Great answer. Do you mind if I dig a little deeper into the concept of being free to choose your destiny? Does the ability to choose X over Y really mean that the will is free?
Let’s say for sake of argument, I am faced with the choice to take a job as an accountant or to try to make it big with my struggling rock band. On the surface, it might seem that I have absolutely free choice to pick one or the other. Maybe people even say to me, it’s your choice Liam, do whatever you like.
But how free am I to choose my destiny really? Let’s think about some of the things that might be influencing my decisions.
- My desire for a steady income over my desire for eternal fame
- My view of 9-5 work vs creative work
- the opinions of my family, friends, mentors, and significant other (if I have one) and my tendency to conform or rebel against their perceived authority in my life.
- My sense of responsibility and my willingness to choose stability over personal fulfilment.
- How risk-averse or prone I am.
- How culture presents the work of accountants and rock musicians in TV, Films, and books and which I find most attractive/repulsive.
- How much I can offset the instant gratification of a steady income over the delayed gratification of possible wealth at a later date.
- How my religion and culture have shaped how I think, act, and work (eg. the western follow your dreams approach vs. the more eastern get a job, work hard, do what is expected approach)
- etc., etc.
In the above example, all of these things have a bearing on whether I desire to become an accountant or stick at it as a rock musician. Ultimately, the impact on which path I will or choose to take. If that is the case, how free is my will really? Ok, I could kick sand in the face of everyone and choose option number 3: none of the above. But, I am sure a lot of the reasons for that choice could be explained with the list above too.
This applies to arbitrary choice too, of course. There are a whole host of reasons why I choose a BigMac, fries, and Fanta at the drive-thru over a Chicken Legend with salad and a bottle of water. My will is no less free of influence at Mcdonald’s than it is when choosing a career.
At the end of the day, I make the choice and yet my choice is hardly made in a vacuum. So how free is it really? In the above examples, my will is free from being forced or coerced into a choice, but it is hardly free from external or internal influences.
This is one reason why I think the term free will doesn’t actually mean much in practice. It is ingrained in our culture from the time of Greek philosophy, but it exists much more in the cultural imagination than reality. But this doesn’t mean I am some Nietzschean fatalist either who says we all just matter in motion.
Personally, I prefer the term Moral Responsibility or Moral Agency over free will. We are all agents who make choices and decisions for which are responsible, our circumstances help make our actions understandable, but they do not invalidate our moral responsibility. Maybe that is what you mean by free will, if so… that’s good with me.