If you ever ask yourself, Does free will exist?, it is worth writing a free will essay, which will expose you to new findings and ideas on the topic and will order thoughts in your head.
The notions of free will and determinism have been long discussed in the scientific and religious circles, as well as in everyday lives. Nevertheless, recent finding in neuroscience has considerably affected the topic. Namely, it has been investigated that human brain generates a thought of a “conscious decision” after it has already set the action in motion. This finding has become a major argument against free will, so that the debate shifted from discussing the existence of free will as such, which was rather philosophical in its nature, to the discussion of the relevance of new findings, which is more practical and closer to physiology or sociology.
Eventually, there can be several responses to the question Does free will exist?, which you can argue for in a free will essay:
– Free will does not exist, but it’s better not to let people know about it.
– Free will does not exist and the organisation of a society should change accordingly.
– Free will exists, but as a biological brain mechanism, not as a characteristics of spiritual soul as it is traditionally believed, so it is time to reconsider the notion.
– Free will exists as a characteristics of a soul, but it is as incomprehensible to science as the notion of God.
Although there is a wealth of articles on the topic, most of them are either limited in their consideration of the issue or purely philosophical (philosophical discussions of free will do not discuss implications of recent findings – they are good for writing essays on author’s ideas about free will, but not for creating an up-to-date argument). Here are the articles, which I have found the most informative and persuasive – citing them or considering authors’ arguments is sure to aid your free will essay writing.
There’s no such thing as free will: But we’re better off believing in it anyway
The 2016 Cave’s article in The Atlantics gives a very nice overview of the current debate over free will. It starts with the discussion of the neurological research, which helped to resolve the nature vs nurture debate demonstrating that human deeds and life choices are influenced not exclusively by genes or environment, but by the complex interrelation between the two. At the same time, doing this it revealed that
“The firing of neurons determines not just some or most but all of our thoughts, hopes, memories, and dreams”
This way, people are bound to act in the way, which is determined by their genes and prior experiences.
Further question is: what should scientists do with such information?
Some scholars, Saul Smilansky among them, is convinced that this information, although true, should be concealed from the general public for it will make them morally irresponsible. Several studies support this point. For example, having read the article negating free will, participants to the study were more likely to cheat and make unmoral choices (take more money than it was dealt) than those who read the article, which was neutral on the topic. The very belief in control over personal actions was researched to predict job performance much better than self-professed work ethics. Those who have weaker belief in free will are also less likely to volunteer time, give money to the homeless, and demonstrate lesser commitment to relationships. Furthermore, it has been studied that awareness of neurological processes behind the decisions and actions makes people less happy and less creative, less eager to appreciate others and learn from personal mistakes, and less confident in life’s meaningfulness overall. This way, no matter how difficult it is to accept the idea of telling people to believe something, which is not true,
“If the choice is between the true and the good, then for the sake of society, the true must go”
On the other hand, some scholars believe there may be more benefits than harm from teaching people the truth about free will. In particular, Sam Harris, the author of the 2012 book Free Will, proposes that the truth about free will might liberate people from negative emotions associated with the condemnation of people’s choices and teach them to correct social and educational inequalities instead. Furthermore, Harris argues that if people were more informed on the work of their brains, many of the negative consequences observed in the mentioned studied would disappear. In addition, Harris emphasizes that determinism is distinct from fatalism. Fatalism is the belief that people move towards a destiny they cannot avoid while determinism sees the life and decisions as a chain of causes and effects. When people hear there is no free will, they wrongly adopt fatalism thinking that their efforts make no difference. Nevertheless, everything is quite the opposite as all people’s efforts and thoughts cause future decisions, which people make unconsciously.
in-text: Such findings have important implications (Cave, 2016). Cave (2016) discusses…
Cave, S. (2016). There’s no such thing as free will: But we’re better off believing in it anyway. The Atlantic. Retrieved from web address.
in-text: Such findings have important implications (Cave).
Cave, Stephen. “There’s No Such Thing as Free Will: But we’re better off believing in it anyway,” The Atlantic, Jun. 2016, web address.
A New Way of Thinking about Free Will
“We desperately need a new way of thinking about free will. The concept lies at the heart of how we see ourselves: assumptions about the extent to which we choose our own fate inform everything from social policy and criminal justice to our personal motivations and sense of life’s meaningfulness. But common conceptions are a muddle, mostly stemming from a pre-scientific age.”
Cave suggests that free will does exist, but not in the way theologians see it. Rather, it is a “natural kind of freedom”, which humans need in order to pursue their goals in the world full of possibilities.
This way, to have free will is to have the ability to generate options for oneself, to be able to weight them against each other so as to choose between them, and then to have enough will to pursue the best of the options.
Each of these stages and the qualities needed to go through them (creativity, analytical thinking, concentration, self-control, the ability to delay gratification) is determined by nature and nurture; therefore, such view of free will is absolutely compatible with determinism, validated by research.
Understood this way, free will is comparable to intelligence (Cave even suggests me
asuring it as FQ) – it is determined by genes and social factors such as family income and education level, but
this does not negate personal responsibility, over deeds and over personal growth in IQ and FQ in particular. At the same time, such view releases people from the consequences of condemning choices irrespective of people’s backgrounds, which determine these choices, and pushes the state to work towards elimination of social and educational inequalities.
in-text: Free will can be measured as FQ (Cave, 2015). Cave (2015) believes…
Cave, S. (2015). The free-will scale. Aeon, Retrieved from web address.
in-text: Free will can be measured as FQ (Cave).
Cave, Stephen. “The Free-Will Scale,” Aeon, 19 Oct. 2015, web address.
How free is your will?
In this article, Paul Thagard claims that the new findings do not pose a threat to the notion of free will, but to a notion of a mind as an immortal soul, which is only influenced but not determined by physical and biological factors.
“…you don’t tell your brain what to do, and your brain doesn’t tell you what to do: you are your brain deciding what to do in your physical and social environment.”
in-text: Self should be understood as a system of mechanisms rather than as a transcendental entity (Thagard, 2011). Thagard (2011) suggests…
Thagard, P. (2011). How free is your will? Psychology Today, Retrieved from web address.
in-text: We do not need to define morality through immortality (Thagard).
Thagard, Paul. “How Free is Your Will?” Psychology Today, 20 Jan. 2011, web address.
Free will exists, even though our brains know what we’re going to do before we do it
The article reports on the study demonstrating that people are actually okay thinking that their brain and not transcendental soul decides. This may be used in a free will essay as a counter argument to the studies showing that knowledge of the brain taking a decision makes people irresponsible and depressed.
in-text: People will still believe they have free will even if the choices made by their brains will be predicted (Olson, 2014). Olson (2014) reviews…
Olson, S. (2014). Free will exists, even though our brains know what we’re going to do before we do it. Medical Daily, Retrieved from web address.
in-text: The experiment demonstrates… (Olson, 2014).
Olson, Samanta.. “Free Will Exists, Even Though Our Brains Know What We’re Going to Do Before We Do It,” Medical Daily, 21 Sep. 2014, web address.
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