June 11, 2018
Philosophy is the study of knowledge, reality and existence. It is home to some of the most famous and knowledgeable people like Plato, Socrates and Aristotle just to name a few. There are many types of ideas within philosophy and one of them is free will which is the idea that everybody is free to do what they want or free to make any decision that they want to. But some of the famous philosophers believe that we do not have free will and think that we are only here because of because which then leads up to God being the reason we are here and the reason that we do what we do. While other philosophers believe that we do have free will and have the will to do as we please freely. Below are 8 philosophers who both believe in free will but also do not believe that we have free will.
The first philosopher I have chosen is Descartes. Descartes did indeed believe that we had free will. Starting from his first proposition, cogito ergo sum, Descartes established a basis for epistemology. This foundation, although necessary, led to a big problem. If all we truly know is that we exist then nothing else can follow from it, because we cannot prove anything outside of ourselves. Descartes realized this by comparing dreams to reality, in that when we are dreaming our dreams become our reality. This notion suggests that we cannot truly trust our senses to discern what is real from what is false. Descartes proposed a malicious demon could be responsible for our reality and everything our senses give to us are inherently false. However, he states that God, a perfect and good being, would not let a malicious being deceive us, so the demon must not be the case and everything we do and see must be trusted. Since everything we experience and do according to the faculty of judgment comes from God, then they are inherently perfect, however we as humans constantly make mistakes. From these mistakes we can distinguish ourselves from God, as we are not perfect, and our free will has been given to us through the perfect faculty of freedom of choice.
Hobbes describes free will in a different sort of way. Free will from Hobbes concerns not necessarily the ability to make choices, but more on the basis to have the right to liberty. Liberty is the ability to act without any impediments that are not contained in the intrinsic quality of the agent. In lecture you talk about Hobbes and his thinking of free will. It is described in lecture as we are able to be free if we have nothing preventing us from acting and that we control what we want. But also, in the lecture we discussed whether or not his thinking of free will missed the actual points of free will itself and if it actually counts as free will. Although he says we are free if nothing is preventing us from acting, there seems to be a counter to that because we are not able to control what happens in our life therefore we are technically not free (Lecture 13, Part 4, Slide 33).
When concerning whether we have free will or not, John Locke believes that free will is two different things with Will being one part and Free being the other. He thought that Will meant we had the capacity to choose and then Free coming off of that with us having the capacity to do as we will (Lecture 13, Part 4, Slide 35). The power of free will is then an attribute of substances and belong only to agents so that they then have the power to do what they want. In order to be free, voluntary actions must properly align with what was willed. On top of this, Locke says that it takes more than voluntary action to be free, the individual must also be given the choice to choose. If there was no choice to choose, then their voluntary action was not actually free will, it would have been a necessary decision not up the person’s volition. Furthermore, Locke believes in a two-stage model of free will, the first being about to reflect on a choice they are to make and see the possible outcomes, and the second being the ability to act on that to decision, to perform.
John Stuart Mill, like John Locke, believed in the tabula rasa theory of the mind in that all knowledge comes from experience and nothing else. On free will, Mill had tackled the idea of determinism, the idea that everything we do can be summed up through antecedent conditions and psychological laws. It had appeared to him that our free will was not actually free at all and this was something Mill could not accept. As a result, Mill made a thesis saying that although our actions are necessary, they are not however predetermined and we as agents actually do have influence over what we choose. This puts Mill in a compatibilist category favoring both determinism and free will, while opposing fatalism. In the last part of Lecture 13 on slide 40 an idea called emergence is brought up and this is when “unpredictability/ complexity of emerging behavior from deterministic processes leads to a perception of free will.” J. S. Mill is the one who really brought up this idea of emergence and behavior.
According to Hume’s Treatise, free will is a matter of discussing liberty (free will) and necessity (determinism). He believed that every action of our ‘will’ ultimately have particular causes which means there is no such thing as an “uncaused willful action”. Furthermore, he claims every action of the will is motivated by prior motives, circumstances, and tempers, which means our actions are predetermined beyond our control. He finishes with arguing that liberty itself is an illusion when we make actions because we feel sort of an indifference when making decisions. After the Treatise however, in his Enquiry, Hume switches to a more compatibilist view of free will by saying liberty can be saved if it is defined a certain way. This definition is as follows, “a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will”. This definition does not contradict necessity and therefore allows for the notion of free will and determinism to coexist. In lecture 13, part 4 on slide 36 we discuss Hume and his beliefs of free will. Hume says that we need to be determined but also need to make sure that we are not constrained and be able to be free and do something.
Newton free will is ultimately not free because, as Mill had first believed in his thesis, everything physical event has a physical cause and these causes can be examined and measured. Newton was mainly known for his contributions to the science world, but he also had some in the philosophy world by being a determinists. In lecture 13, Part 1 on slide 6 when we talk about newton, he says that we are all made up of atoms and so we are unable have something that mentally happen to us be able to change the world we live in. Also, in the lecture Ryles’ Ghost in the Machine is referenced to by explaining how a ghost which is that mental thing can make a difference in the world by breaking the laws of physics. Everything that Newton believed in with free will was heavily backed up with science.
Spinoza is someone who does not believe in free will and believes that humans are determined. He was what is known as a pantheist which means that he believes that everything and anything is god. (lecture 13, part 2, Slide 15). In the Dream Weaver he says “There is no such thing as free will. The mind is induced to wish this or that by some cause and that cause is determined by another cause, and so on back to infinity.” (P 219 DW). In this quote from Spinoza I understood that yes Spinoza does not believe in free will because everything is determined by a cause which is then determined by another cause and so on happening forever. He believes that the only one true way that something could be free is if was that because of itself and he says the only one thing that could be the cause of itself is god because of him being entirely dependent on himself and also by being the cause of himself. Spinoza believes that free will is an illusion because people think that they have the ability to freely choose what they want to do.
Nietzsche is an egoist who believes that we humans act in a way that only gives us power. On Pg 93-94 of Ultimate Questions there is a section about Nietzsche and a methodology that he believed in about our authentic desires and this section essentially just explains how people have a take on how to be themselves. Nietzsche also believed that to be free was for a person to follow their drive to want to do something they wanted to do. Nietzsche was a firm believer in Schopenhauer and his beliefs of free will.
Coming into philosophy I knew that it was going to be hard and difficult but was ready to take on the challenge and try to learn more about the subject. I was happy with doing this paper on free will and being able to learn more about this part of philosophy. In the Dream Weaver there is a quote on Pg 234 that says “In the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, a terrorist pointed a gun at 17-year-old Cassie Bernall. According to eyewitnesses, he asked her if she believed in god, threatening to shoot her if she did. She answered in the affirmative and was subsequently shit.” Now not only is this just a sad thing that happen but it also proves to me that we do have free will because she could have said no and maybe had her life spared, but she decided to stick to her belief and will to do as she desires, and she was sadly taken because of her free will to still say she believed in god even though her life depended on it.
Bowen, Jack. The Dream Weaver: One Boys Journey through the Landscape of Reality. Anniversary ed., Allyn and Bacon, 2008.