Blog # 67 CALIBRATING FREE WILL

In our ever-present aspiration to attain self-knowledge and identity it is essential to examine and review our past record of acts and behavior. In the course of such internal audit, misleading subjectivity may be minimized by sufficient attention to those societal norms to which we ascribe, as well as to the comparative behavior of individuals who we consider worthy exemplars.

Our present system of laws and ethical precepts are, necessarily, dependent upon the premise that we, as individuals, can freely choose between right and wrong. The competing belief regarding action and behavior is the theory of “determinism” or fate.

Many celebrated philosophers and theologians have used “free will” theory as the cornerstone of the infrastructure of their ethical precepts and teachings. In free will, man (ex., Adam) is solely and only responsible for his choices; good choices beget benefits, bad ones, suffering. Free will is the shiny bauble of philosophical morality; where necessary, man had to be taught, or forced to, right action.

Contrariwise, those who were (and still are) adherents to the theory of determinism, maintain a belief in the active participation of outside, third party forces or agencies that affect man’s behavior.

It is much easier to critique the belief in outside forces as third party agencies which are believed to influence or determine man’s behavior, than to reliably calibrate free will.

The wide-spread belief in external, influencing forces was a significant, typical and salient feature of the long-lived Dark Ages, existing prominently until the liberating development of The Age of Enlightenment (blog 61) which rationally devalued the eerie currency of superstition.

It would necessarily follow that no moral code or concept of right action could rationally exist, were man’s behavior manipulated by some external puppeteer. No blame or honor could be logically bestowed under determinism; the latter is best relegated to a museum of antiquity or the graveyard.

The competing theory in the examination of the dynamics of human behavior is the theory of free will. The analysis of this alternative theory is not capable of a simplistic, reductive review as is the case with determinism.

The theory of free will is not solely reserved for didactic philosophical discourse. It is also less esoterically recognized and utilized in such worldly areas as criminal and tort law, marketing and advertising, choice of belief systems and opinion, aesthetic choices, entertainment, conversation as well as a myriad of mundane phenomena.

The   belief in freewill is enormously empowering and infused with potential for creativity and self-realization. However, Classical Free Will, in its purest and ideal state, would predictably result in full responsibility for action, without any equitable explanation or understanding To subscribe to the ideal is to indulge in the concept beyond usefulness, empathy or understanding (blog#20).But  free will does not merit summary rejection or unfavorable  critique as applicable to the theory of determinism.

Impinging to no small degree on free will, are evolutionary dynamics, psychological and chemical factors, (as demonstrated by recent findings in modern behavioral science) genetics, environmental factors, parenting, belief systems, health, race, economic factors and others.

From the time the fetus (now, child) is forcibly evicted from the safe, warm and familiar environment of the womb, the unconscious mind, in its primitive desire to avoid danger has caused the individual to fear change as a threat. (blog#15) Our bio-chemical system, in tandem with our psyche, often orchestrates an internal, primitive warning, sometimes constructive, sometimes not. Often, a disinclination to take necessary action, results from a subtle feeling, not an explanation; the latter is often supplied (perhaps incorrectly) later as a retrospective rationale. The unconscious mind is usually not our friend.

Despite the limitations on free will, we are still responsible for our actions. The theory, nevertheless is useful in the understanding the personal, private bases for our thoughts, impulses and feelings. The goal is the attainment of freedom of choice of action despite the existence of impulses and inclinations of a non-constructive nature.

We have the potential to lead rational, useful lives despite our individualized repository of old fears and predilections. Free will is the only construct that exalts individuality, growth and creativity.

-p.

 

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plinyblogcom

Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Literature Student and enthusiast.

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