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free will vs. determinism
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 Related Terms
• John Calvin
• determinism
• compatibilism

 

Definition:
The question of free will is one which has been hotly debated for millennia. Some people believe that humans have the capacity for free will - the ability to choose their actions without being forced to follow a certain course by either by the influence of others or by natural laws. For many theists, free will is regarded as a special gift from God. The notion of human free will is also an important premise for a lot of what happens in human society - in particular, when it comes to our legal system. Free will is necessary for the notion of personal responsibility. If people do not have free will, then it is difficult to argue that they are personally and morally responsible for their actions - and if that is the case, how can they be punished for their misdeeds? In fact, how can they be praised for the good things they do, if those actions were not also freely chosen?

Others, however, argue that if the universe itself is deterministic in nature, then human actions must also be deterministic - thus, modern determinism tends to be an outgrowth of modern science. If human actions simply follow the course of natural law, then it is difficult to hold that those actions can be "freely" chosen. Those who advocate determinism run into something of a contradiction, however, when they try to argue their point with those who argue for free will. If it is true that nothing is freely chosen, then those who believe in the existence of free will do not do so by choice - so what is the point of trying to convince them otherwise? Indeed, what is the point of trying to convince anyone of anything if all events are determined?

One thing to note about the debate between free will and determinism is that both terms tend to be defined in such a way as to explicitly exclude the other. But why must that be the case? The philosophical position of compatibilism argues that these concepts do not need to be defined in such a mutually exclusive manner and that, in fact, both free will and determinism can be compatible.

The problem of free will or determinism is slightly different for the theist. Instead of wondering if natural laws mean that human actions are all determined, the theist must also ask whether or not their god has pre-determined all events in the universe, including their own. If so, that will mean that their ultimate fate will be determined. This position was adopted most completely and explicitly by the Reform theologian John Calvin, who argued that some people are predestined to be saved and some are predestined to be damned, and there is nothing anyone can possibly do about it.

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What is the Philosophy of Mind?
The relatively recent specialty known as Philosophy of Mind deals with questions of consciousness and how it interacts with the body and the outside world. Thus, it asks not only what mental phenomena are and what gives rise to them, but also what relationship they have to the larger physical body and the world around us.

What is Philosophy?
What is philosophy? Is there any point in studying philosophy, or is it a useless subject? What are the different branches of philosophy - what's the difference between aestheitcs and ethics? What's the difference between metaphysics and epistemology?

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