Your Mom Knew Best
An Alternative Case for Free Will, Pt. 1
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 16:03
Whenever the average Joe is asked his or her opinion on laws or morality and what guides their own moral actions, it is very common to hear an answer like, “I just think, like, people should just be able to do whatever they want, ya know? Like, who can say that they’re right and I’m wrong? I can’t say that someone else is wrong.” As a thinking person, it angers me to think that this passes for a moral code which some would deem “deep.”
I first encountered this general idea one day when, after a speech team meeting, one member had some people from a self-help seminar come in to sell their wares. This essentially consisted of a simplified “know, don’t-know, don’t-know-you-don’t-know” exercise and the assertion that each person is “perfect, but flawed.”
Anyone who knows a little philosophy, or even anyone whose brain functions consist of more than involuntary reactions, knows the Principle of Non-Contradiction. Basically, two contradictory statements cannot be true at the same time, in the same respect. It’s five o’clock somewhere and four o’clock here, but not 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. in Fargo at the same time. The PNC is a very basic and intuitive rule that the vast majority of the sane world agrees with.
There are three kinds of people who take issue with it, to be sure, but they are either a) People with serious intentions, but arguments that are ultimately faulty; b) Pseudo-intellectual New Agers who freebase cocaine and shouldn’t be taken seriously; or c) People with difficulties comprehending language and don’t understand what exactly is being said. None of these is in a position to mount a significant challenge to Non-Contradiction. However, this notion, called individual relativism, while easily disprovable, is not uncommon among even the college-educated.
Outside of this group are people who acknowledge a simple truth when they see one. These chosen ones would see immediately that claiming two opposing statements on right and wrong to be simultaneously true is ludicrous. I personally think that those who say things like this don’t even believe it themselves. If they gave it some thought, they’d realize that holding this view means that someone could steal your stuff, kidnap your mom, or kick out your kneecaps for disagreeing with them if they had a mind to, and you could say nothing morally about it. The idea quickly loses its appeal and its logic.
It seems that this line of thought, when it results in the idea that you should be able to do whatever you want without interference, is more the result of a very American sense of entitlement and a notion of “freedom” which has been blown out of proportion, rather than any actual reflection on the matter. Any reasonable person would realize, for example, that nuckin’ futcases shouldn’t have access to guns, and maybe applying for a permit and giving up a Saturday to learn where the safety is on your brand new AR-15 isn’t such a big sacrifice in the long run. Regulations and restrictions exist for a reason.
However, on another level of less heated debate, I think there is a moral and practical case to be made for allowing people to use their free will without hindrance, for the most part. I have noticed a strange tendency in myself to agree with some things for much different reasons than those with which they are usually defended, and this is one of those times. I’m not a libertarian in the sense that I think there should be limited regulation, if any, and that people should be able to do mostly anything they want. However, I think free will is essential to the human experience and should be so to the fullest extent that it can. If I were a philosopher of ye olde tymes, I might be inclined to give this argument a name like “The Argument for Free Use of Free Will from Experiential Pedagogy” or something like that, but in English this would basically mean that life is the best teacher.
Check the Opinion Section next issue when I give my reasoning.
Joshua is a senior majoring in philosophy and sociology.