Is Man Free or Determined?
Suppose that every event or action has a sufficient cause, which brings that event about. Today, in our scientific age, this sounds like a reasonable assumption. After all, can you imagine someone seriously claiming that when it rains, or when a plane crashes, or when a business succeeds, there might be no cause for it? Surely, human behavior is caused. It doesn’t just happen for any reason at all. The types of human behavior for which people are held morally accountable are usually said to be caused by the people who engaged in that behavior. People typically cause their own behavior by making choices; therefore, this type of behavior might be thought to be caused by our own choice-makings. This freedom to make our own choices is free will.
Determinism, a philosophical doctrine that opposes free will, is the theory stating that all events, physical and mental (including moral choices), are completely determined by previously existing causes that preclude free will. This theory denies the element of chance or possibility, as well as the reality of human freedom, holding that the “will” is not free but is determined by biological, environmental, social, or mystical imperatives. Since every event in our lives is determined by outside causes, then we are just some sort of robots. Freedom, on the other hand, is rooted behind the idea that we do have control over the choices we make, thus having free will, a requirement for being morally accountable for an action. But if determinism is true, and we have no control over the choices we make, then we do not have free-will; and therefore, nobody can ever legitimately be held morally accountable for anything. Our common practice of thinking of others and ourselves as accountable is simply not justified!
There are those who think that our behavior is a result of free choice, but there are others who presume “we are servants of cosmic destiny or that behavior is nothing but a reflex of heredity and environment.” The position of determinism is that every event is the necessary outcome of a cause or set of causes, and everything is a consequence of external forces, and such forces produce all that happens. Therefore, according to this statement, man is not free.
If we accept the determinist argument and assume human behavior as a consequence of external factors rather than of free choice, then we must realize that our explanation of human behavior leaves no room for morality. If people do not choose their actions, then they are not really responsible for them, and there is no need for praising or blaming them. If determinism were true, then there would be no basis for human effort, for why should a person make an effort if what he or she does doesn’t make a difference? If what will be will be, then one has an excuse for doing nothing. Life would not be so meaningful for people on deterministic grounds. Human life, as we know it, would not make much sense without the concept of freedom. In our everyday lives, there are many times when we have to make decisions; what we are going to eat for breakfast, or where we are going to walk. When we talk or write, we are deciding on the arrangement of our thoughts, and we have to search for the right expressions. Our life, while we are awake and active, is a mixture of important and unimportant choices.
Having free will means that we are able to act voluntarily, that we could have decided to act differently than we did. When someone is criticized for looking sloppy, or making an offensive remark, he may try to excuse himself with a “I could not help it” remark. But if he is a normal person mentally, then he could have helped it; he could have acted differently. Many people reject determinism on the grounds that there is no free choice. Philosophers against determinism appeal to direct experience to provide evidence of the existence of free choice. Feelings which we all have, such as regret or remorse, make no sense unless there is free will. People experience regret or sorrow only because they believe they could have done otherwise. If determinism were true, then people could never have done otherwise and there should be no reason to feel any regret. A determinist may argue that human behavior is caused by environmental conditions, general trends, circumstances, and social economic forces beyond human effort and will.
Determinists state that people believe they are free only because they’re ignorant of the causes of their actions. They make that point when they say that we are deceived in thinking ourselves free, a belief that consists of the causes by which they are determined. All of this philosophy reflects the deterministic view that we are not free to change the world because we are all part of a grand causal chain, but this philosophy also claims the idea that if we accept determinism, we free ourselves from ignorance and emotional servitude. And thus, If a person has the capacity to free himself from the bondage of ignorance and emotional impulses and come to agree with determinism, then this would seem to be a very significant type of freedom. So it can be concluded that determinists are saying something absurd or that they understood the reality and value of freedom.
Oedipus the King, was written by Sophocles between C.A.496-406B.C. In this play, Oedipus is a great example of Sophocles? belief that fate will control a man?s life no matter how much free will exists.
Oedipus is a man of unflagging determination and perseverance, but he must learn through the working out of a terrible prophecy that there are forces beyond any man?s conceptualization or control. Oedipus? actions were determined before his birth, yet Oedipus? actions are entirely determined by the Gods who control him completely. In the beginning of this tragedy, Oedipus took many actions leading to his own downfall. He tried to escape Corinth when he learned of the prophecies that were supposed to take place in his life. Instead, he fell right into the trap of the prediction by unwittingly killing his father and later marrying his mother. By doing this, he proved that his life was predetermined by fate and there was nothing he could do to change it. He could have waited for the plague to end, but out of compassion for his suffering people, he had Creon go to Delphi to plead before Apollo to relieve the curse of the plague. Instead of investigating the murder of the former King Lauis, Oedipus took matters into his own hands and cursed the murderer, now the curse would effect him as well, because he was the one who killed Laius.. ?Now my cursed on the murderer,/Whoever he is, alone man unknown in his crime or one among many, let that man drag out his life in agony, step by painful step- I curse myself as well as… if by any chance he proves to be an intimate of our house, here at my hearth, with my full know ledge, may the curse I just called down on him strike me!? (887).
Oedipus doesn?t realize the personal consequences his hunt for the murderer will have for him, and his loyalty to the truth is based on his ignorance. His pride, ignorance and unrelenting quest for the truth ultimately contributed to his destruction. An example is when Oedipus was told [after threatening Tiresias], that he was responsible for the murder of Laius. He became enraged and called the old oracle a liar. However, Oedipus thought he could outsmart the gods, but in fact, his every action moved him closer to the prophecy becoming a reality. Upon discovery of the truth of his birth from the herdsman, Oedipus cries, ?Ah God!/O light, may I look on you for the last time!/Oedipus, damned in birth, in his marriage damned, Damned in the blood he shed with his own hand!?. (911). Oedipus knew that his fate had indeed come to pass and feels cursed by it. Oedipus was guilt, of killing his father and marrying his mother. He punishes himself for the sins he committed by gouging out his eyes. The true sin is when he attempts to raise himself to the level of the gods by trying to escape his fate. Oedipus is accepting the full burden of his acts and knows that he must be punished for his sins. Therefore, this last act of gouging out his eyes was the result of Oedipus? free will and his tragic fate came about because every sin must be punished.
Sophocles feels that a person has no control over the course of his life. No matter how much free will Oedipus had in controlling his life, fate had already taken control. Therefore, fate is proved to be inevitable. Oedipus is one play that is held together by the fact that fate is more powerful than anyone?s free will. Fate is the one true evil– everything that happens is somehow meant to be, and free will cannot change it.
Human experience over the course of history does rely itself on freedom. If determinism is true, why should people bother deliberating about what to do or spend time making decisions? According to determinism everyone’s thoughts and actions must be inevitable; nobody really has any choice about anything because we are all helpless products of blind forces, which have made us what we are. Therefore, whatever is determined to happen by the past history of the universe is going to happen. A person’s biography was written before he or she was born, so there’s no sense in making an effort. Whatever will be will be, whatever the person does or doesn’t do. So then why even bother getting out of bed?