philosophy prompt

The Determinism vs. Free Will debate hardly ever has proponents arguing for pure Free Will, i.e. that everything is up to one’s choice. However, some determinists will argue that everything is subject to determining forces outside the individual’s control. The debate, better put, is not ‘Determinism vs. Free Will’, but a gray area question of ‘How much of our lives, personhood, and behavior is pre-determined, and is there any significant element of free will in these things?’

As we saw with evolution and natural selection, our bodies are largely determined by the genes we inherit from our parents – so perhaps we do not have any free will in that area. But are sociobiologists like Wilson and Dawkins correct in saying that our behaviors are also determined genetically and/or memetically? This is much more controversial, and while a proper answer would require rigorous scientific investigation, we might make some progress nonetheless with some philosophical thinking. In fact, scientists form hypotheses based on some intuitions, and intuitions are a large part of what philosophy is all about. So in a way, we’re really doing science (don’t tell the scientists this!).

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For your final prompt paper, I want you to consider some decision you have made in your adult life. This can be as mundane as which shirt you put on this morning, what you ate for lunch, or as interesting as what major you chose for college. I want you to reflect on how much you think this decision was influenced by determining forces (be they biological, social, or any combination of such), and how much you think the decision was an act of free will/choice. The purpose of this is not to wed yourself to any particular side of determinism or free will, but to have you understand the different ways in which a behavior (such as a decision) can be determined. Once you run out of forces that you think determine or limit a decision, you might posit an element of free will that picks up where determinism leaves off. However, only make this jump to free will once you cannot appeal to any further determining forces.

Your minimum word count for this assignment is 550 words. If you have difficulty meeting the word minimum, consider a more complex example that might employ a greater number of determining forces, giving you more to write about. I have included a sample paper in the assignment folder, so take a look at that for an idea of what I’m looking for. As always, please contact me if you have any clarificatory questions about the assignment.

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