The belief in free will can be found in our daily lives and various societal institutions. However, the concept has come under intense critique, particularly by determinists, who believe causation to be true and free will to be an illusion.
Nevertheless, the topic of determinism and free will is delicate and should be approached cautiously, which is what this article aims to do. For instance, what will happen to the world if belief in determinism becomes widespread, considering how the current civilization is built on free will? Will what is considered justice and ethics change? Assuming determinism is true, is it good? Can the truth and what is good be reconciled? And if free will is indeed an illusion, is it a necessary one?
Therefore, the essay will focus on the important points identified in the preceding paragraph.
Is Belief in Determinism Good?
Determinism is the belief that every event, including human thoughts and actions, is entirely determined by pre-existing causes. The antithesis, free will, believes in humans’ freedom of choice.
Let’s assume for a second that determinism is true. Are this truth and its widespread good? Determinism is inconsistent with society’s conception of responsibility, accountability, and self-control. With these forming the basis of our legal and moral obligations, determinism doesn’t fit into society.
Besides threatening and undermining accountability and responsibility, determinism also undermines praise and blame. It humbles our achievements, excuses our weaknesses and faults, and lessens our entitlement. If moral responsibility depends on our ability to choose—or belief in our power to—the spread of belief in determinism absolves us of such an obligation. Moreover, the implication is that people will become morally irresponsible, at least as stipulated by free-willists. All current moral institutions are at risk if there is widespread determinism.
It can be argued that the more we embrace determinism, the more we indulge in the dark and selfish parts of ourselves. Its promotion is dangerous and makes people complacent without any care. People will conveniently absolve themselves of guilt and blame for all actions. In addition, what used to command praise wouldn’t be anymore.
Reconciliation Between Free Will and Determinism
There are logical conclusions about determinism—the belief in laws of causation—being authentic. The proponents believe everything, including human behaviors, has causation, hence the belief in laws of cause and effect. This law is fundamental to all behavioral and natural sciences, particularly physics.
Furthermore, neuroscience holds that the brain is the cause of all human thoughts and actions, with humans only conscious witnesses to such decisions. In addition, there are also arguments about how uncontrollable internal and external factors, such as our genes and environment, determine our behaviors. These are all essential considerations to be noted, hence why these two opposing perspectives should be reconciled.
The belief in free will, its assumption, illusion, or whatever has been postulated, can be found in every aspect of our lives. Nevertheless, the position of determinism, or at least some part, should be acknowledged in our society today. Consequently, the seeming truth of determinism and the good of free will should be harmonized. This is crucial because there are arguments about how free will is only put in place to judge and punish people. So, to maintain morality, accountability, and an impeccable justice system, the diverging perspectives should be reconciled.
For instance, serial killers shouldn’t only be condemned and prosecuted for killing, but other past factors that they could not control that contributed to their current deeds should be investigated. This can be a combination of bad genes inherited from the parents, lousy upbringing and neglect, trauma, etc.
The reconciliation of these two positions will maintain the current world order while going a step further in addressing possible causes of action. The insights gained from this will help manage and offer solutions to such problems. Furthermore, offenders can be better rehabilitated, society can be protected, and future offenses can be reduced. So far, some progress has been made in this aspect, with the use of evidence from neuroscience more than doubled in the last decade.
Illusionism is a position, albeit a minority one, that hopes that the “true” and the “good” can be reconciled. Free will is crucial if humans do not want to be reduced to their basic instincts or go back to a state of nature or barbarism. To avoid this and reinforce the institution of judgment and punishment, free will is crucial, irrespective of the thoughts towards it.
Smilansky, an advocate of illusionism, believes that free will is indeed an illusion, but society should defend it. He further posited that the idea of determinism must be confined and should barely be looked at or entertained. And if a time comes when society must choose between truth, determinism, and good, free will, the latter must be selected.
In conclusion, the argument between the seeming truth of determinism and the good of free-will will endure. Free will is crucial to upholding control and maintaining a civic society through morality and accountability. Nevertheless, determinism is essential to understanding the different factors responsible for our behaviors.
Different approaches have been proposed to reconcile these two diverging perspectives, with illusionism forming an integral part. It doesn’t matter if free will is valid or an illusion. This might be one of the few cases where the truth doesn’t cut it because a widespread belief in determinism is chaotic and dangerous. If reconciliation is impossible, the belief in free will stays. The belief or illusion of free will offer us control, without which we could spiral out of control.
Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe
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