Tag Archives: determinism

Freedom of the Will

I was reading this blog last night, and was reminded of one of the issues in philosophy that often bothers me: the implicit presumption that multiple schools of thought cannot be correct simultaneously. 

Often times – like with the previous discussions on this blog about positivism versus interpretive law – the middle road solution can provide valuable insight; and in fact, I pride myself on my ability to sit astride the apex of the bell-curve.


What do I mean by this?

The aforementioned blog entry that I read last night discussed the nature of free will. Among the many schools of thought concerning free will, determinism is one that has gathered perhaps the biggest head of steam over time. Determinism, perhaps somewhat fatalistic in nature, declares that all choices are the result of causation. As such, the decisions one makes (and the actions one takes) are merely the result of all events before. As such, any singular decision can be linked back through an infinite chain of causation. Therefore, free will is a myth. 

Further deterministic arguments, such as those presented by the likes of Sam Harris, argue that in order to truly have free will, we must:

  1. Have control of, and be aware of, our own thoughts and actions;
  2. In looking back at a decision, we must have been able to act differently than we had.

Naturally, it doesn’t take much for the determined determinist to cast aside both of these premises as impossible. 

…and maybe they’re right.

To an extent, that is. As I have discussed in the past, there are many psychological theories that abound, which discuss the human psyche, personality, and social makeup as resulting from the aggregation of life experiences, up bringing, socialization at a young age, and many other things:

  • Wilhelm Reich, for example, discussed the notion that the acceptance of authority stems from the desire to find a father-like figure in the other (so very, very Freudian).
  • Erich Fromm stated that human relationships, attitudes, and ideologies are the result of the human awareness – and fear – of mortality; he termed this the Escape from Freedom.
  • Milton Rokeach claimed (in essence) that your attitudes, developed over time, steer your interests, actions, thoughts, and ideologies. 

However, while it maybe true that we are the product of the aggregation of our lives and experiences, it does not logically follow that our decisions are solely that as well. While we may not have the ability to control the inclinations of our minds, we do have the ability to control the actions of our bodies. Indeterminists would argue in favor of an unfettered free will. While I will not get in to the particulars here, they’re not very convincing. 

That being said, there is a sub-sect of Determinism**, called Compatibilism, that seems to satisfy my thirst for the middle-ground, and seems to demonstrate how two schools of thought can work together in accord. Compatibilism attempts to reconcile the hard-deterministic view of causal chains with the notion that free will is not exclusive of causality. To my reading, Compatibilism accepts causal chains as true, but rejects that the presence of causality necessarily precludes the possibility of free will. The Compatibilist would argue that where one is able to act, free of encumbrance, one acts of their own free will. By encumbrance, the Compatibilist means coercive force. As such, when one is not coerced by an external entity – an “other” – one has willingly chose to act in such a way, these actions being the result of experience aggregation notwithstanding.

(**Note that there are NUMEROUS schools of thought on this issue, these are just the two I happen to be talking about today)

Either that, or these guys were just talking about the whale.