Determinism: Free Will and Ethics in The Catholic Church
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Most human beings believe that they have free will, and this is because they have the impression that they make their own decision. To them, the fact that they can choose what to eat, what to wear, what music to listen to, where to live, or what type of car to drive, means that they have free will. We do have a certain degree of choice, but not as much as we think, we do. Many factors around us as individual and society help influence our behaviors, our language, and our lives as a whole. An endless chain of causalities influences our decision-making. Whatever choice we make, whatever decision we take, is because of a pre-ordained or predetermined factor. Although it may seem like we are in charge of every decision we make, there is always an unseen or an unconscious factor that aid or direct the decision making, therefore, human beings do not have free will.
According to Collins English dictionary, “free will is the ability or discretion to choose. It is the power of making choices that are neither determined by natural causality nor predestined by fate or divine will.” In philosophy, there are three views on “free will” known as; determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism. From the view of determinism, there is no such thing as free will and that humans are not responsible and should not held responsible and accountable for their actions. It is an illusion that is not real and does not exist among human beings. Libertarianism is the view that human beings have free will and that they are responsible for any action or decision they make. Another name for libertarianism is indeterminism. Compatibilism is the view that determinism is compatible with freedom.
I agree with the determinists that humans have no free will. Since determinism is the view that every event has prior conditions that cause is then, each event is at least theoretically predictable if we know all its prior conditions and the laws governing those conditions. Determinists argue that human actions are part of this causal chain of nature and so are determined. Simply put, there is only one path leading from the past through the present and into the future. The laws of nature predetermine every decision we make. It is hard to escape or avoid destiny or fate. There is an entity beyond our imagination and I believe that to be God. He controls our choices whether directly or indirectly. The fear of going to hell or not making heaven as a Christian makes me avoid sin and live a good life. This is also applicable to some other Christians and other religions that believe in the existence of God. My decision to put on a gray pant may seem like my decision but it is not. Factors like how the pant fits me, gray being my favorite color, or seeing someone in a gray pant the previous day may appeal to my subconscious and therefore, influence my decision to go with the gray pant.
Some renowned determinists have stated that free will is an illusion. One of them is a French mathematician, Pierre Simon, Marquis de LaPlace and he wrote “present events have a connection with previous ones that is based on the self-evident principle that a thing cannot come into existence without a cause that produces it. ……. We must regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its preceding state and as the cause of the one which is to follow.” He further explained that it may seem to us as if we are free, but this freedom is just a result of our ignorance of the laws that govern us, and he believes that we will discover the laws that govern us.
Sigmund Freud is another person whose psychological theories has been used by determinist. Although he did not expressly state that he is a determinist, some of his followers used his theories to argue that unconscious psychological desires are the real causes of actions that people think they have freely chosen. John Hospers is a contemporary philosopher who believes that the unconscious is the master of every fate and the captain of every soul.
Another philosopher that is a determinist is Baron D’ Holbach and he states that none of our action is free. According to him, everything happening is a result of an unbroken chains of event. I agree with him that everything is the inevitable result of what came before, including everything we do that we do. I believe that the difference between the causes of human action and the causes of physical events is that our actions have all sorts of invisible causes that happen in our brain. Just because we cannot pinpoint the exact factors that led us to an action, we could, in theory, isolate them if we knew enough about all the beliefs, desire, and temperaments swirling around our brains. Just like hard determinists, I believe that we can’t help but feel the way we feel right now or react the way we react right now.
Arguments against determinism is that human beings are autonomous agents that can determine their choices and behaviors from multiple options. Libertarianism is the major opposing view point of determinism. To them, the implications of determinism are disturbing. If determinism is true, then punishment, at least in the traditional sense makes no sense. To be more broadly stated, if determinism is true, then it makes no sense to hold individual responsible for their actions, whether good or bad. The saints should no more be praised than the criminal should be punished. In other words, there is no difference between a criminal and a righteous person. Libertarianism argues that that even if the events in the natural world are determined, human actions should not be assimilated to natural events. They believe that when we act, we directly experience freedom and that we are directly aware of the fact that, we have control over our actions and so are morally responsible now for the actions we choose. Although it looks like human have the choices to choose from, no human is totally free from the laws of nature and preceding events. If human beings are not cannot help but do what they do, then they are not free to act otherwise. We are only responsible for our action if we are in control of the action or its causes.
In conclusion, to say that every event is determined by prior causes and the operation of laws of nature means that it was bound to happen, given those prior conditions. If we could rewind the universe to a few seconds before the event and play the sequence through again, we’d get the same result. Lightning would strike at exactly the same spot; the car would break down at exactly the same time; the goalkeeper would save the penalty in exactly the same way; you would choose exactly the same item from the restaurant’s menu. The course of events is predetermined and therefore, at least in principle, predictable. Since all events and actions are causally determined by previous events and the laws of nature, causal determinism rules out human freedom and personal responsibility. Therefore, human beings are not free, and neither are they personally responsible for what they do.