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Philosophy

Free Will and Morality

In his “Compatibilism: Free Will Is Consistent with Determinism,”  Stace sets out a carefully constructed and elementary approach to affirming what he perceives as the reality of free will.  This is accomplished by providing hypothetical examples to illustrate his main point, which is that free will is denied only because it is not defined properly.  How free will factors into morality is his greater purpose, but he cannot address this without first offering a valid concept for free will.  Stace does this by logically exposing that free will is misinterpreted because it is confused with predictability; that is to say, being able to accurately identify a cause is not the same as determinism, or causes that are beyond the influence of choice.  Multiple pieces of hypothetical examples are used, all going to the chief argument: “It is a delusion that predictability and free will are incompatible” (Stace  412).

From here, Stace then concludes by asserting that morality must be a responsibility of humanity because free will, which he has demonstrated must exist when it is correctly defined, is a force shaping and affecting it.  More exactly, once it is accepted that determinism and free will are fully compatible, morality is then a matter of individual choice.  Determinism is in his view a broad field, usually created by causes that are not strictly determined, even if they go to likely results: “You do not excuse a man for doing a wrong act because, knowing his character, you felt certain beforehand that he would do it” (412).  Essentially, Stace holds that we are all subject to moral influence and to dictating morality itself because, even when causes are identified and strong, free will is the ultimate determining factor in human behavior.

If an argument arises to Stace’s thinking, it is in the form of an element within all of his subjects that he does not sufficiently address: gradation.  For Stace’s conclusions to be valid, determinism must be in some sense a subjective force.  More exactly, gradation of will may create a kind of determinism.  Stace actually points to this.  For example, he uses Gandhi’s fasting for the benefit of India to demonstrate that free will exists even when the causes appear both powerful and not easily traced, and there is a sense that Stace chooses this example because it is one that supporters of determinism would turn to; while the choice was Gandhi’s, free will was a lesser agent because of the circumstances.  Stace, however, indicates that multiple reasons – including Gandhi’s mental and biological state of being – were causes predicting the fasting but not fixing it as inevitable, or an act removed from free will.  He acknowledges that Gandhi’s past experiences and education also likely influenced his behavior (411).  Nonetheless, as Stace sees it, Gandhi’s free will to fast was still a matter of choice.  That free will was not actually perceived by Gandhi, however, because of what influenced him, and this is then a form of determinism.

This single example of how one man’s free will may be submerged within external factors goes to the definition of free will itself, and the real question Stace needs to have posed is: at what point is human free will managed by the influences surrounding it?  Stace supplies a very good argument against determinism as such, but he ignores the critical factor of determinism as existing when the “free will” itself does not perceive itself as being free.  It must be recognized that the concept of free will is ultimately based on how it is viewed by each individual, and it is then all the more reasonable that issues of morality would restrain it as much as they require it.  Returning to Stace’s Gandhi example, what seems more evident than the identified, likely causes of his fasting is that Gandhi himself saw no choice in the matter.  Put another way, human beings eviscerate free will and create their “own” determinism when they believe that the circumstances are beyond their own will.  While Stace’s point that reward and punishment systems support how even deeply ingrained behaviors may change is valid, there remains the matter of when degree of belief is so strong, the individual denies the existence of their own free will.  This is how the immensely powerful factor of gradation plays into determinism and free will, and it is something Stace seems to be unwilling to address.

Works Cited

Stace, W. T.  “Compatibilism: Free Will Is Consistent with Determinism”  From Religion and the Modern Mind.  New York: Lippincott, 1952.  Print.