Freewill and Determinism - AS Philosophy

notes for freewill and determinism - aqa AS philosophy - unit 2

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  • Created by: Hannah
  • Created on: 20-05-12 16:02

What is determinism?

Determinism is the theory that given a set of conditions, only one outcome is possible. 

-We feel free because we have complex thoughts and competing desires, but there is only one outcome possible because the strongest desire was determined

-Spinoza 'Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their actions, but ignorant of their causes'.

Determinists believe in causation (cause and effect) - our desires are caused by previous experiences

-Russel ' We can act as we please, but we may not please as we please'. so we can act on our desires, but our desires are not our own.

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-The religious view - One of the characteristics ascribed to God is omniscience (all knowing). If God is all knowing, then he will know the future. 

-Not only will he know what decisions I will make, he also knows whether I will be saved or not. 

-It Logically follows that God will know our future is he is omniscient, meaning that we cannot act differently as it would mean that God was wrong which is not possible 

-Argument - God has not decided which choice I will make, he is just so wise and foreseeing that he knows every aspect of my character and so will know which way I will choose. 

-BUT - surely that still suggests that there was only one outcome? and if you make decisions due to your character are the free - our character is influenced by how we were rasied

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-This is the view that everything described as mental activity can be reduced to physical events.

-For example pain is just C-fibres firing in the brain

-Rejects dualism - there is no separate mind, just the physical brain

-Supporting evidence - Patricia Churchland - story of a Virginian man whose sudden depraved sexual desires were traced to a tumour on the brain. When the tumour was removed his desires returned to normal. But when a new tumour grew, his sexual focus on young girls returned. - This shows how hormones affect our thoughts

-Ben Libet - Found that when participants made a conscious decision to move their hand, the brain had already made the decision 250-300 milliseconds before the person was conscious of it. - Shows the brain controls our movement

-BUT - the view says that mental states are not identical with brain states - so pain is not the same as C-fibres?

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Economic Determinism

Economic Determinism - Marx

-Marx says that people are a product of their economic circumstances 'Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.'

-E.g. People have needs - food, shelter etc. To satisfy these needs we work. Someone who works as a miner is used to working in dangerous and dirty condition, whereas a shopkeeper has to be presentable and has social interaction. This division of labour leads to people developing different lifestyles which eventually leads to different politics and morals. 

-So who we are and how we think is determined by our working life and economic activity

-BUT - I would say that this is only a heavy influence - not a determining factor. Whilst economic conditions shape our personality, we choose how we act and can make decisions to differ from how we were raised - determinists would say that because of our past we were determined to try and change who we are

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