Free Will

Most of us would love the idea that we have control over our fate. Others feel liberated to know that principles like free will don’t exist. You may have mixed feelings on the subject. You may have seen how bad things happen to good people and realized that our actions do not determine our destiny after all. There is truth in everyone’s point of view and that is the beauty of this philosophy. We have all had different experiences, which caused us to think and act differently and create a world of diverse laws and standards. The principle of free will has been discussed for centuries, from ancient Egyptians, to Jesus to modern Atheism. It’s not easy to explain and define each metaphysical standing, especially since the sciences, religions and the law have tried to determine the term free will and whether or not it exists.

Determinism and Free Will

Most of us search explanations for any fact or event that is happening in our life. We like to rationalize everything that happens because at the end, we believe that everything has a reason. We feel better when we find out how our present circumstance has been induced, because then we can examine our actions closely and calculate our near future more precisely. The principle of sufficient reason is an age old theory debated by many notorious philosophers throughout history. Spinoza stated that, since something exists, there must be a cause for its existence and we should always search for the cause to explain the existence. This principle is a closed system that does not allow outside events and propositions to interfere with the initial causes. The principle of sufficient reason is the root of determinism, the philosophical idea that everything that happens can be explained when we examine the causes, or prior events that led to the current ones and further, predict the future based on the present. Aristotle called these events archai or fresh starts, which are the events that start the chain process of happening. Many philosophers embrace the idea of cause and effect, some even unite it with reason and logic. If you adopt the principles of determinism, you accept the fact that every action or thought has only one possible future. According to this doctrine, as a human being, you do have a free will, but your future is determined only by the actions you have made in the past, thus when something happens, you do not have free will to act upon it but you act accordingly to your past actions.

Fatalism and Free Will

The term fatalism was also debated since the times when Aristotle was alive. Nowadays you may come across terms like metaphysical fatalism, logical fatalism and theological fatalism. Unlike the doctrine of determinism, where humans partly interfere with their own fate, fatalism articulates the idea that everything in the universe, incidents, events and the history of the world is predetermined or destined by a higher power. The nature of this principle indicates that each individual has no power to change or control its future life or course of events. Ancient philosophers like Plutarch, Chrysippus and Cicero argued on the topic of free will, more precisely, they argued that the human life is part of a grand design, and their future calculated by the Gods. With prayer and sacrifice, this fate could be changed and altered, but the ordinary human could not change his future with his own capacities. With the rise of Christianity, this pagan concept came in conflict with the new belief. The main feature of this new religious conviction was the importance of the human moral freedom and duty. In paganism, the moral obligations were considered a good that has to be pursued. In Christianity, the individual did no longer have free will to pursue his desires and urges, because the factor of sin came into play. Moral obedience was required and according to his actions, man received either punishment or rewards. Philosophers still argue whether Christianity advocates free will or not. On one hand, the omnipotent God has given his men free will to decide upon their actions and thoughts, but on the other hand, the man is limited in his actions by rules.

Compatibilism and Free Will

Compatibilists deliver a new definition of determinism. This view on the free will concept adopts the belief that all of us are free to act upon our desires and thus create our future, with the absence of exterior constrains. This refers to the acceptance that we are not actually free as humans, because there might be outside factors that can circulate and cause certain events to happen without us actually causing them. The thesis of compatibilism holds the point of view that determinism is true, but it’s driven by the persons voluntarily and involuntarily behavior. According to this doctrine, we either have free will or we don’t. Our past thoughts, actions and decision making processes actually determine whether or not we will use our free will or not in the future conducts. Here, the individual is free to choose his actions, which will later seal his fate. For example, you can either rob a bank or not. As a compatibilists you have free will to decide the beginning of this conduct. If you choose to rob a bank, you can either choose to flee or get imprisoned. And those actions determine your future character and fate. Compatibilism and determinism are compatible in nature, only the term free will is defined differently. From a theological point of view, we are all born sinful, that is in our nature and the will you implement in your daily life is determined only by your nature.

Libertarianism and Free Will

Libertarianism as the name suggests, is a doctrine which proves that people are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, without the interference of outside causalities. That doesn’t mean that the individual is free to break the law or cause other peoples misfortune, only that their past actions are not determining their future or future state of mind. There is no God according to this principle and your past thoughts and actions are not determining your fate. Many libertarians are actually mind-body duelists who believe that our freedom only exists in the transcendental world, where our physical freedom is strictly deterministic. From a theological point of view, God gives his men the right to have free will and decide on his actions, but at the same time God foresees every human action. This doctrine too adopts the principles of determinism, like cause and effect, and it also states that they can be traced back to the primal cause, but they disregard the idea that all these causes together can determine only one future or precise event.

Philosophy is Great, but What About the Real World?

We would like to believe that we are metaphysically free and have the right to make our own destiny. Sometimes, more precisely, almost always, we come across social, biological and linguistic interference. Not always we feel free to vote for whoever we want, the government tells us where can go and where it’s not safe and who to marry. Our genes are responsible for the level of health, whether or not we might have cancer and how long we will live. The language you speak more than often determines where you can express yourself and to which extent. When you look at it all together, we are not completely free at any given point. Freedom is a state of mind and it depends on the individual definition of the word freedom. As human beings we have free will according to most philosophical doctrines, but the term is always characterized differently. The ancient Greeks believed our destiny is set at our birth by celestial beings, later we still left our fate in the hands of God, with few rules applied to the game. Today neuroscience has found a way to alter the way the human brain processes information, thoughts and consequently, actions. Some day in near future, it will be easy to change human behaviors with the help of advanced technological gizmos. Still, that doesn’t make us free, nor it gives us the chance to really use our free will. The society, corporation or organization where you reside shapes your character and behavior. The invisible hand of the cultural and social bodies is forcing you to act as they want you to act. We are all enslaved because most of us are not even aware that the ball and chain are actually wrapped tight around our leg. Whether you believe in God who controls your destiny or you think you are free to make up your own fate, it’s important to believe that you have free will to make your own decisions. Deep inside we all know what is good and what is bad. You are maybe justifying your actions to validate your goals, but at the end of the day you always know when you’ve done something wrong. If you leave out the outside barriers, the social, political and economic pressure that rule over our lives, you will feel free to act accordingly to your nature, which is by no means evil.


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