Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Thinking about free will

I have been thinking about free will lately. The philosophical dilemma that we are presented in class:

Human choice is either free, or it is not.
If it is free, then the law of causality if false.
If it is not free, then people are not responsible for their actions.
Therefore, either the law of causality is false, or people are not responsible for their actions.
(Kessler, Voices of Wisdom 2004:413)

This dilemma says a lot in three little premises and a conclusion. Today, I just want to touch on things I find concerning in my life.

First off, even B.F. Skinner, ‘al mighty leader of Behavioralism, and staunch believer that our environment influences every aspect of our behaviour, acknowledged that humans need the “illusion of free will.” Even if he was unwilling to acknowledge the existence of it, he could tell that we needed to believe that we have free will. Without this illusion, Skinner observed, that humans wither and die.

If we have free will, than humans have no excuses. This is a dismal thought for many people, the thought that they might be accountable for not only their actions, but for who they are. One of the arguments against free will is the possibility of a higher power. Can you imagine the peaceful feeling that could wash over you if you were not responsible for all that you do, all that you have done? Can you imagine if we were given absolution for all of our actions? Can you imagine how alone and heavy a person feels when they do not have this higher being/power to blame for all that has gone wrong, and if they understood that they are in part responsible for all the evils their species has done to this planet? Can you feel how horrible it is to be responsible, to have no one else to blame for your wrong doings?

Now, from time to time, I have felt what can only be described as a kind of intervention. Like a hand turning me left, when I thought I was going to go right; or at a moment of indecision when both options show no difference from each other. A few times I have felt this feeling of an outside force guiding me. Is this also an illusion?

I have no doubt that free will exists, but I don’t think it is defined right yet, or if it is, I have not yet come across a definition that satisfies me. I can see so many ways that this dilemma is a false one. Free will and causality are not mutually exclusive, they co-exist. The question is, to what extent are we responsible for our actions? To what extent are we responsible to what happens to us?

More to come on that later, now I have to go to work.
Today’s pictures are from the time when I lived in the UK.


Jennifer said...

Very interesting discussion. Brings me right back to my roots and reminds me of grad school. I also believe in free will, but like you have felt guidance at certain key times in my life. I think ones feeling about this question has a lot to do with personal beliefs and faith.

Carrie K said...

Very interesting! I'd never thought about free will and the laws of causality. Mabye because I didn't go back to school full time. Five years can be a big gap, but honestly, the older you get, the more everyone kind of lumps together into young, sort of my age, and old. (and the actual ages of those groups vary widely.)If they're really young and/or immature, maybe it would help to think of them as an anthropology expedition?

Anyway, I'm Lutheran and we believe in free will, not that God, or the Devil, or anyone but ourselves made us do anything. Of course, we also believe in Original Sin which has its own twists, but hey. So no sense of lovely irresponsibility. Bummer. No wonder people are leaving the church.

I love The Saint bag you knit! it might be on your knitting blog. No one plays that show anymore. Or The Avengers. Not here anyway.