Free will: does it exist?

I’ve been told a few times of late that free will doesn’t exist, and if this is the case then the only other option is determinism, which is essentially the butterfly effect. Everything that happens is a result of previous causes. I find this preposterous, and I will explain why. Human beings are unique, and as individuals we have the power of independent thought, imaginations, dreams, goals, ambitions and interests that we pursue. Not one person thinks identically to another person, and everyone has different opinions, expectations, allegiances, and loyalties. If I was to attack a person in the street, that person could press charges, I get arrested, go to court and potentially spend time in prison, and this is cause and effect, but the initial decision to attack the individual was a choice. There could be many reasons for this choice, be it racially, sexually, a robbery, or I just didn’t like the look of the person, but I could have walked passed and done nothing, but the choice was mine, and everyone has an infinite amount of choices they can make throughout their lives that can have consequences and create a butterfly effect, or they can be insignificant, like choosing to wake up early as the weather report said it was going to be a hot day.

Free will is the ability to choose alternatives unhindered, without outside influence, Independently. Say you’re going out for dinner with your wife. Do you choose your favourite restaurant, or do you try somewhere new that you’ve heard about? Once inside, do you order a bottle of wine, or just drink water as you’ve got a busy day ahead. Do you have your favourite meal, like you always do, or do you look through the menu for something you’ve never had? All of these choices are free will, independent from outside influence.

“You may fetter my leg, but Zeus himself cannot get the better of my free will.” – Epictetus

Theists will argue that free will exists as god has given us choices, or will argue that without god, our lives are meaningless and without purpose, but I will argue that without free will your life is meaningless. I don’t accept fate, as I’m in control of my actions, and no outside influence is going to predetermine how I live my life. How can we define the human species as decision making, adventurous and curious, if we just look at the fact that we are biological machines with billions of brain cells instead of understanding that humans are choice-making living agents, who are responsible for their actions and the choices they make? Free will is a quill, and it’s your job to write your life!

“I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free will.” – Richard Dawkins

2 thoughts on “Free will: does it exist?

  1. I struggle with free will, to be honest. Not that I subscribe to determinism, I have an even harder time reconciling that with my own experience and what I know from philosophy. What I struggle with is the influence of subconscious sources, like pheromones, body language, subliminal images and other cues that we pick up without being aware. Those influence our decision making to a certain degree.

    If we aren’t aware of those influences (subconscious as they are), how can we compensate for them in our decision making process and how free is our free will if we are subject to outside influence slipping in under the radar, so to speak? How much of this free will is actually the illusion of free will?


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