III. FREE WILL & DETERMINISM
In this section, I discuss the idea of free will and determinism. Free will stipulates that we have the full capacity to choose a path in every moment. The past does not influence the present and the future is unpredictable. There are two features of free will. First is our own realization that we have the ability to decide our fate. We are our own captains of our destiny. We are reasonably competent in making various choices from day to day. Determinism states the opposite: that everything in the past has led up to this very moment and that the future can be predicted based on past events. There are certainly statistics that suggest that the latter is truer than the former. This is the second feature of free will that even though we accept that we can make our own decisions, much of the decisions we make are based on previous life experience. At the time a decision is made, we surmise that it is done of our own free accord yet we must come to a realization that the decision is a result of our heritage, our culture, our upbringing, our education, possibly our biological makeup.
Our modern idea of justice and the legal system hinges on the idea that at any moment a person makes a decision of his or her own free will and is not a product of life experience. The legal system presumes that a person that has committed a crime must be held responsible because he or she could have selected a different choice. Most of society can operate in the world as moral and legal free agents. However there is significant evidence suggesting that perhaps we are more subject to the influencing factors around us rather than responsible agents.
The entire advertising industry is centered on the idea that an ad can create circumstances such that a person is forced and/or compelled to purchase a certain item. The sex-driven media can turn the sight of a Fiat 500 Abarth into a mid-day fantasy of a foreign language-speaking woman. The commercial features a studious Caucasian male wearing glasses, dressed in business attire walking down a busy street. At the curbside is a supermodel bending over. He stops to stare at the sight before him. When the supermodel realizes that the man is gawking at her she approaches him, backs him up against a street lamp, scolds him in a foreign language, tugs on his tie, and slaps him. When the man comes out of his walking daydream, he looks at the curbside and sees a Fiat 500 Abarth automobile. I mention the ad to expose one thing, that human thinking can be shaped and prodded to do certain things by creating the illusion of a desired outcome. The ad illuminates the idea that the human mind can be manipulated! Advertising agencies have pre-determined for its viewers what would be effective in pursuing a stated objective. The objective is to sell cars. The illusion they created is that a Fiat is as beautiful as a supermodel and that the average person must have it.
Free will’s defining problem is whether or not individuals are selecting their own independent choices as free agents. The opposite would be that all of our thoughts and activities are determined completely by prior choices. Since the Big Bang, are we all fated to live a certain way? David Edward Rose presents the problem of determinism:
If we accept determinism, then, if I knew all the laws of the universe and the initial starting conditions, I should be able to deduce and predict the whole of history. Now, such knowledge is beyond any one person, but that does not falsify the position. The point is, if the theory of determinism is true, that it seems to undermine ethical action because if no agent acts feely, then there is no such thing as moral responsibility (11).
The only alternative to determinism is to go back to the concept of free will in which we are all free to choose in every moment. We are not fated to behave a certain way or accomplish specific things.