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Do we really have free will?

(12 Posts)
quencher Fri 02-Dec-16 13:57:39

Isn't our freewill based around where we are born, our social conditioning, environment and opportunities around us. How can we say we have complete autonomy of our lives, body and self (free will), when external circumstances dictates how we do things including how they should be done and made.

niminypiminy Fri 02-Dec-16 20:49:03

Free will and autonomy aren't quite the same thing, and free will, autonomy and social conditioning and social context aren't necessarily incompatible.

Autonomy tends to mean that a person's actions are determined only with reference to their own self, and not other things such as live or duty or family ties or shared moral frameworks. In theory that sounds great but in reality complete autonomy would be impossible. We all depend on others - for food, or healthcare, for example. We start out our lives without any autonomy and many of us give up parts of our autonomy when we enter into committed relationships or have children. In those situations we can't just do anything we like.

But we still have free will. If I feel that I can't do everything I want because my partner wouldn't like it, I can choose to give up on some of my desires, or I can choose to end the relationship. That is free will. On the other hand I may be part of a community that doesn't approve of ending relationships. Even though I shared those values I could still choose to go against them and end the relationship - I could choose to do something I thought was wrong because I wanted to do it. That is also free will.

So free will operates independently of autonomy and independently of social values and constraints.

llangennith Fri 02-Dec-16 21:29:06

Read 'God's Debris'

VelvetGreen Sat 03-Dec-16 17:57:29

There was a good debate on this subject here a little while ago. Just thought you might like to have a look if you're interested in free will. It was very head hurty!

OutwiththeOutCrowd Sun 04-Dec-16 16:38:59

Quencher I think I would call the concept you are thinking about agency rather than free will. Agency is to do with whether you are able to act as your will dictates. It depends on the influence of your environment and circumstances - which might enable, divert or thwart you!

Whether your will itself is free, when all environmental impediments are removed, is another question. There was some discussion of this in the thread linked to by VelvetGreen. (Head hurty is exactly the right term for such ponderings!)

The current mainstream scientific position is that there is no such thing as actual free will, only the illusion of free will. It seems to be an inevitable consequence of a strictly material view in which thoughts emerge from physiological processes but cannot act on them.

Here is Susan Blackmore, who investigates consciousness, summarising the orthodox viewpoint.

Returning to the idea of agency, I think it is tremendously important to recognise that we are very far from free in this life. If a particular person is not able to realise their potential to the same extent as others, very often it’s not down to a lack of discipline or diligence or some other character failing.

Circumstances outside our control have a profound influence on how our lives pan out.

qwerty232 Fri 13-Jan-17 22:04:44

No one chooses a choice, as it were. People just choose. An action is not determined purely in relation to itself. Rather it is a response, and one pre-determined by innumerable factors which were in turn determined by further innumerable factors. There is a causative chain stretching back from me typing this comment to the Big Bang.

I think Calvin had it right when he said free will was not possible but volition was. It does make sense to talk of people acting in voluntary and involuntary ways. In other words while ones will is not being freely exercised, one is nevertheless freely compelled to act in certain ways. If I want to eat and cream cake and go ahead and do so, then that is not a demonstration of free will - because I did not decide to decide to want a cream cake; but it is a voluntaristic act. Simply, I did it because I wanted to do it rather than being forced to. And of course many people decide not to eat cream cakes even though they want to - because they're trying to lose weight for example. But that just means they are compelled towards a different end: the deferred ratification of weight loss rather than the immediate one of eating the cake.

It all depends on what end one is compelled towards and also by ones character.

Are you free to choose your own character and ends though? That is a question that, as far as I know, no one has satisfactorily answered.

ElvishArchdruid Sat 18-Feb-17 11:51:00

Recently Daily Readings have been from Genesis, from the creation of the world through to Adam and Eve, the eating of the fruit, Cain & Abel.

It is said that when Eve was tricked by the snake into eating the fruit, the knowledge she gained included free will. So it's up to us whether we do something or not. If Eve hadn't of eaten from the tree I wonder how different things would be today.

Whilst we have free will, the ability to do right or wrong, we have a conscience that should guide us. If at some point we do something we know is wrong, we can seek reconciliation. That is important to remember when it comes to free will.

boolifooli Sun 19-Feb-17 09:50:06

Why would God punish eve for something she did before she knew right from wrong? Like getting the police to arrest a toddler

ElvishArchdruid Mon 20-Feb-17 03:22:27

She was told not to eat from the tree, the snake said don't listen eat. So she disobeyed gods orders. The rest is history.

boolifooli Mon 20-Feb-17 03:23:50

But the tree eating the fruit meant they knew right from wrong, which she didn't before she ate it?

nooka Mon 20-Feb-17 03:47:59

Surely the rest is theology, not history? My understanding it that most Christian traditions consider Genesis to be metaphorical rather than literal.

In any case there are some major problems with the fallen paradise idea. Not least that women are apparently being ever punished for a sin that Eve wasn't even aware she was committing. This is very hard to square with the idea of a benevolent father like god.

I took an interesting course in Neuroscience a little while ago which posed the idea that we don't have free will because our neurons fire before we are consciously aware of having made decisions. To me this was a bizarre concept as it seems to rely on the idea that 'we' are separate from our biological bodies. I guess this probably picks up on the religious idea of having a soul that is separate from our physical selves.

Heathen4Hire Tue 21-Feb-17 16:25:32

I am not religious. My free will is tempered by the law and society. Alongside rules around good manners and doing good (following the Humanist principles of self-governance around our personal moral compass) these walls to true free will aid a civilised society.

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