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Free Will and Determinism Debate

Autor:   •  December 28, 2016  •  Essay  •  761 Words (4 Pages)  •  295 Views

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Outline and evaluate the free will and determinism debate (16 marks)

Free will is the ability to make decisions and choose behaviours freely; behaviour is under the control of the choosing of an individual rather than other forces. On the other hand, determinism is a belief that all behaviour is caused by prior events, external or internal factors; determinism, leaving no room for alternatives. Choice is impossible because behaviour is caused by the influence outside the person.

Determinism can either be soft or hard. Hard determinism is when free will is not possible; all behaviour has an underlying cause. Our behaviour is always caused by internal or external factors beyond our control. However, soft determinism (coined by James, 1890) is the belief that all behaviour has a cause, but it can also be determined by our rational conscious choices.

There are three different types of determinism, the first is biological determinism. This refers to a belief that behaviour is caused by biological influences that we cannot control. For example, the role of testosterone in aggressive behaviour. The second is environmental determinism; the belief that behaviour is caused by features of the environment. For example, Skinner believed that free will is ‘an illusion’ and he thought that all behaviour is a result of conditioning, so reinforcements throughout life are the reasons we behave the way we do. The third is psychic determinism; the belief that biological drives and instinct influence behaviour. Freud is a believer of this and he also believes that human behaviour is determined by unconscious conflicts, repressed in childhood.

One of the basic principles of science is that every event has a cause and these causes can be explained using general laws. Scientists can therefore predict and control events. Hence, in psychology, laboratory experiments enable researchers to control the presence of extraneous variables which means that they can control and predict human behaviour.

It could be argued that free will allows an individual to dictate their lives for the better. Research suggest that people who have an internal locus of control, believing that they have a high degree of influence over events and their own behaviour, tend to be more mentally healthy. A study by Roberts et al. (2000) demonstrated that adolescents with a strong belief in fatalism (that their livers were ‘decided’ by events outside of their control) were at significantly greater risk of developing depression. This suggest that, even if we do not have free will, the fact that we think we do may have a positive impact on mind and behaviour. As a consequence, free will gives confidence to people in their own behaviour to dictate their own life for the better.

It could be argued that the hard determinism stance is not consistent with the way in which our legal system operates. In a court of law, offenders are held morally accountable for their actions. Only in extreme circumstances are juries instructed to act with greater lenience where a defendant is assumed to have not acted in accordance with their own free will, e.g. self-defence or a mental illness. This suggests that the deterministic approach to human behaviour may not be as scientific as it appears to be. As a consequence, it may not be applicable to every day situations.


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