Free Will Concept – In philosophy, religion, science, freedom

We explain what free will is and its relationship with freedom. Also, how philosophy, religion and science think about it.

free will
Free will allows people to take full responsibility for their actions.

What is free will?

When we speak of free will or free choice, we mean the ability of individuals to make autonomous decisions, that is, to take full responsibility for their actions from a moral, philosophical and even psychological point of view. The term comes from the Latin voices bast (“Free and arbitrium (“judgment”).

The existence (or not) of free will It has been one of the oldest and most extensive debates in all of Western philosophy. and much of religious thought, and can still be found in different scientific disciplines (such as psychology).

Fundamentally, the debate consists of two conflicting positions, one of which proposes that our actions are governed by certain prior causes (God, destiny, genes, etc.), and another that proposes exactly the opposite, that we are entirely in charge. of what we do. The position we take in this debate will have ethical, legal and scientific consequences, hence its importance in the tradition of Western thought.

At the end of the day, if we are not responsible for our actions, we cannot take the blame for their consequences either; but if we believe that we are entirely in charge of what happened, we lose sight of the behavioral tendencies and common patterns, remaining solely on the individual’s decision.

Free will and freedom

free will freedom
Free will implies not being subject to external imperatives.

The notions of free will and freedom are very closely related, so much so that they can perfectly be synonymous. Having free will implies having freedom to decide On our own the actions carried out, that is, not being subject to external conditions or imperatives that force us to act in any way.

Nevertheless, In any case, we remain subject to the laws and social norms that society governs itself, but that, in our own heart, we can choose to obey them or break them and then assume the consequences.

Philosophical perspectives on free will

The question of free will, from a philosophical point of view, has two ways of facing it, which coincide with the positions of the debate that we mentioned at the beginning. These two positions are mainly hard determinism and libertarianism.

  • Determinism It starts from the idea that every event in the physical universe has an identifiable cause, and therefore is governed by the cause-effect scheme, so that if we handle enough information about a phenomenon, we will eventually be able to determine its causes. Thus, if a ball flies through the air, it is because someone previously threw it, and that same sense would then have to apply to the human being, whose decisions would be the product of a mental configuration determined by the environment or by the chemical composition of the brain, for example.
  • LibertarianismInstead, he defends the idea that our actions are solely motivated by our will, and that the inherent sense of freedom that this implies should not be discarded, but rather forms an important phenomenon of our subjective life. According to this position, it is not really necessary to inquire about the factors that affect our behavior, but we must take charge of it and make our own decisions as free individuals.

These two positions form the so-called incompatibilism, a philosophical pole that denies the possibility of finding any position that reconciles the notion of free will with the certainty that, in the physical universe, all phenomena are determined by a recognizable cause.

Nevertheless, there is an opposite pole, logically known as compatibilism, which affirms the opposite: that in a deterministic universe, it is possible to define free will as an internal motivation, of a mental type, like the thoughts, desires and beliefs with which our interiority is populated. This type of posture is also known as “soft” determinism.

Free will in religion

In religious thought, the issue of free will often occupies a place of importance. In the first place, because the existence of an almighty, omniscient and omnipresent God, as proposed by the great monotheistic religions, makes the divine will be the determining reason for absolutely everything In the universe.

According to this logic, if God knows what will happen and has the power to prevent it, but does not do it, then it means that he allows it, and therefore is responsible for everything.

The problem with such a vision is that it can be interpreted as exonerating the human being from moral responsibility for their actions, and therefore could not be later judged by God on the basis of his life decisions or his fidelity to the moral code that religion itself raises. After all, why didn’t God make us the way we should be?

To resolve this contradiction, the idea arose in the Western religious tradition that God gave human beings free will to act freely and make their own decisions.

This notion, according to different traditions, would have to do with the very existence of the soul, and in the tradition of Jewish thought it is vital so that there can be a divine reward or punishment. Thus, according to rabbinical literature, everything would be foreseen by God, but at the same time free will is guaranteed.

Other theologians, such as the Catholic friar Santo Tomás de Aquino (1224-1274) considered human beings as preprogrammed entities by God to pursue certain goals, but endowed with sufficient inner freedom to choose the path towards them.

Instead, at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, it was decided that the human being possessed a free will terminated and animated by God, with which he can cooperate with the divine will or can, on the contrary, oppose it.

Free will in science

free will science
Free will and its limitations are investigated by sciences such as neurology.

The idea of ​​free will is the subject of much debate and research in the scientific field, especially in the psychological and neurological, since the discovery of the brain as the organ in charge of generating -through still unknown processes- consciousness, has led to the possibility that we find in him the answers to why we are as we are.

Secondly, it is possible to wonder what percentage of our decisions is encoded in our cells and in our genomeAs well as in the DNA other physiological characteristics of our organism are encoded, or the features of our face, or the diseases that we will suffer at an advanced age.

Experiments with animals, such as fruit flies, for example, have determined that there is a recognizable margin of exercise of freedom of decision even in the simplest forms of life, which until not long ago were thought of as predictable automata, whose interaction with the environment is based on stimulus and response.