Free Will, Conscience and Hard Determinism

We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. (King, p. 160) Robert Blatchford would argue differently about this statement, because he would say that progress is pre-determined. As he would say, progress will happen only if it is meant to happen. Are things in life such as progress inevitable or are they based upon decisions we make of our own free will? Do we as individuals possess free will, or are the events in our lives bound to happen? Are the events and actions of our lives pre-determined, or do we have the ability to change the course of events as we deem necessary?

I believe that the decisions that we make for the future will be made of our own free will to choose. Although heredity and environment have a constant presence in our lives, we are as individuals ultimately responsible for our own actions. Hard Determinism holds that every event has a cause, but regardless of this fact it has nothing to do with free will. Human beings should never be held responsible from a moral point of view, because a human being cannot possibly do anything different from what they already do.

They can’t possibly be held accountable for these actions either, because they are doing only what they are capable of doing. Blatchford would hold all of these principles to be true, however Martin Luther King, Jr. would strongly disagree. Although Blatchford never argued that a person makes choices, he did argue that they were freely making those choices. King wrote about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s Hill in which he said, … on Calvary’s Hill, three men were crucified. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment.

The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. (King p. 161) Blatchford would argue that there is no way that a man can rise above or fall below one’s environment, for it is one’s environment and/or their heredity that causes one to act in the first place. The men on Calvary’s Hill could not help being the type of people that they were, Blatchford would argue. If this is true, then how would you explain the one man’s repentance to Christ and the other man’s rejection of the saint?

I believe it was a choice made of the man’s free will. To believe in hard determinism as Robert Blatchford did, you would have to believe that everything you do, or that anyone else does for that matter is pre-determined. Therefore, every decision you make or conclusion that you come up with has been determined before you even committed to the act of resolution. Robert Blatchford held that our choices are reflective of either our heredity or our environment or a combination of both. However, King, as noted above, stated that a person is able to rise above their environment.

Your environment is your surroundings, your conditions or your circumstances. It is what you know around you at all times, at all hours of the day and night throughout your life. Martin Luther King, Jr. , like most black people living during the days of segregation, was subject to laws and attitudes contrary to the equality given to white men and women in America at that time. Although the attitude toward blacks in the time of segregation was hostile, there were individual blacks throughout the United States that began to protest what they felt was an injustice.

They felt that segregation was a prejudiced law, and that as United States citizens, they deserved the same respect and treatment as given to the white community. Many blacks out of fear stayed silent and tolerated the bigotry. However, there were those who defied the laws, and in so doing also defied the government. Blatchford wrote that heredity and environment make a person what the are; however, if this is true, how would he explain the fact that there were black people who protested segregation, which was a part of the every day existence in society then.

If blacks were part of an environment in which they were seen as not equal to whites, then how do you explain their will to break the law and go against their environment? Blacks were taught to respect and uphold the law as well as white citizens in society, and yet there were those who outwardly rejected it. How can you explain Rosa Parks decision not to move to the back of a bus to allow a white person to sit down as her environment would have had her do? For years, King and other black Americans tolerated racial discrimination, and they did so partly because they were accustomed to this way of living in those times.

As King puts it, There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice. (King p. 158) David Thoreau in his essay Civil Disobedience stated, All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government. When its inefficiency are great and unendurable. (Thoreau, p. 2) If a person is no longer willing to accept the customary attitudes of society, are they not exercising their will freely in order to change their environment.

Complete defiance against the natural elements is a free will act. What role does the conscience play in one’s will? The Conscience is your awareness of what is right or wrong as it pertains to your own actions. As Blatchford states, the free will party will claim that conscience is an unerring guide. (Blatchford, p. 243) If the conscience is our guide, then surely we are making a choice to either follow our belief system of right and wrong or to do the exact opposite and go against our conscience. This in and of itself shows that we choose to do one or the other, but is it a free will act?

Blatchford argues, … conscience does not and cannot tell us what is right and what is wrong; it only reminds us of the lessons we have learnt as to right and wrong. (Blatchford, p. 243) I feel that some things are instinctive in all of us, and although we may be taught to be good, we may act out in an evil way. Serial killers are not always raised in a dysfunctional environment, but they are certainly dysfunctional human beings. These killers choose to murder other human beings regardless of their environment or in spite of it.

I do not pretend to know the answer to the age-old question of whether there is or is not a God. I can tell you that I am a believer in God and a believer in the will to think and choose freely. My common sense tells me that no one person or object created its own self, and therefore, there must have been an original creator of the universe and of the people and things in existence in the universe. This original creator, or what we know as God, would have willed us into being and willed us to use our minds to make opinions and decisions freely.

This certainly seems to explain the idea that we were created in the image of God. Here are some problems as I see them with Blatchford’s theory. If we do not possess free will, then why do people continue to engage in destructive behavior when they presumably know better? Where do new ideas come from? Here is an example of my point against Blatchford’s theory on environment and heredity. I know of two brothers raised in the same environment, one is in prison for murder, the other is a law school graduate. This is a true story, so how would Blatchford explain this?

If two people are raised by the same parents in the same household and are the same age, then how did one choose to be so different? Certainly it wasn’t heredity and environment! Blatchford wrote the following, Now if Williams had been Robinson, that is to say if his heredity and his environment had been exactly like Robinson’s, he would have done exactly as Robinson did. (Blatchford, p. 245) Blatchford was writing about two friends, Robinson and Williams, who met to have a drink, but his point is clear, if their environment and heredity are the same they would choose the exact same way.

It is as though Blatchford feels we are nothing more than computers, scripted to do only as we are programmed. Blatchford makes the case that if Williams and Robinson’s heredity and environment had been the same, as in my example, the two men would have done exactly the same thing. I believe Blatchford just disproved his own theory. In conclusion, my opinion is that the will is free because if it were not free there could be no such thing as progress. Progress cannot exist without new ideas, and without a free will new ideas could not be contrived.

Furthermore, as individuals we choose to go against our instincts every day. We are constantly making choices that change the course of our lives and of the lives of those around us. King once wrote, My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. (King, p. 157) Without our will we could not hope to gain anything at all, because without the will to change, we would remain complacent and, therefore, never wanting more out of life.

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