Free Will Essay, Research Paper
By Jeffrey Shamberger
Analyzing our individual free will can be very intriguing and can almost
reach the point of being paradoxical. Ultimately, free will determines the level
of responsibility we claim for our actions. Obviously, if outside forces
determine our choices, we cannot be held responsible for our actions. However,
if our choices are made with total freedom than certainly we must claim
responsibility for our choices and actions.
The readings I chose offered two quite opposite theories on individual
human freedom, determinism vs. existentialism. In comparing these two
theories the contrasts are quite outstanding.
Evidently, some philosophers felt that human beings did not really have a
free will. This view, defined as determinism held that certain casual laws rule
what occurs in the universe. There are two major forms of determinism,
including hard determinism and soft determinism.
Hard determinism taught that each of our actions is determined by factors
beyond our control such as heredity and environment. From this point of view
there can be no real moral responsibility for our actions if our actions were
determined by factors beyond our control. There is a complete denial of
personal free will in hard determinism.
Soft determinism, however, appears to combine determinism and free will.
It teaches that all human actions are determined by such things as early
childhood experiences thus relinquishing us from total responsibility for our
actions caused by such determining factors. However, if my actions were the
result of my own reasoning exclusive of outside factors than I must take
responsibility for my choices.
In total contrast with determinism, existentialism professes the complete
freedom of the human being. The particular reading I read dealt with atheistic
existentialism, this view of personal freedom rejected a belief in God, feeling
that it would be incompatible with the uncertainty and harsh reality of life
during the time of two wars. This view shared that a person was not ruled by
heredity or environment but was always free at any time to make his own
choices. Due to the denial of God, this theory held that there were no existing
moral laws, thus, individuals were free to determine their own human nature
through choices for which they stand accountable (existentialism, in general,
emphasizes what makes each life a unique personal experience as opposed to
any existing moral laws). ?Authentic? living involves free choices that allows
the individual to become his own person. The big difference between
existentialism and the previously discussed views is the emphasis on the
freedom of the person to do and be anything with no limits and all choices are
Any attempt to avoid freedom of choice would be considered ?bad-faith?,
or living in an inauthentic way. Examples of this would be saying that we
could not help ourselves or that we are not really responsible for what we did
thus placing responsibility on someone or something else.
Existentialism cannot include ?groupthink?, which includes large
organizations such as church. If you belong to a church, there are some moral
issues you must believe in and some you should not. The same is true for
memberships in groups and gangs. To commit to such circumstances would be
acting in ?bad-faith?.
Furthermore, love automatically would put a person in ?bad-faith?. This is
because once we are in love we might modify our opinions and actions as a way
to insure we don?t lose our loved one or ones. An authentic existence would be
impossible if we had to check our actions against the imagined judgement of the
person who fulfills our need for true love.
Obviously, a huge contrast exists between determinism and existentialism.
After much contemplation, I personally would have to place my opinion of
individual free will to the left of soft determinism and to the right of
existentialism. I have come to this conclusion because of a few definate beliefs
I would have to consider. I personally believe in God, who I believe represents
all that is good in people. I also believe that early childhood experiences and
heredity factors such as personality can have an influence on the choices we
make. Our choices are generally made out of love or fear. As we mature,
hopefully, we can sift through our influences and sort out the love or fear
involved in our choices. Ultimately, I feel that although there can be many
circumstances that interfere with our choices and actions we all have the power
to make choices for ourselves and learn from those choices. This could be why
God gave us, human beings, the precious gift of our own free will.