mostly graphite, a bit of needle and thread, and i just typed out the little zeros and ones part
thank you to
for the stock photo i used as reference for the head of the girl.
The debate on free will vs. determinism is an old one – going back millennia and still being argued today. Many of you may already know all about it, but just in case you don’t – determinism (sometimes associated with notions such as fate or providence) is the philosophical belief that every event or action is the inevitable result of preceding events and actions. It’s pretty intuitive for people to think in terms of simple cause and effect, yet – it’s also pretty intuitive for people to assume they have free will. It’s my opinion, though… that something’s gotta give (at least in terms of how we regard human choices and their significance). My purpose in creating this piece isn’t to merely present the debate as an intellectual puzzle or to even argue on behalf of the, admittedly, problematic position of free will – my intention is to expose determinism as the bleak, demoralizing, degrading, and dehumanizing philosophy I believe it to be.
There are 3 general positions on the issue… the determinists for determinism, the libertarians (nothing to do with the political party) for free will, and the compatiblists – who, somehow, believe that free will and determinism can be true at the same time.
Determinists believe that all events (including our decisions) are fixed in an interlocked chain of causation that leaves no room for free will – at all. The universe functions like a giant mechanism and humans (being no exception) operate according to its dictates. A star explodes, a dog farts, a raindrop falls, a couple makes love, one person sacrifices their life for another, or somebody drowns a baby in a bathtub – it’s all pretty much the same… fixed events that never could have been any other way. Are we only mere cogs caught in the vast machine? Am I only a product of my biological, psychological, sociological, cultural, and historic circumstances? Certainly these things have a profound influence, but do they absolutely determine every single motive, thought, emotion, and action of mine? I don’t pretend to know, but I sincerely hope not. It’s not the philosophy that I ascribe to, but it is an understandable and legitimate view to take. If one is to take this view, however, it’s my opinion that it should be taken in its entirety. It often seems that determinists surgically remove free will from their worldview while everything else about their worldview remains suspiciously intact… thus ignoring or, at least, grossly underestimating the significance of free will. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that determinism is true… what would that imply? Free will (be it an illusion or a reality) is the axis from which many human values stem. There is no legitimate basis for moral responsibility within a theory that denies free will, for example. How can a person be held morally responsible for their actions if they weren’t free to do otherwise? Likewise – identity, creativity, love and friendship, the concept of an open future, individuality, dignity, and personal achievement would all be significantly undermined if determinism were to replace free will as a fundamental and accepted feature of reality. My contention that our most dearly held values would crumble into ashes under a deterministic worldview isn’t intended as a refutation of determinism… all I’m doing here is pointing out the disconcerting baggage that the theory carries with it.
Personally – I am a libertarian. Like I said before: it’s a problematic position to take… yet - it’s the only position that offers any worthwhile hope, dignity, and value. Robert Kane (a philosopher and libertarian) gives a definition of free will that I am in complete agreement with: “the power of agents to be the ultimate creators (or originators) and sustainers of their own ends and purposes”… something completely other than either rigid determinism or arbitrary randomness. It’s my opinion that for free will to be real in any meaningful sense it must meet these two conditions: 1. we must be ultimately responsible for (at least some of) our choices. 2. there must be real (not illusory) alternative possibilities present to us. I don’t deny that a whole host of variables (genetics, environment, and so on) play into what I do, think, and feel – I just don’t believe that’s the whole story.
As for the compatibilists – I think it’s a weak and confused position on the matter… a feeble attempt at trying to have the best of both worlds. If you read the compatibilists arguments carefully you’ll find that compatibilism is really only determinism concealed by word games… all compatibilists do is redefine free will so that it’s no longer at odds with determinism. The very definition of determinism excludes the idea of free will. To quote William James: “The issue that will be seen is a particularly sharp one which no eulogistic terminology can smear over or wipe out. The truth must be on one side or the other, and it’s lying with one side makes the other false.”
If you’ve gotten this far – I thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Believe it or not – I actually tried to make it concise.
- a related work if you're interested: relaxeder.deviantart.com/art/t…