Do We Have Free Will?
We think, we feel, we desire. These three attributes of our being have been recognized since ancient times. But how much do we control do we really have over our lives? This question has vexed us since the beginning of time.
Fate and Fortune
The ancients believed that fate guided us to our end. There was an order to the universe that was unavoidable, and the collected wisdom of ancient culture described how one’s behavior affected one’s destiny. When they observed a person acting against that wisdom, they could predict how it would trip them up. Fate did not control all outcomes. Fortune played a part as well. Fortune could protect a person or a whole community from the evil in the world or it could deliver them over to it. Between fate and fortune, man had agency to live his life even if the outcome was predetermined.
Free Will / Human Agency
There are two questions involved in this debate:
- What is Free Will? This is the ability to make decisions and by making them make a change in Reality. It could be an attitude change or a physical change, but the change if affected by one’s will, not the physical world imposing the change on the person. We also call this: human agency.
- What exactly is the process of human agency? How are we able to make decisions? If we are only affected by the physical and chemical reactions of our body, how can we make an independent decision?
Behaviorism and Determinism – Rejection of Free Will
Some people think we do not have actual agency, but only a sense of agency. We only think we have influence over our environment, but in fact all our responses to the world have been conditioned by physical forces and evolution.
This has led to the belief that human behavior can be modified if our environment is altered. This is the basis of much of economic and social engineering projects in today’s culture. However, this belief raises some obvious questions. If humans are controlled by their environment, how could they alter their environment significantly enough to change their own behavior? And, secondly, by what measure can they perceive a difference? Thirdly, assuming the previous two questions could be answered, how can we know those environmental changes will lead to a positive result?
the theory that human and animal behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behavior patterns.
– treatment using the practical application of the theory of behaviorism.Google definition
the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.Google definition
The point is that if we are incapable of making decisions apart from our environment, why should we trust someone else’s flawed agency to make those decisions for us? By what authority could they possibly point to in order to impose those changes on others?
Education in the sciences lacks a philosophical foundation today. Because of this, scientists are taught to believe that every problem has a solution, if only one can redefine the problem in terms of a physical system. But if we are restricted only to the physical aspects of the human being, we will never be able to consider the true nature of the problem we are trying to solve.
Next time: Gateway to Free Will