Essay Our Brain States as Constraints

Essay Our Brain States as Constraints

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When we say someone has free will, that person is often thought to be accountable for their actions. Determinism is the philosophical view that “human behaviour is entirely governed by causal laws” (Ayer 1954, p. 15). If it is true that our behaviour is determined by causal laws such as past events or actions and the natural laws, since we cannot change the past or natural laws it seems as though we have no control over our present or past behaviours; in other words, we do not have free will and cannot be held responsible for our actions (Ayer 1954, p. 15). There are those, compatibilists, who believe that the concept of free will can still be reconciled with the existence of determinism. In Ayer’s “Freedom and Necessity”, he argues that it is possible for us to consider free will in conjunction with determinism by considering free will to mean the ability to act on our beliefs and desires in the absence of restraint rather than causation (Ayer 1954, p. 19). He writes that:
It is not...causality that freedom is to be contrasted with, but constraint. And while it is true that being constrained to do an action entails being caused to do it, I shall try to show that...from the fact that my action is causally determined it does not necessarily follow that I am constrained to do it: and this is equivalent to saying that it does not necessarily follow that I am not free. (Ayer 1954, p. 19)

In other words, if I am acting under constraint, it follows that my behaviour can be explained by natural laws; however, “from the fact that my behaviour is capable of being explained...[by] some natural law, it does not follow that I am acting under constraint” (Ayer 1954, p. 22). Both of these scenarios proposed by Ayer are consistent with compatib...

... middle of paper ...

... free will. We then came up with two objections by first considering changes in the brain to simply be the establishment of new beliefs and desires that are freely acted upon rather than a constraint and by secondly considering our original brain states, that is our minds, beliefs and desires, to be constraints just as the changes in the brain in our examples were. Although there are possible responses to my objections that Ayer could make, I maintain that my objections offer at least a different perspective to the free will debate that perhaps expands the possibilities of what is considered constraint when using Ayer’s argument to determine if we have free will in certain cases.

Works Cited

“Brain Tumour Causes Uncontrollable Paedophilia,” New Scientist 22 October 2002.
Ayer, A.J. (1954). “Freedom and Necessity,” Philosophical Essays, St. Martin’s, pp. 3-20.

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