A Prisoner of Destiny and The Dilemna of Fate

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.

8 thoughts on “A Prisoner of Destiny and The Dilemna of Fate

  1. I will agree with your conclusion statement if and only if we live in a true world. By that I mean there is a distinct possibility that we could be living in a simulated world (or virtual reality). If that is the case, doesn’t it logically follow that the views of the determinist would hold sound?? If we take Bostrom’s argument and conclude that it is very likely that we are living in a computer simulation, then the post-human civilizations that decide to simulate us, also have our fates determined before hand. If we do live in a simulated reality, then (despite any seeming randomness associated with our actions) we cannot be subjects of free will as the moralist would argue. That also means that your conclusion wouldn’t be valid either since your claim: “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,” (Friedman, Post) would not follow in a simulated world as your choices would also be simulated and thus pre-determined.

  2. I am happy you raised this concern, as I wanted to touch on it originally but felt my post would have been too long if I chose to do. In short, it is difficult to reconcile moralism with an ancestor simulation but I attempted to do so. However, determinism is much easier to reconcile as a false world would not have any impact on a supposed real world. I attempted to explore this argument in an additional blog post. Let me know your thoughts.

  3. However, I will concede the fact that if an ancestor simulation operated under the same laws of determinism, said simulation would eventually grow to resemble reality . This would be due to the fact that the same natural laws would be operating within the ancestor simulation, leading towards similar development and cultures across the board.

    Conversely, if determinism is completely false then all of our actions would be inherently random, so much to the point that society would not be at all predictable and no natural laws could be established to guide human development. In the end we know that determinism is somewhat true since not every decision we make is completely random, but not every decision is mapped and we are random, so life is indeed a mix of determinism and moralism.

  4. While I think you did a good job of representing the moralist and the determinist points of view, I don’t necessarily agree that the world is a mix of fate and freedom. I don’t agree with this because of the way that fate is presented. I think that fate means a predetermined life, with each step and decision created for you, without you being able to change it. Instead, you are discussing fate in terms of the life you are born into, which is really just a situation based upon the results of others’ free will before you were born. The socioeconomic status, popular culture, social norms and any other influencing factors that may be perceived as fate are just results of the free will of others. I think that the world is entirely free will, but that doesn’t mean that a person has the entire ability to create their future. That simply means that one has the ability to make their own decisions, which must exist in the world with the free will and decision of others, which may be limiting and thus seem like fate, although it is not.

    1. I also agree with Jared about there being a mixture of free will and fate. However I view it in a different manner. I think when we are faced with a decision there are certain probabilities that we choose a certain choice over another. These probabilities vary depending on all of the environmental and genetic factors of a person. Since there are certain probabilities it can be said that we have free will, but in other cases the probability that we choose something else is so low, I believe it can be said to be negligible and thus our lives seem to be deterministic. My reason for believing this way is from a lot of our fundamentals laws of nature seem now to be probabilistic and not deterministic. It seems we are very likely in some instances to do or act a certain way, but there are anomalies where someone acts completely different than expected.

  5. I completely agree with your conclusion about how the world is a mixture of free will and fate. However i also agree with Morgan’s definition of fate, and to further elaborate we can use Oedipus the King as an example. In his attempt to avoid the fate he was given, he unintentionally fulfilled it. He thought he had free will by avoiding the fate he was initially given, however it is evident that he never had free will at all because of the fact that he fulfilled it.

  6. I really like your argument about the randomness of the human condition and that being a connection to determinism instead of against it. I believe that the variety of experiences a person has that could be determined from so many different things or their actions being capable to be determined by endless influences depends on the person and what they pay attention to, their mental states, and their history which in itself seems, like you say, a “free will.” I am a personal believer of determinism because it makes sense from a psychological perspective that we can describe, explain, predict, and optimize behavior based on a person’s experiences, their mental states, and physiology which are all factors of determinism in my opinion. I don’t feel it is completely fate and fatalism takes it too far because it seems like there is just someone else in control of everything and you don’t have any things in your experience as a human that make you do certain things or want certain things. I agree with B-theory because everything is real, and what happens is just what happens, so it leaves some room for faith in some things are destined, but also the idea of determinism. Due to my religion and my firm love of psychology, your argument above about the world being a weird mix of fate, free will, and determinism connects to me directly as something I strongly agree with.

  7. I agree with Morgan’s definition of fate as well. While parts of me believe that events in our lives are predetermined, such as when we will die, other parts of me tend to believe in free will. For example, if I am sitting on my bed on a Saturday afternoon doing nothing, but then decide to go see a movie downtown, was this event free will or predetermined? While initially I would believe that this was free will because I decided in that moment to go to the movies, I later think what if it was already predetermined that I would go to the movies? This conflict puzzles me. In addition, in terms of the idea of predicting outcomes, I agree with Destini. Due to psychology and having a relationship with an individual, I can usually predict their actions (how angry they will get, what jokes they find funny, etc.). I also agree with Destini when she states that the experiences, mental states, and physiology are all factors of determinism.

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