“Fate often saves an undoomed warrior when his courage endures.” – Beowulf
We have looked at the arguments for and against free will and concluded that most of us decide our will is free based on the strength of empirical and moral arguments and the weakness of the scientific evidence to the contrary. It seems inconsistent that man feels himself free while seriously entertaining notions of fate, but this is likely the majority experience. Freedom allows us to choose, but circumstances and human limitations mean outcomes feel beyond our control. The crux of this issue for us is finding a poised approach to action and our future.
The existentialists seem to be correct that we choose our basic nature and life course, but this freedom involves two negatives – the risk of erroneous choice and the guilt of inaction. Nonetheless fortune, chance, and outside circumstances have undeniable impact on the outcomes of even free choices. Alternatively Taoism teaches that the limited action of quietism may be preferred.
The Stoics teach us that disinterested acceptance of the reality of the unfolding world imparts equanimity. The Bhagavad Gita also urges that acting without undue concern for the results allows man to exist in the world and stay connected to the ultimate reality.
At the end of the day, action based on a personal ethic of avoidance of evil and service to the good offers the safest means to exercise freedom in a manner that leads to contentment. This also fits nicely with the Hindu cycle of reincarnation and the unavoidable law of karma.
In the specific instance of salvation, some Christians may believe in predestination by the grace of the divine as trumping action in this life, but nevertheless, the same freedom, ethic, and sense of fate will emerge in life and must be accepted. The love of God should overcome the concern of one’s individual salvation and lead one to choose actions consistent with the plan of the divine.
Human destiny remains largely conjecture, but it makes sense for all of us to hope for human survival and eventual evolution to a higher form while supporting the parallel goal of preservation of other species and our home planet. If we avoid our feared self-destruction, we can nudge human destiny along with attempts at moral perfection, higher learning and intelligence, global democracy and cooperation. In this way each of us can also achieve a level of apprehension of ultimate reality via Kant’s a priori choice for the unity of man, the unity of life, and eventually the cosmic mind.
We are ready now to take on the next critical special subject – Teleology, the ‘why’ of reality – the meaning of design. Please return for my analysis in the coming posts.