Socrates once said, "Know thyself," and over two thousand years later we're still perplexed with the complexities of human behavior. The concept of free will has been debated and challenged by science, religion, and philosophy throughout history. By free will, I mean our ability to choose and behave as we wish, without our choices being determined by outside sources. Such a notion has been discussed and disputed by philosophers like B.F. Skinner, Robert Kane, William Lycan, and Richard Hanley in very different ways.
In order to better understand the arguments of Skinner and Kane, we must first understand the concept of determinism. Determinism is the idea that all events are caused, occurring only as effects of causes before them. For example, the event of my bringing an umbrella to work was caused, or determined, by a rainstorm or perhaps by the day's weather forecast predicting rain. Whatever the reason, determinism follows that a later event is inevitable due to its earlier cause. If true, determinism holds that the future is fixed and unchangeable, in much the same way the past is unchangeable in time travel. If true, determinism leaves only one possible effect for each subsequent event. Influencing the ideas of determinism is the religious conception of predestination. Here the idea is that God has determined beforehand who will go to heaven and hell and nothing can be done to change the fixed and determined outcome. Predestination has been criticized by some because it seems to lead to fatalism. If our destinies are already decided, we seem to lack the free will to control our future. But believers in predestination believe tha...
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...ve it or we don't, whether it's determined or not, the notion of free will can help us better understand why we behave as we do. Perhaps someday, with our understanding of free will, we'll be able to do what Socrates recommended long ago.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York, NY: W W Norton & Company. 1986.
Kane, Robert. Selections from The Significance of Free Will. http://www.iusb.edu/~lzynda/scifi/kane.html.
Lycan, William. Consciousness. http://www.iusb.edu/~lzynda/scifi/lycan.html.
Hanley, Richard. The Metaphysics of Star Trek. Chapter 3 "Pro Creation" [Abridged] http://www.iusb.edu/~lzynda/scifi/hanley.html.
Persons Handout. X100/220. Philosophy, Science, and Science Fiction. The Concept of a Person.
Skinner, B.F. "Freedom and the Control of Man." http://www.iusb.edu/~lzynda/scifi/skinner.html.
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