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SMITH: Is free will really free?

Where do we stand on the free will versus determinism debate? – Photo by Zac Durant /

The debate over whether we have free will or not is a common philosophical discussion that many have probably had at one point or another in their lives, whether at the family dinner table or after several drinks with friends.

I have always gone back and forth on where I stand on the free will debate ever since I had the capacity to think. I recently regained the curiosity to research this topic further after learning about it in my various psychology classes.

Before engaging in the free will debate, it is important to define what free will is along with its counterpart, determinism. Free will is the ability to make choices not influenced by previous causes or divine forms of intervention.

On the other hand, determinism is the view that certain events or restrictions influence our will and ability to make choices.

There are three main views on free will versus determinism. There is the free will hard determinist perspective, the free will compatibilists perspective and the libertarian perspective.

The free will hard determinists believe that free will cannot exist, as people have no control over their environment or genetic makeup. They believe that humans cannot have free will, because their thoughts are influenced by their minds, which are molded by the individual's genes and the environment around them.

Free-will compatibilists believe that determinism and free will can coexist. They believe that free will is someone’s ability to make choices despite that person’s future being set in stone. In other words, people have the freedom to make choices, but the outcome of their future is already predetermined despite the choices they make.

Free-will compatibilists also acknowledge that certain people have less ability to make certain choices depending on their cognitive ability. The people who can make these choices properly are the ones who have free will.

The libertarians believe that determinism has no place in the world and firmly believe in free will.

There are three different types of libertarian views, which include event-causal libertarians, who believe free will actions result from prior events, but those prior events do not directly influence actions and are rather caused by chance (i.e., indeterminism, which is the opposite of determinism).

Agent-casual libertarians believe that people, rather than other causes, are the indirect agents of their own free will.

Lastly, non-casual libertarians believe that free will comprises our cognitive processing of making choices.

It is tough to say whether free will or determinism constitutes human behavior, as there are valid points for both. The explanation that I most find appealing is free will compatibilism.

I do believe that the future is predetermined to a degree. For instance, all humans have finite lives and will eventually die.

It does not matter what choices you make in your life, as death is inevitable (at least for now). You may do things to extend your life, such as cutting fast food out of your diet or stop smoking, but you will inevitably reach the same outcome. You just take a different path to it.

I also believe that determinism plays a factor in our genes and environment, as they help shape us mentally and physically, for example how genes are linked to certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, which can constrain someone’s free will.

Simultaneously, I still believe that there are a handful of people who do have the ability to make decisions freely instead of being completely influenced by prior events and factors.

I do think there are problems with this theory as free will compatibilists believe that only certain people have free will, which can be confusing since this school of thought gives vague answers on who has free will and to what extent.

It is important to note that my bias and life perspective play a role in my view regarding the debate of free will versus determinism and that there are no strict barriers to either view.

We cannot fully determine if our actions are completely planned out by some sort of god, if we have absolute free will or whether the answer lies somewhere in between. One way or another, we will all eventually put this debate to rest, but for now, ignorance is bliss and it is best to live your life instead of thinking too much about this intense philosophical debate.

David Smith is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Journalism and Media Studies and minoring in Psychology. Smith's column, "David's Diary" runs on alternate Thursdays.

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