Psychological Self-Help

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capable of acquiring and using that knowledge to interact considerately
with everyone. In the mean time, are we "free" as long as we do not
have and use that knowledge? Some people say "no" (Williams, 1992),
to live a lie or to live in ignorance is to lose our freedom. Clearly, to be
controlled by foolish emotions or false beliefs is to be enslaved by
ignorance, but we are not yet knowledgeable enough to be free to live
justly and considerately. We don't yet have the knowledge needed to
assess what is fair nor the self-control skills to do what is just. Yet, our
ignorance, while regrettable, is understandable and lawful. In short,
while a hopeful, thoughtful determinist would be working hard to find
the knowledge needed to be a kind person, a hopeless, unthinking,
prejudiced, or hostile person is still "lawful." The latter just hasn't yet
learned to value, seek, and use knowledge for better relationships. 
My experience with students has taught me that there are several
common misconceptions about determinism. Some are obvious errors,
but a clarification is needed. For instance, the "laws" made by
Congress or state legislatures are entirely different from "psychological
laws." The laws of behavior or of physics exist, they can't be written by
lawyers or challenged by courts or broken or changed by anyone. The
laws of behavior determine how we act and feel in specific
circumstances, just as the laws of physics determine how a rocket
might go to the moon. 
The most common confusion by students is between determinism,
a way of viewing the world, and determination, a motivated state or a
willingness to work hard for some goal. A determinist may or may not
be hard working. Being lazy or indifferent is just as determined by
psychological laws as being highly motivated. These concepts are
confused merely because the words sound similar. 
Perhaps the major objection to determinism rests on another
misunderstanding, namely, each individual usually feels that he/she
makes spontaneous choices and uses will power and, thus, is "free."
Philosophers have debated these issues at length. No doubt we make
choices--often making different choices or decisions from what we
have made before. But making choices does not disprove determinism.
Perhaps I can illustrate this point. Suppose a friend told you he had
decided to go into engineering and that statement aroused anxiety in
you about your own indecision concerning your educational and career
choices. Your anxiety might then motivate you to find a book to read
about decision-making and career choices. As you read and think
about your future career, you may decide to take some tests, visit and
observe persons in certain occupations, take certain introductory
classes in interesting disciplines, talk to a counselor, read more books,
etc. After weeks or months you might decide on a life work. It seems
to you that you freely made the career choice; indeed, you did in the
sense that no one else told you what to do. However, although there
were very complex causes for each of those decisions, the process was
lawful and totally understandable. You never once made a choice or
acted in a way that was uncaused or defied the laws of behavior. Even
if you give up and say "this career planning is too much work" or "too
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