Do we have free will?
Determinism states that everything is the result of what happened right before it. Everything is a sequence of events, determined by physics and chemistry. Nothing in the universe happens that doesn’t follow these laws of science. By extension, this theory also means that there is only one future. It’s just slowly unfolding, every second coming as a result of the last.
And then, you start thinking “If there is only one future, I am never actually making choices! I’m just a passive part of this really long inevitable chain of events! I don’t have the ability to make my own actions, I don’t have free will!” But obviously, we don’t feel this way naturally. So what’s going on?
Here’s what I came up with. The crisis comes from when you believe that you have no control because the universe creates everything that is “you”, and therefore everything you do is just really the universe doing it. But I think that’s not giving credit to how complex humans are.
The universe creates us and the universe is constantly influencing and shaping everything about who we are. But you are who you are. When you are influenced by the universe, it’s not linear like “Your charisma is a 5/10. An event happens which gives +2 to charisma. Your charisma is now 7/10”. It’s way more complicated than that.
You could be considered like a function with infinite variables.
By a “function” I’m talking a mathematical process, such as f(x)=3x+4. You start with a number (let’s say 5), it goes through the process (f(5)=3*5+4=19) , and end up with a new number (19). In terms of the “people as functions” analogy, the thing you start with is the situation you’re in or the stimulus you’re receiving, and the result of the process is the actions you take. And instead of that very simple example function I gave, a person would be one that is infinitely long and complicated.
When the universe has an impact on you, some of those variables (bits of the function) might be changed, so the way you “function” becomes a bit different. But that infinite function is who you are. And I find that when I look at it that way, there’s no philosophical crisis regarding whether or not I have autonomy.
Your average person who hasn’t heard of determinism will of course agree that the things a person does is a result of who that person is.
Determinism just explains that who you are is a result of the atoms bouncing around in the universe. That also seems very reasonable.
Even though determinism states that we’re just the result of other stuff happening in a long unfolding chain of events, and that we don’t have free will, the “ourselves” that are created in this ordered chaos are still very individual and complex. The things we do are a result of who we are.
To to recap
- We are the result of our environment, but in an infinitely non-linear way, making us still unique and individual people.
- When you make decisions, those decisions are the decisions that the function that is “you” at that time deems to be appropriate. There’s nothing to be fearful about there, because who you are at any given time is a very personal and complex thing.
So answer the question:
No. You don’t have free will. You are only ever going to do the things that you do. But are you complex and unique? Yes. You are your own thing. So your actions and decisions are still very much yours.
And that’s a good enough answer for me.