interpreter of our actions, but because we are provided those opportunities of actions under circumstance.

The conception of philosophical libertarianism is synonymous with the term ‘indeterminism’. The term “libertarian” is interpreted as having complete and autonomous control over your actions; bestowed onto oneself since the existence of time. Therefore, this perspective is indicative of a response relationship. Since there are not guided courses of actions or laws on how to response to situations, one must ponder and evaluate responses while remaining completely sovereign, having the liberty to act independently. The downfall with this philosophy of libertarianism is the relation of actions as being willed. “Willed actions are “about” something, whereas causal interactions are not” (Rowe) therefore would we only exercise free will when taking action to accomplish a goal? What of the moments when we are faced with causal situations such that a responsive action to one situation is determinant to how one is ought to act in response to another? Seeing as this flaw resonates throughout this perspective of libertarianism, this case is too extreme and does not take into account the overlapping effect on causal relationships nor determinable action, both of which are addressed with the better suited philosophical concept of compatibilism.

“The idea is thus to think of the indeterminism involved in free choice, not as a cause acting on its own, but as ingredient larger goal-directed or teleological activities of the agent, in which the indeterminism functions as a hindrance or interfering element in the attainment of the goal” (Kane 3). Based on this explanation by Kane, complete free choice is entirely immediate willed and functions as serving the end purpose of a goal. The main attraction of achieving the end goal is burdened by indeterminism due to lack of a clear and concise procedural analysis of the correct action to take.

The perspective of determinism is, generally speaking, the polar opposite of libertarianism. Determinist believe that free will is nonexistent. “Determinism here refers to the idea that the future is dependent upon the present such that, given the present, only one possible future exists” (Cambridge English Corpus). With this ideology in mind, actionable will is predetermined through causal laws (Rowe) and this is true for all of the universe, not mankind alone. If free will were to be entirely deterministic, we as individuals would have no impact on the lives we lead. Seeing as choices and responses for action are determined in nature and already existent, all we would be doing is carrying out the inevitable. Debates over morality and moral responsibility in regard to determinism have grown to become a large sector in the discussion of free will.

It is argued, and generally accepted, that because we are not in control of our actions, we can neither be morally just or morally unjust and thereby unable to change the fate of the moral responsibility we have with our actions. Somehow, all of our choices are predetermined, whether by causes, knowledge of God, etc. There are two types of determinists that influence free will metaphysically: secular / naturalistic or theological. Secular / naturalistic believe that the world around us is governed by strict natural laws, for example, gravitation, speed of light. Everything seems to have an antecedent cause and what we see is due to that cause. According to the theological point of view, God is omniscient so he has perfect knowledge and should have perfect knowledge of our future including our future choices (Rowe). If God knows yesterday what I will do today, then I have no freedom of choice. This limitation on freedom of choice is why free will does not exist according to determinism. If metaphysical free will does not exist, then all actionable thoughts that follow your mind are determined and this perspective greatly limits individuality.

In addition to the flaws already outlined within the philosophy of determinism, one particularly standss out to me: calamity. Sudden damage or distress, such as natural disasters, are unpredictable and therefore cannot be foreseen. That in and of itself concludes that there are no foreseeable courses of action and no action is predetermined so one would respond to a calamity out of some form of free will. Another prominent argument in the case of deterring determinism would be that of emotion. As expertly stated by John Purcell, author of “Mind, Matter, and the Universe”, “If human brains are deterministic, why do we experience emotion? A car engine would not be expected to feel anything; if it did, its emotions could not influence how its engine works without violating physical laws. Its emotions would therefore be a useless and surprising phenomenon” (Purcell, 1). This statement is in support of the logical inference that human brains are simply not created to predict the outcome of every possible resultant action for every task or response needed. Car engines on the other hand are created with the sole purpose of achieving one task, a causal interaction which can be studied and explained. The general response to a mainstream action would be to spark the combustion cycle and exert power to allow a vehicle to move relative to time and space (Francois, Harris). There is one predetermined procedure for a car engine, whereas human intelligence and the mind is much more intricate and involved.

The perspective of compatibilism if in opposition of determinism. According to compatibilism, “We have free-will when we are not compelled or restrained in acting according to our desires and character, not by having a metaphysically free will completely opposed to causal laws” (Rowe). In other words, even with the prospect that determinism is true, there are certain limitations: such that actions or responses may be free. This compatibilism approach to free will is better versed because it combines aspects of libertarianism and determinism to provide a better and more realistic approach to everyday life and our control over actions on a daily basis. “Compatibilists maintain that even if determinism is true our moral responsibility is not undermined in the slightest, for determinism and moral responsibility are perfectly consistent” (Nichols, Knobe; 1). Because we have free will to decide which action to take, we also are morally responsible to choose the right course of action. With choice comes responsibility, and that responsibility translates into the backbone of free will and autonomy. We are not guided by physical process, but rather psychological and rational thought-process: one which is processed on our own volition and free will.

Compatibilism is the better conception of free will in society because not only are willed actions and causal reactions considered, but they are weighed against one another and used to yield a general consensus of accepted viewpoints from both opposing aspects and come to a concluded judgement. The notion of free will is representative of control over one’s action and ability to make decisions dependent on the situation. Arguably, no matter how much in control you believe you are, taking a libertarian approach, the actions that you have are ultimately a result of a finite sum of possible actions which could have been taken. “Compatibilist in any stronger sense: someone who thinks that moral responsibility or free will require alternative possibilities and that the possession of these alternative possibilities is incompatible with causal determinism, need not reject this account of control” (Levy 128). When faced with an actionable interaction, there is not only one direct way we are intended to respond, but rather a range of actions that we have the free will to choose from. These ranges of actions are not completely free and wide open, but rather limited by the situation and demographic / environmental factors. It is clear to see that compatibilism the best philosophical perspective to accurately describe reality and serves as the greatest tool to interpret the ability to act voluntarily and independently throughout our lives.

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