G. Edward Asks: Fate or Free Will?

(The following is a continuation of this post)

Fate or Free Will?

I suppose this depends on what G. Edward means by fate in this question.

It is entirely possible to believe in both–they are not necessary mutually exclusive. Fate, in the traditional sense, merely indicates that the consequences of our choices will lead to the same future outcome, and not necessarily whether or not we had the capacity to make a certain choice at the point of decision.

In other words, one could think of fate like this–Laius could choose to keep Oedipus in his home and raise him as his rightful heir. Oedipus nevertheless grows up to be exactly the kind of degenerate who would kill his father and marry his mother.

Or, Laius chooses to have Oedipus maimed and abandoned, and well, you know the rest of the story.

In any case, Laius has the free will to make his own choices, but his choices are unable to prevent his own death at the hands of his son. However, we can still hold Laius accountable for the morality of his choices. In one instance Laius has presumably, done nothing wrong, in the other he commits a pretty grotesque act of child abuse with a murderous intent. In other words, the moral of impetus of free will remains intact even if fate applies.

However–if by fate you are referring to some kind of natural determinism, that’s a whole different ballgame. By determinism I mean “a philosophical belief that all events are determined completely by previously existing causes”. So in this case, the emphasis is on the conditions of the past, not the unavoidability of the future.

Which is to say, Laius has, for example, a brain chemistry which makes him prone to being particularly paranoid (his biological condition) and lives in a culture that takes the Oracle of Delphi to be absolutely true, (his material condition) among other environmental factors. Under the circumstances, based on his biological and material conditions, Laius could not have made any other decision than to abandon Oedipus on the mountain.

Laius, in this instance, has no free will. His conditions lead him to a certain set of behaviors, and even if he himself believes he is making the choice, that is an illusion of his own perceptions, and not rooted in objective reality.

There is a lot of science that seems to back up the deterministic view of things, and on the one hand, I see the value in recognizing that a person’s biological and material conditions play a big role in their behavior, and that it is therefore more useful to pursue solutions that change those conditions, rather than punitive measures as a means of mitigating criminality, for example.

However, I think it would be a very bad idea to throw out the existential concept of free-will. For one thing it is very difficult to go down the road of determinism without veering off the cliff of fatalism and defeatism. Neither are particularly good for one’s mental health. Feeling as if one does not have agency over one’s life is a key component of the experience of trauma and suicidal tendencies, inasmuch as suicide or other destructive behaviors are often the result of the person engaging in those behaviors out of a desire to effect some sense of control over their own lives.

You know, in considering this post, I looked around the Internet for greater insight into determinism (of which I am not at all an expert) and stumbled across this post “Why do intellectuals avoid discussing free will and determinism? In this case, the author of the article is arguing for more engagement with the notion of determinism in order to press for criminal justice reform. I think a lot of his arguments for determinism (and the responses of some of the commenters) are pretty convincing. However, I think he is missing a key component as to why people don’t talk about this subject; namely, that it engenders an existential crises.

One of the commenters indicated that while they bought the concept of determinism, thinking about it made them want to blow their brains out. Other commenters dismissed this offhandedly, and certainly there are ways to engage with the idea of determinism without falling into fatalism. But I suspect, based on the discussions I have had with other people as well as my own reactions, that grappling with the idea that self-determination may be an illusion can result in suicidal ideation, and this is not an unusual response. Both because not having full agency seems to rob our lives of meaning and also because suicide appears itself to be an act of rebellion against the concept, by proving that, if nothing else, we at least have some control over whether or not we continue to exist.

I would argue that if discussing determinism or arguing against free will leads someone to suicidal thoughts (even if they are not that extreme), that is still actually a pretty good reason not to discuss determinism. Which is why I think I’ll end this post here.

Bloggers You Should Check Out Today:

Hey, if all this talk of determinism and fate makes you feel like a leaf on the wind, at least you’re better off than Gareth Barsby’s “A Leaf on the Ground.”

Or maybe you’re looking for something that sparks joy? I recommend taking a look at PMu’s “#Inktober Round-up” over at the Daily Doodle. It’s good stuff, Maynard.

Current NaNo Word Count: 1,752

Yesterday I ended up trashing 1200 words and starting over. I’m much more pleased with how the new version is panning out, but I’m not as far ahead as I’d like to be. Ok, I need to take a walk for a cup a Joe at the cafe down the block and then I’m back at it. Hope Nanowrimo has started out well for you (if you’re working on it). Let’s do this!

14 thoughts on “G. Edward Asks: Fate or Free Will?

  1. We have to believe we exist as a thinking ‘self’ to believe in free will , and many big scientific brains believe the ‘Self ‘ and free will are illusions.
    Sam Harris believes this and has added , just to keep us on our toes ‘ the illusion of self and free will is itself an illusion ‘ nice one eh?
    The law has moved considerably to take background and circumstances into account when it comes to blame , but if we are totally deterministic then nobody is responsible for their actions .
    Personally I believe the ‘Self ‘ , who I often chat to fondly, was developed in the process of natural selection and it’s the world we humans live in ignore it at your peril. It enabled us to survive and thrive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s no more a delusion than any of our other sense experiences . If you put on glasses that turn the world upside down after a few tough days the brain ( what an organ) uprights the image. You have to be careful when you take them off , but wouldn’t it be ridiculous to argue about which way up the world was?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some people would also argue that our sense experiences are also basically delusions. Just useful ones.

      Even in your own example, upright/upside down are objectively meaningless. The very concept of “upside-downness” or “uprightness” is defined by the subjectivity of human perception. Humans have created these concepts based on the orientation of our heads relative to our feet under the influence of Earth’s gravitational forces.

      Take us into a situation outside of those forces and orientation starts to lose all meaning, because it doesn’t actually exist, not inherently. It’s just our perception of the world which under normal circumstances is conducive to our movement within it. It doesn’t say anything about what the orientation of the world actually is, or if it even really has one.

      From the world’s perspective is it upside down or right side up? Is this even a meaningful question?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I mean reality is real. But is our perception of reality real? I might be reading too much in the way quantum physics books right now, but so much of it is counter-intuitive to how we see the world in our day to day lives.

        Perhaps it’s better to say that we can trust the reality that we perceive as long as we understand that there are limitations to what we can actually perceive about it. I dunno. This is some interesting stuff to think about but it sort of turns me around in circles.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I expect you’d make more sense of them than I would as just an average layman. I absolutely believe we are limited didn’t Steven Pinker point out the human mind was created by natural selection to survive not to unravel the universe.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We have the freedom to make our own choices at any given moment of time. Yeah, true enough. But the point in time we are standing in right now is the result of the choices that we made yesterday. That result was our “fate” on the basis of those choices. Now we are given another set of choices. What we choose now, we will face the consequences of it tomorrow. Those CONSEQUENCES are what fate is. Free will, therefore, is our ability to choose our re-action to the choices that fate put in front of you on the basis of our re-action yesterday. Its….well….this is my understanding of it at least. Ultimately, what I think is this – fate cannot exist without free will and vice versa. And what is free will anyway but chaos without the firm and guiding hand of fate? ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  4. We have to be careful because we have not got complete control over our own destiny , at any time circumstances can wreck our lives. For example we are born into a situation beyond our control and with a genetic make up that we did not choose.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting how the tendency of suicidal thoughts to follow deterministic views could be interpreted both as evidence for determinism (one thing leads to a set reaction) or as evidence against (choosing whether or not to believe may change the direction of your life).

    Personally, I do believe we always have some measure of free will, but we should never ignore the circumstances that effect a person’s development and outlook either. Expecting everyone to be able to do anything is unfair because the challenges of different lives are real. At the same time, with enough awareness and the belief that choice is possible, we can at least choose how we frame the events of our life, and that can change our actions. At least in theory. One thing about this experiment we call life is we only get to see one outcome, whether it’s fate or not.

    Liked by 1 person

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