In his essay Freedom and Necessity A. J Ayer attempts to reconcile the views of the moralist with those of the determinist. Specifically he attempts to examine the argument of predestination in contrast to the freedom of will. Essentially we are presented two conflicting views on the nature of humanity. The notion that all are choices are a result of preexisting causes, and we are powerless to change are destiny essentially makes us ignorant prisoners and subsequently drains a great deal of meaning from the human existence. Furthermore, if all of our actions were predetermined morality would become meaningless since people would not be able to claim responsibility for their actions.
Conversely, the moralist suggests that all our actions are the result of our own character and the corresponding consequences are the result of our choices and our choices alone. However, Ayer counters this premise with the fact that our environment inherently shapes our characters, and therefore our actions can be somewhat predicted based on our unique life experiences. Therefore the moralist’s choices cannot be entirely attributed to their character since their character was shaped by other events, and they are not entirely responsible for the consequences of their actions since they are not entirely responsible for the content of their character.
Above all else I find it very interesting reconciling these differing worldviews since as Ayer points out, the world we live in is a mixture of free will and causality. Yes humans can be very predictable creatures. We are typically motivated by greed, jealousy, love, and various other emotions. Provoking any of the aforementioned emotions can be done for any person with minimal information, proper situation framing, and minimal effort. However, despite the fact that science has shown how any action can shape a person’s psyche, and their resulting actions, a degree of randomness still is inherent within the human condition.
As Ayer points out, we may be able to predict that a person will yell, cry, or become violent, but we are unable to predict exactly what form this emotion will take. We cannot predict how loud a person will be, how long the emotion will last, or what words the person will use. At the end of the day it is this degree of randomness that provides humans with “the freedom of will” or at least the illusion of one.
I say the illusion of free will because one could argue that you could further predict a person’s behavior based on childhood experiences, their images of their parents, their vocabulary, education, and religious/ethnic background. Specifically, you could predict that a child raised in a loving environment, with stable parents, a good religious upbringing, no behavioral or medical issues, and a successful parent, would most likely be led towards a life mirroring their parents. However, due to the randomness of the human condition, and the experiences of childhood, the child may find their career looking much different than their parent, i.e. a priest for a father and a doctor for a son. True the randomness associated with human development may have inherent causes and stimuli (books, movies, television), but it is the person’s own unique psyche that determines how each of this stimuli affects their overall development. In conclusion the world is a mix of fate and freedom of will. And while many of our free decisions do have inherent predetermined causes, it is the fact that these causes can lead to different choices for different people that reconciles the argument of determinism with that of the moralist.