In my opinion, the dispute on whether the behavior of a particular individual is socially determined or results from the exercise of a completely free will, reaches far beyond sociology, to the realm of philosophy. It is often difficult to distinguish between social, economic and psychic factors that may affect a person; therefore, the type of influence is not the case. It is the very possibility of a free will that is in question.
The scholars representing both deterministic and indeterministic “camps” share one thesis – an individual is free to choose what he or she wants. The argument begins when one tries to analyze the origin of that “wanting” (Evans, 1996). For instance, let us imagine that a school graduate, Tim, decides not to enter a college but, instead, starts working in an auto repair shop with his father. Certain objective circumstances, for instance, the lack of money or inability to keep up with the studies, were not the reasons for this decision; he simply wanted to become a car mechanic as quickly as possible. I believe that in such a situation, Tim’s decision (as well as any likewise choices that I make in my life) was determined by powerful social factors. These may include the desire to follow his father’s example, the general idea of the “coolness” of cars that is popularized by the media, contempt towards higher education in his peer group, or the general concept of his being a car mechanic that Tim had developed in his childhood when playing with father’s tools in a garage, etc. (Henslin, 2011). Perhaps, we can continue the list of possible determinants (not only social but also psychic and economic) ad infinitum, and even Tim himself would not be able to discern the decisive one among them. That is why I believe that my conclusion on the origin of Tim’s career choice should stem from my assumptions about his life but rather on the general idea of whether free will is even possible for a person.
To my mind, the concept of indeterminism has more to do with human self-deception and general sense of independence than with reality. Scholars largely accept the thesis that various natural, social, and even cosmic laws drive the world that surrounds an individual. If it was not true, positive science in the form that we can see today would be impossible. However, when it comes to human behavior, some scientists deny the general principle of causality without sufficient empirical grounds.
As Caroll V. Newsom puts it, there are three major reasons for this tendency. Namely, the idea that God had endowed humanity with free will, the thesis that determinism eliminates moral responsibility for actions, and the sense of freedom that people experience when making decisions (1958).
In order to explain why I do not consider human intrinsic sense of freedom reliable, I would simply ask whether it is possible for a person to have that feeling of complete freedom while still being influenced. Modern marketing and advertising technologies demonstrate that it certainly is.
With regard to the first reason for believing in indeterminism that I have mentioned above, I will refer to such Christian authors as St. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and many other. They claim that the will of the majority of people is not in the least free because the particular individuals remain ignorant of the beauty and sovereignty of God. This means that though still subject to God’s eternal providence and predestination, they will never obey Him voluntarily, out of love and good pleasure, both of which may result only from knowing the truth about God (Augustine, n.d.; Luther, 1823).
I would also argue that in reality, the fact that human behavior is determined by, for instance, socialization does not eliminate personal responsibility for it. Following my example, I would say that Tim, not his father or the society, would actually experience both negative and positive consequences of his decision not to enter a college. However, this truth points to the imperfectness of our world from the moral point of view rather than to the existence of free will.
In conclusion, I would like to add that my conviction that many natural, social, and economic factors determine human reactions and attitudes does not make me feel like a robot. I think that it is not right to reduce the beauty and preciousness of human soul to simply “being one’s own master”. If that is indeed the true purpose of life, humans are the most pathetic beings as we cannot fully control even our own bodies and live as long as we choose.
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