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To What Extent Does Your Freedom Go?

To what extent does your freedom go? This is a good question to think about before making a decision, before any of your actions. According to the Brazilian psychologist Jose Roberto Marques, “your freedom ends where another’s begins(1)”, in other words he is saying that you are free as much as you do not affect anyone else’s freedom.

There are a lot of people such as the philosophers John Stuart Mill, Paul Henri Thiry and Baron d’Holbach(2) would agree with him, because they believe that freedom is immediately related to external forces, for example: other humans actions and decisions (society), morality (in terms of what is acceptable or not), religion (if something is right or wrong), the law (what is permitted or not), giving a good example to someone else (especially when raising children), and some other factors that can be connected to a moderate freedom.

Thinkers who believe in this theory are considered determinists. Determinism is “the view that every event, including human actions is brought about by previous events in accordance with universal causal laws that govern the world(3)”, in this case “human freedom is an illusion”.

It is not wrong to believe in this theory, but when you think about freedom you automatically make a relation with free will, and as the name itself says, you are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want and the way you want, you just need to remember that all actions come with a consequence, and who make the choices is the one who face the consequences (is the responsible for them) later; “people make free choices that reflect and shape who they are, and they are responsible for the consequences of these choices.(4)”

This theory of you being 100% free but also 100% responsible for your actions is defined by Existentialists such as the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre; “Existentialism is a philosophical and literary movement that focuses on the uniqueness of each human individual as distinguished from abstract universal human qualities. […] humans create themselves through free choices and are responsible for who they are.(5)”

Determinists would be right if they said that all those external factors (some more than others) influence our choices, because it is a matter of common sense when you choose to do not kill someone for nothing or when you are a life-saving and you just save someone’s life, but even these things looking obvious it is still possible to choose to do the opposite if you want; you are going to face some hard punishments but it is still a choice.

However, there are some people who have mental disturbs, and so they are able to do things which do not follow the patterns of ethic and morality, but in these cases, they cannot make choices because they act according to the functionality of their brains, they are trapped to their damaged neuron’s connection. There is a movie called “I, Robot” that exemplifies this situation, but instead of people, they are robots(6). Robots are a good example of creatures that act as they are programmed to do, they do not make choices by themselves so they do not have free will. This movie the situation is a little bit different because in a way, the robots started to develop free will, so they started to get confused about what they are in fact because this is not natural(7).

There are some other interesting movies that show different points of view of people’s free will, for example the movie “Adjustment Bureau” where everything that happen in the entire world is part of a plan, and people must follow this plan to make sure that all events are going to be perfect; even so people can choose to follow or not the plan, such as the main character who says “all I have are the choices I make(8)”.

In addition to the ideas related to free will, there are three other famous movements known as Compatibilism (“the view that all events, including human actions, are caused. However we can consider human actions free if they are the result of internal motivations, not the product of external influences or constraints(9)”), followed by the philosophers W. T. Stace and R. E. Hobart; Indeterminism and Libertarianism which have similar ideas (“humans are able to make authentically free choices that are not determined by previous events in accordance with universal causal laws, that there is a meaningful sense that though we made one choice, we could have done otherwise(10)”), followed by William James.

There is another idea, by Jean Paul Sartre, which is that “we are condemned to freedom”, meaning that we live a false and diminished inauthentic life, because even freedom is something that was imposed to people, so no one can simply runaway from it, nobody choose to be free. If you think about it, it gives you a feeling of despair because it is hard to handle all the consequences every time you use your free will.

The interpretations about free will are a long discussion that has been exposed for ages and in hundreds of different ways and different views. The most modern idea exposed is related to neuroscience; neuroscientists and philosophers have been discussed about the brain is the true responsible for everything human thought and action, and so humans do not have power over decisions because it is all a result of the synaptic connections inside each brain. Now people are mapping human brains so they can understand exactly in which part of the brain is responsible for each thought, and there are studies showing they already the connections responsible for the sense of free will, it means free will is but a brain work(11).

All these studies about the brain are amazing for some purposes but on the other hand they sound scary; people have trusted too much this discovery, they have even determined if someone is lying or not. To what extent should this technology be trusted? This question can be exemplified by a movie called “Minority Report”, in which the future can be seen by those who work avoiding possible crimes; when a crime is foresees those agents anticipate the situation and arrests the future guilty or even kill them, just because they believe their “system is perfect, it is never wrong(12)”.

This idea from the neuroscience also conflicts with the idea that there is a powerful creature (also called God) which allows us to have free will, because the theory is that free will only comes from the brain; that is why the rational philosopher Nietzsche used to say that “God is dead(13)”.

Among all theories and all ideas about freedom and free will, the most important is to know their meanings to understand to what extent you can push your freedom without damaging anyone.

Sources

1 https://www.jrmcoaching.com.br/blog/sua-liberdade-termina-quando-comeca-do-outro/

2 Chapter 4 of the book “The Philosopher’s Way” by John Chaffee

3 Book “The Philosopher’s Way” by John Chaffee, page 159

4 Book “The Philosopher’s Way” by John Chaffee, page 159

5 Book “The Philosopher’s Way” by John Chaffee, page 192

6 Movie “I, Robot”

7 Quote “What am I?” from the movie “I, Robot”

8 Quote from the movie “Adjustment Bureau”

9 Book “The Philosopher’s Way” by John Chaffee, page 160

10 Book “The Philosopher’s Way” by John Chaffee, page 161

11 Article from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181002123943.htm

12 Book “The Gay Science” by Nietzsche

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