Discuss the Free Will and Determinism Debate within Psychology

essay on the free will vs determinism debate for PSYB4

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Discuss the Free Will and Determinism debate. Refer to at least one topic area you
have studied in psychology to illustrate your answer (12 marks)
This debate is about the implications of how the cause of behaviour is
explained. Free will is the view that our behaviour is determined by our own will rather
that by other forces. Individuals have an active role in choosing their own behaviour,
they are free to chose any course of action and are not determined by internal or
external pressures. For example, Humanists believe that when basic needs are met,
individuals are free to self actualise. Determinism is the view that an individual's
behaviour is shaped or controlled by internal or external forces rather than an
individual's will to do something. This means that behaviour should be predictable and
an effect should be attributable to a cause.
Biological determinism is the idea that behaviour is under the control of
internal biological factors including genetics, neurochemistry, brain structures and the
hormonal system. The Biological approach explains all behaviour and mental disorder
in terms of these factors. For example, gender is determined by chromosomes and
those with chromosomal abnormalities such as Turner's syndrome have different
characteristics to the normal XX or XY humans.
Linked in with genetics explanations are evolutionary explanations of human
behaviour. This assumes that our behaviour can be explained by the inheritance of
physical and psychological characteristics. This must be so, as only inherited
characteristics can be naturally selected and passed on to the next generation. A key
example of this is the research carried out by Buss, who argued that human mating
behaviour is best explained through evolutionary adaptation. Also, Bennett-Levy and
Marteau argue that we are genetically determined to have a fear of some animals
more than others.
If we can determine the cause of a mental illness as being due to
neurotransmitters or genetics, it follows that we should be able to treat the illness
with the use of genetic therapy or chemicals which alter neurotransmitters. If we
accept free will and say that mental illness doesn't have a cause, it would be almost
impossible to treat.
Determinists argue that a proper science of human behaviour is only possible
if psychologists adopt a deterministic account, according to which everything that
happens has a definite cause. If free will is taken into account, it becomes impossible
to predict human behaviour with any precision. Other sciences take a strong
deterministic stance, if determinism is not applicable to psychology then either
psychology is a very different type of science or it is not a science at all.
On the other hand hard determinism is essentially unfalsifiable ­ falsifiabililty is
a prerequisite for a scientific method. If a cause cannot be found for some aspect of
behaviour, this is not to say that a cause doesn't exist, but simply that it hasn't yet
been discovered.
Hard determinism has been applied extensively in other sciences ­ especially
physics. This initially seemed like a sensible approach to take as it was assumed that
we would eventually have the means to make very accurate cause and effect
predictions. However, chaos theory suggested that very small changes in initial
conditions can produce major changes. Such a chain of events doesn't lend itself to
prediction and so we can't show that an approach based on hard determinism is
appropriate. More generally, it is impossible to test directly the assumptions of hard

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The moral implication of assuming hard determinism means that people,
including criminals, cannot be held responsible for their actions. This poses certain
ethical questions, for example if someone commits a crime, can we punish them if
their behaviour was the result of forces beyond their control? This would have
important implications for methods of punishment such as prison. As such,
determinism is inconsistent with society's ideals of self control and responsibility
that underlie all our moral and legal assumptions.…read more


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