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Free will?


Of all the topics that philosophers ring their hands over, this is the one that interests me the most. That is to say, I’m fascinated by the question of the existence of “free will”. Don’t worry, I’m not about to expound the arguments for or against its existence – I would not presume the philosophical pedigree – but I’d like to explain why I find it interesting.

It seems to me, as a layman, that the existence, or otherwise, of free-will surely underpins all who we are and what we do. If our tastes, motivations, prejudices, and, thereby, the choices and decisions we make ““ both trivial and life changing ““ are a product of “nature and nurture” ““ genes and environment ““ as distinct from arising out of a fully autonomous will, then in what sense are we entitled to call ourselves “free”? The notion that all our choices, and hence our actions, might be determined by influences outwith our control is unsettling.

If there is no such “free will”, then how is it that we feel free ““ and continue second-by-second to act as if we were free – even under circumstances where we acknowledge that we are actually not? You would think that we might just give it all up with a nihilistic shrug of the shoulders. Well, it may be that we’ve evolved to presume we can think and act freely because of the advantages it confers. Advantages like the idea of a rational morality. I can (for the sake of argument) accept that all my choices are determined and yet each day make a multitude of them both trivial and important entirely as if they were free, without thinking about it.

It remains a conundrum to me. For my own part I’m undecided. All I can say with certainty is that I have not read anything (and I’ve read quite a lot) that convinces me of the existence of free will.

All of this will be gobbledegook to people of faith for whom free will is a faculty bestowed upon Man by God.

One thought on “Free will?

  1. As another layman it’s interesting to read your thoughts on this subject. At least some of the protestant reformers in the Christian church did not believe in free will. Martin Luther responded to Erasmus and argued against free will in his book, “Bondage of the Will”. I was raised in a branch of the Christian church that put a lot of emphasis on human choice in the process of reconciling with God. Lately, as a member of a Lutheran church, I’m hearing about the bondage of the will with respect to human justification before God. This makes part of me infuriated to be told that I can’t justify myself (flies in the face of western do-it-your-self-ism), and part of me relieved to know that I need a savior, and have one in Jesus Christ as revealed in the scripture. Another interesting nuance that I’ve heard about second hand is that Luther talked about decisions that are above humans and decisions that are below them… I understand this to mean that Luther thought many mundane issues of life were within the scope of human decisions but with regards to justification before God, that was above human ability to influence… I have to do some more digging on this. Interesting to think about. Cheers.

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