Our Free Will


Our Free Will Essay, Research Paper

Our Free Will

We ought then regard the present state of the universe as the effect of

its previous state and the cause of the one which is to follow. An intelligence

knowing at a given instant of time all the forces operating in nature, as well

as the position at that instant of all things of which the universe consists,

would be able to comprehend the motions of the largest bodies in the universe

and those of the smallest atoms in a single formula – provided that it was

sufficiently powerful to submit all these data analysis. To it nothing would

be uncertain and the future would be present to its eyes as much as the past.

This passage comes from P.S. de Laplace’s ?Philosophical Essay on

Probabilities.? If such determinism is true, then everyone’s every thought and

action must be inevitable; that no one really has any choice about anything,

because we are all helpless products of blind forces which have made us what we

are. In this paper concerning the free will and determinism debate I will

argue that determinism is not plausible, I shall do this by giving reasons for

determining how determinism is false, give arguments for determinism, and then

refute those arguments.

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. That everything is a consequence of external forces, and such

forces produce all that happens. 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. ?The nature of human life may be such that man must

understand himself as being free, for human life as we know it would not make

much sense without the concept of freedom.? The challenge and struggle

usually emerge from situations, such as helping to recycle or reaching out to

youths in inner city projects, in which individuals feel that their effort can

make a difference.

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. ?The great American

pragmatist William James in his famous essay ?The Dilemma of Determinism,’

James rejects determinism on the grounds that there is no free choice. James

appealed to direct experience to provide evidence of the existence of free

choice.? Feelings which we all have such as regret or remorse makes 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


A determinist may argue that human behavior is caused by environment

conditions, general trends, circumstances, and social economic forces beyond

human effort and will.

?Freudians have shown that men do things not because of free choice but because

of deep unconscious forces and libidinal energy or sexual drives. Darwin

described man as a product of evolution, as any animal is; Marx showed how man

is shaped by economic forces over which he has no control; and behaviorist

psychologist explained human behavior of evidence in favor of deterministic


Determinist believes that people believe they are free only because they’re

ignorant of the causes of their actions. Spinoza makes that point when he says,

?Men are deceived in thinking themselves free, a belief that consists of the

causes by which they are determined.? He continues: ?In the mind there is no

absolute, or free will. The mind is determined to this or that volition by a

cause, which is likewise determined by another cause, ad infinitum.? All of

his philosophy reflected the deterministic view that we are not free to change

the world because we are all part of a grand causal chain, but his philosophy

also claims the idea that if we accept determinism we free ourselves from

ignorance and emotional servitude. If a person has the capacity to free

himself from the bondage of ignorance and emotional impulses and come to agree

with Spinoza, then this would seem to be a very significant type of freedom.

So it can be concluded that Spinoza was saying something absurd or that he

understood the reality and value of freedom. 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 deciding and choose seriously? If determinism is true, then 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 do or don’t

do. So then why even bother getting out of bed?


Anthony Flew, Western Philosophy (New York: Bobb_Merrill Company, 1971), p.


Thomas Ellis Katen, Doing Philosophy (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1973), p.


Ibid., p. 386.

Ibid., p. 315.

Spinoza. The Ethics. Part 2, proposition 35, sholium.

Ibid., proposition 48.

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