Free Will

"WE'RE FREE TO CHOOSE" - National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, 1941 - 1945) - 516103 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Free Will is the belief that human beings have the ability to make choices. Most philosophers advocating the belief in free will agree that personal freedom has practical limits, but not all agree that the freedom to choose is limited with regard to ethics. That is, some say that we can always choose the good, even though we may not always be able to choose certain activities.

The view that we can always choose the good, however, is complicated. As both Catholic theologians and psychiatrists will say, personal culpability for doing bad things might be lessened by such factors as peer pressure (with teenagers), stress, trauma, emotional immaturity or instability, and so-called mental illness or mental injury. Of course, just what constitutes a bad thing is not always agreed upon among theologians and psychiatrists—masturbation being a good example.¹

J.-P. Sartre called the practical limits of personal freedom ‘freedom in facticity’, meaning that individuals have a limited range of choices, particularly with regard to available opportunities and activities.² But for Sartre individuals can choose to do ethically right or wrong actions, and to give or not give consent to issues involving ethics.

Some thinkers like B. F. Skinner and Daniel Dennet believe that we have no real freedom but our thoughts and actions are the outcome of a complex series of antecedent causes.

Meanwhile, the Protestant Christian reformer John Calvin believed that some people are predestined for hell and others for heaven.

Who can figure!

Related Posts » Behaviorism

¹ Here’s a good comment:

² When I was at school a common example you’d hear was, “can someone in a wheelchair be a mountain climber?’ Today, however, this example doesn’t really hold up because new attitudes about persons with so-called disabilities are, in many cases, contributing to these people being seen as persons with difference. And in many instances, truly extraordinary things are being achieved by persons different from statistical norms. See, for instance, The Blind Painter (below).


  1. That sounds pretty high to me, especially when we take into consideration the entire lifespan. The ID twins that I’ve come across seem pretty different–i.e. personality and life-choices.

    It’s interesting stuff, though. Any chance you could post a link to the study?


  2. There are several famous studies. I think the most famous was done at the Mayo clinic. In many cases they are studying identical twins separated at birth. Since they are genetically identical, they can study the effects by the environment and other social conditioning. The conclusion is that in areas where they act the same, it’s probably genetics.

    Here is one link for the University of Minnesota:

    Here is one from Colorado;

    Here is one from Virginia;

    Here’s a youtube video that shows a lot more. Look at how similar they are in mannerism, use of hands, even how they choose to dress. Some of these videos are almost spooky. Again identical twins separated at birth.


  3. Thanks… that’s an interesting video! A ‘Frankenstein’ doctor, indeed! Fortunately it all seemed to work out happily for them.

    Theologians, of course, would say that the nature/nurture question is somewhat incomplete. For them there’s an important third component, that being spirit. So one could see it more as a triad.

    ///// Spirit \\\\\

    “Spirit is something… no one can destroy”



  4. One of the reasons a lot of behavior is genetic is simple a survival thing. It helps avoid a constant decision making process that would simply be overwhelming especially in a time of crisis. The idea of being hard wired in certain ways makes it much easier to function. The puts a damper on some of the behavioral theories which seem to work much better with animals that humans.

    So here’s my funny thought for the day. I would like to see Pavlov and his dog meet Caesar Milan the Dog Whisperer. If you not familiar with him, you can Youtube parts of his TV show.

    Okay, in the scene Pavlov tries to get is dog to stop barking using conditioning. Not easy with some dog. Caesar Milan demonstrate that he’s the alpha dog with calm assertive energy and say shhhs. The dog stops sits up and is ready for the next command. He says, “you see if you understand dog psychology the dog will do what you want.” I guess you have to see it.


  5. Just checked out the video. Thanks. One thing I really like and admire about Americans is that they’re into so many different, creative things. And they’re generally not hung up or phony about the necessary business aspects of life.

    As for the instinct thing, well, I guess what I’m saying is that some behaviors seem to be traceable to genes alone but one can conceive of that fitting into a broader canvas. As far as I’m concerned William of Occam (of Occam’s razor fame) was just a guy… not God.

    Thanks again for the great comments!


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