Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24
How to Understand Philosophical Determinism
Do we have free will, or are our actions determined? This is one of the classic questions in philosophy. Deep thinkers have been arguing both sides of this issue for thousands of years. Most people are already familiar with the doctrine of free will. It states that we always have the power to choose our actions, regardless of the circumstances. This view is popular in Western cultures, although it does imply that we as individuals are always in control. However, there is an opposite view - one held by many prominent thinkers. Philosophical determinism holds that we are neither in control, nor capable of true free will. This article is a brief "layman's" introduction to philosophical determinism, and how it differs from the more common belief in free will.
Understand what determinism really is.Very simply, determinism is the belief that all events have causes, and that if there are identical causes, the same effects must occur. This is very easy to recognize in the natural world, and much of science is based on deterministic principles. However, it can be difficult to recognize how this applies to human behavior (which most people consider to be separate from the natural world). Further, determinism means that everything is predictable, including the process of making decisions, and that a decision does not occur as a first cause but rather as a result of the predetermined criteria for a specific decision to be made having been met.
Determinists may say that a belief in free will implies the acknowledgment of the supernatural.Logic dictates that if the human being is part of the natural world, human behavior must be deterministic. In order to escape determinism, a supernatural element is required. In Western culture, this generally takes the form of a "soul," "spirit," or "higher self." For the believer in free will, this "magical person" (as determinists may call it) is able to make conscious decisions and choices which take precedence over the natural causes which govern the rest of the universe. Of course creating a higher entity, or soul, is itself beautifully deterministic.
Understand how belief in determinism comes about.Generally, when one accepts naturalism (which is the idea that everything [including the individual human being] is part of a single unified natural world), determinism is a logical consequence. Most determinists reject free will because they have first rejected the supernatural. For the supernaturalist, free will remains a logical idea, but for the naturalist, it is not. Of course, without free will (or "free thought" if you will) there would be no determinism, so determinism can also be seen as a revolutionary ideal, a rebellion against the existing supernatural order, advocating a return to "natural" laws of existence.
Realize what determinism means in the "real world." Many philosophers think that if people are naturally caused to behave the way they do (instead of "magically choosing" to do so), we should consider the idea that many punitive (punishment-based) actions may be irrational. For the determinist, punishing people (psychologically, economically or judicially) for actions or circumstances which are entirely caused is logically inconsistent. Accordingly, there is a reduced emphasis on blame and punishment, and an increased desire to discover the hidden causes of human behavior.
Note:Some determinists, in fact, most (compatibilists and most incompatibilists), believe that punishing people for their actions is not logically inconsistent. Whilst, some realize that people can not be blamed or held responsible for their actions, none of them deny the effectiveness of a system where certain behaviour is rewarded and other behaviour is punished. For nothing can be more logically consistent with determinism (a concept that states that every effect is followed by some like cause). This view holds that it is possible to manipulate the world around us, including behaviour. So, through punishment/rewards evil and good can be prevented and promoted respectively.
Finally, you can decide whether you believe in determinism, free will or both.If you believe that people have souls or spirits which survive death, determinism probably isn't for you. Similarly, if you believe in any form of the supernatural (anything outside or above the natural world), you will probably have a hard time accepting determinism. Remember, if you choose determinism, you must believe that it is because you were caused to do so (either by this article or a variety of other possible determinants). If you choose free will, you must believe that it is entirely your choice, and you could have chosen otherwise.
QuestionWhat is an example of determinism?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou go to an ice cream store and are presented with two flavors, chocolate and strawberry. You are not particularly drawn to either - you like both, right? On a whim, you choose chocolate. To you this seems entirely random and the decision is entirely yours. Determinism argues that this is not the case and your decision is based on thousands of nerves and brain cells making countless connections. Perhaps they made you choose chocolate because you subconsciously like the color, or subconsciously associate it with your childhood. You feel as if you made a free decision. Determinism argues that it is the result of physical and chemical reactions which are not free.Thanks!
QuestionDoes determinism view the mind as being like a computer?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHard determinism, yes. Soft determinism, typically compatibilism, no. For the former, it is reasoned that the human mind is equally subject to universal laws, and as such, follow universal logical necessity. For the latter, one is put into more of a holier-than-thou conscious state, in which the acknowledgement and possible fulfillment of your desires is allowing free will in a sense, yet everything is strictly determined.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is an example of fatalism?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerFatalism is a self destructive form of fear which leans toward the poor me propensity of narcissistic individuals.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are some problems related to determinism?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDegree of will-power. For instance wanting to quit smoking, drinking, or any other habit an individual would desire to be rid of.Thanks!
- It may help to view determinism as the theory that the entire universe is being manipulated by the fixed laws of nature thus making notions of personal control illusory.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking that determinism suggests that people don’t choose from among options, because voluntary decisions are made from among options, but it is just that any option chosen is proposed as the only one that could be chosen by a particular person, at a particular time, in a particular set of internal and external circumstances. For a person to have chosen otherwise would require one or more of the preceding or current factors to also have been otherwise.
- The idea that there is no free will can make you depressed and feel a lack of meaning; but remember, even if your will isn't free, it's still yours, and so is everything you feel and think.
- If you're a die-hard free will believer, but you'd like a practical example of what determinism is all about, try to go an entire day without using the word "because." After all, if you're talking about causes, you're talking about determinism. If your belief in free will can survive an entire day without referring to causes of any kind, your faith is strong enough to withstand any logical argument.
- Not all determinists forsake belief in free will. Some determinists (compatibilists) believe that free will doesn't necessarily disprove determinism. Compatibilists generally define free will as the ability to act of one's own volition, as opposed to being coerced or compelled to act.
- If you want to fry your brain a bit, keep in mind that even if you believe in free will, there has to be a reason (a cause) for you to do so. If you believe in free will because you believe that people have souls, you still arrived at your beliefbecauseof something, and that's evidence for determinism!
- Ultimately the question of free will and determinism is meaningless. Whether or not you have free will, you will act in the way you do, whatever the cause is. Do not ruin any social relationships because of it. It is merely something to ponder at.
- Conversely, if you're a die-hard determinist, but you'd like a practical example of what free will is all about, try to go an entire day without behaving intentionally. That is, try to engage in any action as though you are simply a cog in a huge causal chain machine rather than an entity whose consciously willed decisions guide his or her action. Possible example activities: try to guess as to whether you'll sleep with your neighbor's spouse; plan a vacation using the Big Bang to chart your causally-preestablished itinerary; defend yourself in traffic court by telling the judge that sun spots forced you to exceed the posted speed limit. This should prove very instructive regarding the sometimes antagonistic relationship between what is believable in theory and what is practicable in reality (regardless of whether the metaphysics of determinism is true or false). If your belief in determinism can survive an entire day without referring to intent of any kind, your faith is strong enough to be put into practice.
- A common objection to determinism is that it provides "an excuse for everything," but most philosophers feel that this is a misunderstanding. The fact that an action is determined rather than freely chosen does not change the nature of the action. Determinism is not a "get out of trouble free withstand any logical." Actions have consequences, whether we believe in free will, determinism, or nothing at all.
- Most determinists are also atheists (or agnostics), naturalists, and freethinkers. If these viewpoints appeal to you, determinism may be something you would like to know more about. If they bother (or offend) you, you may not want to argue about this issue with a determinist. Discussing free will and determinism will require an examination of many deeply-held beliefs, which may not always be a pleasant experience.
Video: Understanding Causality, Free-will and Determinism in Islam - Hamza Yusuf
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