As I do every spring, I am teaching Modern Philosophy. As always, this gets me thinking about the matter of freedom. Interestingly, many of the thinkers of this time period accepted a deterministic view of reality and thus rejected the idea that we have freedom. Or at least the idea that we have a certain sort of freedom.
One argument that I often hear in favor of our freedom is that people feel free. To be specific, it certainly seems to feel as if we deliberate and make choices, at least in certain matters. For example, a person might be in a situation where she has to chose between advancing her career and staying in a relationship. To her it would certainly feel as if she is deliberating between the choices and that she ultimately makes a choice between them. She feels, as we all surely do, that she has made a choice and thus showed that she is free. After all, she could have chosen otherwise.
Of course, this argument does have some obvious problems. The first is that it is not exactly clear that what people are feeling is metaphysical freedom. After all, feelings generally do not seem to be very precise epistemic instruments. As an example, people often confuse feelings of lust with feeling of love. As another example, I have lost track of the times students have said that a non-A paper “felt like an A” or that an answer “felt right.” As such, an argument that uses evidence of the heart as its foundation would be on rather shaky ground.
Second, such feelings would seem to be consistent with a lack of freedom. Thomas Hobbes presented such a view. For Hobbes, such feelings arise when people experience alternating feelings of desire and aversion or there is competition between competing desires or between competing aversions. While it might feel as if the person is deliberating and then choosing, it is merely a deterministic competition between forces in which the strongest force wins. To use an analogy, it is like an object caught between two gravitation pulls: the object is not free, even though it might waver between the forces. In the end, the stronger pull wins-as it must.
So much for feeling free.
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