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Determinism, Compatibilism, and Libertarianism, Essay Example

Pages: 9

Words: 2455

Essay

There are many ways in which Americans think of their freedom: their freedom to express their views, their religion, their behaviors, and much more. Freedom is more than being free to do these things. Freedom is determined by a person’s ability to change and grow, develop a moral outlook, and participate in a fair and just society. Yet, how do people determine what concept to believe in relation to their freedom? Many believe in determinism, others believe in compatibilism, while others believe in libertarianism. None of these are wrong perspectives; however, they have their own characteristics, their own strengths, and their own weaknesses.

First, “determinism is the view that every event, including human actions, are brought about by previous events in accordance with the natural laws that govern the world” (Ciccarelli). This concept assumes that freedom is an illusion. According to an article by Christof Koch, “physics and neurobiology can help us understand whether we choose our own destiny” (22). The determinist believes that freedom is based on the universe, the neurobiology and physics. That determinist does not believe that other factors play any type of role in determining a person’s free will. “According to what some call the strong definition of free will, articulated by Rene Descartes in the 17th century, you are free if, under identical circumstances, you could have acted otherwise” (Koch, 23). “Determinism – the idea that all particles in the universe follow set trajectories – challenges this idea” (Koch, 27). The determinist believes that the soul freely chooses to do something, but that the brain is the part that acts out its wishes, making it more neurological than anything else (Koch, 23). According to Koch, “the brain acts before the mind decides. Electrical signals in the brain precede the conscious decision to move by at least half a second and often by much longer” (Koch, 27). The essence of determinism can be shown through an example of Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion:

Newton’s second law links the force brought on a system – a billiard ball rolling on a green felt table – to its acceleration. This law has profound consequences, for it implies that the positions and velocities of all the components making up an entity at any particular moment, together with the forces between them, unalterably determine the entity’s fate – that is, its future location and speed (Koch, 24).

Therefore, determinists believe that there at particular things in life that determine a person’s fate. In general, determinists such as Skinner, Freud, and Mill use the following reasoning for determinism being based on a scientific model of the physical universe. These include that events in the physical world consistently display well-defined causal connections; events in the biological world also consistently display causal connections, and because humans are a part of the physical and biological worlds, it is reasonable to assume that all human actions are causally determined (Ciccarelli). Baron d’Holbach exemplifies this reasoning when he argues that humans are “connected to universal nature” and subject to “necessary and immutable laws that she imposes on all the beings she contains” (Ciccarelli). Finally, determinists hold that human freedom is inhibited by external and internal constraints. External constraints are those imposed by your environment and circumstances. Internal constraints are the limitations to our autonomy imposed by ourselves. In any case, there are strengths and weaknesses to any theory and determinism is not an exception. It is a definite that determinism that play a role in our lives and the determination of our free will to some extent. It is possible that physics and neurobiology have a role in our freedom. The universe does play a role in our lives and how we determine whether we are free. The universe also can do things that we cannot as human beings. It plants specific ideologies in our minds and gives us the option to go one way or the other, but ultimately the brain decides what to do based on the neurotransmitters. However, James argues that determinism cannot account for “the testimony of our direct, lived experience,” which is exhibited in our beliefs about the possibility of self-improvement, determining our moral outlook, choosing spiritual destiny, and social improvement. (Ciccarelli). Finally, determinism contradicts our lived human experience, i.e., the rational belief that we can make judgments and do make them (Ciccarelli).

Secondly, “compatibilism is the view that all events, including human actions, are caused” (Ciccarelli). This view claims that we can “consider human actions free if they are a result of internal motivations, not the product of external influences or constraints” (Ciccarelli). According to Koch, compatibilism is the dominant view of biological, psychological, legal, and medical circles. “You are free if you can follow your own desires and preferences” (Koch, 24). In general, compatibilists such as Stace argue that if human actions are the result of internal motivations and not the product of external constraints, then they are considered “free” (Ciccarelli). Dennett, a materialist, argues that human freedom is “an evolved creation of human activity and beliefs…and an objective phenomenon, distinct from all other biological conditions and found in only one species, us” (Ciccarelli).  This philosophy explains that all of the decisions we make are caused by something, whether it is based on internal motivations or not. In this case, our decisions are not based on the universe, are not biological, and have nothing to do with physics. Our own free will is based on our desires and preferences and that free will expects us to make decisions that are based on those desires. Hilary Bok states that “among philosophers the main division is between compatibilists, who believe that free will is compatible with causal determinism, and incompatibilists, who believe that it is not. Almost all compatibilists think that we are free. Most are not determinists, but they believe that we would be free even if our actions are fully, determined” (2). It is important to understand the distinction between compatibilism and the other ideologies. Bok states:

For compatibilists, therefore, the problem of free will is not that neuroscience reveals our choices as superfluous. It does not. Nor do compatibilists deny that our choices cause us to do things. The problem of free will for compatibilists is not to preserve a role for deliberation and choice in the face of explanations that threaten them with elimination; it is to explain how, once our minds and our choices have been thoroughly naturalized, we can provide an adequate account of human agency and freedom (2).

Finally, “libertarianism is the view that humans are able to make authentically free choices that are not determined by previous events in accordance with the natural laws that govern the world” (Ciccarelli). This is saying that if individuals are given a choice, they could have, might have, or would have done differently in their lives. According to Robert Kane, “free will is not just about free action. It is about self-formation, about the formation of our ‘wills’ or how we got to be the kinds of persons we are, with the characters, motives, and purposes we now have” (37). “Alfred Mele formulates what he calls ‘a problem about luck for libertarians’ as follows. He notes that the typical libertarian believes that a free decision to A, made by a given agent, at a particular time t, could, at that very moment have gone the other way” (Steward, 168). This is a typical form and ideal of libertarianism. Van Inwagen (1989) makes a case of this sort:

He argues that we have ‘precious little free will,’ on the grounds that free will is exercised only in a sharply delimited class of cases in which moral duty or prudential considerations conflict with desire, or in which our preferences for two or more competing courses of action are fairly evenly balanced (Steward, 173)

Libertarianism makes the assumption that we have control over our freedom by forming our own persons, by developing our own characters, motives, and purposes for our lives. “One must look to another condition that I call ultimate responsibility or UR, the basic idea of which is this: to be ultimately responsible for an action, an agent must be responsible for anything that is a sufficient reason, cause or motive for the action’s occurring” (Kane, 36). This is important to note due to the fact that we are all responsible for our actions, for the things that we do and the things that we decide. Libertarianism embraces this ideology and makes us aware that we are responsible for our actions. Determinism and Compatibilism do not embrace this as these do not believe we have full control over our actions. When making decisions, we make them based on our morals, our values, and learned experiences. We do not always base them on what our mind or brain tells us to do. Sometimes we base our decisions on feelings and then sometimes there are other factors that are involved. Libertarianism informs us that this is possible and that this is our natural right and responsibility. We must learn to be free to make our own decisions based on the motives, feelings, and values that we have. Just as Determinism and Compatibilism, Libertarianism has its own advantages and disadvantages. Libertarianism allows us to take control of our freedom and decide how we want to make decisions, gives us the opportunity to take responsibility for our actions, and helps us understand that there is more that is involved in a decision rather than simply neurotransmitters and the universe. However, Libertarianism may also give us a way to excuse our behavior. We may explain that our past experiences or our morals or values determined how we made a decision and we make up excuses. Libertarianism may be too liberal. It may give too much leeway to the idea that we can make our own decisions as long as we accept the results of those decisions.

Determinism, Compatibilism and Libertarianism are all ideologies that many should understand and realize the similarities and differences. As discussed above, in simple terms, determinism is the ideology that the universe has control of our freedom, compatibilism is the ideology that all events are caused including human actions, and libertarianism is the ideology that humans are able to make their own free choices. There are not a lot of similarities in reference to these three ideologies; however, some can be seen if many read between the lines. The most common similarities occur between the compatibilist and libertarianism views. Since compatibilists believe that if human actions are the result of internal motivations and not the product of external constraints and libertarianism holds the common thought that people are free since they make their own decisions based on their values, experiences, morals, and own thoughts, these two can be compared in that way. They both believe that a person is free if they are able to make choices based on their own motivations and are not held down by the external constraints that the rest of the world likes to throw onto them. We are able to see the relationship here. However, we are not exactly able to see that between these two and determinism. Determinism makes the assumption that free will is based on the universe and that things are going to happen no matter what we do or how we try to avoid the circumstances. This is completely different from the other two philosophies. With determinism, we do not have control over our own choices. We must take what the universe throws at us and do something with it. Though libertarianism and compatibilism can be seen as similar in some ways, they are also very different. Libertarianism holds the view that we have ultimate control over our lives and our experiences so matter what whereas compatibilism hold the view that we have control over our lives and our decisions only if there are no external constraints that are blocking us from making our own choices. We have to be able to decipher the differences between the two in order to decide our views on the matter ourselves. Throughout this paper, it is clear how these three philosophies are completely different in so many ways. It is important to understand them in their own entirety to understand where we stand in our own lives and in decision making.

It is difficult to determine which of these three concepts are most likely to be correct as each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses, own truth and own lies in theory. Each of them makes sense on different levels. However, it seems as if libertarianism is probably the most likely to be correct if one had to be chosen. Although determinism and compatibilism may play some role in our lives and freedom, we, as humans, make choices based on our morals, ideas, values, past experiences, and many other things. We weigh our options and make decisions. Whether these choices are right or wrong is another case in itself. We do not have anyone telling us which choice to make. We may ask for advice from others, but ultimately it is our choice and we have to live with the results of that choice. We are responsible for making our lives productive, successful, and meaningful. Nothing and no one can do that for us.

In conclusion, our freedom is based on our own beliefs and we can only go by that. Some of us will believe that our freedom rests in the hands of nature. Some of us will believe that our freedom rests in hands of experiences. Others of us will believe that our freedom rests in the hands of our own choices, ideas, and free-will. There are many philosophers that believe that determinism is the best way to describe our choice of freedom; however, we have just as many philosophers that believe that compatibilism or libertarianism are just as important in describing our choice of freedom. It seems as if there has been a lot of controversy between all of these. However, in the end, it is the person’s individual choice as to whether they believe one of these specifically nurtures our freedom of choice. It is all about morals, values, ideas, and the person’s previous experiences that make a person believe how their freedom is encouraged.

Works Cited

Bok, Hilary. “Want to Understand Free Will? Don.” Chronicle of Higher Education. 58.29 (2012): 2-3. Web. 25 Jul. 2012.

Ciccarelli, S. Psychology. 3rd. Boston: Pearson, 2011. Print.

Kane, Robert. “Libertarianism.” Springer Science Business Media B.V. 144. (2009): 35-44.Print.

Koch, Cristof. “Finding Free Will.” Scientific American Mind. 23.2 (2012): 22-27. Web. 25 Jul. 2012.

Steward, Helen. “The Truth in Compatibilism and the Truth of Libertarianism.” Philosophical Explorations. 12.2 (2009): 167-179. Web. 25 Jul. 2012.

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