While I obstinately reject the view of predestination (religious or otherwise) I am a prescribed to determinism. I do not agree with the view that Libertarians present arguing that we are ‘radically free’, I agree more with the view that as agents we are prone to conditioning and that we do not so much choose our actions, as our actions seem to happen as a result of our nature and character. I would like to briefly state my views on the discussion on Determinism and Free Will arguing that the problem rests in the definition of ‘free’ and that inevitably we are bound and conditioned to act in a certain way.
While there may be choices we can make without determinism, the choices would be made using a process that we are conditioned to use (i.e. abide by a predetermined problem-solving routine or apply reason etc). However, I do believe that we are ‘free’ but reject all of the positions (that I am aware of) of Compatibilism that have been put forward so far.
Sartre presented the view that your essence determines your existence, and I agree with him. Although he argued that as human agents we do not have an essence, I would argue that we do have an essence but that it is ever-changing as a result of events which happen to us throughout our life time which can have unforeseeable effects on our conditioning.
By ‘free’ I mean that we feel as if a choice is available to us. It is a feeling, something that provides comfort to the mind, in knowing that one could have acted otherwise, if one wanted to. To illustrate my attempt at explaining my view, I would like to present a character – Bob. Bob hates horror films, he has no intention to try to combat this hatred for them and would rather not watch them, he does, however, love comedy films. If Bob had to choose between Scream and Monty Python, he would freely ‘choose’ Monty Python. Bob feels free because he made a choice, he knew he had another option and he could have acted otherwise, even though he didn’t and wouldn’t have. If someone behind him in the film rental queue pulled a gun out and told him to choose the comedy film, despite it being what Bob wanted to choose, and what he would have chosen anyway, Bob would not have felt he freely chose that film as he could not have done otherwise. He was only ever going to take that film but the presentation of alternatives keeps the human mind at bay from getting anxious about the reality that it truly does not make many radically free choices after all, we are just subjects to our emotions, desires and conditioning.
Determinism is only backwards looking, the actions we made probably had their causes as a result of conditioning but we are always free in the sense that our essence and character can, and always does, change and with our character and essence changing, so would our choices. The final thing I would like to draw in is the ‘choice’ to change ones character. This is done through the presentation of ‘second-order desires’ (an idea put forward by Frankfurt) where we have a ‘want to not want’. My quarrel with this is that our second-order desires are just as determined as our first but it does go to demonstrate the potential conflict in conditioning which allows for ‘free’ choices to become available. Our desire to change our desires is a desire to change our character, and thus influence the choices we make. So, we are still free, and can still choose, to an extent, our actions, as our character is not set-in-stone but clay to be moulded.