Lynellen Perry Philosophy 101 Position Analysis Paper November 5, 1991
Free Will and Determinism
The role that our character plays in the actions that we perform is very important, for it is an expression of our freedom and thus embroils us in the debate over Free Will versus Determinism. Mill, Hospers, and Campbell all take a different stand on the role that character plays in the actions that we perform.
Mill seems to take the Compatibilism stand that any act or decision is determined but at the same time is free if it flows from the character of the person. Thus human freedom and determinism can coexist. Mill would argue that if we absolutely knew the character of the person and knew all of the circumstances and motives surrounding a situation, then we would be able to predict, without a doubt, how an individual would behave.
Campbell and Hospers would disagree. Coming from a Libertarian view, Campbell would say that an action is most free when it is not what we would predict, given knowledge of a person and of all the motives and circumstances of the situation. This act would be most free because the person was not allowing their character, in its present form, to be an overwhelmingly influencing determiner of action. Hospers, on the other hand, believes that all acts are determined and compelled, not free, and that our character can do nothing to change itself or to choose any other option. Thus our character is shaped by events that we have no control over, such as the environment we were born into and raised in by our parents.
Mill has a belief similar to Hospers in that he also accepts determinism and the idea that our characters are shaped by events. However, Mill argues that our desire for our character to be a certain way is also one of the events that can shape the future of our character. He also feels that actions are never ruled by one motive so influential that all other motives have no strength. He defines a free action as being one that is voluntary, not compelled, and that is not done out of ignorance. Campbell takes the amount of influence we have on our character even farther. He says that a free action is one which is entirely self-determined and one in which the person could have done otherwise. The person is not just a cause of the action, but the sole cause.
Because both Campbell and Mill believe that our character has at least some impact on our actions, and that we are able to influence our character in at least some degree, both of these positions insist that a person is morally responsible for their actions. Both would argue that a person is the master of the temptations confronting them and that they can resist them, if they will to. Hospers' determinism, though, does not allow us to place this responsibility on a person since they have absolutely no control over their character, environment, or actions.
It is exactly due to this argument about moral responsibility that I agree with the Libertarian position that "it lies with our self to decide whether we shall let our character as so far formed dictate our actions nor whether we shall by effort oppose its dictates and rise to duty." If a person is not completely free to choose his actions then he can not be held responsible for them and he can not receive either the praise or blame resulting from them for he could not have done otherwise. The determinist would argue that we have no control over our character since it is determined by the environment we were born into and raised in. This would indicate that one type of character would be always be produced by a certain type of environment. Yet we know from personal experience that rebelliousness, for example, can come from any type of environment and parental upbringing. In addition, it is entirely feasible that human actions are beyond being determined since they are caused by the Will, which is not a physical thing. Even if chemical reactions and the like are determined, this does not mean that determinism does, or has to, carry into the realm of the human will.