The discourse on the freedom or otherwise of human beings is one that has preoccupied philosophers over the years. Different schools of thought or theories abound such as determinism, libertarianism and compatibilism all of which seek to reconcile issues around freedom or otherwise of human beings.
Determinists say that everything that happens, including every human interaction, is determined by previous events as well as biological and psychological laws that govern human nature. In short, they argue there can be no freedom. Determinism is the view that every event has prior conditions that caused it, so each event is theoretically predictable if we possess knowledge of its prior conditions. It espouses the notion that events are caused by force of prior events.
Materialism suggests that the sum total of our decisions and choices are caused by the brain and vent in our brain which are inherently physical. Therefore, materialists believe that physical events are governed by scientific laws like other physical processes. British scientist, Sir Isaac Newton contended that all material bodies in the universe ranging from the smallest atoms to the largest planes and stars, move in accordance with the universal laws of nature which he characterized as Principia Mathematica Philosophia Naturalis. He cites the law of inertia which states that all bodies continue moving in a straight line unless acted on by an external force as well as the law of external gravitation which states that all other bodies in the universe attract all other bodies with a force proportional to their masses and their distances from one another .Using the foregoing, the scientist advances that the activities of the human brain are enmeshed in the mechanical workings of the universe as are atoms, clocks and planets.
This idea received endorsement from French mathematician Pierre Simom Marque de Laplace who argued way back in 1812 that present events have a connection with previous ones that is based on a self-evident principle, a thing cannot come into existence without a cause that produces it. This axiom he extends even to actions of free people. Simon added that we must regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its preceding state and as the cause of one which is to follow. An intelligence which is in a single instant could know all the forces which animate the natural world, and the respective situations of all the beings that made it up, could, provided, it was vast enough to make an analysis of all the data so supplied, be able to produce a single formula which specified all the movements in the universe from those of the largest bodies in the universe to those of the highest atom.
Followers of the thought of libertarianism believe that determinism is wrong because it denies the freedom that we all directly experience when we choose.
Jean Paul Sarte argues that freedom depends on the view that the future depends on our choices. He adduces that when humans act they wish to accomplish something they had never before done or give something they do not yet have. This, he said, is motivated by a need to locomote from a present that exist to a future that does not exist .Sarte adds that past or present existence cannot determine a person’s conception of what is does not exist.
However, compatibilism rejects the view that determinism rules out freedom and responsibility. Compatibilists nurture the belief that causal determinism is compatible with freedom.
Thomas Hobbes, in his contribution said of the issue:
“Liberty or freedom, signifies properly the absence of opposition; by (this) he means (the absence of) external impediments to motion (When) living creatures are imprisoned, or restrained with walls or chains…we say…they are not at liberty… (When) man finds no (thing to) stop (him from) doing what he has the will, desire or inclination to do (he is at liberty)…Liberty and necessity are consistent… (Like) the water that has not only liberty but a necessity of descending by the channel…; so, likewise. The actions which men voluntarily do. Because they proceed from liberty, and yet because every act of man’s will and every desire and inclination proceeds from some cause, and that from another cause, in a continual chain (all actions also) proceed from necessity. So that to him that could see the connection of those causes the necessity of all men’s voluntary action would appear manifest”.
Despite their stance, compatibilists also recognize moral responsibility. To posit that a person is responsible for an action, they argue, is to admit that the action flowed from inside the person, inherent in his personae. Actions are caused by inner desires and character which flow from a person making him responsible for his actions.
This has nudged some philosophers to argue that we are both free and determined as suggested by Hobbes. This invites us to see ourselves as both free and determined.
Immanuel Kant, (1724-1804) the German philosopher enquired: “Is it possible that we take one point of view when we think of ourselves as free causes, and another point of view when we see ourselves as determined effects? He added Insofar as he knows himself through his senses, man must see himself as part of the world of sense. But insofar as he assumes he has a conscious active self he must regard himself as part of the world of understanding.
So to Kant; a rational being has two points of view from which he can regard himself. First, to the extent that he belongs to the world of sense, he sees himself subject to the laws of nature .Second, to the extent that he belongs to the world of understanding, he sees himself as subject only to moral rules that are based on reason…As a rational being that belongs to the world of understanding, man must think of his will as free.
Kant has amassed support for his view from another philosopher/Psychologist Steven Pinker. Pinker says that when we are playing the morality game we have to see ourselves as free while seeing ourselves as ‘deterministic machines’ in matters of science.
Alhassan Darboe is a US based Gambian Journalist and passionate lover of philosophy. He was the winner of maiden Black History Essay competition organized by the American embassy and worked as a journalist with Today newspaper.