Determinism: accepting all behavior, thoughts, and
feelings as being the inevitable--lawful--outcome of
complex psychological laws describing cause and effect
relationships in human behavior. Understanding the causes
of any behavior helps us accept it.
The ideas of free will, determinism, personal choice, moral
responsibility, and scientific prediction are old ideas, but in this century
they have not been discussed seriously. Too bad, because we need a
much clearer view of reality. Sappington (1990) believes some interest
is being revived. He believes free will can be compatible with science.
So do I.
A recent publication by Bruce Waller (1999) is a clear, readable,
convincing discussion of "will power" and the sense of personal
responsibility that accompanies the notions of personal freedom and
choice. Free will, as most people think of it, is a term describing the
vague, mysterious process by which we come to some decision about
what to do or think. While we have no way to see how our mind comes
to any given decision, in the case of "free will" it does seem to us as
though decision-making, while guided by some of our thoughts, is a
rather autonomous and sometimes almost magical process. "Our"
decisions certainly seem to come out of our head and often seem only
distantly connected to outside or historical causes or influences. No
wonder choices and decisions are assumed to be our responsibility.
But the question is: Are we totally responsible or are many complex
uncontrollable and often unknown factors--inside and outside of us--
involved with what merely seem to be our "free choices?"
Waller says one reason for a culture keeping the concept of "free
will," a common notion which has never been scientifically explained,
is so society (and each of us) can hold the actor "morally responsible"
for his/her actions. Our system of punitive control of bad behavior is
mostly built on this assumption. We think: the murderer deserves to
die. The rapist should be severely punished. The drug dealer and
chronic criminal should just be locked up, perhaps forever.
Moreover, we think the person who doesn't "help himself" deserves
what he gets. The drunk who refuses treatment is responsible for his
behavior; he is "weak willed" or wants to drink and fall in the gutter.
The 15-year-old girl who becomes promiscuous and then pregnant
"should have known better" and deserves to be a poor, uneducated,
ostracized mother. The abused woman, who knows there is shelter and
help available but stays with her abuser, is "making her own choice"
and is "morally responsible" for her own pitiful condition. The
unmotivated worker or student is "lazy" and has to assume
responsibility for his/her being fired or failed. They are getting their