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Do We Have Free Will ?


I have a list of words I love and words I hate. Among the ones I hate : insufficient, strong, almost, sorry. Among the words that excite me : euphoria, liberation, choice, feel.
I’m fascinated by the philosophy of free will, by the liberation it presents to me. I revel in this ; in being the master of my life, my choices, my thoughts.

But what is free will and do I really possess it ? Libertarians think the will is free when a choice can be made that is not determined or necessitated by prior events. The will is free when alternative choices could have been made with the same pre-existing conditions. Contrary to this ideology, the philosophy of determinism stipulates that all events, including human action and moral choices are ultimately determined by causes outside the will. The term was coined by Democritus’ idea that causal deterministic laws control the motion of atoms, and that everything – including the mind – consists purely of atoms. Fatalism, a special type of determinism states that all things that happen were essentially fated to happen.

Both these notions appeal to me for different reasons. But I catch myself questioning or – depending on how you look at it – marveling, at the fine details of determinism. At how significant it makes me, all the way from the beginning of time. That with the universe, right at its conception, came me, and that I traveled four billion years to eventually be the sperm that won – again, out of billions. Every thought, every emotion, every action I have experienced were scripted into the universe’s DNA. Enthralling.

Science and religion intersect at the fundamentals of causal determinism. For the materialist, the Big Bang triggered every single action and human thought through a cause and effect system. For the deist, the first cause in this cause-and-effect chain is a metaphysical God. Objectively, we live in a homogeneous universe that is perpetuated by uniform physical laws throughout space and time. Determinism makes sense. Random occurrences changing the course of physical laws and a four-billion-year-old system in the name of free will hasn’t occurred yet. The ideology of reductionism also comes to mind. Essentially, it tells that our thoughts, actions, morals all stem from our inherent core. This baffles me. It makes me think, I have free will except I don’t. With a million possible actions to take in response to a “cause”, I will always take the one I would, the one that reflects my inherent being, which takes away my free will.

In a deterministic world, everything that happens follows ineluctably from natural or divine laws. There is but one possible future. In the more common sense view, we are free to shape our future, to be creative, to be unpredictable. But how unpredictable can we be if we are shaped to only take the course that sits well with us inherently ? Freedom of human action does require the randomness of absolute unpredictability, otherwise, is it freedom ?

But chance exists in this universe. It breaks the causal chain of determinism. Chance cannot directly cause our actions. We cannot be responsible for random actions. I leave the question to you. Do you believe you have free will ?