Thursday, February 20, 2014

Free Will vs. Determinism


"A man can surely do what he wills to do, but cannot determine what he wills." ~ Schopenhauer 
Look at the picture above for a moment. When we come to this fork in the road, do we truly "choose" with path to take? Or is it already chosen for us? That is, is our choice already predetermined unbeknownst to us?

Free will vs. determinism. This has been debated in philosophical circles for hundreds of years.  It’s always been a fascinating discussion to me. When I first took Introduction to Philosophy as an undergrad, I went back and forth on this issue hundreds of time. The majority of the class sided with the “free will” argument, as do I now. But do those of us who believe in free will believe in it due to the fact that we don’t want to cede control of our lives to outside forces?
Many feel that there is an inherent weakness in argument for determinism - that weakness being that determinism and morality cannot logically coexist....for an immoral act could not possibly be looked upon as immoral if there was an absence of "choice" to begin with. Consequently, there is a mistaken belief that "chance" (or fate) and free will are mutually exclusive. This concept is fundamentally flawed because it presupposes that the mere existence of free will renders "chance" an impossibility.
Those who argue for determinism contend that even though we may agonize over certain decisions…changing our mind from one minute to the next until we have made a choice, that there was in fact one, and only one, choice to begin with. The alternate choices that we agonized over were merely "illusions". That they were not choices at all....they were nothing more than the illusions of choice. It’s very difficult for me to bring myself to believe that. Call me naïve but I will always remain a strong believer in free will.  

What about you. Do you believe in free will or are you a determinist?  

135 comments:

  1. Oh goodness. Definitely free will. Maybe because I just had an experience where I agonized over 2 choices. I could have easily gone either way. One way was not an illusion, it was an actual choice I could have made. That choice would have a completely separate set of consequences than the decision I made. In the end, I can only hope I made the right choice. But it was ME who made the choice. I love to argue over philosophy, but I strongly feel some people try to shirk the responsibility of their decisions by saying their actions were predetermined. This is only my opinion though :)

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  2. Free will.

    Happy Thursday, Keith!

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  3. Being raised in a church going home -- I definitely believe in Free Will ... with those that choose evil acts ... I really don't believe that they go back and forth with their decision to kill (as an example) or not to kill ... I believe they choose evil ....

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  4. Now you have me wondering: if I say, "free will" was that a choice? I believe that with each step we take it is "more than likely" that the next step will be determined by the "last step".

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    1. Free Will, of course, implies that God is NOT omnipotent.

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  5. Hi Keith - free will; sometimes there's no choice - ie without being rude, objectionable etc .. so we may not want to do something, but we will - as it's the 'better' option and really it's not relevant.

    I usually make quite quick decisions, but sometimes leave them in abeyance until that decision needs to be made ... and how often things turn around and change making the decision easier ...

    Cheers to you - Hilary

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  6. Free will.....we make our choices and pay the consequences.

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  7. I go with free will, determinism is scary.

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  8. I choose not to think about it...I think...now you have me thinking about it...FREE WILL! or was that thought predetermined...hmmm...I'll have to think about this some more.

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  9. I'd never really heard of determinism actually. I think I'm still a nice mix of both. I believe in free will, but that some things are pre-determined. Such as meeting some people, or having some things happen.

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  10. this sounds quite complicated to me-lol-I would have to go with free will as no matter how life's background we usually have choices

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  11. Wow, you really are asking us to go deep - I love that. I agree with Lindsey - we do have free will. But I also believe we have different levels of consciousness that cause us to make certain choices. And I do believe things happen for a reason so there is some measure of pre-determination.

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  12. I think there is some free will involved but there are factors of personality, social expectations (familial ones as well), that predetermine the way we behave and how we choose to apply our free will. My son is an introvert. He has somehow fallen into a sales position at his job. He's very good at it. Why? Because he is quiet, non-aggressive, and knows his stuff. His personality pre-determines how he will behave as a sales person. That he is successful is beyond his control and merely a factor. He could just as easily choose to work in an environment where he doesn't interact with strangers, something he would truly prefer, but he does make good money doing what he does.

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  13. I believe we are given free will, although our fate is predetermined. Confusing right…welcome to my own philosophy =)

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  14. you are asking us to go deep. i think certain lessons to be learned or challenges are given to us before we are even born - sort of assignments for our soul. but i think our reactions and choices in those situations are ours to make.

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  15. I could probably go round and round in circles on this question, in a kind of 'on the other hand' way.

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  16. I'm 50/50 here, Keith.....but you know that's typical me!!

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  17. What a gift free will is... I believe that we are given a free will to choose. Everything we do is because of a choice. We don't always make the right choice but it's our choice right or wrong. There are always consequences for every choice we make.
    Freewill and choice goes hand in hand.

    We may be told which path we should take by someone who has already gone a certain path but it may not be the right path for us personally.

    What is determined is something that we can't change like a season or a gender or our height and eye and hair color or our race.

    I wonder what the Dalai Lama would have to say about this question. I always love his wise answers.
    JB

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  18. Keith, I think from the day that we are born that the Good Lorn has our destiny determined for us, the good and the bad!

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  19. Just found your blog. Must say I'm happy to find a blogger that puts some actual thought into their posts. Not just photos of cute kittens. To answer your question. I am not profoundly religious but attend mass a few times each year and must say I do believe God knows my choices before I do. I have free will to go anyway I want and yet He still knows how it all turns out. In many ways it helps me make the right decision and when I don't it helps me ask for forgiveness

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  20. i am a free will kind of guy....we make decisions every day that affect future outcomes...i dont think this intereferes with god understanding and knowing the final outcome...with out free will we are automatons...

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  21. I'm siding with the free will for this one. What's the point of living life if everything is pre-determined. I agree with what Brian said above me too, about God understanding and knowing the final outcome...and that not affecting our choice here to choose.

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  22. I go with free will too. Life is full of choices. I have the free will to chose what is best for me. Something it's a difficult choice to make, but yep...free will.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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  23. Awesome words.
    Free will is beautiful. The answer is in the word - it's free! Whether or not that you believe that there is an outside force that is predetermining our decisions, you will be, at some point or another, forced to make a decision for yourself, as a human being. Maybe this force already knew the decision you were going to make, but it gave you the free will to make it yourself.

    Maybe this is just because I like to look to the spiritual side of everything, but free will does give us the capacity to look outside of ourselves. If everything was predetermined, we'd be predetermined to believe in this outside force. But we have the free will to believe it or not. It's quite beautiful and radical, really.

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  24. I definitely believe there is free will. Otherwise we would all be robots following a predetermined path...or the puppets of some master puppeteer. And life would be purposeless really. I could not tolerate the idea that some people are destined by design to go to hell & some are destined by design to go to heaven....with no choices on their part.

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  25. I always go left because I am left handed...but am I left handed because both of my parents are left handed? But when I golf...I golf right handed because my husband is right handed and taught me that way. I love the unsolved mystery.

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  26. I believe in free will yet I also believe in cause and effect. It's possible to make decisions that set things in motion that you can't control...still how you respond to things is still a matter of free will. I never visit here without thinking...thanks Keith.

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  27. Keith,

    Thank you for posting this very thought provoking Blog topic today. Most interesting, but after a brief moment, I am most certainly of the 'free will,' mode of thought. I hate times when a choice is simply not possbile, especially if it involves a horrible situation, or direction.
    I have preached to my children to always, ' say NO,' if that is what you really want to do...I think that can be a life saver at times.

    ( Nice to keep in touch here and thanks for your kind visits and comments to my poetry Blog. Much appreciated:) )
    Eileen

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  28. I think you have written a post early on this topic… and I was going with you on free will :)

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  29. I think life is a mixture of choices we make as well as things that happen that we are not in control of. :)

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  30. We have free will but i think fate/universe/whoever sends us signs to follow as to which would be the best path. We can notice the signs and take the path it wants us to or ignore them and go down the other,

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  31. Gosh, this is one thing I have been thinking a lot about the older I get. I believe that we do have free will and can control our destinies, but I think we do get our passions and interests from a higher power. But what we do with those passions is up to us. But it's a tough one!

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  32. Free will, in that we create and choose our own energy. What our energy is made of then determines how we effect. Cause and effect or Karma, if you will... Great question, really does get one thinking :)

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  33. Free will and it all started in the Garden of Eden. Darn that apple.

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  34. O dear, how quickly do you want the answer? No debate? No argument?
    Just off pat, wham bang?

    I would love to come down on the side of free will, but even our free will is determined by who we are and why.

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  35. Put me in the free will camp. Boy, you did bring up some interesting thoughts to ponder though.

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  36. Definitely free will, that is for sure.

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  37. It is no longer debated in philosophy for the most part. I am a hard determinist and have found that it is an idea that most people cannot begin to comprehend except for certain not so bright Christians. Regardless, I remain a determinist. I am not a Christian.
    To my mind it is as simple as looking at the insane and determining how much free will they have. If you can determine that certain insane people have no free will, then you must draw a line somewhere between those who are insane and those who are sane, or those with free will and those without.

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  38. When iIlooked at your picture, Keith, I couldn't help but think of Robert Frost's poem of ' The road not taken', which I love. I believe in 'Free will' too.

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  39. Free will for making choices but we attract and happen upon others who affect our choices.

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  40. I believe in free will, but I do have a glimmer of an idea for a book where people are kicked down a certain path despite their best intentions to take the other ...

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  41. I believe in free will, but I also believe in God. He wants us to have agency, and has given that gift to us freely, yet he also cares about us and is involved in our individual lives. I think the belief in God can help explain the "chance" apect of our mortal experience, as well as show that he is omnipotent yet loving and wise with His power.

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  42. Free will in that our experiences inform our choices but it could all be computer program. . . . .

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  43. I think I believe in a mixture of both. If you are standing before the two roads in the picture, you are meant to choose one; it doesn't matter which. If a particular path was not meant for you, it would not even be there as an option. The fork is there because you have two possible destinies.

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  44. I'm glad you put in chance! There are people who just bumble along. What about luck? You've brought up and interesting topic. Free will makes sense to me.

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  45. I believe God has a plan for each of us and if we ask him he will make known what we should do. We can choose to follow him and do our own thing.

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  46. Choices, opportunities, luck, determination and apathy. Some we can control, some we can't. The two roads look very similar, without one being worn more than the other. I would take the one that looks to be elevated. Don't we all want to see the bigger picture, from above?

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  47. we do have some choice in the fork in the road. I'm sure going right in the middle with the trees and stuff would be a much harder walk.

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  48. I totally believe in free will... sometimes I wish it was easier but that is not the way it is... I think we choose the path we are on and we can certainly change directions whenever we decide we want too... we just have to make the decision :)

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    1. Thank you so much for the wonderful comment on my blog Keith, you always say the nicest things... I come away smiling :)

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  49. Very interesting topic! I love philosophical discussions. I'm not entirely sure about this. I mostly believe in free will, but I don't rule out determinism. I do think it plays a role, albeit smaller one, in the outcome.

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  50. Free will, but that being said, I think we are born with a predisposed set of circumstances to 'choose' from. I do believe we are guided from the outset, that we are not victims of our circumstances, for there is great responsibility in having the privilege of 'free will' that we must not take for granted. Every life event is another opportunity for growth - we can choose the right path, or we can flounder down the wrong one, but we must always accept full responsibility for all of our actions and decisions. That way we remain the navigators of our own destiny. xo Karen

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  51. I believe that there is a plan for our life, but that we have free will to follow it or not.

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  52. I would have to say it's Free Will. We always have a choice.

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  53. Free will is an illusion. But I'm content with that.

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  54. I believe in free will. I think we find meaning in things. Things do not necessarily mean something before we place that meaning on it. If that makes sense. :-)

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  55. Free will… which brings up Free Willy. How does a free creature become unfree. What route was taken to give up free will.

    If a whale or dolphin is beached…. with all their built in radar … and they take the wrong wave… then lord have mercy so can I. Kind souls can help get us along our path… whatever that path may be.

    But to me, options ~ choices are ours and we are responsible… not a god who some say … it is/was god's will or god will let me know or some force that is guiding me will guide me…

    I think there's definitely a source that's bigger and more knowledgeable that I but … this force doesn't interfere. interesting as all get out. homing pigeons. migratory birds or animals … salmon? all creatures… great or small … the only difference is humans have … free will.

    Interesting about our genetic makeup. I've put in an order for the egg and sperm mixer of my next life to please… seriously … please let me eat whatever I want and not gain a pound. wouldn't that be something.

    I know nothing except I'm free to think when I want… be funny to find out when we die that we are all dummies manipulated by ventriloquists .. or puppeteers … astronaut puppeteers ..hah!

    what was the question… oh free will or determinism .. or fatalism … yes, free will and karma ….

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  56. A little free will and a little determinism both :)

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  57. I would like to believe in determinism for that would free me from any responsibility in the blunders I have made. However it would also strip me of any part in the wondrous events. However since I own up to both results, I fall on the "free will" side.

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  58. I'm on the side of free will, but also believe a sense of responsibility to loved ones and society also helps shape our choices. Or at least, it should.

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  59. Free will. It's a fundamental truth. You can alter your reality entirely by the choices you make, even while certain societal standards determine a couple aspects. I'm a firm believer that you make your own reality. If you're not happy with it, you have the power to change. Period.

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  60. Hi Keith, a beautiful post :)
    Looking at the picture of cross roads I was about to take my smartphone loaded with google maps, GPS and stuffs like that, lol !
    Well, we have psychics, astrologers, elders, spiritual leaders, life coaches psychologists and the like to guide us. Whatever, our intuition, gut feeling and inner voice, trust them !
    A difficult question, free will or determinism ! Living life artistically, may be a dream !
    Like all other posts, this too is awesome !
    Thanks a lot, Keith !

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  61. Our inner voice and gut feeling is always the best route.
    You're lucky if you are in tune with yourself in that way and adapt that way of thinking, to where it almost becomes second nature. You hesitate less, therefore you're on the right path!

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  62. I think we are shaped to a large extent by circumstance and so we don't have absolute free will, but i don't think that everything is decided for us in advance...

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  63. I'm not sure about this question but as much as I love country roads I would choose one and then come back and take the other.

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  64. I am undecided on this one! But is it my fate to be undecided? ;)

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  65. When I'm behind a fork in the road, conditions dictate me to put my choice, I think the path already is chosen for me.

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  66. I lean toward free will, with determination to be kind to myself and others as the goal. Great question...

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  67. This is a very thought-provoking discussion. I like to believe we have free-will. But as I walk the path of life, I realize choices I have made have actually helped put together pieces of a puzzle that I could have never seen when I actually made the choice. It is almost as if there wasn't supposed to be an alternative result. I've had other times where I chose a path contrary to what I would have normally done, but something happened to put me back on the path I was originally on. I can't see the big picture, but maybe our free will isn't quite as free as we think.

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  68. I fall on the Free Will side. IF it were actually determinism, then all would never make an informed choice.

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  69. age old very hard question--i do believe we have free will and i do believe in divine appointments!

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  70. Free will it is. Absolutely. This post made me think about the book I am reading, the Wizard of Us by Jean Houston. Interesting read.
    Happy Friday Keith.
    Cortne

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  71. As a christian I know i am given free will...I also that we are all children of God and predestined to be with him for eternity if we choose to. In life we are offered many forks in the road... no matter which we choose God is in that choice....some paths are hard and some easy...some long some short. But they all lead to Christ and our choice to accept or reject Him....

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  72. I think a little bit of both. We are born being naturally good at certain things. A lot of it is genetics. Some of it is just that we use one side of the brain more than the other. Much like someone is right handed vs. left handed.

    Then other people, and circumstances make you change your mind to take a different path. It could be that the job you want to do is in a different location. By moving to point B, you discover something new about yourself that you weren't aware of before.

    I just gave a history lesson on Illustration. One of the Illustrator's (Francis Hopkinson Smith) was a trained naval engineer. He worked on the base of the Statue of Liberty. When he worked on that he met someone that mastered watercolor. He found himself interested in watercolor as well. He's now in the History of Illustration book. Life just takes you different places sometimes. Was he unhappy being a naval engineer? Probably not. He just saw a different direction that seemed more appealing at the time, and took it. That is back when Illustrators made money.

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  73. Free will for me Keith ~ I believe that we are ultimately responsible for our actions ~ Have a good weekend ~

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  74. I guess indecision is a decision in itself. Luck is a thing but you have to be all set up to use it and it's such a small part of anything in the end.

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  75. I think we are given free will, but I do believe God knows everything we'll do before we even do it. He sees the beginning, the end, and everything in between. :~)

    ~Sheri

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  76. We navigate variables toward a future that best includes us --preferable to one that doesn't.

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  77. Free Willy, sorry free will, every time, dude. I was determined to make note of my free will. And Keith, the more they try to shackle my free will, the more peacefully defiant I become.

    A peaceful weekend to you.

    Gary :)

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  78. I guess determinism aswell is an answer of free well. What we determine, depends so much on our past choices, which are consequences of our free will.

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  79. I don't think its an either or situation - there is only behaviour and context. (But I may have been made to say that!!!!)

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  80. Sometimes I think both occur... Sometimes we choose, and yet at other times, circumstances we cannot control decide our path. I do believe, however, that we still have free will then as we can always decide how we react to these circumstances beyond our control.

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  81. Free will to decide if we want to follow, I'm a free will all the ways...not that my choice have been so great but they were my choices :)

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  82. I agree with you Keith - I would like to believe that every decision I made was due to my own ministrations but I do think that every now and again there have been some unexplained decisions which I've made which led to me either being out of danger or being in the right place at the right time. Call it fate, or God, or something else, but it is strange. I really like this post - nice and thought provoking.

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  83. I think it's both. We come to a fork, we make a free will decision...but the consequenes of that decision will be determined...until the next fork. We do create our life ourselves, good and bad. It's always a real choice, not an illusion. The determination is the consequence of free will to me. If I choose to be happy and live a good life - then happiness is my determination - what I give out I will receive. If I choose to make poor choices than that's what my determination is going to be - unhappiness and pain. Our free will decides our determination, only the greater power within us determines our lives - and that's why they go together. Free will and determinism need one another, they can only exist together :)

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  84. I definitely believe in free will. However (and I don't know if this is related or not) but if you say "this is the way it is" then I accept it. Most of the time. Does that make sense for a Saturday?

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  85. This has baffled me forever, and would hound me for many years to come ... Even I ask, if it's determinism then why blame for a wrong act... May be I'd go with the free will philosophy ... May be ... Smiles ..

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  86. Determined to have free will ... smiles ...

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  87. Free will is what we are at liberty to use to choose the optimal path in the service of God, a part of whom we are and have always been.

    There's my best answer! Keith, this was a really thoughtful post.

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  88. I'm definitely a proponent of free will. I really feel that every decision and action you do has an effect on the future. Maybe that's what sometimes makes me so anal.

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  89. Determinism to me is like looking back on the past and saying it was inevitable, then applying that to the future. We have free will and that free will determines the future. It is not inevitable.

    The sun always shines but it is not inevitable. Who knows what will happen? Chance events could destroy it.

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  90. I totally believe in free will.
    Even when events happen that we appear to have no control over...these events can usually be traced back to an earlier act of will on our part.
    I have tied my mind into knots on this subject, but have never yet been able to prove to my own satisfaction that anything happens except as a result of free will!
    Many thanks for getting the grey cells ticking over...I needed this mental workout!! *smiles*

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  91. I definitely say free will. I think our actions do shape our future. I would not be happy if I were not given a choice. Great topic. Have a happy Sunday and week ahead!

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  92. Free will. Fate will deal you a hand, but you make the road you travel on (as Joan Manuel Serratt put it all those years ago).

    Greetings from London.

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  93. I believe in free will, Keith and in intuition:)

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  94. I caught a trout on a crawfish one time....and that's all I'm going to say about that.

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  95. This is something I've been thinking about, and honestly my mind isn't made up. I can see the points for both sides of the argument. It's interesting however when morality gets thrown into the mix as so many other views on that can come into play, like the theistic views. Good question though! Some interesting replies here.

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  96. I will always believe in free will. It is our own choices that will shape our lives. I believe I am where I am today based on every decision I ever made for myself.

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  97. Interesting post as I have pondered this topic many times. My thoughts are that we all have free will to make our own choices but, with saying that I feel fate plays a hand in some of the things we are dealt in life. I also believe we are given signs as guidance in our journey but, we need to look and listen for them. Excellent thought provoking post and the picture is great. I just want to jump in and see where the road will take me.

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  98. I believe in free will. Until someone tells me differently.
    Seriously, I believe in free will.
    Unless, the choices we make with our free will were pre-ordained in the first place.
    Oh, damn, now I gave my brain a cramp.

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  99. Hi Keith .. by dint of free will - yes you were the first to comment - thank you! Also would love to join you in London occasionally for visits to some of these Museums ... such is life ... but we're allowed to dream! Cheers Hilary

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  100. I can see where one could go round and round on this discussion. I believe in free will, especially when you look at it from our standpoint. I also believe that there is a greater plan and purpose set in motion by God.

    Have a great week!

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  101. We choose the path. Chance determines the road we're on. IMHO.

    PS You're exceptionally good at provoking deep discourse. That's why your blog is so successful.

    Cheers, Keith.
    xoRobyn

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  102. I believe we're each born with a certain path to follow. Along that path are many choices. I think we're free to make any choice along the paths we follow. The problems come when we make a choice that will take us off and totally away from the initial path with no chance of return. So I guess I believe in both?

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  103. Definitely free will... we all have agency, no doubt. (I find this topic fascinating too, btw... of course all of the topics you bring to your blog are wonderful, Keith!)

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  104. I believe in fate. My husband, however believes in free will, but not complete free will.
    I am now confused.

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  105. My gut tells me the path to follow. What would you call that? Gut or gutless??? So that's a no-brainer as I know the right path BUT I have disobeyed my gut feeling and taken the other path and dang, did that get me in trouble. So to me, it sounds as if the right path is already chosen for us but we also have the free will to take the other choice and when we destroy our lives, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

    Sorry I almost missed this but I get up really early, do my rhyme and often miss the posts that come later in the day.

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  106. I'm definitely a believer in free will. Otherwise I'd be thinking humans are robots. Food for thought. Of course, Robert Frost comes to mind...

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  107. Tough subject. I believe we can make choices but there is a God who directs our steps, who opens and closes doors.

    Life isn't egocentric, always guided by what we think or do. Life happens. There are many areas where we are powerless and need to adapt to what transpires. Life requires humility. We cannot, and are not, in control of all that occurs in our life. There is only one God and we are not it.

    Part of life is knowing how to respond and not react to life. For me, I do my best and leave the results up to God.

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  108. good food for thought..
    free will... that’s what distinguishes us from the other dwellers of this earth ! had freedom of choice been an illusion, no crime would ever be called an offense then.

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  109. this is such an interesting post as i do psychology and philosophy, i believe in determinism because in the world there are constantly things that 'determine' our actions and behaviours but nonetheless thats not to say free will isnt relevant as it does make sense as technically we are free to make choices, our influences aside :)

    http://beautifulswallow.blogspot.co.uk

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  110. Ah, this is a dead end zone to me..,.it battles me too, and a.lot.
    I'd like to think that free will rules, but what if everything is.already determined to happen? ..what if we were determined to choose a certain path by what we think is free will, when in fact is had already been determined since the day we were born?
    Does everything happen for a reason?
    Is free will an illusion?
    This is one.of the.topics that once i start to get myself involved with i cant stop, its like a pabdora's box..... what is the meaning behind every little thing on this earth? This life?....aah,,,,great post! You just woke me up

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  111. Hello Keith,

    Where does one person's free will start and another's determinism begin? And, is there room for both?

    We love to lean towards free will but have a sneaky suspicion that the future is paved before us and we are bound to follow it. Whatever, our mantra shall always be that one should try to live Life in extraordinary ways for there is no dress rehearsal.

    We have been bewitched by your most intriguing blog and note that several of our virtual friends have found you long ago. Still, better late than never we say and now we have stumbled upon you we shall follow where you lead.

    Should you wish to know more about us, then we are a mere click away!

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  112. Free Willy , er will , and save the whales too.
    ah yes cross roads for me always an adventure , my choice on how i decide to view the journey even if the path itself was preset in stone . hmm

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  113. Bit of both - and my kids would hate that answer - as you choose some things but life is about dealing with the bad breaks and how you deal with it.

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  114. a mix of both along with my religious beliefs. But I believe faith without works is dead and pointless!

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  115. ahh, i hate to think about this, one of the things that just make my brain ache! but i think i believe in free will to some extent but also that some things will happen anyway.. x

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  116. I believe it is more complex than one or the other. I believe we have free will nonetheless everything is as it should be...

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  117. Yes, I agree with the lovely and wise Ana...:)
    It is indeed complex. We are faced with choices all of the time...but those choices are made based on our individual natures, past experiences, guesses of outcomes of those choices, or sometimes, simply our mood guides us...this is a biggie, Keith... ;))

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