Saturday, October 10, 2009


Do we have free will, or are all our choices determined by causes beyond our egoic control? I've wondered about this ever since I was a teenager over forty years ago. During almost that entire time I've believed that our choices are neither free of external causes nor determined by them, because there is nothing external to who or what we ultimately are. We are the whole universe, and our choices are the whole universe's choices. But this universe is one in which everything is so interrelated that there are no fundamentally separate things. All is one and one is all. The universe is a unified field. The unified field chooses.

Yet the practical result of this "mystical" perspective so far as the will is concerned is the same as what I understand philosophers to mean by "determinism." Our choices are necessary or inevitable given the state of the chooser at the time it chooses. It doesn't matter whether the chooser is understood to be an individual human being or the organism-environment field of the universe. IT chooses what it must given its precise nature or state of being at the time. More specifically, given one's genetic composition and the precise state of her body, brain, mind, and physical, social, and cultural environment at a given time, the choice she makes at that time can't be other than it is.

I've taken to calling this position "inevitablism" rather than determinism. I've done this because I want the term I use to suggest the inevitability of our choices but not that they are "determined" or caused by something outside the chooser. I don't want to imply external causation because I believe that ultimately there is nothing outside the chooser.

I believe that inevitablism has important ethical, legal, psychological, and even spiritual ramifications. But I can't honestly say that I know enough about this perspective and competing ones to meaningfully judge how sound or unsound they are. Nor can I offer as persuasive a scientific and philosophical defense of my perspective as I'd like. My dream is to write a book that lays out my inevitabilist perspective in uniquely clear, comprehensive, and compelling terms. Perhaps it's crazy to think that I could ever actually accomplish this and have anyone read it, but I want to try.

Yet before I do I need to learn a lot more about the issue. And it occurs to me that one of the best ways I can do this is to read many good books and articles about it. And I can strengthen my learning by summarizing here the essence of what I learn as I learn it. Then after I've built a "critical mass" of learning I can start posting my reflections on what I've learned in a useful way.

I may learn so much that I can no longer embrace my longstanding view. I'm hoping that I can go into this undertaking with enough of an open mind and heart that I'm not simply looking to support my preconceptions. I'm hoping that I'll be open enough to consider and even accept as true sufficiently persuasive evidence or argument against my preconceptions and to proceed from there in the best way. Who knows? I may end up authoring a blog or book defending free will. If you knew me personally and had ever become locked in intense discussion with me about free will, you'd know that this isn't very likely. But, hey, miracles DO happen. Or do they?

However, I need to start somewhere. I propose to do it with this blog. And if anybody out there is interested in following my progress and perhaps learning more about the issue themselves as we go along, and you want to discuss it with me and others here, I hope you'll stick around and make your presence felt.

In my next post I'll introduce the first chapter of the first book I've chosen to study and summarize. It's Robert Kane's masterful A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will.


  1. Just wanted to say welcome to the world of blogging and blogger!

  2. Hi Nagarjuna! Looking forward to learning what you learn.

  3. Interesting project...I look forward to your next post.

  4. Goblinbee and Stan, good to see you aboard.

  5. Interesting topic and project!

    I take a simple-minded view on it myself:

    (a) There is no free will. For any choice and action, I can find innumerable causes, and then always one more.

    (b) It is very helpful to use the idea of free will as a guide in life. It helps me act with a little more maturity and integrity (which is sorely needed!), and that choice too has infinite causes.