Against Determinism

I love ideas, and moreover, conversations about ideas. I have a website where I run a socratic dialogue where I have conversations about all sorts of ideas with college students, middle school students, high school students, teacher and other individuals spanning a geographic area from Jerusalem to San Franciso, where we talk about all sorts of ideas, and as a result people there learn about everything from history to economics to government to science to art to religion, and a plethora of more things that would require a good too many to’s to emphasize my point.

As a result, there are a lot of arguments that I think about outside of it. I’m still thinking about last weeks conversation about Democracy, yet this week I’ve been thinking about another topic. Determinism.

Determinism or the idea that we have no free will is a very common topic for abstract debate. Indeed, many people are inclined to believe that humans always have free will and that the idea we have no control over ourselves is simply too radical and unnerving.

The idea goes something like this:

  1. Everything we do is caused by forces over which we have no control
  2. If our actions are caused by forces that we have no control over, we cannot act freely.
  3. Therefore, we cannot act freely.

I have never been a determinist, as I do find the idea that I have no control over my life distasteful, and I find it’s not worth it to carry around a view that I find makes me upset. However, I do also like to consider the implications of the argument, and I think I’ve found a counter-argument to determinism that I’d like to share.

My counter emphasizes one key point: in the above scenario, who is being referred to as “we”?

My counter goes like this.

  1. Everything we do is caused by forces over which we have no control.
  2. If everything we do is caused by forces over which we have no control, we cannot act freely.
  3. If we cannot act freely, we cannot freely form think, identify, generate consciousness, or generate a “self”. We cannot “be” freely.
  4. If we cannot freely think, identity, generate consciousness, or generate a self then our thoughts, identity, consciousness, and selves are caused by forces over which we have no control.
  5. If our thoughts, identity, consciousness, and selves are caused by forces over which we have no control, we are caused by forces over which we have no control.
  6. If our thoughts, identity, consciousness, and selves are caused by forces over which we have no control and forces over which we have no control cause our actions, then there is no difference between what we are, and the forces over which we have no control.
  7. If there is no difference between who “we” are and the forces over which we have no control, we are the forces over which we have no control.
  8. If we are the forces over which we have no control, and our actions are caused by forces over which we have no control, and our thoughts, identity and consciousness are cause by forces over which we have no control, we inspire our own action.
  9. If we inspire our own action, we act freely.
  10. If we act freely, we have free will.

These have been some ideas that I’ve been toying with, and perhaps there needs to be a better premise for the definition of “we”. That said, given a definition of we that is defined by anything which forces over which we have no control causes, it will continue to work. Additionally, if forces we have no control over do not cause our “selves”, then we cause our “selves”, or forces which we control causes our selves. Given that everything we do then is not caused by forces over which we have no control, the premise that “everything we do is caused by forces over which we have no control” must be false because not everything is caused by those forces.

It may require simplifying, but it is a first step, and if I can dismantle determinism, an idea I already find unlikeable, I’m all for it.

Until next time,

Cade

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