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Free Will and Determinism

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The question of the essence of a person is one of the main issues discussed by the ancient thinkers of the East and West. The debate between those who believe that behavior is determined by external or internal factors affecting the personality and supporters of views that people actively react to events lasts for a long time. The belief in science as a direct path to self-knowledge is usually an argument of determinists. It emanates from the assumption that every event has a cause. The idea of pure free will implies that all events are uncaused or occur randomly. Therefore, free will is considered as any action that is free from external coercion. The question of free will and determinism has been and remains one of the most relevant philosophical questions. According to my opinion, the main argument in favor of free will is associated with the idea of moral responsibility. The overall objective of the essay is to reveal the meaning of the concepts of free will and determinism.

The idea of a person as a free agent of his/her actions is the foundation of Western morality, politics, and religion providing the theoretical basis of the concepts of personal responsibility and free choice, without which it is impossible to imagine modern ethics and law. On the other hand, the idea of freedom of choice and freedom of action is contrary to physical determinism. It is contrary to the scientific view of the world, which implies the continuity of the causal connection of events and a natural physiological nature of any event. Thus, the conflict of the two fundamental principles is a principal philosophical question of modern days.

Both free will and determinism are concepts that do not have conventional definitions. However, the basic theoretical positions are hard determinism, soft determinism, and free will. “Historical doctrines of determinism refer to different kinds of determining conditions, but they all imply that every event is determined in its general sense”. Hard determinism implies that human behavior is completely determined by factors beyond the scope of human behavior. It is meaningless to talk about any choice. It is a point of view of classical psychoanalysis and radical behaviorism. In this case, determinism is identified with predictability. It is expected that knowing the present, people can predict the future consequences. However, there is no evidence of the possibility of hard determinism. The assumption that any behavior is caused only by external causes creates another difficulty. The deliberate intent is impossible.

The belief that human actions are the result of the preceding reasons has a naturalistic and theistic formulation. According to the naturalistic position, a person is a piece of the global mechanism. In this world, every event is prepared by previous causes which, in turn, are caused by even earlier causes. Because people are part of the cause-effect chain, his/her actions are also determined by previous causes. Environment and genotype are among these reasons. Representatives of naturalistic determinism – Thomas Hobbes and B. F. Skinner – have argued that human behavior is entirely due to natural causes. The modern representative of naturalistic determinism is B. F. Skinner. He is the author of the books Beyond Freedom and Dignity and About Behaviorism. B. F. Skinner believes that human behavior is determined by genetic and environmental factors. Moreover, these factors do not exclude the possibility of choice. However, they eliminate the possibility that human choice is free. According to Skinner, every choice is given by previous physical causes. A person becomes an instrumental cause of his/her behavior. A person is like a knife in the hands of a butcher or a hammer in the hands of a carpenter. In other words, he/she is an instrument, with the help of whom, someone else commits this action.

Another form of hard determinism is theistic. According to this theory, all events including human behavior have a reason in God. Theistic determinists – Martin Luther and John Edward – saw the hand of God in all human activities. One of the biggest supporters of this idea was the American theologian John Edward. He argued that the idea of free will or self-determination is contrary to the supreme power of God. If God truly is a ruler over all things, no one can resist His will. In order to manifest His omnipotence, God must be responsible for everything that happens including human actions. Edwards believed that the idea of self-determination is internally inconsistent. If the human will is in equilibrium or indifferent to any event or decision, it will remain dormant. While external power tips the scales, they are in equilibrium. Similarly, the human will is dormant, until God does not disturb it. During the life of Edwards, certain thinkers criticized his views and claimed that they were opposed to the biblical view of human freedom. In his book Freedom of the Will, Edwards has written that human freedom is not the ability to do what a person decides to do but rather what he/she wants. Human desires are rooted in God. A man always acts guided by them. Thus, freedom cannot be deterministic. It would be nonsense. Freedom is rooted in God.

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Philosophers standing on the side of determinism cannot consider their activities an exception not subjected to the principle of determinism. However, some argue that rationality does not contradict determinism because options, from which people can choose, are not subjected to the choice. The last argument is consistent with the view, which is called soft determinism. It allows the admissibility of freedom and determinism. In such a way, people can choose but from a limited number of options.

Free will is a notion in philosophy, which is used to describe the faith that human behavior is not completely defined by outside reasons but a result of a choice. It is an act of the will of a person. These choices are not defined by external factors. They are defined by the purposes and motives of people. “The problem of free will arises when humans reach a certain higher stage of self-consciousness about how profoundly the world may influence their behavior in ways of which they are unaware”. People who refute the existence of free will consider the material causes or fate as the determinants of human behavior. Supporters of free will or libertarians believe that human behavior is unique and is not defined by God or supernatural powers. The original notion of free will appears in the stream of Western philosophy in addressing the metaphysical question of human liability for moral behavior. Modern debates about free will are often formulated in terms of liability for dangerous or criminal behavior. In the Christian tradition, which has formulated issues related to freedom of the will, everything depends on a metaphysical belief in a spiritual actuality. The will is regarded as an ability of the mind or soul, which is regarded as standing outside of the physical world and its laws. Thus, many materialists deny the existence of free will.

There are several arguments in favor of free will. The main argument is associated with the idea of moral responsibility. People must dispose of their actions to be able to take responsibility for them. Such humanistic approaches as psychotherapy centered on the patient are based on the premise of free will. The therapist helps the patient use free will in a way to dispose of his/her free will with maximum efficiency. However, there are also arguments against free will. The belief in free will is not consistent with scientific knowledge. Every event must have a cause. There is considerable uncertainty in the notion of free will.

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Thomas Aquinas is the most prominent representative of this doctrine. He maintains that a man is endowed with free will. As a person is intelligent, it is necessary that he/she possessed free will. In general, the philosopher believes that free will is peculiar to a person by virtue of his/her nature. A man is able to perceive opposites and lean towards one of them. According to Aquinas, the act of free will is the ability to make choices. A person takes the decision to choose something from the opposite with the help of the act of thinking. In such a way, the choice is not an independent act of just the will. The philosopher considers a matter of choice as common for the mind and will and dependent on the modus of cognition. A reason impels the will to act defining objectives. In turn, the will, is driven by a reason allowing it to make decisions. Thus, there is the dialectic of their relationship. Free choice is secondary to the will and mind. In the process of the commitment of a choice, a person can be relatively non-free since he/she is exposed to passions. Nevertheless, the act of choice is free.

Thomas Aquinas is not a supporter of absolute indeterminacy of free will. God gave a man free will. He provides the activities in achieving the highest natural wealth and strengthens His grace. Thomas Aquinas says that the will of a human always does what God does by means of the human will. According to the idea of Aquinas, God is the only external source of the will and ensures its ability to conduct.

For Thomas Aquinas, human freedom in some way is the development program. A man realizes his/her freedom to the extent of implementation of acts of free choice and recognition of values. An important role is played by the consistency of voluntary and rational principles. If, in the process of choice, a person is constantly inclined to good, it becomes a habit. Whereby, the free choice becomes not burdensome.

According to my position, determinism is untenable. Look at life from a strictly deterministic point of view, any person would not be punished – a murderer for murdering or a thief for stealing. They did not act freely and were like weak-willed performers of motives, which influenced them from the outside. According to Skinner, human choice is not free. However, my opinion is different. Human behavior is not determined by external events such as the formation of conditioned reflexes. It is defined by decisions in accordance with the temperament (soft determinism). A man is a morally free managing his/her will and actions, and, therefore, responsible for them. This freedom is the greatest gift to a man from God.

In recent years, the doctrine, which is called determinism, becomes extremely popular. Followers of this teaching do not recognize free will in a person. They argue that each individual act of a person is valid only for external reasons. According to the supporters of this doctrine, a person always acts only under the influence of motives and impulses that do not depend on him/her. A person is subjected to the strongest of these motives. However, there are philosophers that support an idea of free will. Nowadays, the theory of free will gains many supporters. One of the main representatives of this doctrine is Thomas Aquinas. He maintains that a man is endowed with free will. The main argument in favor of free will is associated with the idea of moral responsibility of a person.

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