Blog # 107 THE PRICE OF FREE WILL

Our legal and inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, would merely be theoretical assertions of entitlement without the implementing factor of “free will.”

Free will principally encompasses the ability to, at our own discretion, elect from available alternatives. It also means the freedom to act and express ourselves without fear of official sanction. The exercise of our freedoms virtually has no limit, provided their exercise causes no injury. In short, my right to throw a punch stops just at the tip of your nose.

A puzzling question may be posed as to what liberty, or free will, can possibly signify to a believer in pre-determinism (“determinism”).

The ability to choose among alternatives is the most useful and impactful exercise of free will. Yet it must be borne in mind that every choice ineluctably implies relevant constraints, a price, upon our liberty consistent with the selected undertaking.

Conformity to traditionally approved behavior, customs and practices of a society or social group, to satisfy a felt need to “fit in” and be a regular member of that society or group, necessarily excludes behavior inconsistent with those traditions and practices.

The choice to marry and raise a family, mandates a strict code of social behavior as well as the usual obligations of financial and emotional support for that family. These latter obligations necessarily result in material constraint on personal liberties. Charlie is not going to play golf with the boys this Saturday because little Susie is performing in a school play; Katie will not purchase the fur coat because money is needed for a new living room carpet.

Even the choice of residential environment is accompanied by its consequential impact on liberty.  Living in northern Michigan mandates the use of heavy outerwear and boots which may not be one’s preferred attire. The choice of domicile was made by someone and may at some point in the future be changed by relocation; it is probable, however, that the new location would present its own nuanced  limitations on dress and lifestyle.

Religious affiliation, which requires relative uniformity of belief and the practice of established traditions, constitutes another constraint on freedom of belief and behavior. Despite the immutable fact that the specific religion was acquired by the random accident of birth (See: Blog#3) there does exist the possibility, at some point, of a change in belief system.

Thus, it seems to be the case that the exercise of free will is predictably accompanied by a certain measure of applicable, but foreseeable, restriction on liberty presumably, and hopefully, the result of intentional and calculated choice.

As a slight departure from theme, and as an addendum to its subject, we would observe that in the modern era, advancements have taken place in the field of neuroscience, which have cast new light on the phenomenon of choice. New and revolutionary understandings of the brain and its function, particularly in studies in brain chemistry, have led to revelations concerning the etiology of human behavior and choice. These investigations have included consideration of the possible presence of organic brain disease and more commonly, an imbalance of brain chemistry regarding mood disorders and aberrant behavior.

Psychiatrists, and most especially psycho- pharmacologists, engaged in the amelioration of mental and emotional disorders, have been assisted by such advancements in the understanding of brain function and brain chemistry. In fact, there are many such practitioners who would earnestly maintain that it is manifestly unjust and cruel to deal with such challenged people by way of the normal criminal gristmill, applicable to the ordinary miscreant.

Such an approach is certainly commendable from the standpoint of empathy and newly enlightened understanding. However, practical experience seems to demonstrate that society cannot successfully function and exist simultaneously with aberrant behavior. A challenged individual whose illness has obliged him to engage in “acting out” his affected perceptions (as opposed to merely thinking them) imposes an obligation, in the interest of society, to act. On such occasions, it is sincerely urged that such action be suitably consistent with enlightenment and understanding.

 

-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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