One of the human dilemmas that philosophers have failed to concur upon is whether human beings are free to decide the course of their individual lives. Determinists, those who hold the cause- effect theory, argue that events, behavior and actions are determined by forces outside human control. Their opponents, the indeterminists, counter this thesis by arguing for the capacity of human beings to reason and exercise free will in deciding their actions. Their major argument is that there is always an alternative and accordingly, a choice to make.

David Hume is one proponent of the first school of thought. In his argument for determinism, he posits that events must necessarily follow a causal agent. In the strictest sense of his principle of determinism, there has never been an event for which there was no cause. It then follows that in the absence of a cause, nothing will happen. In simple logic, it rains because clouds formed first, an event which was preceded by another cause i.e. condensation of moisture in the atmosphere. The processes and forces that lead to rain, your existence, the shape of your head and such irreversible occurrences, Hume argues, are determined and had to happen just the way they did. But then, as we will realize later, these claim holds water only in so far as the argument is limited to scientific explanation of things. For, when we extend the excursion to human behavior and actions, it easily falls apart.

At this point, it seems only necessary- for the very reason of discourse balance- to highlight the central tenets of another perspective, i.e. the argument for the freedom of free will on the basis of moral judgment and regret by William James.

James observes that people do regret their actions if they ended up hurting them andor others. They also make moral judgments of wrongdoing and condemn acts considered evil, illegal or immoral. Legal provisions or popular opinion shape peoples way of thinking and restrict behavior to conform to certain codes of conduct. By judgment we consciously examine and critique human conduct, and by regret discredit past actions. If we regret x, then we are judging that it would have been better if x had not happened, and we would have acted otherwise. In addition, guilty feelings following some wrongdoing indicate that ones conscience is acutely aware of the wrongdoing itself and the knowledge that doing otherwise would have been appropriate. In summary, his views on the human freedom of will are woven into three tenets namely
humans make judgments of regret,
they morally approve or disapprove events and actions and,
free will is pragmatically true.

In the next section, we will critically examine the theses of the two philosophers, and discuss how both make a convincing argument that one, events are determined by universal laws which human beings could not change, and two, judgment of regrets point to the existence of human freedom of will.

Perhaps Humes plunge to the extreme end of determinism is when he asserts, with no trace of self-doubt whatsoever, that it is not only the case that every event has a cause, but that the results of that cause could in no way be different from what they already are (Engel, Soldan and Durand, 2007 p 266). In other words, if Jack hit Jill because Jill ate his chocolate, then it follows that there is no way Jill could have avoided eating the chocolate, and Jack, on his part, could not control himself from swinging his hand to slap Jill it just couldnt happen in any other way. Complete balderdash, of course, but then determinism staunchly holds that there is always one and only one way in which things can happen and that is exactly the way they did, so irreversible and completely forgone. Think about it would have you avoided being white or black Would have those who perished in Haiti influenced their fate Twenty five days later, a survivor was pulled from the debris and shambles of the earthquake. Who made survival and death happen so selectively Not a shred of human will and this is a big score for Hume.

Consider death humans must die, and surely they will. This is one life situation that puts weight on Humes philosophy. Why, because nobody wishes death, and yet nobody can do anything about it. The universal law that determines the course of the universe makes it a settled deal there is a stage in life, regardless the sentiments of free will, at which all living things must come to an end.

Nevertheless, Hume does not fail to give his opinion, however unrealistic, of what he considers the exercise of free will in human behavior. According to him, free will is exercised only when the circumstances leading to an action do not presuppose any compulsion, constraint or coercion by external forces (Engel, Soldan and Durand 2007). It shouldnt have anything to do with the law of causality. Thus, when you scratch an itching on your skin, you have not exercised any free will at all the itch compelled the action of moving your hand to the itching place. On the contrary, you would have been in total command of your behavior if you had completely ignored it. This sounds like a very awkward interpretation of the thesis, but then the argument itself stretches the rules of reality and practicality to a very absurd degree, such that a realistic interpretation will contradict the logic of the reasoning that conjures such a thesis. In any case, Hume himself is trying to avoid contradicting his determinist stand by spelling out conditions that make absolute free will practically impossible. In so doing, he supports his argument that everything is caused by something else. The only shortcoming Humes thesis faces, it turns out, is accounting for the existence of the original cause it doesnt save a Christian from an atheist intent to know who caused God before He caused everything else.

At which point we consider William James rationale. Why do people regret after doing something that ended horribly wrong Why the expression I wish I knew Or You ought not to have done that. It could only mean that there was another way one could have handled or responded to a situation.
When peace of mind eludes a person as a result of hisher actions, then it implies that he takes responsibility of the situation. Responsibility, James finally argues, points to the fact that people have freedom of will, and that they are the willing agents of most events. He rejects determinism as a mere attempt to deny responsibility for failure to do what ought to have been done but wasnt, either because it seemed impossible or due to lack of foresight at the time. When they realize later that it was possible or right to do otherwise, they regret, feel guilty and make some moral judgments.
But then, James does not concentrate upon defending human freedom of the will by explaining how or why it exists, but rather by critiquing a world fully controlled by universal laws, where all events are sort of conditioned and automated to happen in consistence with universal causes. If things were designed to happen in a particular way, why then do people seek education Why, the doctor should have still become a doctor without going to med school. And oh yes, McCain shouldnt have bothered running against Obama because, Hume claims, it was already determined that he could not win.
It could be a very boring world indeed, if the future and events were determined and settled. There will be no motive or incentive doing anything at all. On the contrary, however, people have clear goals and objectives about their actions. Most of the times, if not all, people know why they are doing what they do, know what they want, where and how to get it. If not so, then you shouldnt regret failing in your exams, feel guilty for treating another person bad, or hate the man who blew up the Twins Towers and killed your dad. The reason, if you believe Hume, is because it was not your fault that you failed- you were supposed to fail not your fault that you mistreated someone- it was necessary not the terrorists will to hijack planes and ram them into the Twins Towers- it was designed that way. Makes life look pale and sick, doesnt it

Yet again, some things happen for which we cant take responsibility. Like the Haiti earthquake, people born with hemophilia or albinism, your flat nose which you dont like, or the job you lost because of the global economic crisis- events conditioned by forces that our collective or individual free will cant stop. It seems that some universal laws are at work.

But then, the kid whose parents died in Baghdad believes that somebody at Washington could have made the difference. Those who jibed Bush for the invasion must have made some judgments and concluded that the President could have done better he had an alternative that he either ignored or was too war-obsessed to see. It is possible that wherever he is, he is silently regretting, Sorry, folks, some Saddam- phobia scared the hell out of me

And so we find ourselves in a dilemma nobody wishes to dispute scientific reasoning, like the rotation of the earth which causes day and night. Again, nobody would like a world where rape is acceptable because it must occur. However, our lives are not about what already is, but about what we make them to be. Rape is something that happens, but which shouldnt happen. The world has all sorts of possibilities, but most of them we make probable. The bottom line is that human beings are endowed with a conscience, making them different from other creatures. We have the capacity to deliberate about possible actions and make a choice. We plan for our futures, and make decisions according to our goals. Yes, people have freedom of free will, by which they shape their lives and those of others.


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