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Free Will in Human Life: Reality or Fraud? Essay

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Updated: Jun 25th, 2022

Introduction

Despite people’s intention to simplify their lives, many philosophical ideas remain ambiguous and provoke multiple debates. Free will for people is one of such paradoxical philosophical questions, and controversial arguments can be given to developing this discussion. On the one hand, people consider themselves free beings as they are able to make independent decisions, choose between options, and live in accordance with their moral and ethical rights. On the other hand, such concepts as responsibility, obligation, and the power of God should not be ignored due to their specific impact on human life. The main question of this research is “Do people actually have free will?”. There are many approaches, and it is normal to support or argue them. The statements introduced by ancient, Enlightenment, and modern philosophers will be taken into account to promote a better understanding of the chosen subject. In view of existing religious thoughts, obligations, standards, personal preferences, and confidence, free will is hardly a reality and never a fraud because people need something to believe in and strive for in their lives.

Background Information

At the initial stage of this research, defining the term “free will” seems an easy task. People think that they face this concept regularly in their lives when they choose what to eat, how to dress up, or where to continue their education. Regarding such an attitude toward free will, it may be explained as an ability to choose between available options and determine the development of events. However, as soon as free will is treated as one of the philosophical problems, more analysis is required. According to Ekstrom, the complexity of this definition is “not worn on its face” because it is not one problem but many (1-2). People do not recognize various external and internal factors that may affect their decisions. The point is that the necessity to find an explanation of free will results in the initiation of a serious moral scandal where some thinkers define it as an illusion, while others accept it as a core of creativity (Doyle 17). Being obsessed with their achievements and desire to create fair living conditions, people continue puzzling out this term from multiple perspectives.

The history of free will discussion can be traced back to the fourth century BCE in the works of Plato and Aristotle. For example, Plato believed that “a great peace comes when age sets us free from passions” (5). He underlined the worth of justice for the human soul and the possibility to get rid of all temptations with time. Still, justice is based on reason, and the reason is usually defined by moral standards and obligations to pursue good. Plato was the one who introduced free will and deprived people of its accomplishment. Aristotle was the next who contributed to this evaluation by adding the importance of choices. He explained that “the man acts voluntarily” as it is “in his power to do or not to do” (34). At the same time, Aristotle left some mental pabulum that “in the abstract,” some actions are “involuntary” due to the presence of “irrational” elements in the human soul (Aristotle19, 34). Being of the brightest minds, these two philosophers were not ready to give a clear answer to the question if people could possess free will.

Every philosopher, as well as every individual, is free to develop unique interpretations of free will importance in their lives. One of the reasons to justify the “NO” answer to the offered paradoxical question is the presence of legal and moral obligations for all moral agents, namely people. One may use the idea of Ekstrom that “the question of free will is not a question of what persons are socially, politically, or legally allowed to do” to prove the insignificance of obligations (2). However, individuals, as a meaningful part of a moral community, cannot neglect their responsibilities. When a person is born, parents are responsible for their children’s well-being. With age, children have to go to school and contribute to their self-development. As soon as they are grownups, they need to find jobs and follow the already established social norms.

There are specific legal and judicial systems that show how all human actions are predetermined. All people must take responsibility for their crimes, disorder, and misbehavior (Doyle 17). As a result, many philosophers, including Immanuel Kant and Peter Strawson, decided to balance the concepts of free will and moral responsibility. The former concluded that people are free if they behave according to the moral law, as they are the creators of their ends (qtd. in Ekstrom 10). The latter rejected free will in any form because a person can hardly give up his/her natural attitudes and feelings of blame/praise, guilt/pride, crime/punishment, resentment, and forgiveness (qtd. in Doyle 250). When it seems that a person can choose from several options, one should remember the fact that all those alternatives have already been predetermined by someone. For example, personal feelings (that are considered free) depend on many outside factors like family background, education, and nationality. As it turns out, it is hard and usually impossible to break the circle of determinism, and many other factors affect human life, including religion.

God’s Role in Human Life

The paradox of the question about free will for humans is also related to the role of God and the impossibility of great philosophers to provide a clear answer. There is a divine perspective in terms of which God is conceived as omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and sovereign (Ekstrom 15). God is the creator of humans, and He gave people free will so they could choose between good and wrong (30). From this statement, it may be concluded that people do have free will from their birth. There are enough opportunities for people to escape pain, sin, and damage as they have been given free choice of will (Augustine 5). Every person is free to decide, choose, and understand what should be done, and free will is something humans can actually possess. Divine knowledge is critical, but it may be interpreted differently. Thomas Aquinas stated that God had powers, but He was also ruled by laws; Duns Scotus defined God’s actions as free from external impact (qtd. in Doyle 83). Thus, it is always necessary to add the phrase “as per God’s will” to any of these arguments.

Along with free will being God’s gift, people get access to a variety of options, conditions, and resources. However, no one who believes in the power of God can deny the fact that He “is in fact in control of everything” (Ekstrom 16). Even in his discussions about free will and a variety of options, Augustine admitted that God “will be at hand and make us understand what we have come to believe” (5). A number of questions about the actual possibility of people choosing freely appear. For example, people are free to develop their skills and qualities as per their interests. Still, they cannot influence what has already been put in them by God, a sequence of events, or genetics. It is possible to choose what to eat, where to live, or how to speak. Nevertheless, the question remains the same – if all these options are a matter of free will because someone else has already created all of them.

Poorly Defined Human Choices

Finally, the question of free will cannot be closed until people understand their needs and choices properly. Alternative possibilities exist regardless of human beliefs or religious backgrounds (Doyle 117). Fischer, a modern professor of philosophy, provides an interesting definition of these opportunities as “flickers of freedom” (qtd. in Doyle 117). Thus, they are not constant and may be changed with time. To learn better human choices, another modern philosopher, Dennett, offers to separate “random possibilities from determined choices” and underline the necessity to protect free will as a vital part of human existence (qtd. in Doyle 118). There is no way a person can avoid determinism because it is the way of how society lives and develops. Still, as well as people trying to determine their choices and relationships, do not want to be determined by outside factors. In this case, Dennett introduces a solution to see what free will should look like – not from a physical point of view but from a biological one (qtd. in Doyle 171). Free will is not an option but a capacity to see the future and make choices that meet needs.

People’s obsession with freedom and will motivates and suppresses at the same time. It was correctly mentioned by Augustine that “nothing makes the mind a devotee of desire but its own will and free choice” (19). Aristotle said that “we feel anger and fear without choice” (26). And Goetz proved that choices are never random but made for specific reasons and purposes (qtd. in Ekstrom 90). The more thoughts about free will are developed, the more obstacles and challenges occur in the person’s way. The truth is that free will may be developed and introduced as a philosophical concept with a number of interpretations and outcomes. However, regarding the presence of multiple outside factors (religion and law), the inconstancy of human nature, and the conflict of personal strengths and weaknesses, people can hardly possess free will per se.

Conclusion

The analysis of complex philosophical questions is always interesting and challenging because there are no right or wrong answers but opportunities to enhance an understanding of human life. Free will remains to be one of the most intriguing concepts in philosophy during the last four thousand years. People do everything possible to protect their freedoms and improve their living conditions. They want to prove free will possibility and continue burying themselves with new approaches and ideas. As soon as a person has this question in mind, it is high time to remember what makes him/her think about it, in other words, an outside factor. Free will is illusory until people are bound by their responsibilities, God’s power, and choice recognition – the elements that fulfill this life.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by William David Ross, Batoche Books, 1999.

Augustine. On the Free Choice of the Will, On Grace and Free Choice, and Other Writings. Edited by Peter King. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Doyle, Bob. Free Will: The Scandal in Philosophy. I-Phi Press, 2016.

Ekstrom, Laura Waddell. Free Will: A Philosophical Study. Routledge, 2018.

Plato. The Republic. Translated by Francis Macdonald Cornford, Oxford University Press, 1970.

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