Free will and determinism notes


Free will

  • Suggests that we are self-determining and free to choose our thoughts and actions.
  • Does not deny that there may be biological or environmental forces that exert some influence on our behaviour.
  • Implies that we are able to reject these forces as masters of our own destiny.
  • Advocated by the humanistic approach.
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  • Proposes that free will has no place in explaining behaviour
  • Hard determinism
    • Sometimes referred to as fatalism
    • All human behaviour has a cause and it should be possible to identify and describe such causes.
    • Compatible with the aims of science - to uncover the causal laws that govern thought and action.
    • Always assumes that everything is governed by internal/external forces.
  • Soft determinism
    • William James was the first to put this idea forward.
    • Cognitive approach
    • Whilst acknowledging that all human action has a cause, also suggest some room for manoeuvre.
    • People have conscious mental control over the way they behave.
    • Whilst it may be the job of scientists to explain determining forces, this does not distinct from the freedom we have to make rational, conscious choices.
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Other types of determinism

  • Biological determinism
    • Many processes are not under conscious control.
    • Influence of autonomic nervous system during periods of stress and anxiety.
    • Behaviours and characteristics of mental disorders thought to have a genetic basis.
    • Research demonstrates the effect of hormones on behaviour.
    • Influence of environment on biological structures.
  • Environmental determinism
    • All behaviour is the result of conditioning
    • Experience of 'choice' is merely the sum of reinforcement history
  • Psychic determinism
    • Influence of biological drives and instincts
    • Determined and directed by unconscious repressed conflicts
    • No such thing as an accident
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The case for determinism

P- Consistent with the aims of science.

E- Notion that human behaviour is orderly and obeys laws places equal footing with more established sciences. Development of treatments, therapies and behavioural interventions.

E- Psychotheraputic drug treatment for schizophrenia.

L- Behaviour appears to be determined.

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The case against determinism

P- Not consistent with the legal system

E- Offenders held morally accountable for their actions

E- Determinism is unfalsifiable. Basic principle is impossible to be proved wrong.

L- May not be as scientific as it appears.

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The case for free will

P- Face validity

E- Everyday experience 'gives the impression' that we are constantly exercising free will.

E- Research suggests that people with internal LOC tend to be more mentally health. (Roberts et al.) Fatalists are at greater risk of depression.

L- Positive impact on mind and behaviour.

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The case against free will

P- Contradictory evidence.

E- Neuralogical studies.

E- Libet and Chung Siong et al. have demonstrated that brain activity may predate our knowledge of having madea choice. Brain activity related to whether to press a button with the left or right hand occurs up to 10 seconds before decision.

L- Decided before we are aware.

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