The Historical Concept of Free Will

TheHistoricalConceptof FreeWill

Abstract

Freewill is a historicalconceptholdingthatpeoplehavethecapacityto makechoicesandtakeactionsout of their ownwill andwithout subjectedto externalpressure.Theconceptwasdevelopedin around420 AD,butlaterattractednumerouscritiquesfrom differentphilosophers.Someof thekeyphilosopherswhomadea significantcontributiontowards thedevelopmentof thisconceptincludeThomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, andImmanuel Kant among others. Thepresentstudiessupportthefreewill. Thisis becauseits supportersrecommendtheuseof retributive punishmentto offenders since theymakethewrongchoicesout of thewill andfreeof nay coercion.

Keywords:Free will, rationalchoices,freewill beliefs.

TheHistoricalConceptof FreeWill

Freewill is among thewidelydebatedhistoricalconceptsgivenits significantcapacityto influencebehaviorof individualmembersof thesociety.Differenttheoristsandscholarswhohavemadea contributionto theconceptof freewill havecoineddifferentdefinitions.In addition,ithas becomeincreasinglydifficultto determinewhetherpeoplehavethefreewill since such a decisionwould depend on thedefinitionthatone selects.Inthepresentstudy,freewill is consideredas one’s capacityto makechoicesandselectsthemostappropriatemethodsof actingupon thechoiceswithout beingimpededby externalorprevailingforces(Baumeiter, 2008).In essence,a standarddefinitionholdsthatfreewill is something that causescertainaction,butits ownoccurrenceisnot causedinfluencedby otherfactors.Thispaperwill analyzetheconceptof freewill with a focuson its historicalinception,individualswhomadesignificantcontributions,andits consistencywith themodernresearch.Althoughthehistoricalconceptof freewill is stillcontroversial,modernresearchworkshaveconfirmedthatitinfluenceshumanbehaviorandmoralsensesin a positiveway.

Historicalbackgroundof theconceptof freewill

Earlyphilosophersbelievedthathumanactionsweredeterminedby someunchangeablefatesthat could onlybe foretoldby astrologists andothertypesof divination.Mostphilosophersfrom Greece developedtheoriesthat supportedtheideaof rigidcontrolof humanactionsShariff,et al. 2014). However,with theinceptionof theChristian religion,thenotionthatpeoplecould makechoicesofwhatwasgoodorbadsurfaced as a fundamentalideathat could bedebatedat length.Theideathathumanbeingscould makechoicesof whatcould be consideredto be goodorbadsomecontributionfrom thePersian religion(Wolfram, 2002). ThefactthatGod hadinfiniteknowledgeandpowerover thefuturewhilehumanbeingslacksuchknowledgeandpowercreateda roughideaof whatis currently referredto as thefreewill in about420 AD(Wolfram, 2002).Thefirstsetof objectionsagainst theconceptof freewill wasraisedby Protestants in about 1500s. Since thentheconceptof freewill has remaineda controversywith one camparguingthatpeoplehavefreewill whiletheotheroneclaimsthatnoonehas freewill.

Peoplewhomadea significantcontributionto theconceptof freewill

ThomasHobbes

ThomasHobbes is of theEnglish Philosophers whomadea significantcontributionto thehotdebateson determinism versus indeterminism. Althoughmostof thepublicationsindicatethatHobbes wasopposedto theideaof freewill, itis clearthathedifferedfrom otherphilosopherson thedefinitionof whatcould be termed as freewill. Hobbes heldthatsomeactionsperformedby individualscould belegitimately classifiedas voluntary(Nowell, 2009). Voluntaryactionsincludethosethat proceedfrom theactor’swill. Up to thispointHobbesunderstandingof freewill wasconsistentwith otherphilosophers.However,Hobbes heldthatthewill should beconsideredas a sufficientfactordeterminingtheoccurrenceof actionsclassifiedas voluntary.Therefore,a personcan be consideredto be freeas longas heis a subjectof voluntaryactions.In thissense,theideaof freewill could be objectedon thegroundthatvoluntaryactionshavesomecause,which is thewill of theactor.

Rene`Descartes

Rene`Descartes wasa French Philosopherwhodiscussedtheissueof freewill in connectionwith scientificlaws.Descartes arguedthatifhumanbeingsare free,thentheyare not subjectto scientificlaws,especiallythosethat pertainto thefieldofphysics(Nichols &amp Knobe, 2007). However,itis generallyknownthatallthingsaresubjectedto well-definedlawsof physics.In thissense,themindthat actsas thesourceof thewill is not physicalin nature.Therefore,themindshould be consideredas a distinctentityfrom thephysicalbodysince thebodyis subjectto alllawsof physics.Separatingthebodyfrommindresultedin theconceptof Cartesian Dualism, which holdsthatthemindpermitshumanbeingsto be freeby transcendingthephysicalbody.However,Descartes’ is stillcontroversialbecausethemindis usuallyaffectedby thebodywhilethesoulisnot consideredtheprincipleof life.Themindhasthecapacitytocontrolthedirectionof actions,butthebodydeterminesthespeedin which thoseactionsareacted.

BaruchSpinoza

BaruchSpinoza wasa Dutch philosopherwhoheldthatfreedomcallsforhumanactionsthat arebasedon rationalinsightinto somecasuallydeterminedaspectsof thenaturalworld.Spinoza emphasizeson theuseof rationalthoughtsin determiningtherouteto freedom.Therefore,thesuccessfulrealizationof freedomdepends on one’s abilityto gainsufficientperspectiveof selfandtherelationshipbetween one’s perspectiveandthenaturalworld(Dutton, 2002). Therefore,thefreedomto actfreelyis onlypossibleto an extentthathumanbeingsareabletodescribethemselves within their respectivepersonalhistoryandthenature.Spinoza assertedthatfree will existedby theinevitability of its ownnatureanditcan onlybe influencedto actby itself andnot otherforces.By makingthisstatement,Spinoza intendedto implythatfreewill orfreedomcan onlybe possessedby God, since He is theonlyone whois determinedto existandperformactionsbased His ownnature.Spinoza concludedthathumanbeingshavea limitedcapacityto actout of freewill. Therefore,peoplewhobelievethattheyare freeonlydosobecausetheyare consciousof their presentactions,buttheyremainignorantof thefactorsby which theyare determinedto dothoseactions.

ImmanuelKant

ImmanuelKant is among theGerman philosopherswhoattemptedto resolveorat leastmakesomecontributionsto controversiesof determinism andfreewill. Kant advancedtheideaof freedomby criticizingtheconceptof purereason.Kant heldthatmoralityis a subjectof autonomyorfreedom(Carey &amp Paulhus, 2013). Thisimpliesthata personwith an autonomyof freewill is not expectedtojustact,butshould be ableto reflectanddeterminewhethera givenactshould betakenin a certainway.Kant’s notionof autonomouswill is distinctfrom theheterogeneouswill. Whenpeopledeliberatedifferentactions,theyare guidedby lawsthat theyhavethemselves dictatedinsteadof beingguidedby thedictates of impulseorpassion.Therefore,peoplecan claimto possessautonomouswill, eventhoughtheyare guidedby universalmorallawssince theysubmitto theseguidelines upon their rationalreflection.Kant’s contributionaddressedthepreviousconfusionwheretheformerphilosophersquestionedthepossibilityof peopleclaimingthepossessionof freewill andcontinuelivingin theworldthatwhich functionsare guidedby physicallaws.

Impactof freewill beliefsonthemodernideas

Astudyonrelationshipbetween freewill beliefsandretributive attitudes

Agroupof eight researchers (includingAzim Shariff, Joshua Greene, Jamie Lunguri, Johan Karremans, CoryClark, Jonathan Schooler, Roy Baumeister, andKathleen Vohs conducteda studyto determinewhetherfreewill beliefsare effectivein reducingretribution.Thestudyinvolvedtheuseof manipulatedandmeasuredfreewill beliefs.Thefindingsof thisstudywerepublishedin theJournal of Psychological Science.

Thestudywasconductedin three differentexperiments.Thefirstexperimentinvestigatedthecorrelationbetween retributionandfreewill beliefs.Thiswasaccomplishedby requestingthestudyparticipantsto filla seven-item sub-scale referredto as theFree Will andDeterminism Plus (Shariff,et al. 2014). Researchers recruited244 Americans in thestudywhere147 of them werefemaleand97 of them weremalesubjects.Theaverageageof allparticipantswas36.81years (Shariff,et al. 2014). Theguidingquestionorstatementwas,“People havea completecapacityto controltheir decisions”.Thescalerangedfrom 1-5 where1 stoodfor“stronglydisagree”while5 representeda “stronglyagree”positionof thestudyparticipants.

Theresultsofthefirststudyindicatedthatfreewill beliefsare strongenoughto predictretributive attitudesaswellas punitiveattitudes(Shariff,et al. 2014). Thismeansthatpeoplewhosupporttheconceptof freewill beliefthatthosewhodowrongthingsdothem out ofwillandshould, therefore,bepunished.Withregardtoconsequentiality, supporterof thefreewill conceptbeliefthatpeopleshould accepttheconsequencesof their actionsordecisionssince theytakethem out of thewill.

Theresearchers recruited46 participantsforthesecondexperimentwhere30 of them werefemalewith themeanageof 20.44 years.Theseparticipantswererequestedto readan assignedpassageanddothefreewill manipulation.Theywerethenrequestedto selectone out of ten punishmentsforan offender in thepassage.Thefindingsof experimenttwo indicatedthatdiminishingfreewill beliefsusingthepassagesaffectthelegaljudgmentby reducingtheindividual’sinclinationtowards theuseof retributive punishment(Shariff,et al. 2014). Therefore,freewill beliefshavethecapacityto influencethedecisionson theuseretributive punishmentsin themodernjudicialsystem.

Inthethirdexperiment,theresearchers recruited88 participantswhowereundergraduate students.Thepurposeof thesecondexperimentwasto determinetheeffectof exposureto retributive andneuroscience passageson freewill beliefs.Thestudyparticipantswererequiredto readpassagesobtainedfrom popularsciencemagazineswith theobjectivemanipulatingtheir freewill beliefs.Thefindingsof thethirdexperimentconfirmedthoseof thesecondone.Theyshowedthatmanipulationsthat reducedbeliefson freewill decreaseinclinationto theuseof retributive punishment.

Experimentnumberfour wasconductedto assesstheimpactof laboratory-based manipulationof inclinationto theuseof retributive punishment.Researchers recruited34 undergraduate studentsto takepartin theexperiment.Studentswerefirstrequestedto completea punishmentscenarioandanswera questionabout their perceptionof theknowledgeof thebrain.Theywerethenrequestedto completea similarscenarioandanswera questionon their expectedclassstanding(Shariff,et al. 2014). Thefindingsreportedin thefourth experimentindicatedthatinclinationtowards theuseof retributive punishmentreducedin timefollowingthelab-based manipulationof participants’freewill beliefs.

Impactof freewill beliefson morality,politics,andpunitiveattitudes

JasmineCarey andDelroy Paulhus conducteda researchthat focusedon theinvestigationof theassociationthat existsbetween freewill beliefandmoralattitudes,politicalattitudes,andpunitiveattitudes.Theresearchers alsoaimedat achievingotherobjectives,which includetheconfirmationof theindependenceof determinism andfreewill believeandcontrastingfatalistic determinism andscientificdeterminism. Thestudywasreportedin theJournal of Personality in theyear2013.

Thetestwasconductedin threedifferentstudieswherestudyonerecruited220 universitystudentswith anaverageageof 20.96yearsstudytwo recruited253 membersof theboardcommunitywith ameanageof 34.29 yearsandstudy3 recruited161 universitystudentswhohad ameanageof 20.2years(Carey &amp Paulhus, 2013).In studyone andthree, thestudyparticipantswererequiredonline andrequestedto completeFAD-Plus scalesandMoral Foundation Questionnaire that wasadministeredin theformof a Likert scalewith six items.In thesecondexperiment,thestudyparticipantswereinvitedto participatein thestudyusingMechanical Turk before beingdirectedto thesamewebsite theparticipatedin studyone andthree usedto providethedata.

Theresultsof thefirstprocedureindicatedthatpeoplewhoupholdthefreewill beliefstendto havemoreconservativepoliticalpositionsthan thosewhobelievein determinism. Thisimpliesthatfreewill beliefsinfluencepoliticalattitudes.Theresultsofthe2ndstudy indicatedthattheuseof nuanced assessmentof religiosity facilitatestheclarificationof its associationwith beliefsof freewill. Thisconfirmedthatreligiousplaysa criticalrolein thepsychologicalmake-up of a person(Carey &amp Paulhus, 2013). Theresultsof the3rdstudyindicatedthatfreewill beliefsarepositivelyassociatedwith thestrongsupportforbindingmoralprinciples.

Impactof freewill beliefson morality,politics,andpunitiveattitudes

JasmineCarey andDelroy Paulhus conducteda researchthat focusedon theinvestigationof theassociationthat existsbetween freewill beliefandmoralattitudes,politicalattitudes,andpunitiveattitudes.Theresearchers alsoaimedat achievingotherobjectives,which includetheconfirmationof theindependenceof determinism andfreewill believeandcontrastingfatalistic determinism andscientificdeterminism. Thestudywasreportedin theJournal of Personality in theyear2013.

Theresearchersconductedthestudy intheformofthree differentstudieswherestudyonerecruited220 universitystudentswith a meanageof 20.96yearsstudytwo recruited253 membersof theboardcommunitywith ameanageof 34.29 yearsandstudy3 recruited161 universitystudentswhohad ameanageof 20.2years(Carey &amp Paulhus, 2013).In studyone andthree, thestudyparticipantswererequiredonline andrequestedto completeFAD-Plus scalesandMoral Foundation Questionnaire that wasadministeredin theformof a Likert scalewith six items.In thesecondexperiment,thestudyparticipantswereinvitedto participatein thestudyusingMechanical Turk before beingdirectedto thesamewebsite theparticipatedin studyone andthree usedto providethedata. Researcherscollected the dated usingan online surveyquestionnairein allthree studies.

Thefindingsof thefirstexperimentindicatedthatpeoplewhoupholdthefreewill beliefstendto havemoreconservativepoliticalpositionsthan thosewhobelievein determinism. Thisimpliesthatfreewill beliefsinfluencepoliticalattitudes.Theresultsof the2ndstudyindicatedthattheuseof nuanced assessmentof religiosity facilitatestheclarificationof its associationwith beliefsof freewill. Thisconfirmedthatreligiousplaysa criticalrolein thepsychologicalmake-up of a person(Carey &amp Paulhus, 2013). Theresultsof the3rdstudyindicatedthatfreewill beliefsarepositivelyassociatedwith thestrongsupportforbindingmoralprinciples.

Synthesisandconclusion

Althoughfreewill is an oldconceptthat has beendebatedforcenturies,thepresentstudyindicatesthatitstillhavethecapacityto influencethedecision-makingprocessesof thestakeholders in themodernsociety.Allfindingsof theresearcharticlesanalyzed in thepresentstudysupportthehistoricalconceptof freewill. Theideaof freewill holdsthatindividualshavetheabilityto maketheir choicesandtakethenecessaryactionsto implementtheir choiceswithout beingputunderpressureto doso.Itwould be expectedthatallpeoplewhobelievein thenotionof freewill would supporttheuseof retributive punishment.Thisis becausesupportersof theideaof freewill assumethatoffenders makethewrongchoicesanddecideto acton them out of thewill andnot under anycoercion(Nichols &amp Knobe, 2007). Therefore,themodernresearchsupportsthebasicprincipleof theideaof freewill.

Forexample,thefindingsof theresearcharticle“Free will andpunishment:A mechanisticviewof humannaturereducesretribution”indicatedthatweakeningthefreewill beliefof participantsresultedina declinein their tendencyto recommendtheuseof retributive punishmenton offenders.Thismeansthat,initially,supportsof freewill believedthatoffenders should beheldresponsiblefortheir actionssince theytookthem out of will andfreefrom anyformof coercion.However,after weakeningtheparticipant’sbeliefin freewill, theyshiftawayfrom freewill andtowards determinism. Participantsstartsympathizing with offenders since theystartgettingconvincedthattheymust havebeeninfluencedto makewrongchoices.Themanipulatedparticipantsstartdecliningto recommendtheuseof retributive punishmenton offenders. Thesecondarticle“Worldview implicationsof believingin freewill and/ ordeterminism: Politics, morality,andpunitiveness” supportthehistoricalconceptof freewill in thesamewayas thefirstone, butusingdifferentandmoreexperiments.

Inconclusion,thehistoricalconceptof freewill is stillcontroversial,butmodernstudiesshowthatithasthecapacitytoinfluencethebehavioranddecisionsof membersof thecontemporarysociety.Mostimportantly, thebasicassumptionof thefreewill is thatpeoplehavethecapacityto maketheir ownchoiceswithout beingpressuredbyexternalfactors.Therefore,peopleshould be heldaccountablefortheir actionssince theytakeactionswillingly.Althoughthisassumptionis agreeableto manyphilosophers,someof them (includingBaruch Spinoza) questionstheabilityof somepeopleto applyrationalinsightwhenmakingchoicesandtakingactions.Thismeansthatpeoplemay havethefreewill butlacktheadequatecapacityto makerationalchoices.Thefuturestudiesshould, therefore,includethefreewill andthecapacityto makerationalchoicesasthemajorvariables.

References

Baumeiter,F. (2008). Free will in scientific psychology. Associationof Psychology Science,3 (1), 14-19.

Carey,M. &amp Paulhus, L. (2013). Worldview implications of believing infree will and or determinism: Politics, morality, and punitiveness.Journalof Personality,81 (2), 131-141. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2012.00799.x

Dutton,D. (2002). BenedictDe Spinoza (1632-1677).Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago.

Nichols,S. &amp Knobe, J. (2007). Moral responsibility and determinism: Thecognitive science of folk intuitions. Nous41 (4), 663-685.

Nowell,B. (2009). Can neuroscience inform the free will debate? IndianaUndergraduate Journal of Cognitive Science,4, 54-64.

Shariff,F., Greene, D., Karremans, C., Luguri, B., Clark, J., Schooler, W.,Baumeister, F. &amp Vohs, D. (2014). Free will and punishment: Amechanistic view of human nature reduces retribution. PsychologicalScience,1, 1-8. DOI: 10.1177/0956797614534693

Wolfram,S. (2002). Anew kind of science.Champaign, IL: Wolfram Research Incorporation.