Are we free?
Am I free?
Am I Free?
Am I free? Well that depends on the manner in which the question is being asked. Am I free, for instance, to choose my car insurance provider? Of course I am. Am I free to choose the style of music that I wish to listen to on my Stereophonic Audiotrance 5000 with high speed dubbing? Naturally, that too would be my decision. Is it my decision if at a local neighborhood dance I decide to grab the hottest Philly in attendance and ask if she wants to put her weight on it with me? Again, yes.
However does the ability to decide between these arbitrary choices make me a free man? Is even asking myself whether I am free or not constitute a choice freely made or is it again just a consequence of the cosmic ride I’m forever condemned to be strapped in to?
Would it make any difference if I were an actual automaton? Or does every move I make create new and endless opportunities, all of which are completely shaped by the decisions of others and myself? Essentially the question is not whether or not I am free, but whether or not I am of consequence. Can a butterfly’s wings affect the currents of the weather from continents away? Like the butterfly does my having gone left instead of right reverse my fortune completely? Or was my decision to go in said direction already writ thousands of years before even the first Atom combusted into existence?
One cannot answer the question without more and more questions becoming evident. “Am I free?” a man could ask. “If I am not free then shall I murder my mother for the inheritance, as doing so would not be my choice and thus not my responsibility? If I think that yes, doing so is ok, am I a bastard or simply a victim of the circumstances of being essentially a robot, incapable of truly making any choice at all?
I personally can’t help but think that any choice I make has been formed by the other choices I had made in the past, and in turn, that those choices were molded by the events that had occurred prior to them, all the way back to the very instant that I was born and even farther back still. It’s common sense that people are molded by their experience. A poor person, born to a drunken mother and an absent father is more likely to become a drunk and an absent father himself, as that is what he has known. A rich man, born to loving parents and having known nothing but kindness all his life is much more likely than to have a pleasant and prosperous life. Is this true in all cases? Certainly not, but by simply looking around society we can see that it holds to be true more often than not, as the exceptions are merely that: exceptions; few and far between.
I think that a good way of looking at the predicament is through the works of William Shakespeare, specifically his “The Merchant of Venice.” In “The Merchant of Venice” The character of Shylock the Jewish money lender is asked to make a loan of three thousand Ducats to Antonio, so that Antonio’s friend Bassanio may finance a trip to see a woman that he has heard is the fairest that any had ever laid eyes upon. The bill is approved using a pound of Antonio’s flesh as collateral. When the bill is forfeited and Shylocks daughter stolen away in the night by a compatriot of Bassanio, many expect Shylock to show mercy and not collect the bill as stated. Yet Shylock is angry, angry that he has lost his daughter, angry that his confidence had been betrayed and angry that his place in the world as a Jew has made his life so difficult. They expect him to be merciful, yet no mercy has been shown to him in his entire life. He opts to collect the bill. Through a series of events he is screwed over in what I think personally is grossly unfair to his character, but that’s a tale for another day.
Now was his decision to claim Antonio’s life upon the forfeiture of the bill purely a product of his own hate> Or has his difficult life shaped him into the man that he is, a man that thirsts for vengeance on the Christians that have persecuted him his entire life? I have never been able to figure it out, but I feel that if someone could, truly and with no contradiction prove one way or another the truth in his character, that we would have the answer to whether or not such a thing as free will is possible.