What Does It Mean for a Will or Society to be Free?

Ah, classic philosophy lectures, where insightful questions never reach any satisfying conclusions. That wasn’t the case on Oct. 25, 2005 Wittenberg graduate Steven Schoonover gave a philosophy talk in Founder’s Pub. Discussing issues such as how we view the idea of free will as an individual and as a nation, he left the crowd with newfound knowledge on the way we justify our own beliefs. Although he never answered his own questions, he was articulate in explaining his thought process in which we could formulate our own opinions on these current issues.

Analyzing the idea of free will and free decision, Schoonover contemplated how humans form causal conditions created before them and if we are only a product of our own society then how can we be free? He explained how his goal was to create a connection between the two; what it means to be in control as a nation and what it means to be in control as an individual, as well as how they relate and differ from each other.

One main point he touched base on was that free will and responsibility are essentially linked. Individuals have the responsibility to express control and if they do not, they are punished.
“If a person that you blame must be responsible, then we must ask questions about how individuals must act and what bad acts require punishment,” Schoonover said.

He then moved on to discuss how there are problems that pose threats to our levels of control on an individual and societal basis. Lack of information, a compulsion of addiction and defective reasoning were a few of these problems.

“The two main ones are operation of causation and the operation of the global institutional order,” Schoonover said.

Operation of causation refers to the background conditions in which we make decisions; when do these orders operate in a fashion that undermines individual free will? As a collection of individuals, how does this then affect the global order? Here Schoonover claims that essentially any threat to an individual is a threat to society and vice versa because they set limits to our social life.

Causation can then operate in two forms, deterministically or indeterministically, and both pose problems in regard to free will. Determinism is the idea that our world, at any instant, only offers one physically possible future. If this is true, then whatever happens is exactly what was supposed to happen and this would also explain why science is so amazing in how it operates. If this is true, then one could assume that the world can become predictable. So while one feels as though they have control as an individual, they don’t because reality is already determined.

Indeterminism is the idea that at any moment there are multiple possibilities that can result in many different futures. This idea shows how many outcomes can come from one cause, but if this is true then there can never be a prediction of events. If one cannot predict an event then the cause from any event could go in any direction, even away from the possible outcome strived for by an individual. If this is true, then no cause can come before the decision; the agent doesn’t have control because one could have any possible future.

In his closing remarks, Schoonover recognized how timely this issue is in regards to the presidential election. The task of politics is to create various types of power and Schoonover questions how we exercise free will in this election and if we feel that we even can.

“The collection of global rules pose limits to societal free will in which they undermine social responsibility and sovereignty,” Schoonover said.

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