Do I have free will, or is every action I make predetermined? This question has concerned me for a long while. It has been the topic of many family dinner conversations, a topic of research, and a question in many prayers. I believe that this question concerns many people, since finding an answer has been the source of much literature, thinking, and religion. I have, after much thought, arrived at the conclusion of Soft Determinism - the Principle of Universal Causality, that for everything that exists or happens there is a cause, is true, but this principle is compatible with the Condition of Free Action. By Condition of Free Action I mean that a person is in control of his own actions (is the source of them) and that person, in at least some circumstances, could have chosen to do an action other than the one actually performed.
Determinism itself seems almost obviously to be true. Can one really think of an action that does not have a cause? Or can one think of something that exists that does not come from something else? True, we cannot know the cause of every action, and therefore it might be wrong to rule out the possibility of an action without cause. But, it certainly seems that all things are causally determined - we just might not know the cause. This is the basis of determinist thinkers, from Paul Holbach to A. J. Ayer: for every action there is a cause.
Now we move into the problems of motives. One might argue that if a person does a genuinely altruistic action, then that person is acting without self interest, only wanting to do the action, not wanting to do the action for personal pleasure. This would almost seem to be an example of an existence (the desire) without a reason or cause. But...
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...o choose and follow, without constraint, the right or wrong course of action. Now, Adam could have chosen not to eat the fruit, and if so, I would not have used this example (and neither, I believe, would the Bible). To broaden the idea, if humans had never knowingly made bad decisions, then the argument for freedom of action would be impossible to prove. However, I know that I have knowingly made bad decisions. In doing so, I exercised the negative aspect of freedom. I had reasons for taking either course of action, and I even had a reason for making the bad decision, but I chose. Thus, I have arrived at the conclusion that Soft Determinism - the compatibility of Determinism and Free Action - is true.
Feinberg, John. "God Ordains All Things." Predestination and Free Will. Eds. David and Randall Basinger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
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