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The Concept of Determinism in Human Life

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Throughout human history, the concept of free will has been accepted and assumed to be the true proposition regardless of its problems. Human mind’s ability to choose between two or more different options has enforced the idea that human beings are capable of making choices free from their environment. Looking back in time and evaluating whether the choices we have made are the right decisions or looking forward and make plans, naturally leads one to believe we are completely in control of our choices as well as the outcome it necessarily leads to. For example, people who are willing to commit a crime could have acted in a different manner to avoid punishment. These people are completely free from their biological and environmental influences, therefore the events which led them to commit the crime is irrelevant. Since they acted on their free will, they must be responsible for the actions and consequences it comes with it.

Many psychologists, one of which is Sigmund Freud, held the view that the argument for determinism is valid since our actions and thoughts are essentially controlled by our unconscious mind. He described the unconscious mind as an entity which does not possess all the features of a conscious mind such as judgements and behaviour. He believed that those judgements and behaviours are determined, however they can be manipulated with an intense therapy to overcome the force of deterministic laws. This proposition is called compatibilism which posits that determinism and free will are compatible and can coexist without any contradiction since there are some behaviours which can be controlled or forced upon an agent. The element of coercion assigns the free will into the deterministic behaviour. Erich Fromm has praised this proposition by asserting that the reason deterministic views seems to be true is because human beings are too afraid to take control of their own fate. This is an extremely comforting belief which managed to survive despite its criticisms. However, as every other ancient beliefs, free will has been questioned throughout the ancient and modern times by many respectable philosophers, from Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus in 135 CE to Descartes, Locke and Hume in 17th century. As the result of its constant argumentations, new ideas and new categories to fit those ideas have been born in an umbrella term called determinism.

Although there are many different definitions of determinism, the most general claim is about the nature of the universe which posits that every event has been predetermined and therefore predictable. Although this argument is a claim about the universe, it necessarily threatens the positive position of free will. If we assume that there is a hill with rocks and puddles, if we also assume that we could physically measure the dimensions of this hill and if we set a ball at the very top of it, depending on the starting position of the ball, we would know exactly where the ball will end up down the hill. Placing more puddles and rocks that the ball has to roll through and making it as complex as possible will not cause the ball to randomly change its predicted position. There are laws in physics that govern the movements of objects in our universe. Every single bump the ball has to endure can be measured and accounted for, which will cause the ball to land in a precise spot. If this physical proposition is true, it would be irrational to argue that when the ball bumps a rock or a puddle, the direction of the ball will not align with the causal law, rather adopt a new direction instead. This argument can also be applied to human brain since it is an object that belongs in the observable universe which is governed by all the normal laws of physics and every decision and every action you take will have preceding causes. Human brain is just as much trapped and bound by the laws of physics as everything else in the universe. There seems to be no indication that the human mind can summon a divine inspiration from other dimensions to make a decision that is free of the laws of causality.

It is questionable whether we could precisely predict every human action, it is clearly observed within the realm of science that human behaviour is predictable to an extent. A person who is born into poverty will most likely stay in poverty despite having the options and choices to climb out of it. The same principle also applies to wealthy people who will most likely stay wealthy. People, in the way they act, is dependent heavily upon their environment. Good environment seems to produce better individuals. If this is the case, assigning blame or punishing individuals will not necessarily produce good outcomes since it creates a hostile environment around them. 

In conclusion, to be able to assemble a well-functioning society, we must accept deterministic point of view and focus on creating optimal environments to produce good outcomes rather than focusing on individuals. Accepting determinism does not necessarily mean we would have to get rid of ancient institutions such as prisons, as most free will defenders would assert that is what accepting determinism will lead to. However, it will necessarily lead to reforming the current prison system which promotes punitive punishment to rehabilitation system where the main objective of the institution is to create an environment that will cause criminals to change their behaviour.    

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