Human beings are believed to be greatly aware of themselves, yet most of their decisions are governed by a variety of social, political and religious factors. The norms and traditions of a society also play their role in limiting and restricting the decisions and choices of its inhabitants. We may observe some free will at an individual level at some instances; however, it is not exercised generally in all walks of life. Each individual, willingly or unwillingly is a part of a community, where most of his decisions run in harmony with its established laws and principles.
People tend to believe that they are physically and psychologically free, however in reality they are compelled to live their lives thoroughly impacted by the surroundings at every step. Although free will is a fundamental right of every human but being in a position to exercise it is an altogether different story. Human emancipation is subject to the cultural boundaries and social norms, therefore, its limits are largely defined by the predominant practices prevailing in the society. Restricted free will does not count as a “genuine” free will, thus providing a sound reason to believe that it is nothing but a mere illusion.
Looking around in a society we observe the dire consequences and harsh labels that result from exercising free will. You’re labeled a criminal if this free will is exercised beyond the boundaries of law; if your practices contradict social norms and traditions it makes you an iconoclast and all of a sudden you become a rebel if your free dares to challenge an existing political setup. For example, a person joins a peaceful protest out of free will, even though it’s the legal right of every citizen, he or she would be confronted by the police or might even get charged for breaking the law and held accountable for it. There is no free will when it comes to the activities which run counter to the social norms either. If a person wishes to play loud music in the night, he might find the courage to do it but will be considered an uncivilized member in the society, earning hate and disrespect consequently.
Meaning to say, there could be many situations where you might exercise free will, but there would be severe consequences attached to it and one has to keep himself prepared to fight with them. The story of Adam could be used as an example to explain how, at times, severe consequences we encounter by exercising free will. Julian Baggini, a renowned philosopher, writes in his book, “You are shaped by forces beyond yourself, and do not choose what you become and so when you go on to make the choices in life that really matter, you do so on the basis of beliefs, values and dispositions that you did not choose”. The consequences attached to some actions make them wrong or preferably not doable, thus influencing our choice to execute those actions and rendering our free will not so free anymore.
It is widely misconceived that all the progress at individual and social level has only been made by exercising free will irrespective of the aftermath. Innovation is usually made possible by doing something out of the circle. Free will sometimes helps you to think out of the box and enables you to apply your skills the way you want instead of the way the surroundings allow and in this way you end up with a breakthrough innovation. For instance, Entrepreneurs are the people who think out of the box and sometimes end up with something brilliant.
Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are the common examples of entrepreneurs who exercised free will in the direction of their interest and ended up with something brilliant and so people reduce this to a hasty conclusion that there is free will in all the walks of life. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant while substantiating the link between freedom and goodness says, “If we are not free to choose then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness”. Every individual is a part of the society and if free will is properly exercised at the personal level, there is a higher likelihood of betterment and progressiveness on a mass scale.
There is a popular misconception that establishment of good relations with nations on global front is only possible if the free will to interact with other countries to share unrestricted views and ideas is in place. All of the interactions at international level are governed by mutual interests and when foreign relations are established without any constraints, we see the presence of free will. As Barak Obama once said, “Values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will”. The unrestricted interactions are considered an embodiment of advancing and flourishing relations, however the intricate nature of foreign relations makes it almost impossible to do as it pleases and in this way we can safely conclude that there is an illusionary free will underpinning shrewd diplomacy.
Considering the free will at tiniest level, if a person wants to do something he has to persuade himself to do it and overcome all the hurdles that arise in his mind because it is in our nature to calculate the consequences of our actions especially when they are out of the regular course. A neuroscientist and denier of free will states that, “We are not the conscious authors of our actions. Thoughts merely appear in the conscious mind. We may feel that we have made choices, but neuro-scientific research shows that our decisions originate in the subconscious brain – diminishing the drivers for our desires, beliefs and feelings to mere epiphenomena – the by-products of physical or neural processes” (Harris).
If we delve in this concept even further, we observe that the course activities of cells or even atoms are almost absolutely predictable because they don’t run out of their set pattern. Same is with the people, they are very much predictable because they aren’t exercising their free will and thus staying on the regular course of activities. A great philosopher explains this in his book as, “According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it” (Chesterton).
People might actually believe that they exercise free will on daily basis and they might even do but in the end they are all doing what they are “programmed” to do and it makes free will perhaps scientifically possible but philosophically a mere fantasy. A renowned novelist says, “Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will. At least the ancient Greeks were being honest” (Palahniuk). Even on a larger scale, if we consider nations, there are tremendous restrictions and hurdles in the way of exercising their free will.
Based on the arguments stated above, we can safely conclude that free will is a pretty fascinating and a flexible construct. People seem to exercise free will in their daily routine activities like buying a chocolate, watching a TV show in the evening or driving to aunt’s place; however when seen on a larger scale there is indeed no free will and you ought to restrict yourself within the boundaries of the system you’re in. In a nutshell, there is no absolute free will at any stage of life or in any fragment of the society and so free will is an illusion for us all.
Baggini, Julian. Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will. 1st ed. N.p.: Granta, 2015. Print.
Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Lohn Lane, 1909. Print.
Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free, 2012. Print.
Kant, Immanuel. Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment? (1784): n. pag. Print.
Obama, Barak H. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. N.p.:
Palahniuk, Chuck. Lullaby. N.p.: Doubleday, 2002. Print.
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