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  • Writer's pictureClare Lloyd

1. Are We Free Beings?

Watch the Video Here:

Nellie the dog behaves the way she does because:

a.) Her breeding (nature) has given her a predisposition for chasing, hunting and digging for small creatures

b.) Her training (nurture) has taught her to look to us for food when she feels the urge to chase something!

This means that she probably isn’t free to choose how to behave, because she has been ‘programmed’ to behave in that way. This is called Hard Determinism.

Is this true of people too?

Your Task:

Watch an episode of Supernanny with Jo Frost on YouTube.

· Do you think the children are free to choose the way they behave before Jo Frost works with them?

· Do you think they are free to choose their behaviour after she works with them?

· Some people might argue that the children are not free in either case. Why do you think this is?

There are several different forms of hard determinism:

Scientific Determinism – The world is like a machine. Our genes control the way that we behave / the laws of cause and effect that operate in the universe control our behaviour

Psychological Determinism – Our positive and negative experiences influence the person that we become and control our behaviour. We our behaviour is predictable if we know all the causes.

Philosophical Determinism – Every effect has a cause. This means that there can be no such thing as random actions. Therefore, there can never be a free action.

Most hard determinists accept that it is probably a combination of all these things that form our characters for us. So, whilst we feel like we are free, we are actually determined.

Your Task:

John has robbed a bank.

· Make a list of as many different things as you can that John might have had occur in his life before now, that could have led him to this point. (e.g. Poor? Bullied at school? Lazy?)

· If these things had happened to John, would you blame him for robbing the bank, or would you feel it was not his fault? Why?

· If Jane had experienced all the same things in her life, do you think she too would have robbed a bank? If your answer was not yes, why is this?

· If Jane and John had behaved differently, would you consider them free or determined in their behaviour?

The answers to these questions are important when we think about ethical behaviour. If we are determined, surely we cannot be praised or blamed for our actions. They are not our fault. Does it make sense to punish someone if they do something ‘wrong’ if they could not behave any other way? What do you think?

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