Free Will Vs Determinism:



  • The extent to which we are free to make choices about how we feel, behave and think. Perhaps we are free to act in any way we choose. At the other extreme, perhaps free will is an illusiion and everuthing we do is a consequence of factors which are beyond our control i.e. our biology, our environment and our unconscious mind.
  • Psychologists have to accept some level of determinism, because without it, its not possible to make predictions about people's behaviour and generate useful applications.
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Psychodyanmic Approach:

  • Generally considered to show hard determinism because it assumes that our behaviour is determined by our unconscious mind - 'psychic determinsim'. E.G. Individuals may believe that they smoke because they chose to do so, but result of an unconscious oral fixation.
  • However, its difficult to test psychodyanmic theories, also difficult to draw conclusions about how much of our behaviour is determined by the unconscious mind.
  • Freud;s theories were based on case studies of patients with mental health problems - may be difficult to generalise these theories to the wider population.
  • Also factors like conscious thought processes and genetics are ignored even though they may be important - reductionist.
  • A problem with this approach is that as it shows hard determinism, it is reductionist because they're ignoring the importance of free will.
  • They also remove responsibility from the individual for how they think, feel and behave.
  • Soft determinism refers to theories which allow some free will - proposed that free will and determinism are not incompatible.  
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Cognitive Approach & Humanistic:

Cognitive Approach:

  • According to the cognitive approach, our behaviour is a consequence of the way that we think (our schema). Since the way that we think is determined by factors such as parenting, schooling, peers and culture - the cognitive approach is also environmentally deterministic.
  • However, we are free to change the way that we think - this seems to allow the element of free will. But our thought processes are limited by our innate cognitive abilites & we are unable to control events in our lives.
  • Whilst we are free to make choices about how we think, behave and feel - we are contained by the limits of our cognitive abilites and shaped by our environment. Best described as "Soft determinism" - we are free to chose how we think, but having to decide how we will think, our behaviour & emotions are then determinded by this way of thinking.

Humanistic Approach:

  • Puts much more emphasis on free will than other approaches. However, even this approach sees the need to acknowledge an element of determinism in that Maslow suggests that people should "self-actulise" in order to acheive their potential. However, this suggests that our potential determines what we are capable of.
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  • Problem in the argument of free will & determinism is that it is dificult to say whether a person's behaviour is arising from their free will, or whether it is being determined by some internal or external force.
  • While an individual may believe that their behaviour is freely chosen, this does not mean that is it.
  • In conclusion, it would be unqise to reject the notion of determinism if the intention is to change behaviour or study it scientifically. Although, it we reject the idea of free will, this implies that we are not responsible for our own behaviour.
  • The uncomfortable implications of this would include that is is unfair to punish criminals because they cannot be seen to be responsible for their criminality.
  • Therefore, we need to embrace both free will & determinism in our understanding of human behaviour and accept that free will & determinism are not mutually exclusive.
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