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Archive for August, 2012

Free Will

When people make choice, they usually feel as if they re the agents of that choice.  Human freedom can be thought of as occurring on at least three levels.  First and lowest, we may be acting independently of momentary drives and whatever stimulus is surrounding them.  For instance, I am hungry, and am surrounded by noisy people in a café as I write this.  I am ignoring the drive and distracting stimuli to meet a deadline in writing.

The second level of freedom is to act independently of childhood or cultural conditioning.  If you were raised a Catholic Democrat and in middle age choose to be a Green Party Buddhist, you are probably aware of more degrees of choice in your voting and religious behaviors.

The third level of freedom is the much-discussed freedom from “natural law”.  .  If everything is lawful, then it is all predetermined.  This belief runs from early philosophers to the present belief that genes may control up to 50% of a given expression of a trait such as susceptibility to anger.

While it would be difficult to argue that anyone is completely free of physical drives, external stimulus, conditioning, or genetic inheritance, it is easy to argue that we retain a great deal of flexibility to deal with our immediate concerns.  Since people are indeed organized around pursuit and enjoyment of incentives, many actions and much inner experience are dependent on the factors that determine the incentives to which they commit.  These factors prominently include enduring characteristics of individuals, such as values, success expectancies, experience, and talents and competencies.  Enduring personal characteristics and concomitant goals have enormous bearing on how two individuals may view the same situation and react to it.  If free will did not exist to some sense, or at least a wide range of possibilities, all people would react in the same way to the same situation.