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Do We Have Free Will

  • Date Submitted: 11/21/2012 03:38 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 49.6 
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Do We Have Free Will?
Thomas Ash
In some sense, you have just chosen to read this essay... or at least to start it. But was this a free choice and if so, in what sense? If you're surreptitiously reading a philosophy essay when you should be working, can you be blamed for this? These are the sorts of questions that intrigue people in the age-old philosophical debate about "Free Will", which tends to get muddied by its archaic name and the strong emotions it excites. Beyond the rhetoric, though, are two relatively clear questions. Is every choice we make determined by past events ultimately beyond our control? And in what sense does the answer make us free or unfree? Too often people just assume that if the answer to the first question is 'no', free will is home and dry - in fact, both answers have implications for it.
Determinists often answer the first question with a confident 'yes.' Many think that the scientific revolution, particularly since Newton gave his neat equations of motion, has shown that the universe is a well-oiled machine. Just as you can predict the operation of an old-fashioned clock if you know the motion of all the cogs and how they fit together, you could in theory predict the future of the universe given a complete knowledge of its current state. It should be no objection to this idea that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle shows the impossibility of getting a complete picture of the universe at any one time, or that most predictions would change the very future they predict. The idea is that the whole universe (humans and their decisions included) is a giant machine, in which one state inexorably leads on to the next, and so is in theory predictable. And some scientists think that there is no place in this worldview for a theological and metaphysical notion like free will, which does have its roots in pre-scientific times that lacked our modern conception of causation and physical laws, seeing every tiny event as the result of Will, either...


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