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The debate on free will and determinism has existed for centuries. Philosophers and psychologists who believe in determinism hold that behavior is determined by external and internal forces that are beyond human control. Those who believe in free will agree that external and internal influences do exist but an individual has a power of choosing freely on how to act upon them. Most behaviorists support determinism, arguing that each action has a prior cause. This paper is a dialogue that follows Socratic Method in trying to bring out understanding of the two positions.
The philosophical argument on whether events and choices are as a result of free will or determinism is not recent. Some philosophers believe that events occur because they were predetermined to be done and that everything has sense of inevitability attached to it. On the other hand, other philosophers believe that human beings are in control of their choices, intentionally or unintentionally. Below is the dialogue with Socrates, whose main aim is to show that both free will and determinism are true to some extent if only a specific understanding of each is achieved.
The Dialogue with Socrates
Socrates: What is the definition of determinism?
Me: Determinism is the philosophical belief that events take place as a result of causation. In other words, determinism refers to the belief of inevitability, that events occur because they are meant to and that nothing which did not happen could have happened (Dennett, 1985). Everything happens for a reason and humans have no control over such occurrences. For instance, behavior is motivated by patterns deeply ingrained in individual genes.
Socrates: Does that mean that events have a definite pattern?
Me: Yes, that is the implication. Deterministic thinking supports the idea that if an event was repeated under exactly the same circumstances, the outcome will not change.
Socrates: What is the definition of free will?
Me: I think that free will is the ability to make conscious choices only. By conscious choices, I mean those that can be influenced and controlled by the agent in question. However, free will is mostly limited by human beings as rational animals. They have the ability to exercise their power of choice depending on the environment and prevailing circumstances (Dennett, 1985). Other animals do not possess the ability to exercise free will to the extent that humans do. Their actions are mostly motivated by survival instincts and not by any pressure to conform to any dictate of morality.
Socrates: Does that mean that subconscious choices are beyond free will?
Me: No, that is not my implication. Subconscious choices can be made out of free will, but for such choices to be made out of free will, they must be controlled indirectly. The basis of this control stems from what is learnt and continues to influence actions subliminally.
Socrates: What do you mean by indirect control?
Me: What I mean is that choices can be influenced by change of values, beliefs or intentional change in the way of doing things. For instance, an individual may decide to dress in a particular way because everyone else around him is dressing that way.
Socrates: Do you agree that every event has an explanatory cause?
Me: No, I do not agree that every event has an explanatory cause. Some occurrences transcend human understanding. That is why it is not possible to make an accurate prediction of everything that will happen in the future. But all events have a cause, whether it is explanatory or not (Voss, 1997).
Socrates: How do you define event?
Me: Philosophically, I would define an event as a sequential occurrence without spatial boundaries but with a definite temporal location.
Socrates: How do you define explanatory cause?
Me: In my opinion, explanatory cause refers to those events that lead to a particular outcome and whose origin can be traced. This is irrespective of whether the cause can be controlled by humans or not.
Socrates: Do you agree that every human choice or event has an explanatory cause?
Me: Yes, I think every human choice has a motivation behind it. This is because human actions are most oft than not shaped by experience. Based on the doctrine of free will, every choice made by a human being has an explanation behind it. That is why some action was chosen over the other. This implies that the choice was motivated by some factor that has an explainable cause. (Voss, 1997)
Socrates: How do you define human choice? How do you definite human event? Are they different?
Me: I would define human choice as an election between alternatives, consciously made by a human being. This election can be rational or irrational, depending on the circumstances upon which it is made. Human event relates to occurrences that stem from human actions. The two are different in sense that choice is the elective principle, while the event is a result of that choice.
Socrates: Do you agree that to have an explanatory cause is to not be free?
Me: No, I do not agree with that. Deterministic thinking would dictate that events take place because they are predetermined to. But human beings are rational beings who can choose to act variously in any given circumstance. For instance, a hungry person passing by a junk food vendor may wish to buy something to eat. Here, hunger would dictate an individual to buy such food (deterministic thinking); but out of free will the person may forego making the purchase for various reasons, such as health, finances or beliefs; meaning he exercised free will in coming up with final decision.
Socrates: How do you define free?
Me: I think that free means the ability to act upon desires spontaneously without being compelled or coerced. But this does not mean that such acts have to be immoral, no. In fact, far from it, human beings, being rational animals, choose what is good to them and others (Hewett, 2006).
Socrates: Do you think that free will and determinism can coexist in any way?
Me: Yes, I think the two can coexist. Determinism will play a role in choices made in so far as events beyond human control are involved.
Socrates: Is it possible to have external determinism and internal free will?
Me: I am not sure as to what exactly you are referring to as internal free will. That said, I would agree that it is possible to have external determinism. External determinism in this case refers to external influences.
The fact human beings are rational beings has the implication that we are the ones in control of our lives. The choices we make (whether by free will or by default) lead to definite outcomes. When we do things contrary to the dictates of morality, then we must be ready to suffer consequences, irrespective of the compulsion that drove us to make those choices. Our rationality dictates that we exercise free will in making choices that are most likely to emphasize our humanness. Therefore, this implies that we should use a reason to make choices that reflect the true nature of a rational being.