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Free Will Versus Determinism: Argumentative Essay

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Free or Determined

“We learn the influence of our will from experience alone.

And experience only teaches us, how one event constantly follows another; without instructing us in the secret connexion, which binds them together, and renders them inseparable.” (David Hume, 1737)

When we broach the subject of whether we are free or determined, we must understand that there are some theories that accept freedom or determinism (regarding them as mutually exclusive), and some that attempt to integrate the two (regarding them as compatible). To be a Determinist one will agree that all things that happen are due to the past and the laws of nature concluding in one and only one outcome. Whereas one who supports Free Will proclaims that it is sometimes up to individuals to determine outcomes by way of choosing them themselves. It is the aim of this paper to show we are free and undetermined based on the Agency Theory. If we are to take the position that we are free and undetermined, even after close analysis we must account for an element of mystery. I will do my best to prove why we are free and undetermined allowing for and explaining this element of mystery.

Let us take a closer look at Determinism and Free Will. Determinism is the theory that everything that happens at any time is entailed by what happened at prior times, in accordance with the laws of nature. Simply stated, it is that the past added to the laws of nature yields one possible future. In contrast, Free Will (or freedom) states that it is sometimes up to the individual what they do in each moment as long as there are no obstacles or impediments as well as no constraints or extraordinary forces acting upon them.

We must then reasonably look at Determinism and Free Will in regard to behavior and morality. Determinism can address and explain behavior (responsibility for behavior is more difficult) because the past and laws of nature can and will be the only cause of all actions. Richard Taylor, in his book Metaphysics, grants that “[T] here is no moral blame nor merit in any man who cannot help what he does” (Taylor, 40). Thus, the “responsibility” then lies in the first cause of all things. For example, Joe is verbally abusive to his wife. When Joe was growing up his father was verbally abusive to him, and his father’s father to him, etc., etc. Even if one argued that their behavior came from within themselves, therefore they caused this to happen; we must take it even further according to Determinism and look at what caused them to feel that way inside. The chain of causation would eventually lead back to the first cause of all things in the universe. Therefore, Joe could never have been any other way, which raises many questions of morality and responsibility. How could Joe be morally responsible for anything?

Determinism and morality must have a bit more clarification. When we say morality, we must look at in a metaphysical light, not an ethical light. Showing consistency of ethics and Determinism will only show that we are comparing theory to theory as Taylor points out. However, if we apply a metaphysical approach by comparing Determinism to some specific data that most people would agree they believe to be true, then we can begin to argue whether Determinism has validity or not. Free Will can almost effortlessly explain behavior and morality simply because, under its premise, the choice is up to the individual to begin with, thus the responsibility of behavior and morality lies within the person himself. Keeping these points in mind, let us now apply the data of deliberation and responsibility to both Determinism and Free Will.

According to Taylor, we could apply these two pieces of data, and most would agree, that (1) I sometimes deliberate and (2) sometimes it is up to me what I do (Taylor, 42). This is where Determinism starts to break down. How can one deliberate if the future is already determined? One must believe the future is up to them in order to deliberate. It also must be up to them. They must have and believe they have true options. We have already established that Determinists would say that nothing about the future is up to them. The person that believes in Free Will would be able to apply both articles of data to their argument’s validity. Our example about Joe then becomes more understandable, when considering his behavioral and moral responsibility as an adult. His decision to abuse his wife was from a position of Free Will. Joe now has the ability (provided no constraints, etc.) to deliberate, and he should be able to recognize that it is sometimes up to him what he does.

However, we must look at his past: was it up to Joe to be abused when he was a child? Was it up to his father to be abused as a child either? Did they deliberate about how they were going to process these traumas as adults? Or did they not have a choice being that there were impediments and forces acting upon them from the past? If we agree that they had no choice, (it was already determined) it is then true that they did not have free will at that time. If we accept that they did not at the time and that later on in the future they did, then we are now Compatibilists, accepting both Determinism and Free Will to be attuned with each other. Let us take it a step further and even say that we are now Soft Determinists. The Soft Determinist would argue that “all human behavior is caused and determined” (Taylor, 48), voluntary behavior occurs as long as there are no unusual constraints, and that behavior is based on states, events, and conditions within a person.

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It is tempting to leave the argument there, neat and neutral, acquiescing to Soft Determinism. However, we must now ask if the “causes of my own actions…are themselves caused?”. Taylor refutes Soft Determinism (Taylor, 48): Because we are embracing Determinism, we must answer yes. We could also deduce that if the condition of the inner states were different then the decision would have been different. But this is an inadequate argument for reconciling freedom and determinism. We have eliminated the sort of choice required for Free Will. The decision ‘could have been different, but only if conditions that are themselves beyond our control (the distant past and the laws of nature) had been different. There is no sense in which the action ‘could have been different that is relevant to (that rescues) Free Will.

Let us apply this to Joe and his situation. If the causes of his own actions are themselves caused, then he does not have any choice in what he does as an adult and that is absurd. We cannot really understand human beings without supposing they are at least sometimes responsible. Therefore, we must reject Determinism altogether. When we do this, we now become Indeterminists as well as Incompatibilists.

Indeterminism being the antithesis of Determinism seems to solve the problem: we could say we are undetermined and free. In other words, if faced with a decision, let us say to choose white wine or red wine at dinner; being free and undetermined we will be able to deliberate on either one, provided there are no constraints, and decide based on our inner states and conditions. Let us say we choose red (a lovely pinot noir). We now run into the problem of being able to explain why we chose that particular wine. For if we say we chose it because we are having Italian cuisine, or perhaps because we have been drinking white lately and would like a change, then we are conceding to the fact that frequently drinking white or deciding to have Italian food was what led us to make that decision. Therefore, there was an event chain of causation that led up to that decision. We have arrived back at Determinism. Peter Van Inwagen in his book Metaphysics, explains this idea:

It is a plausible idea that the only way to have a choice about the outcome of a process is to be able to arrange things in ways that will make it inevitable that this or that outcome occur. If this plausible idea is right, then it would seem that there is no way in which anyone could have any choice about the outcome of an indeterministic process (Van Inwagen, 193).

He answers this dilemma with another option of how an event is caused: agent causation. The Theory of Agency is one that is supposed to reconcile Free Will and Indeterminism. Taylor, as well, describes and considers the Theory of Agency.

Under the Theory of Agency, we need to consider and support 3 things. To begin we can say that we are sometimes, but not always self-determining beings. Secondly, sometimes we cause our own behavior. We are the cause of the action and no precursor condition was needed or used to make this action occur. Thirdly, there is a reason for the person to take the action, but this reason cannot be the cause of it.

Once we have thoroughly considered and embraced these three points, we need to also consider the action and the agent. There are two metaphysical concepts. The first is the idea of self or person. We are a substance and not an event. We are also self- moving beings. Therefore, the person himself/herself is the cause of his or her actions. Secondly, although the person is a substance and not an event, the person can be the cause of an event. As Taylor has said, “The theory of agency avoids the absurdities of simple indeterminism by conceding that human behavior is caused while at the same time avoiding the difficulties of determinism by denying that every chain of causes and effects is infinite” (Taylor, 56). The key now lies in the chain of causation having a definitive beginning, the agent, therefore; proving we are free not only in action (behavior), but also deliberation on the action, laying the groundwork for what soon becomes our past.

Joe, as an adult, has the ability to deliberate on his feelings, behavior, and his final action through Free Will. His past is then explained by his father’s ability to have chosen his behavior resulting in the abuse of his son. We can concede that Joe, as a child, had no choice in the abuse due to constraints of ignorance, which would be the mystery, due to the No Choice Principle. However, once these constraints are gone due to adulthood, he enters into Free Will enabling himself to have a choice of future events. He is now the cause of such events. His past was still undetermined (or better said undetermined, pertaining to events) because, applying the Agent Theory, his father caused the events. The events were caused by people not by other events, contrary to Determinism. They were deliberated upon, allowing for Free Will, acted upon by the person, and caused by the agent (Theory of Agency). Some sort of agency theory must be true because we have free will (and free will is required for deliberation and responsibility).

Free will is incompatible with determinism, and free will without some sort of theory of agency (mysterious as that may be) is incompatible with indeterminism too. We seem to be left with the conclusion that Indeterminism and Free Will must be compatible, and something like the Agency Theory must be true.

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Free Will Versus Determinism: Argumentative Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/free-will-versus-determinism-argumentative-essay/
“Free Will Versus Determinism: Argumentative Essay.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/free-will-versus-determinism-argumentative-essay/
Free Will Versus Determinism: Argumentative Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/free-will-versus-determinism-argumentative-essay/> [Accessed 9 Dec. 2022].
Free Will Versus Determinism: Argumentative Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Dec 9]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/free-will-versus-determinism-argumentative-essay/
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