DUB Speak

Freedom or Illusion?

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We live in a democratic country with a constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom. Yet are we really free to make our own decisions?

When I ask you the question, “do we have free will”, all of you would have different opinions. However, when I rephrase the same as “are we in control of our actions”, most of you would agree. We tend to believe that our actions are freely chosen by us. I chose to wear a blue hoodie today. This was an action out of free will. But, was it really?

Libertarians’ view of free will suggests that human beings are autonomous and act unfettered from any external control. Our decisions are not influenced by any prior occurrences and we could have chosen differently given the same situation. In simple words, human beings are capable of entirely free actions. 

However, on the contrary, determinists happen to advocate a differing concept. They believe that all events occur as a result of pre-existing causes; nothing other than what does occur could occur. Now, these events may include something like a cart moving after being pushed, or even simply my decision to wear a blue hoodie. Pierre-Simon, Marquis de Laplace, a French scholar, believed that the present state of the universe is the effect of the previous state and the cause of the one to follow it. This simply implies that the world is determined by cause and effect. Even Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, wrote in his collection of quatrains, Rubaiyat- And the first Morning of Creation wrote, What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

While libertarians may suggest that my decision to wear a blue hoodie today was not influenced by any prior event, hard determinists would question where this independent idea came from in the first place. Was this entirely random? Why did I decide to choose this over any other option? 

Hard determinists believe that all decisions made in our brains are a result of invisible causes that take place in our brains. The synthesis of beliefs along with desire and temperament causes a deliberate human action. For instance, my belief that my hoodie is comfortable and fetching, along with my desire for comfort, and my temperament to stay warm and look attractive, gives rise to my decision to wear the blue hoodie. 

Baron d’Holbach, a German-French philosopher, in his ‘system of nature’, suggests that man like matter, is governed by physical laws; everything is the inevitable result of what came before. For example, a cart moving after being pushed. One may argue that human decisions are not like physical objects and hence should not be bound by physical laws. However, our mental decisions are a result of neurological activities in our brain, which is a biological event in the physical world, hence being deterministic. D’Holbach proposes that the complexity of the sources of our actions makes it impossible to say why we behave as we do in some circumstances, and this inability to identify the causes of our actions encourages the illusion of free will.

So basically, every decision you’ve ever made is just an inevitable result of a combination of a bunch of mental activities. Every decision you’ve ever made has already been determined. 

Happy human rights day!

Feature Image Credits: Human Rights Watch

Aditi Gutgutia
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