- The family dog will do as it’s told because it has been conditioned to do so. The dog has no moral conscience and will merely anticipate pleasurable and unpleasurable consequences.
- Free will- the term referring to humans’ ability to exercise free choice.
- Free will means we have options in life and we have the faculties and opportunities to choose between different options. I have autonomy; I am in charge of my life.
- Determinism- human beings being pre-conditioned programmed over choices and having no control over choices or actions they make.
- The debate exists between philosophers over which theory is right, whether human actions and choices in life are innate and are developed through lives, or whether they are free.
- Need we give any thought over our behaviour if we have no control over it? Determinists say all our decisions are already established by earlier causes- they are ‘causally determined’. Our future lives are unalterable and our feelings and hopes have no bearing on future lives.
- Determinism holds that whatever happens is determined by existing situations and current events. I can only act in the way my genes and my experiences make me act. If we knew all the relevant psychological facts about someone, and the ay these facts interacted, we could predict exactly what they would do in any given situation. Determinism is a mechanistic view of the world. Nature is a hugely complex machine, but no more than a machine, even the humans in it are machines.
- Psychological determinism- One form of determinism is behaviourism. This is an outlook encouraged by the works of Ivan Pavlov and BF Skinner.
- Behaviourism- human beings, make many of their decisions according to predetermined, conditional patterns. Pavlov experimented and found that the normal reactions of a dog to food (slavering, producing stomach acid) could be triggered by stimuli other than the smell of food, using a bell (first by combining both unconditional and conditional stimuli of the bell and the food, until even the bell’s sound of its own would cause salivating) . Pavlov’s conditioning (the bell being a conditional stimulus) depends on the psychological mechanism of association- this is what operates when the mere site of a dentists chair or a sound of a drill makes you apprehensive.
- Skinner developed Pavlov’s idea and produced a more proactive technique allowing the conditioner to have more control. His techniques were known as operant conditioning. Skinner used positive and negative reinforcers and punishments to modify behaviour. He assumed that a creature would be more likely to adopt a behaviour that brought about a reward or relief of something negative), and would make less and less frequent behaviour which brought about punishment. It is possible to draw an analogy in humans through advertising, saying that we buy things to get something positive or avoid something negative, and do not actually choose.
- The implications of these ideas are far-reaching. If determinism is correct, then we have no real control over our behaviour. Therefore, do we need to give thought to the way we behave? If our thoughts and actions are all determined, our moral codes are meaningless. We do not have genuine autonomy, and all our feelings and aspiration will have no real effect on our futures.
- If it is true have free will, and then we do have moral responsibility for our actions. Assuming free will means the ‘law’ of cause and effect does not operate in every sphere of life. The physical world may operate according to the Laws of Nature, but our minds do not. We have to accept responsibility for our actions.
- Theological determinism- John Calvin taught that among humans there were two groups of people, ‘the damned’ and ‘the elect’. If you belong to the first group, you go to hell, regardless of what you did, your fate has already been pre-determined. If you belong in the elect, you would go to heaven, again regardless of what you did or how you lived.
- However, no-one knows which group he or she belongs to. Despite your ultimate, spiritual destiny being fixed, you are still free to make decisions in the many choices that life presents you with. A weakness in the view would be the objection, ‘If my spiritual destiny is fixed, why should I work hard or be good?’ Calvin’s reply was that hard work and goodness would automatically be characteristics of the elect. It may be known by God which group you are in, but it is not known in this life by you. Such an idea of predestination seems to exclude possibilities of choice, both moral and religious. However, many Christians hold both views simultaneously, believing them to be complementary.
- On the one hand, Christianity says that each of us is given the responsibility of choosing whether to seek in our lives or not and will be judged on the choice they make. On the other hand, God has chosen individuals to belong to him and is ruler or sovereign over the world. Some Christians have rejected of these two assumptions as a way of solving the problems. Those who deny human choice are religious determinists. From this perspective, however, humans become merely God’s robots or actors, mechanistically going through life like automatons.
- Christians, who deny the second, imply that the only real decision-makers are people and God is relegated to the status of passive spectator, unable or unwilling to exercise omniscience or omnipotence.
- One solution is to hold both views. For example, God planned for the death and resurrection of the Messiah as a way of saving the world from spiritual oblivion. According to the New and Old Testament, this was arranged before the world was created. However, Jesus had the choice of accepting or rejecting God’s plan. From accounts in the Gospels this was emotionally exhausting. It is clear Jesus could have rejected this, as he was sorely tempted to do so. Other human beings were involved in the judicial murder and were to be judged for it accordingly.
- Philosophical determinism- A common view of the world is that all events, without exception, are effect which is the result of previous causes. Life is a causal chain, and each line of the chain controls the nature of the subsequent link. If this view is correct, then the future must logically be as fixed and unchangeable as the past. William James referred to ‘the iron black universe’ writing ‘any other future complement (set of outcomes) than the one fixed from eternity is impossible’. In other words, only what has happened could possibly have happened. The future can become the past only in the way that is actually does.
- If determinism is the only way in which the world works, including the ‘human-being machines’ within it, then it has profound implications for these human beings. We would have no moral responsibility since our moral ‘choices’ would be illusory. Human attitudes such as resentment and gratitude would be illogical and meaningless. Human aspirations, personal feelings, ideas of rightness and wrongness, moral stature and moral value would all have no worth, or even existence, they would be futile, baseless concepts.
- Scientific determinism- Recent advances in quantum theory suggest that atomic particle movement may be random. If this is so, then the future of the world is not as fixed or determinable as a hard determinist may believe. (If it is not random, then the future could be determined by a super-brain such as ‘Laplace’s demon’. Laplace said if there was a mind which was clever enough to understand all the laws of nature and big enough to know all the existing facts of nature then that mind could predict exactly what would happen in the future, moment by moment- such as hypothetical mind is known as Laplace’s demon). Future outcomes could be truly random as opposed to merely inaccessible to human perception. What has happened in the past has happened and cannot be changed, but the future has near infinite or even infinite possibilities. This negates the denial of moral responsibility. However, as Professor RC Weathefield states, random events are still no guarantee of moral responsibility. ‘Which would you rather be- a clock or a ball on a roulette wheel?. In other words we could be subject to fixed mechanical forces like the clock or random events like the roulette ball, but either way we don’t have the power of true moral agents.
- Compatibalists- hold the belief that parts of our lives are subject to deterministic forces but other parts of our lives can be influenced and controlled by our will. For example, smokers are attracted to cigarettes because of biochemical and psychological ties. Once addicted, they feel almost bound to have a cigarette when the effects of the previous one wear off and when they are in situations where they would normally smoke. They ca, however, decide to give up smoking because of the harm it is doing them, believing that the short term pleasure is not morally justifiable when weighed against the medium and long-term health risks to themselves and possibly others. The compatibilist would say that the urge to smoke in a smoker determines that he wants that cigarette, and his choice not to do so is a triumph of his free will.
(1) Incompatibalists- believe that free will and determinism are incompatible.
(2) Libertarians- Incompatibilists who believe that determinism is false, or at least not al embracing.
(3) Hard determinists- also Incompatibilists who believe determinism is a complete explanation for all our actions.
- Traditional Christianity teaches that we are able to exercise choice, that god has made it possible for us to do so. God has created human beings who can choose for themselves and He cannot be held responsible for the way we choose to live our lives.
- In giving humans free will and putting them in a world where evil is a free choice, God cannot be held responsible for the evil in the world. Evil is caused by human acts. Human free will is, therefore, not at odds with an omniscient God.
- The difficulties with this view are that if God has foreknowledge of all our actions, how can humans have free choice? If god knows in advance what we will do, are we then free to choose otherwise? Some philosophers, who support the idea of the omniscience of God combined with humans having free will, believe that every action humans perform is determined because God knows what we will do next.
- Other philosophers believe that God created human beings who could choose freely a course of action that is right but He knew they would frequently do what is wrong. God knows everything- past, present and future. Just because God knows what our actions will be does not prevent humans from changing their behaviour. Knowledge and freedom do not have to conflict. Take, for example, a situation where an employer ‘knows’ that an employee will immediately rush off at 5pm when work is over. The employer knows this because that employee has always done that. Having this knowledge does not mean that the employer can prevent the employee’s freedom. He may, on a particular day, stay behind at work to ask about a particular area of his work. Knowledge then does not cause people act in itself if we are already free.
- St.Augustine- applies this approach to God. By doing so he is treating divine and human knowledge in the same way. Many philosophers disagree with him saying his approach can only be applied to human, finite knowledge.
- God knows what our choices will be but we are still able to take part in choosing our paths. For example, God knows that someone will move into a 2-bedroomed apartment in the city. This does not mean, though, that this person could not move instead into a terraced house in the town. God allows us to choose and He knows what we will choose. The future is not determined but it is understood by God. Suppsoe you are faced with the choice of arguing with your brother or forgiving him for taking your CD without asking. You can choose either option but God knows what you will choose and the consequences of that choice. Choice is not fixed and prescribed in time but it is known by God outside time.