Monday, November 17, 2008

On freedom and determination

I received several reactions on my blog “Freedom to act”, not only here, but also on another website where I publish my blogs. Some people said that freedom is not something absolute but that it is the feeling of the limitations of the possibility to choose. If we realize this, then we can be free within our limits. Such limits may be our financial means, our physical restrictions, the need to be considerate of other people and their freedom, and so on. I must admit that I started to write this blog about freedom as a kind of brainstorming for myself, not with the idea to write something original. In view of the reactions it was a good choice. Moreover, it helped me to distinguish between two kinds of freedom: freedom to act the way I would like as far it is possible in view of existing external limits, and freedom in the sense of: Are my choices really my own choices (given their limits) or are my choices determined in some way? When we think of the latter meaning of freedom, we come back to a question that I discussed some time ago: to what extent am I responsible for my actions? If we give freedom the first meaning, then, for instance, someone has the freedom to come to my house, if he likes, and to shoot me down (a reader gave me this example). That is his freedom, indeed, if he prefers to do that (I would certainly advice him not to do it, but it is his freedom to ignore my advice). But is the potential shooter also free to shoot me down in view of the second meaning of freedom? In other words, is he responsible for this action because it was his own choice or was he already in some way determined to do it and he couldn’t help? Suppose that the whole future development of the world and everything in it, in all its details, was already fixed when the big bang took place. Is this person then still free to shoot me down or is it a consequence of the laws of nature that he does? Happily, the person concerned told me also that he has no intention to execute the plan because of his moral objections, but does that make any difference when it has been determined by or during the big bang what will go on in the world from then on and for all eternity?
Here is yet a quote from the same reaction: “How many words does it take to make a difference to the way things are?” Maybe it has no sense to talk about it, for if we the world is determined, we simply do, because we have to, including doing this discussion about freedom.But is the world determined? I have no idea. As it was said in another reaction: “The free will problem might be the toughest philosophical problem”. I wonder whether until now any discussion has brought us much nearer to an answer. Our freedom is limited, that’s clear, but is our freedom determined? And to what extent? Wholly or partially? It is important to know this if we want to know whether we are responsible for our actions.

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