The Great Unknown Essay

1798 words - 8 pages

We are presented with a scenario in which a friend offers me a grade-A essay to turn in as my own, but because of my moral compass, I reject his offer though I was quite tempted to accept. The question remains of whether or not I declined his offer freely, and if we are to assume that determinism is true, we must ask whether or not my decision was the result of free will. What appears to be a simple case of decision making, we will find, is loaded with arguments both for and against the existence of free will. To answer whether or not my decision to reject my friend’s offer was the result of free will, we will hypothesize the opinions of three men who would maintain starkly different ...view middle of the document...

And because, he argues, free will implies actions without cause, free will does not exist. As such, in the given scenario, D’Holbach would obviously state that A did not act freely in declining B’s offer because it is impossible for A to ever act on free will.
Libet and Liberty, or How to Ignore Scientific Data
If presented with our given scenario, neuroscientist Libet would disagree wholeheartedly with D’Holbach’s pessimistic view of free will. Libet is a libertarian who asserts that people sometimes act freely and are not completely determined. He describes the manifestation of free will as the power to veto psychological impulses and consciously decide what action to take; to some, this may appear to be a new definition of free will. However, the scientific experiment on which he bases his opinion actually suggests that, if determinism is true, free will in usual, non-causal sense may not exist.
To validate the existence of free will, Libet measured electrical impulses in the brain by attaching nodes to subjects’ scalps and asking them to flick their wrist, while they monitored a fast-moving clock and indicated when they made the conscious decision to act. Results showed that the subjects’ brains emitted unconscious electrical impulses prior to conscious awareness of desire, suggesting that voluntary action is preceded and caused by something other than conscious decision making. However, Libet does not accept the experiment as evidence against free will. He suggests that free will can be defined as a form of impulse control, the power to veto. Similarly, in our scenario, A’s decision not to accept B’s offer requires A to veto the underlying impulse to accept. This vetoing power is what Libet believes constitutes free will. Therefore, Libet would argue, the original impulse had no effective action and A exhibited free will through impulse veto.
Frankfurt’s Three (Really Complicated) Degrees of Free Will
Like Libet, Frankfurt believes free will is exercised when one chooses voluntarily what impulses to act and not act upon. As a Compatibilist, he insists that people sometimes act freely although their actions are causally determined; however, he attempts to redefine free will so it does not conflict with determinism. According to his theory, free will can only exist when one satisfies Three Degrees of Freedom, which are specific combinations of interlaced desires that he describes as follows: First Order desires are desires to perform certain actions; Second Order Desires are desires to have certain desires; the Will is a First Order desire that one acts upon; and a Second Order Volition is a desire that a certain desire be acted upon, thereby becoming Will. These desires formulate the following Three Degrees of Freedom.
Freedom of Action (1) is fulfilled by one acting upon a Will; Freedom of the Will (2) is satisfied when Second Order Volitions allow desires to become the Will. Lastly, having a Will that is Free (3) requires Freedom of the...

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