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Gabriel Mel de Fontenay

Professor Vihvelin
Free Will and Determinism
25 February 2012
A Different Kind of Freedom
If you put yourself in Winston Smiths shoes, you probably think youd never
willingly undergo the transformation he did. It seems as though converting in the way
Winston did would require completely robbing you of your free will and replacing it with
that of the party. In other words, it feels obvious that Winston must have lost his free will.
But, considering the fact that Winstons decision-making process is relatively unchanged
by torture, it appears that while hes been fundamentally changed, he has not lost the
ability to make free decisions. His decisions, in fact, appear to be as free in the end as
they are in the beginning.
First, an observation: whether or not one thinks Winstons change of heart was
free, everyone must agree that for the vast majority of decisions when to sip gin,
when to go to bed, whether or not to visit the Chestnut Caf Winston exercises free
will, even at the end of the novel. There is nothing qualitatively different in the end about
Winstons coffee drinking or back scratching, and we are left to assume that these smaller
choices come from the same mysterious, personal process that they always have. This
process appears to be generally similar to that of any free willed person, and is, in fact,
indistinguishable from that of early-Winston, who, we agree, had free will. So for most
decisions, Winston is still free. Accordingly, from now on, whenever we ask the question,
is Winston still free at the end of the novel?, we will take that to mean completely free,
understanding that for most decisions, Winston is trivially free, and that the cases in
question are decisions flowing from his (possibly un-free) change of heart.
So, what is freedom? Since we agree that early-Winston (pre-rats) was free, we
may look to him for a definition. Doing so, its quite easy to say what freedom is not: an
ability to change ones attitudes. As free as wed like to think early-Winston was, there is
nothing to suggest that he had any real choice about whether or not to hate the party.
Rather than being a free choice, his defiance appeared to spring uncontrollably from deep
within his subconscious, manifesting itself externally in the form of his written mantra
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DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER or his loving cries for Julia. Early-Winstons attitudes,
then, were driven by his clearly party-hostile subconscious which operated outside of his
control. Therefore, the ability to change ones mind in a way that defies the subconscious
cannot be used as a necessary condition for freedom because there is no evidence to
suggest that the free early-Winston had this ability - his hatred was, to him, an
uncontrollable fact of his subconscious.
A better approach, and one that appears to be consistent with early-Winstons
freedom, would be the following sufficient condition: a free decision is one that can be
consciously justified by the decider, given their present mental and external state. This
justification may draw upon facts, predictions, and even emotions, and combines them in
an attempt to find the best or right decision. However, the facts or predictions used
need not be correct. All that is necessary is that the decider attempt to combine the
propositions in a logical way. This sufficient condition satisfies our intuition that only
thinking beings can make free decisions and also has the desirable property of allowing
incorrect justifications for a decision we would call a generals decision to attack free,
even if he were misinformed of the number of troops he was against, or if he
overestimated the power of his tactics. Also essential to the condition is the idea that the
freedom of a decision does not depend on the history of the decider, or how he came to
be in that particular mental or external state. Rather, the process of deciding completely
determines the freedom of a decision. This is also intuitive, but will be more clearly
justified later.
One final clarification is needed: free will is the ability to come to free decisions
as defined above, while the ability to exercise free will involves the possibility of actually
executing a freely chosen option. For example, being physically restrained does not
destroy your free will you can still make decisions. The restraints do, however, remove
your ability to exercise free will for those decisions that require movement. For all other
decisions, though those that require no physical movement you are perfectly free to
enact your choices. Even being physically restrained, you can still decide to imagine the
taste of vanilla ice cream or to mentally hum a song. Hence, you are left with free will,
but are only left with the ability to exercise it for a limited number of decisions.
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Armed with a sufficient condition for free decisions, we can now verify that
Winston did, in fact, have free will at the beginning of 1984. Take, for example, one of
Winstons boldest decisions of the whole novel, the choice to reject party doctrine by
trusting his own memory. Motivated by his perfectly natural attachment to the truth,
Winston weighed the options and decided that the thought of being [labeled] a lunatic
did not greatly trouble him, so long as his account of the past was the right one (Orwell
26). Factoring in his values and predictions of the outcomes of either choice, Winston
logically arrived at the decision to rebel with the following argument I trust my
memories as the truth. I would rather have the truth than have life. The party forces me to
choose between accepting its incorrect accounts of the past or die. Then, to have the truth,
I choose to die. So Winstons decision is justified, and therefore free. Notice that
according to our condition, Winstons freedom in this situation does not depend on his
ability to change his desire for the truth. That desire, being a part of his mental state at the
time, is a given. It is the fact that he can logically use this given to justify his rebellion
that makes his decision free. By constructing and acting upon such a justification,
Winston demonstrates his free will and his ability to exercise his freedom. Such is the
case with most of Winstons decisions in the beginning of the novel; before he is
captured, he is free to mentally, and even in some cases, physically, rebel - his liaisons
with Julia, trips to Mr. Charringtons and so has free will and free exercise.
One other illuminating example of early-Winstons power of free will is his use of
a technique similar to crimestop at the beginning of the novel. Instead of stopping
thoughtcrime, though, Winston blocks thoughts about his worst fear, rats. In particular, in
a recurring nightmare about an unendurable horror, Winston admits his deepest
feeling is always one of self-deception, because he did in fact know what [the horror]
was. [But] he always woke up without discovering what it was (Orwell 46). Deep in his
subconscious, Winston is aware of the fact that the monster in his dream is a rat. But he
never allows it to emerge into his consciousness just when he is about to uncover the
subconscious secret, the thought is abruptly cut off. This is certainly a free decision
according to our condition: Winston justifies this mental discipline as protection from the
horror too dreadful to be faced (Orwell 46). Thanks to his emotional aversion to rats
(once again, a given of his mental state), he decides to distance himself as much as
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possible in order to make himself comfortable. This reasoning provides him with a
satisfactory rationale for choosing to stop the thoughts, and so the decision is free.
Winstons own brand of thoughtstop fearstop - is important because it demonstrates
that intentionally halting a line of thought can be a free decision, allowing us to more
easily diagnose late-Winstons crimestop as a free choice with similar justification.
Now, to approach the question of late-Winstons free will, we must be careful.
One can get very confused by asking, is late-Winstons love for Big Brother an example
of a free decision or not? It may seem that because Winston never gave any conscious
justification for loving Big Brother rather, he was just tortured to that it is not a free
decision according to our condition, and therefore, Winston is not completely free. But
early-Winston never gave any conscious justification for disliking the party: as weve
seen, it was prescribed by his subconscious! Therefore, late-Winstons love for Big
Brother is as free as early-Winstons hatred that is to say, both were uncontrolled
subconscious states. And since all of his subconscious states are out of his control, we
must look to Winstons choices, given the uncontrolled mental and external states, for
freedom exactly as our condition tells us. Once again, by asking if late-Winstons love
is free, we are looking for freedom in the wrong place, similar to asking if it was a free
decision to write, during his daydream, DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER. Neither the
love nor the hate is free, but justified decisions following from them are. So by asking,
is Winston free at the end? really we must answer the question, does Winston make
free decisions given his love for Big Brother?
Applying our condition to Winstons choices at the end of the novel, its clear that
he makes free decisions he attempts to use logical arguments involving facts and his
emotions to justify his choices. For example, when he is suddenly struck by a memory of
a pleasant afternoon with his mother, he judiciously push[es] the picture out of his
mind [because] it was a false memory (Orwell 95). True, Winston is wrong, it is not a
false memory. But correctness was not part of our condition. Whats important is that
Winston followed a line of argument to make his decision: That was a false memory.
Big Brother says false memories are dangerous and should be destroyed. I love Big
Brother and want to do as he says. I will destroy the memory. Taking the mental and
external givens I love BB, BB says false memories are bad with his understanding of
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the facts of the case that was a false memory Winston rationally decides to cut off the
thought, much in the same way that early-Winston rationally decides to cut off the
thought of rats. Because late-Winstons decision to use crimestop flows as naturally and
logically from his love as early-Winstons acts of thoughtstop flow from his fear, the
decision is just as free.
In the same way, all of Winstons decisions at the end of the novel satisfy our
condition for freedom: Winston visits Julia because of a desire to see her and because he
knows the party would not care; Winston imagines tactical maneuvers in Africa in the
hopes of predicting the announcement he so eagerly awaits; and finally, he imagines
being in the Ministry of Love, happily confessing crimes and implicating others because
he believes it is what the party wants. Each of these decisions (some of which only had
consequences in Winstons mind) can be justified by emotional arguments similar to
those employed by early-Winston to justify his acts of rebellion. In the case of the last
image, for example, Winston implicitly argues that the happiness he would derive from
helping his beloved party would be enough to justify the costs of personal dishonor and
death. Once again, late-Winstons decisions flow naturally from his mental state, just as
early-Winstons flow from his. According to our condition, therefore, late-Winston
makes free decisions and therefore has free will. Furthermore, since he is not restrained in
any way from enacting his decisions, he also has free exercise.
Granted, though he kept his free will after the torture, Winston lost the natural
human reaction to hate the cause of ones suffering. And his love appears to most people
to be so unnatural that it cannot be free. But again, Winstons emotions toward the party
stem from his subconscious, and so are beyond his control. Similarly, one should not
speak of the natural decision to hate ones torturer precisely because it so automatic
and so natural and flows so inevitably from the subconscious. So admittedly, Winston
was forced into an unnatural state, one that appears to conflict with our conception of
human nature. But he is no less free. Freedom is a statement about ones capabilities
given ones state. Since, even in his unnatural state, all of these abilities remain intact,
Winston remains free.
It may seem odd that our condition makes no mention of the deciders history and
so ignores Winstons torture. But this is necessary, since a copy of Winston, raised in the
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right way, could be made to be like late-Winston, without any torture at all. It would be
odd, then, to label the tortured Winston as unfree and the almost exactly similar,
untortured Winston as free. It makes more sense, then, to base freedom on the decisions
made, given a mental state, rather than on the particular history of that person.
Accordingly, our condition makes no mention of history, only current mental and
external state.
Admittedly, no matter how much has been said, it is difficult and unintuitive to
say that Winston is free in the end because his change of heart appears to be completely
out of his control. But as weve seen, Winstons attitude is as uncontrolled before the
Ministry of Love as it is after. The relevant factor for a free decision seems more to be
how a decision is made given the way the decider is, rather than the ability to choose the
underlying attitude. And according to this definition, we can only conclude that Winston
is, in the end, just as free as he ever was.

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But this is problematic for two reasons. First of all, it may not be as unnatural as we
think. Victims of domestic abuse often still love their cruel and violent partners, and
under certain circumstances, kidnappees come to love their kidnappers. That is not to say,
of course, that it is natural to love ones torturer, just that it is possible. The bigger
problem with calling an unnatural act unfree is that it ascribes free status to only one
choice, the natural one, and calls all others unfree. Accordingly, a person, if he is to be
free, has only one choice in that situation, the natural one, otherwise he acted unfreely.
This sounds ridiculous. A standard that says freedom amounts to aligning ones choices
with a set of prescribed natural choices feels constricting and wrong. It is precisely
because of the variety of choices people make, some necessarily unnatural, that we
believe in free will.

It is easy to see that Winstons choice is justified, and therefore free, because he explains
his reasoning to himself (and therefore, to the reader). His process is entirely logical he
justifies his choice to rebel by

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does not label decisions made randomly or unexplainably by intelligent beings - babies,
intoxicated adults - as free (though it leaves open the possibility that theyre free since it
is a sufficient condition).

It is therefore meaningless to speak of his choice to hate the party.

The fact that he hates the party is an inevitable and uncontrolled consequence of
Winstons mental state. On several occasions, Winston inadvertently revealed these
hostile subconscious attitudes by daydreaming and , which, when unsubdued, Winstons
defiance manifests itself most clearly during several subconscious (i.e. not consciously
controlled) episodes, in which he furiously writes DOWN WITH BIG
BROTHERWinston Indeed, his honest reaction toward the party outwardly reveals itself
during several subconscious episodes

Though Winston may be able to explain his subconscious as a product of his upbringing
and his genetic predispositions, he still cannot control it or the attitudes that follow from

Without even defining exactly what free will is yet, we can say that Winstons end-of-
novel coffee drinking is as free as his earlier coffee drinking.

Orwell makes no mention of is generally similar to that of any other free willed person,
and, in fact, almost indistinguishable from his own earlier mental process, as the reader
notices nothing different about the way Winston makes these smaller decisions.

There is nothing to suggest that Winston was compelled to choose a particular alternative
in these situations.