Chapter 5.4 and 5.5
To be taken seriously by the free will skeptic, libertarians must argue their case on three fronts. Against the compatibilist, they must show that determinism and free will are incompatible (that IN compatibilism is true). Against the determinist, they must show that there is good reason to believe that we sometimes act freely. And against all free will skeptics, they must demonstrate that the libertarian concept of free will is coherent and plausible. Often libertarians try to establish IN compatibilism by putting forth what is known as the Consequence Argument. Peter van In wagen crafted the most influential form of it, which he summarizes like this: Peter van In wagen, An Essay on Free Will If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.6 10 Is our experience good evidence that we have libertarian free will? 11 Do you think the hypothetical interpretation of “could do otherwise” captures our commonsense experience better than the libertarian interpretation? Why or why not? 266 Chapter 5 Free Will and Determinism Science and Free Will Is it possible that your actions are predetermined unconsciously before you are consciously aware of intending to perform those actions? To the consternation of many libertarians, some scientific research seems to suggest just that—and thus to raise doubts about the existence of free will. The experiments that caused all the fuss (and inspired many related scientific studies) were conducted by the University of California researcher Benjamin Libet. He recorded the brain activity of subjects as they randomly flexed their index fingers, and he monitored the accompanying muscle movements. He found that the subjects became aware of their intention to move their fingers about 200 milliseconds before the actual movement occurred— an unsurprising result. The astonishing finding was that the subjects became aware of their intention 350 to 400 milliseconds after the brain activity that initiates muscle movement had already happened. This seems to suggest that the decision to move was an unconscious event, that consciousness came along after the unconscious decision was already made. If so, where does free will enter the picture? Libet thought his research showed that there could be at least a limited kind of free will in human actions. The conscious mind may not be involved in initiating actions, but it might be able to veto actions before they happen. Libet’s studies and similar ones by other investigators have been criticized on several counts. For one, the results of the experiments may apply only to simple movements (such as finger flexing). As one critic says, “Willing a stereotyped, well-rehearsed finger movement is too simple to have much bearing on such conscious processes as the decisions made through planning a course of action that spans past and future, or analysis of complex events.” Also, some investigators seem to assume that decisions are instantaneous, but this may not be the case. “Why do we think that a decision is instantaneous?” this critic observes. “What we consciously think could well be spread out over time. The process can be on-going but our realization captures the process only as a snap shot in time that suffices to label the decision but not the process.” (W. R. Klemm, “Free Will Debates: Simple Experiments Are Not So Simple,” Advances in Cognitive Psychology 6 : 47–65.) Finally, some detractors accuse Libet and others of failing to distinguish between conscious awareness (the intention to do something) and “meta-conscious awareness” (the awareness that you are intending to do something). The charge is that Libet’s subjects are reporting that they are aware that they are consciously intending something (meta-conscious awareness), and this kind of awareness naturally comes after the conscious intention itself is formed (after conscious awareness). So Libet’s findings may not be the threat to free will that some researchers assume. Philosophy Now Suppose all our decisions are made for us on an unconscious level so that we do not have conscious control of our actions. How would this fact change your thinking about your actions and about moral responsibility? 5.4 Libertarianism 267 Van Inwagen contends that if determinism is true, then every event—including our every action—is the result of (1) events in the distant past and (2) the laws of nature that rule those events. But we have no power over past events and the laws of nature; we can change neither the events nor the laws. These things are not up to us, and if they are not up to us, their consequences (including our current actions) are not up to us either. We are left with no alternative possibilities. So if determinism is true, we cannot do otherwise: There are no free actions. Therefore, compatibilism is false; IN compatibilism is true. Compatibilists often reject the Consequence Argument on the grounds that it assumes a faulty interpretation of “could do otherwise.” They say that the Consequence Argument works only if “could do otherwise” is given an IN compatibilist meaning, which is that you have the power to will to do otherwise (that your will is up to you). But if you give “could do otherwise” a hypothetical meaning (which compatibilists prefer), the Consequence Argument doesn’t go through. Recall that the hypothetical meaning is that you would have been able to do something if you had desired to (if you desired to and nothing prevented you from doing it). This “could do otherwise” issue, then, is at the heart of the debate between compatibilists and IN compatibilists. But showing IN compatibilism to be true is not the only hurdle facing libertarians, for they must also provide good reasons to think that libertarian free will actually exists. On this score they often contend that the best evidence for the existence of free will comes from our own experience. When making a choice, we often sense that we have genuine options, that we have the power to choose (or not choose) among alternative courses of action, and that what we finally choose and do is genuinely and ultimately up to us. Proponents of free will say that this experience is as persistent and reliable as any we could have, and it provides strong evidence for libertarian freedom. Judging from our perceptions, for example, we think we have good evidence for the existence of physical objects. Likewise, our experience of choosing and acting seems to give us evidence for free will that is at least as strong as that for physical objects. 12 What are the premises of van Inwagen’s argument? Are they plausible? Man was predestined to have free will. —Hal Lee Luyah Baron d’Holbach (1723–1789) William James (1842–1910) Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) John Locke (1632–1704) David Hume (1711–1776) John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) Walter Stace (1886–1967) William L. Rowe (b. 1931) Peter van Inwagen (b. 1942) Roderick Chisholm (1916–1999) Randolph Clarke (b. 1953) Richard Taylor (1919–2003) Timothy O’Connor (b. 1965) Robert Kane (b. 1938) Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980)
Philosophers 268 Chapter 5 Free Will and Determinism Hard determinists and compatibilists typically reply that this experiential sense of freedom is illusory. Our experience is not good evidence for free will, and we believe in free will only because we are ignorant of all the factors (genes and environment, for example) that determine us. Libertarians reply that we can indeed be mistaken about whether our actions are free, for our experience could mislead us. But we are entitled to trust our experience unless evidence gives us good reasons to doubt it. And so far, they say, there are no good reasons to do so. Can libertarians provide an intelligible and credible explanation of how free will is possible? If not, libertarianism will be regarded as a problematic theory—even if IN compatibilism and the existence of free will are assumed. The main difficulty is explaining how actions can be free if indeterminism is true—that is, if actions are not caused by prior events. How can an action be uncaused? And if it is uncaused by previous events, wouldn’t it be simply random? A random action is not a free action. Several philosophers have responded to these worries, most notably Thomas Reid in the eighteenth century and in recent years Roderick Chisholm, Randolph Clarke, Richard Taylor, Timothy O’Connor, and Robert Kane. One proposed solution favored by most of these is agent causation, the view that a free action is caused by an agent (person) and is not wholly determined by previous events. Here is Taylor making a case for one version of this theory: Richard Taylor, Metaphysics The only conception of action that accords with our data is one according to which people—and perhaps some other things too—are sometimes, but of course not always, self-determining beings; that is, beings that are sometimes the causes of their own behavior. In the case of an action that is free, it must not only be such that it is Imagine that your friend says he knows you so well that he can predict everything you will do in any given time period. So you test him. For an hour you try to act normally, and he observes you. After the hour is up, he hands you his notes that he wrote an hour ago, before the experiment began. You are shocked to see that he has accurately predicted your every action. Then you begin to worry. Does the fact that everything you did was predictable mean that your whole life is determined by forces beyond your control? In other words, is your life predictable because it is determined? Philosophy Lab Agent causation is the view that a free action is caused by an agent (person) and is not wholly determined by previous events. 13 Does Taylor’s concept of agent causation accurately reflect what people take themselves to be doing when they perform actions? Why or why not? 5.4 Libertarianism 269 caused by the agent who performs it, but also such that no antecedent conditions were sufficient for his performing just that action. In the case of an action that is both free and rational, it must be such that the agent who performed it did so for some reason, but this reason cannot have been the cause of it. Now this conception fits what people take themselves to be; namely, beings who act, or who are agents, rather than things that are merely acted upon, and whose behavior is simply the causal consequence of conditions that they have not wrought. When I believe that I have done something, I do believe that it was I who caused it to be done, I who made something happen, and not merely something within me, such as one of my own subjective states, which is not identical with myself. If I believe that something not identical with myself was the cause of my behavior—some event wholly external to myself, for instance, or even one internal to myself, such as a nerve impulse, volition, or whatnot—then I cannot regard that behavior as being an act of mine, unless I further believe that I was the cause of that external or internal event. My pulse, for example, is caused and regulated by certain conditions existing within me, and not by myself. I do not, accordingly, regard this activity of my body as my action, and would be no more tempted to do so if I became suddenly conscious within myself of those conditions or impulses that produce it. This is behavior with which I have nothing to do, behavior that is not only not free activity, but not even the activity of an agent to begin with; it is nothing but a mechanical reflex. Had I never learned that my very life depends on this pulse beat, I would regard it with complete indifference, as something foreign to me, like the oscillations of a clock pendulum that I idly contemplate. Now this conception of activity, and of an agent who is the cause of it, involves two rather strange metaphysical notions that are never applied elsewhere in nature. The first is that of a self or person—for example, a man—who is not merely a collection of things or events, but a self-moving being. For on this view it is a person, and not merely some part of him or something within him, that is the cause of his own activity. Now, we certainly do not know that a human being is anything more than an assemblage of physical things and processes that act in accordance with those laws that describe the behavior of all other physical things and processes. Even though he is a living being, of enormous complexity, there is nothing, apart from the requirements of this theory, to suggest that his behavior is so radically different in its origin from that of other physical objects, or that an understanding of it must be sought in some metaphysical realm wholly different from that appropriate to the understanding of nonliving things. Second, this conception of activity involves an extraordinary conception of causation according to which an agent, which is a substance and not an event, can nevertheless be the cause of an event. Indeed, if he is a free agent then he can, on this conception, cause an event to occur—namely, some act of his own—without anything else causing him to do so. This means that an agent is sometimes a cause, without being an antecedent sufficient condition; for if I affirm that I am the cause of some act of mine, then I am plainly not saying that my very existence is sufficient for its occurrence, which would be absurd. If I say that my hand causes my pencil to move, then I am saying that the motion of my hand is, under the other conditions then prevailing, sufficient for the motion of the pencil. But if I then say that I cause my hand to move, I am not saying anything remotely like this, and surely not that the motion of my self is sufficient for the motion of my arm and hand, since these are the only things about me that are moving. This conception of the causation of events by things that are not events is, in fact, so different from the usual philosophical conception of a cause that it should not even bear the same name, for “being a cause” ordinarily just means “being an antecedent sufficient condition or set of conditions.” Instead, then, of speaking of agents as causing 14 How might a determinist or indeterminist respond to Taylor’s notion of agent causation? 270
Free Will and Determinism their own acts, it would perhaps be better to use another word entirely, and say, for instance, that they originate them, initiate them, or simply that they perform them. Now this is, on the face of it, a dubious conception of what a person is. Yet it is consistent with our data, reflecting the presuppositions of deliberation, and appears to be the only conception that is consistent with them, as determinism and simple indeterminism are not. The theory of agency avoids the absurdities of simple indeterminism by conceding that human behavior is caused, while at the same time avoiding the difficulties of determinism by denying that every chain of causes and effects is infinite. Some such causal chains, on this view, have beginnings, and they begin with agents themselves. Moreover, if we are to suppose that it is sometimes up to me what I do, and understand this in a sense that is not consistent with determinism, we must suppose that I am an agent or a being who initiates his own actions, sometimes under conditions that do not determine what action I shall perform. Deliberation becomes, on this view, something that is not only possible but quite rational, for it does make sense to deliberate about activity that is truly my own and that depends in its outcome upon me as its author, and not merely upon something more or less esoteric that is supposed to be intimately associated with me, such as my thoughts, volitions, choices or whatnot.7 Free will is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure. —Scott Adams Taylor acknowledges that this take on free will may at first glance seem implausible, but he thinks the theory is the only one that fits with our common experience of actions and choices. O’Connor also subscribes to agent causation, and like everyone who takes this view he holds that free actions are caused by the agent. But in explaining this, he suggests that all events in the universe are produced in virtue of the properties that objects possess. Ordinary events are produced this way; likewise, an agent may produce an event in virtue of the unique properties that she possesses. When she makes a free choice, she does so via what O’Connor calls “volition-enabling properties.” Thus her choice is not determined by previous events; it is produced by her. Specifically, she makes her choice based on the reasons she has, and the reasons influence the production of the decision without causally determining it. The choice is not random because it is produced by her; she is the author and cause of it. As you might expect, agent causation perspectives are disputed at many points, with opponents contending that the theories are incoherent or otherwise inadequate and proponents denying the charge. But as such debates unfold, libertarians insist that, despite claims to the contrary, plausible theories of libertarian free will are on the table. WRITING TO UNDERSTAND: CRITIQUING PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWS SECTION 5.4 1. What is the libertarian argument for the existence of free will? Is the argument convincing? Is the argument’s premise true? 2. Is the hypothetical interpretation of “could do otherwise” plausible? Is it what we usually mean when we say we could have done otherwise? Explain. 3. Is our experience of choosing and acting good evidence for free will? Is it at least as strong as the evidence for physical objects? Explain. Richard Taylor, Metaphysics (continued) 5.5 Sartre’s Profound Freedom 271
5.5 SARTRE’S PROFOUND FREEDOM
The foregoing doctrines—hard determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism— are the major philosophical stances on free will and determinism, each with a long history and articulate proponents. But they are not the only views on the subject. Other thinkers, both contemporary and influential, have advanced unique perspectives on human freedom or have taken issue with the standard viewpoints. Among the most interesting and influential of these voices is that of the existentialist philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980). Sartre is one of the modern founders of the philosophical perspective known as existentialism, a central tenet of which is that humans are profoundly free to create their own lives and thus are entirely responsible for defining the meaning and moral relevance of their existence. From reflections on his own lived experience, Sartre arrives at what he takes to be some basic truths about human beings and their existential predicament. Unlike almost every philosopher before him, he not only believes that we are free, but also insists that we are radically free. We may be influenced by the factors of nature and nurture (heredity and environment), but ultimately we are not determined by them. We are totally free—free to define ourselves by our own lights and capable of resisting the physical, psychological, and social forces that will thoroughly shape us if we let them. We are determined only if we allow ourselves to be determined. One of Sartre’s core ideas is that “existence precedes essence.” Most people assume, he says, that “essence precedes existence”— that before we come into existence, our fundamental characteristics (our essence) as humans are already set. They think that our psychological makeup, choices, desires, and ideas are in a sense locked in before we can say our first words. Our destiny is mapped out beforehand through the workings of a creator God or a universal human nature or some unalterable social structure. But, according to Sartre, this kind of “essence precedes existence” thinking is tragically mistaken. It prevents us from seeing a future of open possibilities, saps our creativity, limits our freedom, and weakens our sense of our moral responsibility. The truth, says Sartre, is the opposite of the received view: “Existence precedes essence”—we first come into being and then we define ourselves. He declares, “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” 4. What is Taylor’s argument for agent causation? Is it cogent? Why or why not? 5. What are the three claims that libertarians must advance to make their theory believable? Do you accept each of these? Explain why you do or do not accept them. Figure 5.7 Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980). Mankind has a free will; but it is free to milk cows and to build houses, nothing more. —Martin Luther WRITING TO UNDERSTAND: CRITIQUING PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWS (continued) SECTION 5.4 272 Chapter 5 Free Will and Determinism And what is this radical freedom that we all possess? It is both a blessing and a curse. As Sartre says, “We are condemned to be free.” The blessing is that as free persons, we have the power to set our own goals, live our own lives, and create ourselves as we go. The curse is that as free beings, we can look to no one but ourselves to decide how we should live. We carry this burden alone. We must bear the awesome moral responsibility of deciding how we should live, how we should treat others, and what values we should prescribe for the rest of the world through our actions. We can celebrate our capacity to create our essence and live by our own rules, but because we are utterly alone in bearing this monumental burden, we are also condemned to experience great anguish, despair, and a sense of abandonment. This is how Sartre explained this existentialist freedom in a famous lecture titled “Existentialism Is a Humanism”: Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism” What [existentialists] have in common is that they think that existence precedes essence, or, if you prefer, that subjectivity must be the starting point. Just what does that mean? Let us consider some object that is manufactured, for example, a book or a paper-cutter: here is an object which has been made by an artisan whose inspiration came from a concept. He referred to the concept of what a paper-cutter is and likewise to a known method of production, which is part of the concept, something which is, by and large, a routine. Thus, the paper-cutter is at once an object produced in a certain way and, on the other hand, one having a specific use; and one cannot postulate a man who produces a paper-cutter but does not know what it is used for. Therefore, let us say that, for the paper-cutter, essence—that is, the ensemble of both the production routines and the properties which enable it to be both produced and defined—precedes existence. Thus, the presence of the paper cutter or book in front of me is determined. Therefore, we have here a technical view of the world whereby it can be said that production precedes existence. When we conceive God as the Creator, He is generally thought of as a superior sort of artisan. Whatever doctrine we may be considering, whether one like that of Descartes or that of Leibnitz, we always grant that will more or less follows understanding or, at the very least, accompanies it, and that when God creates He knows exactly what He is creating. Thus, the concept of man in the mind of God is comparable to the concept of paper-cutter in the mind of the manufacturer, and, following certain techniques and a conception, God produces man, just as the artisan, following a definition and a technique, makes a paper-cutter. Thus, the individual man is the realization of a certain concept in the divine intelligence. In the eighteenth century, the atheism of the philosophes discarded the idea of God, but not so much for the notion that essence precedes existence. To a certain extent, this idea is found everywhere; we find it in Diderot, in Voltaire, and even in Kant. Man has a human nature; this human nature, which is the concept of the human, is found in all men, which means that each man is a particular example of a universal concept, man. In Kant, the result of this universality is that the wild-man, the natural man, as well as the bourgeois, are circumscribed by the same definition and have the same basic qualities. Thus, here too the essence of man precedes the historical existence that we find in nature. Atheistic existentialism, which I represent, is more coherent. It states that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a Man is condemned to be free. —Jean-Paul Sartre 15 Sartre reasons from his lived experience to his theory of free will. Does his experience provide adequate support for his assertions? 16 Is Sartre exaggerating the extent to which people can define themselves when he says “existence precedes essence”? 5.5 Sartre’s Profound Freedom 273 being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality. What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence. Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism. It is also what is called subjectivity, the name we are labeled with when charges are brought against us. But what do we mean by this, if not that man has a greater dignity than a stone or table? For we mean that man first exists, that is, that man first of all is the being in the future. Man is at the start a plan which is aware of itself, rather than a patch of moss, a piece of garbage, or a cauliflower; nothing exists prior to this plan; there is nothing in heaven; man will be what he will have planned to be. Not what he will want to be. Because by the word “will” we generally mean a conscious decision, which is subsequent to what we have already made of ourselves. I may want to belong to a political party, write a book, get married; but all that is only a manifestation of an earlier, more spontaneous choice that is called “will.” But if existence really does precede essence, man is responsible for what he is. Thus, existentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him. And when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men. . . . When we say that man chooses his own self, we mean that every one of us does likewise; but we also mean by that that in making this choice he also chooses all men. In fact, in creating the man that we want to be, there is not a single one of our acts which does not at the same time create an image of man as we think he ought to be. To choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same time the value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We always choose the good, and nothing can be good for us without being good for all. If, on the other hand, existence precedes essence, and if we grant that we exist and fashion our image at one and the same time, the image is valid for everybody and for our whole age. Thus, our responsibility is much greater than we might have supposed, because it involves all mankind. . . . Therefore, I am responsible for myself and for everyone else. I am creating a certain image of man of my own choosing. In choosing myself, I choose man. This helps us understand what the actual content is of such rather grandiloquent words as anguish, forlornness, despair. As you will see, it’s all quite simple. First, what is meant by anguish? The existentialists say at once that man is anguish. What that means is this: the man who involves himself and who realizes that he is not only the person he chooses to be, but also a law-maker who is, at the same time, choosing all mankind as well as himself, cannot help escape the feeling of his total and deep responsibility. Of course, there are many people who are not anxious; but we claim that they are hiding their anxiety, that they are fleeing from it. Certainly, many people believe that when they do something, they themselves are the only ones involved, and when someone says to them, “What if everyone acted that way?” they shrug their shoulders and answer, “Everyone doesn’t act that way.” But really, one should always ask himself, “What would happen if everybody looked at things that way?” There is no escaping this disturbing thought except by a kind of double-dealing. . . . There is no question here of the kind of anguish which would lead to quietism, to inaction. It is a matter of a simple sort of anguish that anybody who has had responsibilities is familiar with. For example, when a military officer takes the responsibility for an attack and sends a certain number of men to death, he chooses to do so, and in 274
Free Will and Determinism the main he alone makes the choice. Doubtless, orders come from above, but they are too broad; he interprets them, and on this interpretation depend the lives of ten or fourteen or twenty men. In making a decision he cannot help having a certain anguish. All leaders know this anguish. That doesn’t keep them from acting; on the contrary, it is the very condition of their action. For it implies that they envisage a number of possibilities, and when they choose one, they realize that it has value only because it is chosen. We shall see that this kind of anguish, which is the kind that existentialism describes, is explained, in addition, by a direct responsibility to the other men whom it involves. It is not a curtain separating us from action, but is part of action itself. When we speak of forlornness, a term Heidegger was fond of, we mean only that God does not exist and that we have to face all the consequences of this. The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain kind of secular ethics which would like to abolish God with the least possible expense. . . . The existentialist, on the contrary, thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can be no longer an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostoyevsky said, “If God didn’t exist, everything would be possible.” That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to. He can’t start making excuses for himself. If existence really does precede essence, there is no explaining things away by reference to a fixed and given human nature. In other words, there is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom. On the other hand, if God does not exist, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct. So, in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, no justification before us. We are alone, with no excuses. That is the idea I shall try to convey when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. . . . As for despair, the term has a very simple meaning. It means that we shall confine ourselves to reckoning only with what depends upon our will, or on the ensemble of probabilities which make our action possible. When we want something, we always have to reckon with probabilities. I may be counting on the arrival of a friend. The friend is coming by rail or street-car; this supposes that the train will arrive on schedule, or that the street-car will not jump the track. I am left in the realm of possibility; but possibilities are to be reckoned with only to the point where my action comports with the ensemble of these possibilities, and no further. The moment the possibilities I am considering are not rigorously involved by my action, I ought to disengage myself from them, because no God, no scheme, can adapt the world and its possibilities to my will. When Descartes said, “Conquer yourself rather than the world,” he meant essentially the same thing. . . . Actually, things will be as man will have decided they are to be. Does that mean that I should abandon myself to quietism? No. First, I should involve myself; then, act on the old saw, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Nor does it mean that I shouldn’t belong to a party, but rather that I shall have no illusions and shall do what I can. For example, suppose I ask myself, “Will socialization, as such, ever come about?” I know nothing about it. All I know is that I’m going to do everything in my power to bring it about. Beyond that, I can’t count on anything. Quietism is the attitude of people who say, “Let others do what I can’t do.” The doctrine I am presenting is the very opposite of quietism, since it declares, “There is no reality except in action.” Moreover, it goes further, since it adds, “Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is, therefore, nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life.”8 17 Are people wholly responsible for the kind of persons they become? 18 Is it true that if God does not exist, there are no objective moral standards? What would utilitarian’s and others who prefer secular theories of morality have to say about this claim? Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism” Review Notes 275 The hard determinists would, of course, reject Sartre’s brand of free will. For them, everything we know about science suggests that such unfettered freedom is impossible. For much the same reason, compatibilists would find Sartre’s view difficult to accept, for they too believe in determinism. Even the libertarians would insist that our experience shows that at least some of our actions are determined, and they would likely agree that not all of science’s evidence for determinism can be as easily dismissed as Sartre assumes. You may fetter my leg, but Zeus himself cannot get the better of my free will. —Epictetus WRITING TO UNDERSTAND: CRITIQUING
PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWS SECTION 5.5 1.
Which seems most likely to you: that your path in life is determined before you are born, or that you are born and then you determine how your life will go? Why? Is there a middle ground on this issue? 2. Is Sartre right about free will being the main factor that determines who you are—or do such things as genetics and society have the greatest impact on how you turn out? 3. What is your reaction to Sartre’s perspective on freedom? Do you find his view liberating and inspiring, or do you think it is disheartening and forlorn? 4. In other writings, Sartre says that it is impossible for self-conscious beings like us not to have free will. Why do you think Sartre would believe this? Is he right? 5. How would a compatibilist respond to Sartre’s ideas? How would a libertarian respond?