Saturday, May 5, 2012

[PHI 1000] Cultural Determinism

Arguments against free will (i.e., arguments for the incompatibility of human free will and causal determinism) usually go something like this:
  1. We act freely only if we are in control of our actions.
  2. We are not in control of our actions because those actions are causally determined by factors beyond our control.
  3. Therefore, we do not act freely.
The causal factors that determine our actions can be referred to quite broadly as "nature and nurture." The "nature" category includes factors such as genetic makeup and physico-chemical brain structure. The nurture category includes factors such as upbringing and education. Although there was a debate in the social sciences concerning the relative importance of nature versus nurture, for the deterministic argument outlined above, it doesn't really make a difference if genes, say, play a more important role in determining our character and behavior than upbringing does. For both genetic makeup and upbringing are beyond our control. And so, the argument goes, whether it's genes or upbringing that ultimately determine what we do, they are beyond our control, and hence we do not act freely.

One of the standard attempts to reconcile free will and determinism is to say that humans are rational agents. As rational agents, humans can engage in rational deliberation. And if they act on the basis of reasons, then they act freely. But what if those reasons are not really our reasons? What if the reasons we act upon are ultimately beyond our control just as genetic makeup and upbringing are?

In Part II of What Makes Us Human?, Master Imitators, the narrator makes the following claim:

We believe we are rational creatures making rational choices. Yet so much of what we do we do simply because others are doing it.

Accordingly, one can make the following argument from cultural determinism:
  1. We act freely only if we act on reasons that are truly our own.
  2. We never act on reasons that are truly our own because those reasons are culturally determined by factors beyond our control.
  3. Therefore, we never act freely.
What do you make of this argument? Is it sound? 

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