Berkeley College Human Freedo

Write an essay that is roughly 600 words long which articulates the view of human freedom and responsibility that you yourself would want to develop and defend. This essay should begin to unpack the main elements of, and the main arguments for, your own view of human freedom and responsibility. You should feel free to rely on the work of any of the thinkers that are represented on our course syllabus; however, your essay should not be limited to, and should not merely restate, the views of these thinkers. That is, most of the content in this essay should reflect your own views and your own arguments, and not just the views or arguments of others. Stated differently: your task for this essay is to begin (even if in a tentative, incomplete form) the job of putting forward and defending an account of human freedom that you yourself — based on reasons and arguments of your own — would endorse. You should not only aim to explain the basic contours and content of your account; you should also aim to explain exactly why your account is a correct account (and by implication, why differing accounts are not correct). And so you should try to put forward: (a) an account that can withstand some of the worries and/or criticisms that we have already considered with respect to other thinkers, and (b) an account that can adequately address some of the questions and/or doubts that have been raised with respect to other thinkers.

Three works that we used during the semester and for you to rely on:

Daniel Dennett, “Sphexishness” (pp. 10-11) and “Acting Under the Idea of Freedom” (ch. 5) from Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Having (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1984), pp. 101-130

Dennett assumes determinism as all physical events that are determined or caused by prior events. According to the author, if we say that determinism is true, then our decisions and deeds are the unavoidable outcomes of the sum of physical forces acting at the moment, which is the outcome of forces acting in a previous instance, and so on. Therefore, if determinism is true, any belief we have of there being more than one possible future is false as only the actual is possible, implying that there is one sole possible future.

However, determinism can be deemed incompatible with deliberation as deliberation is based on the assumption that there are more than one possibilities to choose from. Dennett claims that, even if deliberation may contribute to a causal chain, it will not be considered ‘real’ deliberation. This is considering the outcome would be determined as its inauguration. He applies this argument to an example in which two branches are “open to the agent.” In real deliberation, the agent has a real opportunity, but if the outcome of the deliberation was determined, then there would only be an apparent opportunity, not a real opportunity.

Dennett goes ahead to define fatalism as the superstitious and mystical belief that at certain points in our lives, we will likely find ourselves in certain circumstances despite the intervening whims of our individual trajectories. Determinism is often confused with fatalism in the claim that the casual impotence of deliberation is implied by determinism. Nonetheless, determinism does not imply fatalism. However, there are genuine instances of local fatalism in the world. For instance, if a person throws himself off the Golden Gate Bridge and starts question his decision as he plummets, deliberation is already impotent for this person. This is considering his future destination can be plotted without factoring in his intervening efforts.

Harry Frankfurt, “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” Journal of Philosophy, vol. 66, no. 23 (December 1969), pp. 829-839

In his article, Harry G. Frankfurt critiques the plausibility of ‘the principle of alternative possibilities. The principle claims that an individual is morally responsible for any actions he/she has done only if the individual could have done otherwise. According to Frankfurt the exact meaning of this principle is subject to controversy, especially when considering whether any individual who accepts it commits to accepting the incompatibility between determinism and moral responsibility. Frankfurt believes that the principle is not credible as an individual may be morally responsible for what he/she has done, even if he/she was unable to engage in an alternative action. Similarly, if an individual is coerced into engaging in a particular action, it is generally accepted that the individual should not be considered morally responsible for that particular action. Frankfurt claims that coercion deprives one of moral responsibility and freedom as he/she is unable to do otherwise. However, the principle of alternative possibilities appears to derive some credibility by associating with the plausible argument that coercion deprives one of moral responsibility. Nonetheless, it should not do so as being unable to do an alternative action does not necessarily entail a lack of moral responsibility. For instance, if an individual is threatened with an unacceptable penalty and chooses to do what is required, we may deem it reasonable to conclude that the person was coerced to engage in the act. But Frankfurt believes that the roles we think are played by the threat as well as the person’s decision may help determine if should be held morally responsible. For instance, we can consider the coercive effect of the threat in question and if it, indeed, influenced the individual’s decision to do something.

Philippa Foot, “Free Will as Involving Determinism,” Philosophical Review, vol. 66, no. 4 (October 1957), pp. 439-450

Philippa Foot’s article, Free Will Involving Determinism, presents a critical approach towards the idea that free will cannot do without determinism. According to Foot, a man with free will is one who acted without constraint and he could choose to act otherwise if he wanted to. After examining the works of David Hume, she argues that describing our actions to be determined by motives is the same as physical determinism. Foot supports her argument with Bertrand Russell’s idea of causal determinism, which states that every event that takes place in the universe can be determined theoretically.

Foot does not seem to agree with the argument that every event in the universe can be causally determined or that everything in the universe happens by chance. According to her, using the term ‘determined’ does not refer to universal determinism. If the actions of a man are described as being determined by his desires, it means that this man is doing what he is doing something that he wants to do. Therefore, this statement does not imply the textbook definition of determinism.

On the other hand, when one performs a certain action by chance, it does not mean that this action was physically undetermined nor can the individual deny responsibility for such actions. However, according to the arguments of Ayer, it is not clear whether actions that happen by chance or accidentally take place with the absence of causes. Ayer uses the terms ‘chance’ and ‘accident’ to indicate the lack of causes, which are used to deny responsibility to one’s actions. Foot does not agree with the ideology of indeterminism and chance providing ‘free’ alternative likelihoods of actions that are deliberated upon and used as motivations behind our reasoning and how we choose to act.

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