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We Do Not Posses Any Genuine Freedom, Discuss

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“We do not possess any genuine freedom to act ethically” Discuss (35 marks)

A person who acts ethically is one who will choose to make good decisions, those that are morally right and are good avoiding the wrong decisions which may have negative consequences. We can link the idea of acting ethically with morals, as an ethical person will have a good set of morals, this is because it is our morals that help is to freely decide which decisions to make, and encourage us to act selflessly and ethically. Eventhough, we have the ability to exercise our free will in all manner of ways and make choices, do we always have free will ? I believe freedom to be the ability to make your own choices, which are not influenced by anyone else’s opinions or decisions, when faced with either a difficult or easy decision. Some philosophers believe that our ability to make free choices is an illusion which means that we are not free at all. Others state that there is something else beyond our understanding that may cause our actions to be determined. These theories can be linked to Determinism. Determinism says that there are laws that exist outside of our control that cause the things that happen-laws such as gravity. Scientific laws determine all our actions based on what has happened before. Previous events have consequences that may be determined and which in turn will cause more consequences. This can be linked to Aristotle’s teachings which stated that every action has some sort of cause and therefore an effect. Therefore we cannot help our actions when they have already been decided for us. In contrast, from a religious viewpoint there are mixed theories. The traditional Judeo-Christian view is that human beings are free, autonomous agents, responsible for their actions. A perfect example of this is Adam and Eve who exercise free will in choosing to eat the forbidden fruit. They are held responsible for their actions by God who punishes them. St Thomas Aquinas, the Christian theologian and philosopher wrote ‘man chooses not the necessity but freely.’ The main Christian denominations hold the view that we are free to choose to do good or sin. However, there is an alternative view in Christian writings, which was and is held by some Protestant churches. This is the view that God has already decided who will be saved and who will not. The protestant reformer John Calvin described pre-destination as ‘the eternal decree of God…’ This idea that God decided who receives salvation and who doesn’t at creation suggests that humans don’t have free will with regard to their moral or religious behaviour. This idea has significance in the debate about wether human beings save themselves by their actions or wether they are saved by God’s grace alone. Another viewpoint which would be in support of this claim is a hard-determinist, who believe that all are actions are caused by prior causes and a person therefore cannot blamed for their violence. They are very strict and rigid in their beliefs. A good summarization of hard determinism comes from Honderich, ‘all our choices, decisions and intentions, other mental events, and our actions are no more than effects of other equally necessitated events’ and John Locke who believes that ‘freedom of choice is just an illusion- we may appear to have moral choices, but we only think we choose freely because we do not know that causes that lie behind our choice.’Hard determinists would argue that we do not have genuine freedom to act ethically because not only have these decisions been made for us but also are surroundings can influence are choices on wether we choose to act ethically. For example, a man who has murdered a man drunk had an alcoholic father who abused him , does this make him morally responsible for his actions and is it fair to punish someone committing actions beyond their control? A good example in support of this statement is Ivan Pavolv who states that people’s behaviour can be altered by manipulating the environment. In his experiment he conditioned dogs to salivate when they heard the sound of a bell. We are familiar with this, as in schools we are conditioned to act in certain ways when we hear the school bell ring for a lesson. We are almost being controlled without us knowing, through an illusion that we think these actions are normal. Psychology, Social conditioning and genetics are all modern examples which would support Hard Deterministic views .For psychology, Sigmund Freud states that ‘our early years have an immense impact on our actions in the future and that all actions, moral or non-moral, are caused by ‘repressed’ or ‘subconscious’ memories or feelings that stem back to our childhood These are what determine our actions. The man who kills an alcoholic man is a perfect example of social conditioning, which believes that people and act with their social lives, their upbringing influences their decisions rather then their own ability to make moral decisions. The philosopher Thomas Sowell said that social conditioning is ‘the idea that the human self is infinitely plastic, allowing humanity to be changed and ultimately, perfected’ Genetic determinism on the other hand claims that almost all physical and behavioural aspects of humanity are determined by genetics Steven Pinker developed the idea that moral reasoning is a result of natural selection, as ideas such as love, jealousy and guilt all have a basis in human biological evolution Therefore, with all this considered, do we really possess free will However, not everyone believes that are life and actions have been determined for us. Believers in the Libertarianism or incompatiblism, would argue that the choices we make in life are entirely our own, and that if we live a moral life and make good decisions, that is something that we have chosen to do and no one else. John –Paul Sartre believed that ‘a choice is said to be free if it is such that it could have been other that what it is.’ They believe that Free Will itself is having the ability to choose to do whatever you like; to choose between right and wrong actions. We do however need to understand that we hold the responsibility for the outcome of these choices and have to deal with the consequences. This idea therefore supports the fact that we have the genuine freedom to act ethically. If we were to take a Libertarianist view on the abused man, they would argue that it doesn’t matter about his childhood, he made that decision all by himself. Everyone has the ability to observe other people and interpret what is right and wrong, this man is no different. A good example to use here, is the Clarence Darrow case, he was an American attorney who defended two boys who murdered a 14 year old boy called Bobby Franks. He stated that ‘we do not make ourselves’ which Libertarians do agree but they put forward that we do ‘make our actions’ and we could have chosen to do something else. This they argue, is clear because when asked to defend our actions we blame ourselves, or wonder if we did the right thing. We evaluate our action by asking ourselves whether, at that time, we could have acted differently. We may believe that we have free will and we may feel that we can choose any number of options, when in truth our moral choices are determined by factors beyond our control. Determinists hold that in actual fact it was inevitable that we would come to this decision, because of the background causes. Libertarianism doesn’t explain human action, yet surely our actions are caused by something ? Libertarianism attributes our moral judgement to an objective source, unaffected by environment or upbringing, but this is questionable. Just as its difficult to show how one thing causes another, it’s difficult to show that there are no causes beyond our control. Libertarianism doesn’t seem to account for human motive, which is caused by something. If we were to look at this statement with a Soft Deterministic or Compatiblistic approach, it would state that we do have freedom to act ethically as we have free will to make decisions and are morally responsible for our actions, but some aspects of human nature are determined and therefore refrain us from acting ethically. An important note to make is that soft determinism is not a compromise between hard determinism and libertatrianism, it seeks to bring freedom and accountability together with the sense that choices are predetermined by prior choices. Examples of soft determinists include Gottfried Leibniz and Reinhold Niebuhr. Freedom to act is doing what you want to do, without any external interference or coercion, and completely voluntarily, this is something a soft determinist would agree with. In addition to this, they state that are own values, desires and prior choices can determine how we will act in certain actions. For example, if a man had to deal with the experience of his wife being raped, and then at some later time witnesses another woman being raped, he will intervene and stop the attack that is somewhat similar to what his wife endured. His previous experience has determined that he will intervene to stop the rape, however he still had to make the choice to actually intervene. In this situation he had a choice, however prior events and the values that developed necessitated him to intervene. Therefore to some extent it was determined that he would intervene. However Soft Determinists are criticised by hard determinists for failing to realise the extent to which human freedom is limited, for example psychology, genetics and social conditioning and by libertarians for failing to realise the degree of human freedom that exists. Soft determinism does offer an agreeable account of moral freedom but they fail to agree on precisely what is and what isn’t a determining factor in human action. In conclusion, I feel we do have genuine freedom to act ethically, we have the ability to make are own decisions and to act upon what is right or wrong. However, I do take into consideration that some aspects of life are out of hands that we cant control, but we have many examples in life to demonstrate what a good action is. To me, if a person murders someone they have chosen to do that decision, the fact that people try and say he was in a poor upbringing is almost trying to come up with excuses for what he did. Kant did state that ‘ freedom is a postulate of pratical reason.”…...

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