November 20, 2018
The major topic that I am going to be writing about is free will. Free will, put simply, is the ability to act without the influence of an outside source. However, as I have learned in class there are debates as to whether people have free will. Some of these arguments question if it is possible that we ever can act without the influence of an external factors, and others argue that these external factors do not prevent a person’s ability to make a free action. in this paper will be explain some of these different points of view, as well as giving my own opinion on the subject.
The first argument I am going to be discussing is Strawson’s argument that we discussed in class. Strawson claims that free will goes against the very laws of nature. He makes this claim because he says, the only way for someone to have free will would be if they were causa sui. We learned in class that causa sui is something that causes itself, naturally that is impossible for humans. He goes on to say that a free action requires a reason, and the reason is a result of the type of person someone is. Since someone must be causa sui to have free will and that is impossible, because a person’s action is always influenced by some level of outside force, Strawson concludes that people do not have free will. One argument we discussed in class against this is Ayer’s argument for compatibilism. Ayer states that free will is compatible with our actions being determined by prior causes, and what matters is the kind of cause that determines the action. Ayer gives two possible requirements for free will. The first is the action is free if and only if it is uncaused, the second is that an action is free if and only if it is unconstrained. Some examples of constraint would be physical constraint or duress from an outside threat. If an action meets these two requirements, then Ayer says that it is an action made with free will.
I believe that people have free will but there are some situations that could cause a person to act without it, therefore my views are more aligned with Ayer’s. I think that Strawson makes some compelling points, however I feel as though his definition of free will is too rigid. I understand that all our actions are the result of something else, whether it be directly in the moment or from our past, but I do not think that means people do not have free will. I think that action of external factors plays a role in why we do something, but ultimately, we are the ones who make the decision. This why I think that Ayer’s argument makes better since than Strawson’s. I also do not agree with everything Ayer says however. In Ayers version of free will someone who has a gun pointed at their head during a robbery would not be freely giving them the money, and someone who is struggling with addiction is not free choosing to do drugs. I sympathize with both people in each situation I do not think it is entirely accurate to say that they do not have free will. In the case of the robbery, I can agree that the person being held at gunpoint has a limited amount of choices they are still making that choice. They certainly should not be blamed for complying with the gunman since their life was on the line, however they still had options that they could have chosen, and even if they were not thinking completely clearly, they still had options. If they had physically forced them to take the money out and give it to them as opposed to threating them then I would agree the person was not acting in free will. In the second case of the addict I also think that they still had free will. Addiction certainly has neurological and physiological aspects that go into it, but a person’s ability of choice is not entirely gone. There are numerous situations where people with addictions of varying kinds are sent to treatment facilities and still do not get better. One reason for this is that sometimes people do not want to get better so even if you are receiving treatment a person still must make the choice that they want to get better, and this is, in my opinion, an act of free will. I do agree that constraint hinders a person’s ability to make certain choices but not all choices, and I do think there are constraints that are so great that they do take away a person’s free will like, physical constraint where someone is actively making someone do something against their will, but as I stated earlier, I do not think that free will can be defined so rigidly, I believe it has a lot more nuance. I do not think that all constraints take away a person’s free will, but I do think there are some that do.
In conclusion I think that both Strawson and Ayer make good points thought both of their arguments. However. I think that Ayer’s argument is the stronger of the two. I agree with him that actions determined by prior cause do not mean they are not free actions. I believe that people generally have free will, but sometimes there are situations that are out of a person’s control and their options are wither limited or taken away. I think that ideally everyone would always could make decisions of their own volition and with a sound mind, however this is not always the case. Sometimes a person has many options sometimes they do not, and sometimes a person has the time to clearly decide and sometimes they just act automatically on instinct. Therefore, I think that there are certain scenarios where an outside force can be so great that it takes away a person’s free will, but generally people do have free will.
All sources were taken from class.