February 26, 2007


Are we free?

I believe that perspective outweighs objective analysis. As a person, I am subject to a history; my cumulative experiences, lessons-learned, my language, relationships, culture, and social systems merge together to form my perspective, the lens through which the unique personality called the “self” observes the absolute nature of the world. In effect, each person speaks a slightly different ‘language’ from every other person. Similar languages tend to group together, though not necessarily. When attempting to communicate one another, no one will for certain understand one another. They may come very close, given that many individuals in a given geographic area are likely to have had many similar experiences.

Given the problem of perspective, each philosophical paradigm becomes self-sustaining and self-contained; it is with great difficulty that they may interact, and even then, the interaction is somewhat superficial. Even words do not retain their original meanings when imported into another paradigm, and so it is with mixed results that we can analyze philosophical situations.

This is not to say that philosophy is only so much blather ... but to say that results may vary, use with caution.

I myself am no less biased as anyone else; likewise, any argument I make may be countered from another person’s perspective, but that person will always hold certain assumptions (most of which they probably don't themselves realize) about the argumentative language that cannot be refuted. As such, logic cannot be used as a means to refute arguments between paradigms, only within a paradigm; we do not now, nor could we ever hold the exact same system of definitions in a given argument.

Having said this, I realize the quandary in which I have put myself; there is no guarantee that you, the reader, may or may not believe what I have to say. This is why I believe that some element of faith is an inescapable component of any philosophical paradigm. One may choose to change their belief system based on experience alone, but in the end, we all accept our own beliefs on an act of faith; faith that our five senses have not deceived us, faith in our memory and its ability to remember, and faith that the logic we’ve used in our language-system is not faulty (or indeed that logic even works at all). Since we view our reference points FOR logic through our perspective-lenses, there is no guarantee we are seeing them in their fixed location, or indeed, that we see them at all.

We are faced with certain other restrictions; the linear nature of time, for example. Time only moves forward - we think; to the best of our knowledge, future events do not dictate past events. Time is a factor which must be considered in any discussion about freedom. We may assume that we are not free with respect to the past; the past has occurred already and we are bound to it. Likewise, we are not free with respect to the future, for it too has not occurred yet. However, if we are able to make choices (mental decisions originating from within an agent that initiate an external event), they will always be forward-focused; our future is dependent upon the choices we make in a present moment. If this is true, then the only time we can truly be free (and indeed, are able to make choices at all) is in a present moment. This is well illustrated in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Here, Screwtape, a high-ranking Demon, writes to a ‘tempter’ in the field (his nephew, Wormwood), who is faced with the task of tempting a new Christian to evil:

The humans live in time but our Enemy [God] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to which our Enemy [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present – either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

Thus, the only way to understand if we are free is to understand each present moment of our experience; we must know that we are free NOW. Some moments might have elements of both choice and causality; many factors can affect the options from which a person has to choose. Which moments are of import? Which choices are the most significant?

We may consider there to be several sorts of choices: there are “free choices,” in which a subject (or agent, if you like) freely chooses to do something, where the choice is not restricted by prior choices or events; there are “limited choices” in which a choice may still be considered “free” but in which there are a limited number of options (the result of prior choices and events), and there are “determined actions,” events that happen outside of the control of the agent. Free choices often set into motion chains of events in which a series of determined actions occur or the agent is forced to make a number of limited choices.

So are we free?

I believe we are. The only time we are free is the present, but the present is the only time that matters; we are only able to choose in the present. We plan for the future, but only insofar as it is a present duty. Our ability to choose makes us free. With that freedom, however, comes responsibility. No person is isolated; we must realize that our choices affect others. How we make our choices can determine how things happen long after we've made them. How you use your freedom is up to you.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

That lego relativity picture is way too confusing...