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Are the Choices We Make Ours? Determinism vs Free-will

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

Elena Dobrei, 9E

Image from: Getty Images

We all wondered whether the choices we were making were truly ours at least once in our life. At least I did. I didn’t know what it was called until I decided to research this topic. It all started with a dream I had years ago, but it stuck through.

I was meant to go through a door or leave. When I grabbed the doorknob, I froze and asked myself: “Is this what I’m meant to do? Is this destiny? I don’t want it to be. What other outcomes exist, or what other possibilities are there for me?”. Either thing I would have chosen to do still would have been destined, yet I wanted to break out and make my own choices. The mindsets “I choose to go through the door” and “It was meant for me to go through it” were so different, yet, so similar, it just depended on how you view them.

This is a confusing topic that fascinated philosophers for centuries. It sounds like we don’t really have an exact answer for it just like the question “Why are we here?”. It’s rhetoric, isn’t it? You choose what to believe. Your own version of the truth. So, what is determinism?

Many philosophies exist to explain how the world and how life works. People live and make decisions based on these philosophies, causing debates on which one is correct. Determinism is a popular philosophy that explores how the world works based on causes and effects - the choices we make and what results they have on us and the outside world. It is the theory that all things that are happening, including our moral choices, are the result of previous causes, by natural laws and that we have no control over the things happening to us. For example, if you’d speak on the phone while driving and you hit a mailbox, it was predetermined therefore, thus it is determinism. Let’s say it’s a fancier and more complex term for fate.

What about FREE-WILL? As the name suggests, we can make our own choices, we are self-determined. We choose how we go on. We choose a possible course of action. We are encouraged to believe in free will and in our power as an individual. Nevertheless, does this mean that free will is the opposite of determinism? Well, sort of. The opposite of free will is hard determinism, which means that all of our choices are caused by something. You see, determinism falls in other levels, but I’ll talk about SOFT AND HARD DETERMINISM.

Soft determinism, or, in other words, self-determinism, says that even if determinism is true, it doesn’t rule our freedom or our responsibility. We are determined and are nonetheless free. Authors and psychologists encourage us to take responsibility for our behaviour and make a difference in our lives despite what happens to us. It can also be seen as “bending” the rules of fate.

Hard determinism claims it isn’t compatible with freedom. It’s a principle that human actions and choices are determined by forces and influences we have no meaningful control over. It implies all things are the way there are, with no other option to it. This means that if something happens, it wasn’t due to your choice of actions, but rather because of “fate”.

Another question is, do animals have free will? In the case of animals, you might have to redefine “free-will”, but researches show that they aren’t neither constrained nor free. This remains a central question for the human race, as it is largely a rhetorical question rather than a logical one.

Is this issue applicable to current affairs? Of course, as it was applicable since the beginning of humanity, the beginning of consciousness. This topic refers to our capability of making decisions and to our thoughts. It is a continuous philosophy that sticks to each of us every day until the end of our race. For instance, when you choose what university to apply to, you might pick medicine. Was this your choice, free of any pressure and entirely your dream, or was it influenced by external factors, such as your environment growing up, the choices you made from the beginning of your life, and the choices of those around you? They sort of go hand in hand, but if you look closely, there is a difference. Was it myself who led me here or was it fate?

Whichever you believe, don’t forget that it is neither right nor wrong, so respect everyone’s opinion. I hope I left you with a bit of longing for knowledge and next time you make a decision think about what you read here.

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