Determinism versus Free Will

Determinism is the view that all events, including human choices, are governed by causes independent of the human will. If determinism is true and men had sufficient knowledge of the universe, they could understand why things happen and predict what would happen in every circumstance. The issue of determinism raises the question, not only of its own reality, but of its own desirability. Those who oppose it, generally do so on the basis that it suggests a loss, or at least, a diminishing of human freedom--a precious commodity in modern democratic societies. Determinism has implications for theology, behavioral psychology, and criminal justice. It would be difficult to conceive of a Supreme Being who did not determine the final outcome of all things, and if he did determine the final outcome of all things, by a kind of theological necessity, the Supreme Being would have to exercise control over everything and all decisions of moral agents, i.e., It is argued that determinism is implied in the very definition of God. The concept of divine foreknowledge, in itself, seems to imply determinism. For if God knows the events of the future, that knowledge must surely be an infallible knowledge. For that reason, the events yet future cannot fail to come to pass just as they are known in the mind of God.

Interest in the concept of determinism, however, is not limited to Theists. The behavioral psychologist operates on the premise that, given the right stimulus, human behavior will follow a predictable pattern much like Pavlov's dog. The fictional short story entitled "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" in chapter one of Davis's Philosophy illustrates this interest in a very clever way. A prisoner placed in a room following a two-month clinical evaluation is soon beside himself, as he finds his every thought and action revealed on every page of each volume he pulls from a set of encyclopedias on the bookshelves.  

Those involved in criminal justice are concerned with the issue of determinism to the degree that conditions such as intoxication, drug overdose, and mental retardation, and genetic factors influence behavior.  A person who was a victim of drug overdose by someone drugging his food could hardly have the same degree of culpability in the commission of a crime that would be the case if he had been in his normal state of mind.

Fatalism differs from determinism by isolating the concept from causal events and choices. For example, the exact timing of a man's death is considered to be fixed irrespective of choices or events that may cause that death. Even though a man may theoretically have turned away from the danger that resulted in his death, since it was his time, he would have died anyway. The religion of Islam has a fatalistic concept of Deity, as does the philosophy of Stoicism.

Libertarianism is the opposite of determinism. It is the view that the will is free, at least to some degree, and that choices are not subject to causal laws or events.

America's first philosopher, Jonathan Edwards, in his dissertation on the Freedom of the Will, argued that the will, or inclination, was determined by a dominant motive. He distinguished between natural ability and moral ability. Natural ability corresponds to Davis' concept of freedom of action. It simply means that the will is free to act according to its dominant motive. The Supreme Being is not physically restraining anyone from exercising his will. Man basically does whatever he wants. But he cannot cannot want what he wants, that is, he lacks moral ability. Accordingly, a virtuous woman has a moral inability to engage in shameful behavior, even though she does not lack the natural ability to so behave. On the other hand a man possessed by the desire for wealth has a moral inability to serve the needs of the poor.

Speaking as a Theist, Edwards believed the will was inclined toward self-interest as the result of the rebellion of the first human couple in Eden. Authentic experimental religion, or the experience of grace in the heart, altered the inclination of the will away from self-interest by introducing a new motive--the glory of God, and so the will would be inclined in that new direction. A will that had no inclination, though defended by the libertarians, was not only a moral impossibility on this side of Eden, it was evidence of a despicable character with no moral principle whatsoever. It was like a lukewarm cup of coffee, neither cold nor hot, and worthy only to be spewed out. 

In philosophical terms, the motive of the glory of God was simply defined as consent to Being in general.  Since Being in general included uncreated being (i.e., the supreme Being), as well as created being, true virtue involved the consent of the will toward that portion of Being which was entitled to the greatest share of consent, and in proper proportion.  Since the Creator, or Supreme Being was infinitely the greatest and best, true virtue represented a supreme love for God, and, by implication, a special love and affection for those created beings who held God in the same regard.  Authentic experimental religion would incline the will in that direction.