Saturday, September 10, 2011

Critical Review of “The Problem of Free Will” by Walter T. Stace

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Upon the assumptions made by Walter T. Stace, free will is the right bestowed upon us by god with the ability to make a decision between a set of options we come across throughout life. Further assumption has to be made into that there are no influential external factors over these decisions made. For example, in situations where the circumstances leave us with no alternatives, e.g. held at gunpoint, this is not at our own free will as in the example it is not under your authority, your life is on the line. On the other hand, situations where the agent has rational control over and responsibility for his own actions could be a strong argument for free will, as with my choice to discuss this topic. An incompatible theory to that of the believer in free will is that of the Determinist. Determinism is the hypothesis that every event and concurrent choice made as a result of that event is predetermined by some antecedent sufficient condition for its occurrence, commonly recognised as karma or fate. This concept has many schools of philosophical thought with situations befalling due to laws of nature, inevitability or your choice being altered as a result of previous situations in which you either carried out or experienced the action in point. If this is in fact true then everything is predestined to happen and all control of your life is non existent, therefore it does not matter what you do, your future and legacy has sometime in the past been decided.

Staces argument is primarily concerned with the basic nature of morality and its relevance to the problem of free will. His point being that it is almost certain that if there is no free will there can be no morality. If morality is taken to be of fictitious nature, the question of what is fundamentally right and wrong can now be contested, as universally everything has already been predetermined. In essence, the public perception of a criminal act does not exist as a criminal has been destined to commit the act almost without his navigation and therefore it would not be of his choice to perform said conduct.

He then disputes that philosophers who contradict the existence of free will only do so to increase their knowledge on the subject within their studies and professional moments. This is based on the belief that when it comes down to everyday choice all human like to believe that there is some element of freedom of preference present as a solace. The comfort suggests a fondness to boundaries and the self-chosen fate even in the more trivial matters. The discussion then diverges into the case of justifying the punishing an infant for being dishonest. This can be counter by the fact that at the age of the infant they could not have built up a decent reserve of righteous distinctions between equity and immorality. In line with that, the combination of the ease of impression children possess and the fact that many people have lied in the past, it is inevitable that children will grow up to imitate and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. If that holds then it is ethically wrong to discipline your children in certain situations, excluding that of actual damage.

Stace then challenges the definition of free will, as he believes that it is the mediocre terminology associated with free will that has lead to all the confusion over its existence. Free will currently is seen essentially as a state of indeterminism, in that nothing is predetermined. The author then gives a few exemplary models of restricted acts and alleged acts of free will, which all contain a common factor that is the supposed to be the new definition of free will. In actuality, all cases given, free and unfree alike, could be interpreted to contain principles of a will that is not entirely free. Gandhis fasting because he wanted to free India is prime example as this is a historically remembered case that if, in fact, Gandhi had not fasted India might not have been released government oppression. Consequently, the situation was predetermined by the situation in India and his beliefs he was instilled with as a citizen of India and as a human being. Stealing bread because one in hungry too can be construed to include an aspect of determinism.

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In stealing bread the starving being has been, from a lifetime of routine, compelled with the necessity to carry out feeding rituals. The only consolidation in Staces argument is that the individual may or may not steal from a wide variety of products to be consumed, the free will exists due to his preference for bread or the moral justification that “only” stealing a loaf of bread would achieve. This could then give rise to a basis for compatibility between free will and determinism. Choices are therefore subject to limitations, similar to boundaries, that we are allowed to, with use of our free will, let pass by and select between. The endless alternatives are thus set to a predetermined state, has comparable similarities with that of a soft determinist viewpoint and not the infiniteness associated with time and space.

Stace suggests that the same theory could be applied to non-human and inanimate objects, if they act in a way that strays from the norm we perceive. The example of both the poorly bloomed roses and that of the automobile, which is in need of oil, provides a good explanation for this as he tries to show that everything in the world needs something for it to carryout its designated task. Furthermore, different kind of things require different kinds of causes to make them do what they should so, every decision has a set reaction that is only appropriated if a certain chain of events takes place, different events are triggered by different catalysts. This again is a point that can be read as both of free will and determinism as although the chain of events can vary the outcomes are limited. With the example of injecting motor oil into a small child and beating a motor, a relevant point is put forward in that there is limitations on decisions. The absurdity of the examples is strength alone to predetermined purpose in life, but does not rule out the freedom involved. As strange as it sounds some people find it therapeutic to beat their automobile is it breaks down, they may even believe it may fix it and too in the fact that there must exist a mind that daily dreams up weird things to do with engine oil.

At last, Stace goes on to say that where as it is believed that for morality and punishment to be fitting then the existence of free will must be certain. In reality, determinism is required for moral responsibility to exist in the punishment involved in established conditioning methods. If punishment and reward are equally methods of developing a trained human behaviour then human behaviour can be directly linked to determination. If human actions are uncaused, punishment is useless and thus beings would have no grasp on reality and would be as unpredictable as an atom’s movement and therefore irresponsible in all actions. So, a balance of the two is more realistic to explain life, a series of choices with predetermined outcomes.

In conclusion, Stace makes various relevantly interesting points that are both valid and questionable. This could be put down to the fact that he has not considered the argument from several viewpoints as evident in Descartes Meditations, through the use of different personas. As Staces philosophised back in the fifties, it may be possible that there may not have been a wide enough or open views on free will and determinism, so his knowledge was inferior in respect to a twenty first century philosophy student. With free will being the majority’s ideology it may be that it is predetermined that we were to believe that we are free to live the way we want and not that of a set route, to settle any further uncertainty in life.

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