Zechariah Chafee's Concept of Being Free

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In everyday life, people are faced with choices and decisions, and many do not even give them a second thought as they carry on their day. However, whatever outcome came out of the choice they made, was it their free-will that made the decision, or was it a variety of factors beyond their control? If put in the same situation, would the same decision be made as before? These are the questions that many philosophers have tried to answer and have narrowed down to three concepts which try to explain human actions: determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism. The text-book defines determinism as “the view that every event, including human actions is brought about by previous events in accordance with universal causal laws that govern the world. Human freedom is an illusion” (Chaffee 159). Basically, this concept is saying that humans have no control over their actions, and all of the decisions humans make are caused by other factors, not free-will. In The Philosopher’s Way, Chaffee highlights some of the main reasons that determinism can explain human behaviors. These four explanations include human nature, the environment, psychological forces, and social dynamics. For human nature, it is believed that humans are born a certain way and their actions are hardwired into them, so free-will does not exist, and every action is because of characteristics they were born with. This leads to a couple questions like if humans are not responsible for their actions, then who is?

For truly horrendous acts that some individuals commit, can “human nature” really take full responsibility for them? This concept can be dangerous because it can take accountability away from people who commit heinous crimes, which is not right, because how can someone be born with wiring to commit those acts and others not be? Human nature is the most problematic explanation determinism offers because it offers excuses to behaviors that should not be excused. However, environment offers some strengths to the argument of determinism because how you are raised can influence the type of person you turn out to be. Environment is basically saying that people make the decisions they make because of the environment they were raised in or are currently in (Chaffee). If someone was raised in a positive environment, then they will live a positive life because of that upbringing, and the same would go for if someone was raised in a negative environment, then they would live a negative life. Some of this can be correct, as I believe that environment can have an affect on shaping individuals’ lives. However, the concept becomes problematic again when deviant behavior is excused just because of an environment someone was raised in. This is taking away all responsibility of the individual, which I believe is not right.

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For psychological factors and social dynamics, basically again all blame and freedom is taken away from the individual. Psychological factors believe that all motivations people have are not their own and come from a deep, subconscious place in a person’s psychology (Chaffee). The textbook gives a very disturbing example on the subject, stating that a coach who sexually abuses children on his teams, is not willingly chooses that action, but in fact is being controlled by psychological factors (Chaffee). Again, as stated before, I find this deplorable, especially in the given example. On the other hand, social dynamics explains that human action is determined by the way other around you act because of their influence (Chaffee). I believe this to be partly true, it is common that people take on behaviors similar to those they interact with a lot; however, other people cannot be blamed for the actions that we choose ourselves.

Next, is a view called compatibilism which is similar to determinism, but also believes in a more of human freedom compared to its counter-part. Compatibilists and determinists both believe that extrinsic factors are the cause of human behavior; however, compatibilists believe that if motivations are “internal”, then they are actions of free will (Chaffee). Chaffee says “Freedom means the opposite of compulsion: People are free if they are not prevented from acting on their unimpeded natural desires…” (160). Basically, the views of compatibilism and determinism are based on the same principles, they are similar because they both think that human action can be a result of external factors, the main difference between the two is that compatibilists believe that in certain circumstances, people can have free will if the actions they are carrying out are motivated internally.

The third and final viewpoint is called libertarianism. Libertarianism is the opposite of its two predecessors mentioned before because it believes in complete human free-will, for this idea individuals take full responsibility for the actions they choose (Chaffee). This theory does not believe that human actions are in accordance with events from the past (Chaffee). Choice and free-will are extremely important concepts especially in western society. According to Duus-Otterström, choice is so important to people because its instrumental, representative, and symbolic. Choise is instrumental because it gives a multitude of alternatives and is valuable because it give people the feeling that they are in control of their outcomes or at least can try and get the most desirable outcome out of a situation (Duus-Otterström). Choices we make can also hold special meaning, not because they are something we have no control over, but because they are something that we choose on our own free-will (Duus-Otterström).

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Zechariah Chafee’s Concept of Being Free. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/zechariah-chafees-concept-of-being-free/> [Accessed 14 May 2021].
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