Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 5 | Words: 1322
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Most people are always certain that they have free will even though they are never sure what exactly this amounts to. The question of the nature of free will is not a small task but it involves a number of questions. To say that a person has free will means that the individual has the capacity to choose his or her course of action. Animals too do satisfy this criterion, but we tend to think that only people and not animals have free will. It is controversial whether this minimal understanding of free will requires an agent to have a particular sense of will. We also don’t exactly know if the term “free will” has a deeper meaning for other unique features of a person and whether there is really such a thing as free will. To be able to critically understand this concept, we should note that it has two distinct properties with the first containing an idea that what one does is in some sense free and not determined by something else. The second idea entails a condition where an individual controls what he does. We should therefore understand free will to be the capacity unique to people and that which allows them to control their actions.

William James’ Concept of Free Will

William James one of the most prominent philosophers in America brought this concept of free will. He made a great contribution in the development of philosophical thought since he used his experience as a psychologist in the works of philosophy (Hunt, 2007). He mainly spoke about knowledge and thinking in his works. He treated these two concepts in the struggle to live and thus involved in the psychological movement of functionalism. The most interesting of his work is his concept of free will and its role of chance in human life. He rejects the idea of determinism on the basis that people do not have any choices in their life. He provides evidence of this fact with direct human experience of free choices. He explains that man always experiences regret or sorrow because they could have done otherwise in life. Free will was important to him, but he explains that chance is the most influential factor in human life (Hunt, 2007). His concept of free will had its roots in his personal life and was inspired by French philosopher Charles Bernard to overcome his emotional problems. James explains that we do not respond passively to outside forces without having power to influence our circumstances. He therefore defined the act of will to be one characterized by one’s strong focused attention on the object to be attained.

Having agreed to this concept of free will, psychologists agree that in discussing free will there exist two extreme positions which include the humanistic and deterministic position. John Locke’s tradition is followed in humanistic position and they believe that since man at birth is tabula rasa, then from this point we start to learn everything (René, 1998). We therefore have the free will. It is consequently becomes impossible to predict a person’s behavior and response towards a given stimuli. On the other hand, determinists hold that behavior is completely controlled by our genes or through learning and therefore knowing a person’s experience would allow others to predict their behavior. In addition to this concept, Skinner in his various works including his famous “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” he expresses that ‘free will’ is irrelevant and there is no such a thing as free will (Kane, 2002).

On the other hand, James William says that free will is the capacity unique to people and that which allows them to control their actions. We therefore need to care about free will and how this freedom of will relates to freedom of actions (Hunt, 2007). Influential arguments have been given on the relationship between free will and causal determinism. Free will is related to important philosophical issues where an individual will either have a freedom of action and or responsibility. We tend to think that a person’s free actions are the actions that they do as a result of exercising their free will. We should note that the possibility of free action would depend on the possibility of free will. We can consider a situation where a man is contemplating a paradigmatic free action of whether or not to walk his dog. He might say to himself that he knows he needs to walk the dog because it needs the exercise, on the other hand, he may not really want to walk his dog because there is cold outside. His overall decision may be to walk the dog despite the cold. This gives a situation and a reason why we care about free will. In the example above, the man must choose or decide to walk the dog before he actually took the action. Assuming that human actions are those that result from their rational capacity, then the possibility of free action will depend on the possibility of free will. To conclude that an agent acted freely is simply to say that the agent successfully carried out his or her free choice.

On the contrary, issue of free will has been discussed by Thomas Hobbies to suggest that it consist in their being no external impediments to an agent in doing whatever they want to do. Any free agent is one that can do anything they wish for and forbears as they will. This liberty should be in the absence of external impediments. In his inquiry concerning human understanding, David Hume who is another psychologist thinks that free will is simply the power to act or not act in accordance to the determination of the will (Kane, 2002). That is, we may choose to remain at rest and then perform the rest, or we may decide to move and move. This hypothetical free will is universally allowed to be carried out by everybody but not by prisoners who are in chains. It therefore means that freedom is simply the ability to pick a course of action when the argent is free and not prevented by some external obstacles from completing or performing an action. Hume and Hobbes would argue that a man is free to walk his dog as long as nothing prevents them from carrying out the decision of walking the dog. The same individual would also be free not to walk the dog as long as nothing would compel him or her to walk the dog if they decide not to.

Nevertheless, one would still believe that this approach has failed to make an important distinction between two related but conceptually distinct concepts of freedom which are, the freedom of will and freedom of action. This distinction can be motivated by the fact that agents can possess free will without having the freedom of choice (René, 1998). For example, picking the case of walking a dog, suppose the man made a decision of walking the dog after taking a nap, and in the event of his sleep, a blizzard swept through the area. Wind then drifted the snow up against the front door of the house so that it makes it impossible for the man to get out of his front door to walk his dog if he wanted to. In this situation, we have a person with free will because the man chooses to take the dog for a walk, but not involving free action since he is not able to perform the action due to the ice blocking his front door. Having a freedom of action without free will depends on a person’s view of what free will is (Kane, 2002). The truth of causal determination would mean that the agent lacks the freedom to do what they would want to do. An agent would do what they want even if they are causally determined to perform the action. This justifies Hobbes and Hume’s point of view.

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