Free Will is a highly philosophical topic and has been debated on by many scientists and philosophers. A term used in this debate is the word determinism which states that all events that happen in life are determined by previously existing events. Anyone who believes in determinism thinks that nothing we as humans do or the choices we make have any effect on the future. This is highly contrary to free will and according to human anatomy and autonomy, we can consciously make choices that affect our daily lives every day.
Every tiny little thing we do has an effect on our daily lives that we don’t even know. The decision to eat cereal for breakfast instead of ramen noodles can severely affect the outcome of a day and we might never even know it. To continue this example, let’s say that we decide to eat cereal instead of ramen for breakfast. First, many new possibilities are opened up with that decision. Because it doesn’t take as long to make a bowl of cereal than it does to make ramen and that time could be spent doing anything as simple as brushing your teeth, getting dressed, etc. Even a simple decision like that can determine if one makes it to school on time or late.
Now assuming that because a bowl of cereal does not take long to make or consume, that our subject who will be named Bob simplicity is on time for school. That is all well and good and it’s possible that he even meets a friend on the way to class and has a nice talk before the bell rings that puts Bob in a good mood. One conscious decision to eat cereal instead of a bowl of ramen has already changed how the day starts and how it might be set up for Bob to go about his day.
Now, because he is in a good mood, he decides to be like that to the rest of friends and they are all also put in good moods. However, if he ate a bowl of ramen and wasn’t as early for school, it’s possible that he never runs into that friend on the way to class and it does not set up him being in a good mood. If anything, he could be in a bad mood from having to go to school just by eating a bowl of ramen and not cereal. One small decision can have lasting effects on the day and possibly even much later on into the future.
Looking into the day where Bob is in a good mood, we assume that he stays like that because he gets to meet with friends and put him in an even better mood. On the way home, it can encourage him to possibly give money to any homeless person he meets on the way, or when his parents get home from work, greet them with a smile and also put them in a positive mood.
Now if he went home in a bad mood, it’s possible that he goes straight to his room and not say anything to his parents who are then not put into a positive mood and are just staying at whatever mood they were in previously. It is obvious when looking into possibilities that we make decisions that give us free will. This notion that we have the ability to choose also breaks down determinism and that in fact nothing is determined. Everything was Bob’s decision that he made consciously, and it affected the way that his day went completely.
Now, this is not the only way to describe free will and the breakdown of determinism. This is not a philosophical question now but merely a scientific one. Although science has not yet proven where consciousness comes from, it has been proven that humans through their autonomy are able to make choices on their own. There is no barrier stopping them and any humans, if they wanted to, could do what they wanted, even if it’s against the law or social norms.
To start, a possible counterargument is that if a person decides under duress, there is no free will and the ability to choose is therefore stripped. That argument is however invalid because the option to choose is present but hidden under the very appealing choice to go with the option that benefits us most. An example can be a robber is holding Bob at gunpoint and forcing him to hand over all of his valuables or he will be shot.
An argument to this example is that Bob, being under duress, has no choice but to hand over his belongings to the robber to avoid being shot and possibly even death. Although that is a very strong and logical argument, it is still important to know that even under duress, the option to choose is not taken away. If Bob wanted to, he could have chosen to not give his stuff and be shot anyways. It was because of Bob’s ability to choose that the outcome came out the way it did.
Social norms are the views of society and acts that are normalized and agreed upon within a society. So, sometimes what a society teaches its students may be acceptable in one society and not in another. For example, a society that teaches murder as normal will eventually consider murder to be acceptable. People can then argue that because people were taught certain ideas, there was no choice involved in their decision, but this argument is again invalid because of multiple reasons.
There is nobody telling them on the spot to murder and again if they wanted, they could always make the decision not to. It is not like some demon has taken control of their bodies and is forcing them, it is their conscious decision that leads to murders and deaths of people. It is the society teaching them murder, but it is the decision of the citizens to actually engage in the action. Just because people have been coerced into doing something does not mean that the option to say no was never there.
Not only is free will a very philosophical argument but it is also very dangerous to argue that it does not exist for reasons in the courtroom. If free will is, in fact, nonexistent, then nobody can be held responsible for their crimes and it would be a defense that almost everyone could use. When someone is being tried for a serious conviction, it is a very dangerous defense that the person, through the nonexistence of free will, had no choice and couldn’t stop himself from committing that crime.
The defendant could argue that nothing that they tried to do would’ve prevented the crime from actually happening and because they had no free will in stopping themselves, they cannot be held responsible for the crime. This is a very dangerous argument. Not only is free will not just an abstract concept that humans can partake in, but also the idea that free will is real should be spread so the prevention of improper acquittals can be prevented.
Free will is mostly a philosophical argument but also a moral one. It can beg the question if anyone ever had a say in their actions or how their day went about. Skeptics of free will like determinists would believe no matter what we do, nothing will change the inevitable so therefore we have no free will. That is an altogether false statement with many things to consider before ever considering the veracity of that sentence.
Free will is existent due to the decisions that our consciousness allows us to make and there is nothing stopping us from making a choice one way or another, even if under duress. Even if free will was not real, it is still important to spread it as real because the dismissal of free will as an existent idea is highly dangerous and can have many ramifications
Jude Choi, Grade 11
John Marshall High School