“But still I don’t know quite what to believe! For there have been great scholars, many a one, Who say that destined fate we must receive, Yet others prove this must not be done. Add that free choice hath been denied to none Alack, so sly they are these scholars old, I can’t make out what doctrine I should hold.” – – – – – Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Cressida, Book IV, 139.
Now we turn to one of the oldest debates in Western philosophy, does man or for that matter any living creature have free will, the choice to act in the way it prefers, or are all actions determined by outside forces or chains of causation? On the face of it, most of us will say we do have free will. If I raise my left arm right now for no particular reason, it was my conscious choice to do so. But very good philosophers have strong arguments, not all sophistical, against that action being purely volitional. This section will parse out the arguments for and against free will.
But there is a larger issue that emerges out of this discussion – the subjects of fate and determinism which affect not only us as individuals but humanity as a whole; projecting us into questions of human destiny. Therefore this section deals with the fundamental reality of human striving, the course of civilization and the future of our species. It is essential to our formulation of the meaning of not just any individual life, but of every human life ever.
This section will be divided into the following specific topics:
- Arguments for and against free agency
- Determinism and Fate
- Fortune in the philosophical understanding of life.
- Theological concepts of predestination
- The existentialist theory of freedom
- Human destiny
As in the sections on good and evil, God, soul, and death and immortality, no philosopher can offer a definitive answer in these matters, and the point of this investigation is only to help the reader develop a lucid view for planning the best possible path in life. Join me next post as we begin with an examination of causation.