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Paul Ree’s argument can be summarised under the concept of cause and effect wherein the existence of free will is in doubt since the actions of people are invariably caused by factors that influenced them towards these actions. For instance, if every action can result in a reaction then constant interaction with the environment, the culture you are in, and the social structure you are a part of will lead to a response.
However, an individual reacting to these factors is doing so outside of their inherent control since they are merely reacting based on factors that they have been introduced to and will be introduced to in the future via their external environment. Thus, the concept of free will is questionable since all reactions that a person has can be traced to an action that did not uniquely originate from them. Even their actions are based on stimulus and input from the external environment.
On the other end of the spectrum, De Beauvoir presents the notion that humans are inherently free due to the presence of cognizance of choice regarding the actions that a person can put into effect. In essence, human freedom for De Beauvoir is based on awareness of the self; consciousness acknowledgment of “others” and the capacity to enact change through action. It is based on these two perspectives regarding the existence of freedom that this paper will compare the arguments of Ree and De Beauvoir to come up with sufficient evidence to debunk one of their perspectives on human freedom This can be accomplished through an examination of their perspectives and using real-world examples to apply their arguments.
This paper assumes that it is the cognizance of the presence of choices for our actions that validates the existence of free will since, even if some extenuating circumstances and influences can impact what choice we make, the fact remains that a choice can still be made.
Analyzing the Perspective of Rees
The work of Rees has several philosophical undertones similar to the “unmoved mover” and “uncaused cause” arguments made by St. Thomas Aquinas when he presented his arguments regarding the existence of God. For instance, Rees is correct when he states that actions prompt reactions and that every action has an inherent origin. Thus, he argues that people do not necessarily have free will since there is an origin to the action that influences their reactions and future subsequent actions.
Rees even implies aspects related to learned behavior theory wherein it is stated that an individual’s thoughts, actions, and behavior are merely the result of learned behavior from the external environment (Mele 781). As such, all their actions and reactions are based on preconceived notions that they have internalized and applied. Since these aspects are preconceived, then the concept of free will is in doubt due to the lack of behaviors, thought processes, and actions that originated uniquely from “the self” without any external stimulus bringing it about.
Analysing the Perspective of De Beauvoir
De Beauvoir subtly acknowledged the presence of external influence to actions wherein she stated that two kinds of freedom apply to humanity, namely ontological freedom and its counterpart, moral freedom. De Beauvoir explained that while a person can be ontologically free, they are not necessarily morally free. This is in part due to the influences of the external environment that constrain or influence our actions. However, De Beauvoir helps to resolve this issue by explaining that regardless of the presence of constraints or influences, moral freedom continues to exist, and the concept of choice is present. It is the cognisant acknowledgment of the presence of choice, regardless of constraining influences, which prove the existence of free will since De Beauvoir recognizes the fact that people can still make fundamentally immoral choices despite the presence of a moral alternative (Torres and Fajardo-Chica 519).
Based on everything that has been presented so far, it can be stated that it is the cognizance of the presence of choices for our actions that validates the existence of free will since, even if some extenuating circumstances and influences can impact what choice we make, the fact remains that a choice can still be made. Ree does make a valid argument though when it comes to how the actions of people are invariably influenced by the environment around them; however, there are numerous examples throughout the past and present which show that people are capable of making decisions that are distinctly different from what should be the result of their external influences.
De Beauvoir’s perspective simply makes more sense since the presence of choice is an indelible aspect of being human. While it may be true that social, economic, and cultural circumstances can limit an individual’s capacity to make a choice, De Beauvoir stated that this is where moral freedom enters into the picture wherein, despite constraints on what choices you should make, you can still make a choice that can result in the “greatest amount of good.”
Mele, Alfred. “Unconscious Decisions And Free Will.” Philosophical Psychology 26.6 (2013): 777-789. Print.
Torres, Erika, and David Fajardo-Chica. “Gregg D. Caruso: Free Will And Consciousness: A Determinist Account Of The Illusion Of Free Will.” Minds & Machines 23.4 (2013): 519. Print.