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A Research Paper on Freedom and Determinism

Professor: Dr. Moses T. Angeles


1st Semester

S.Y. 2013-2014


Man as Liberty (Freedom)

There are two extreme positions:

B.F. Skinner – Man is absolutely determined; Jean-Paul Sartre – Man is absolutely free. And the

middle position: Phenomenology of Freedom of Maurice Merleau-Ponty

We begin our phenomenological description of freedom by using epoche, bracketing two

extreme positions on freedom: Absolute determinism and Absolute freedom.

The behaviourist, psychologist B.F. Skinner holds that man is absolutely determined.

Man’s behaviour is shaped and determined (caused) by external forces and stimuli: genetic,

biological and physical structures; environmental structures, culture, national and ecclesiastical

(church) and external forces and demands.

Our behaviour, being conditioned by these factors, is manipulable: man can be programmed like

a machine. For example: governmental, educational and propagandastic techniques.

Against Skinner, we hold that there are other levels of experience which cannot be explained by

or reduced to external factors and stimuli, such as: I can make myself aware of my biological and

physical limitations; I can question my own environmental structures, revolt or violate them; I

can achieve distance from external demands and forces: hesitate, reflect, challenge them.

There are difficulties with absolute determinism:

Explaining away self-questioning and self-reflection is doing self-questioning and self-reflection.

Not all casual motives are necessitating causes because the goods that we face and the motives

we use are limited, conditioned, and mixed.

If the feeling of freedom is rejected, then no basic, experience is trustworthy, which would lead

to total skepticism and inaction.

If the statement “man is absolutely determined” is true, then the statement is also determined,

and the opposite “man is absolutely free” would also be determined, and so there would be no

truth value anymore to the statement.

Absolute Freedom (Jean-Paul Sartre):

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his early age, holds that man is absolutely free.

In his essay “Existentialism is a Humanism” Jean-Paul discusses his position by stating that with

man, “existence precedes essence” (He develops absolute freedom in metaphysical terms in his

book “being a nothingness”)

Man first exists and then creates his own essence.

There is no pre-existing essence that man has to conform when he exists. There is no God,

because if there is a God, He would be a creator, and essence would exist first before existence;

thus man would be determined.

“Man is what he is not (yet), and he is not what he is” because he can be what he wants to be.

Man cannot be free is some things only and not free in others; he is absolutely free or not at all.

There is no middle position: man is absolutely free.

Objection 1: How can you say I am absolutely free when I am not free to be born in such a place,

of parents so and so, on such and such a day?

Answer of Sartre: You can always live as if you were not born in such and such a place of

parents so and so, on such and such a day.

Objection 2: How can you say I am absolutely free when I cannot climb a big rock or pass

through it? So I am limited.

Answer of Sartre: The rock is an obstacle to your freedom only because you freely want to climb

or pass through it.

For Sartre, freedom is a negation, a negating power of consciousness. In interpersonal

relationship, this means reducing the other person to an object, described as the Sartrean stare.

Situated Freedom:

Maurice Merleau-Ponty in his last chapter of the Phenomenology of Perception criticizes

Sartrean’s absolute freedom and holds the middle position of structured freedom.

There would be no distinction between freedom and unfreedom. For example: The slave in

chains is just then as free as the one who revolts and break his chains. We are free when we

control our situation as well as when we are powerless.

Such freedom as Sartre’s cannot embody itself in any form of existence, because once freedom

has realized something, we have to say at once that it lies outside its so-called embodiments.

In such kind of freedom, it is difficult to speak of choice, because choice implies value, and

seeing values is impossible from the standpoint of a freedom which transcends all situations.

For Merleau- Ponty, our freedom is situated freedom

Freedom is interwoven with a field of existence. Our choices are not made from absolute zero,

but from this field of meaning. Outside myself, there is no limit to my freedom, but in myself,

there are limits.

We have to make a distinction between explicit intention and general intention. For example:

explicit intention - I plan to climb; general intention – Whether I plan to climb the mountain or

not, it appears high to me.

Underneath me is a natural “I” which does not give up his earthly situation and from which is

based my plans.

In so far, as I have hands, feet, body, I bear intentions which do not depend on my freedom but

which I find myself in. It is true I can change habits or I transcend facticity, but i can only do so

from these standpoints.

A good example of situated freedom is revolution; it is neither purely determined nor completely

free. In contrast to Sartre’s subject who is distance from the world, Merleau-Ponty’s subject is

dialogue with the world.

Two kinds of Freedom:

The two types of freedom: Freedom of choice (horizontal freedom) and Fundamental option

(vertical freedom).

Our first and commonly understood experience of freedom is the ability to choose goods. For

example: I choose to study instead of playing GTA V; I choose to buy a cheap pair of shoes

instead of an expensive pair of shoes because I am supporting my sibling’s education.

But we reflect deeper, our choice implies a prior or may lead to a preference of values. When I

choose to study instead of playing GTA V, I value learning more than pleasure. When I choose

the cheap pair of shoes, I value helping my sister or brother more than my comfort.
This freedom is called fundamental option because it is our general direction or orientation in

life. It is called vertical freedom because values from a hierarchy; some values are higher than


For the phenomenologist Max Scheler, preferring and realizing higher values is love, and

preferring and realizing lower values is hatred or egoism. It is love which makes a person, which

makes me truly free.

Freedom of choice is interrelated with Fundamental option: our choice shapes our fundamental

option, and fundamental option is exercised and concretized in our particular choices.

Causation, Determinism, and their compatibility with Freedom (Thomas Hobbes):

What Thomas Hobbes has to say of the nature of causation itself in Entire Causes and Their Only

Possible Effects is carried further in the first of the two excerpts here, although not at its start.

His second subject in this imperfectly sequential piece of writing is determinism itself, a

deterministic philosophy of the mind. In the mind, as elsewhere, each event has a “necessary

cause”, a cause that necessitates the event. His third subject in the first excerpt is freedom, this

being voluntariness, and its relation to the determinism.

He gives a statement of what is now known as compatibilism, roughly the doctrine that

determinism and freedom properly understood do not conflict with but are consistent with one

another. We can be entirely subject to determinism or 'necessity' and also be perfectly free.

Certainly a distinction between freedom as 'the absence of opposition', which can co-exist with

determinism, and some other kind of freedom, had been made before Hobbes. But it will take a

better historian than me to say if he was anticipated by someone else who said that the particular

freedom consistent with determinism is all that we can properly mean by the term “freedom”.
Certainly he got in ahead of lovely Hume, who often seems to be given the credit. The second

excerpt is an uncluttered statement of his compatibilism.


Immanuel Kant: For determinism in a way and also indeterminism, and for freedom of

origination being consistent with the determinism

One summary of the great Kant's view, to the extent that it can be summed up, is that he takes

determinism to be a kind of fact, and indeterminism to be another kind of fact, and our freedom

to be a fact too, but takes this situation to have nothing to do with the kind of compatibility of

determinism and freedom proclaimed by such compatibilists as Hobbes and Hume.

Thus Kant does not make freedom consistent with determinism by taking up a definition of

freedom as voluntariness at bottom, being able to do what you want. This he dismisses as a

wretched subterfuge, quibbling about words. Rather, the freedom he seeks to make consistent

with determinism does indeed seem to be the freedom of the incompatibilists, origination. Is he

then an incompatibilist?

Well, against that, it can be said he does not allow the existence of origination in what can be

called the world we know, as incompatibilists certainly do.

Kant's main idea, whatever sense can finally be made of it, depends on his fundamental two-

world doctrine. He locates determinism in the empirical world or world of appearances, and

freedom in the world of things-in-themselves, the world of reason. It is important that the latter

world is not in time.

So he is a determinist of a kind, opposed to the tradition of compatibilism, not really in the

incompatibilist tradition, but tries to make his determinism and freedom-as-origination consistent

by his own private means. You may well wonder if he can succeed in all this -- and suspect too,

at the beginning of the 21st Century, that something so radical as his view is actually needed.

The first excerpt below comes from The Critique of Pure Reason. The second excerpt, along the

same lines, but maybe clearer, is from The Critique of Practical Reason. I have improved on

Kant's paragraphing.

Freedom and the Person:

Gabriel Marcel understands freedom in relation to the person. The person is characterized by

disponsibilite, availability in contrast to the ego which is closed.

We start out in existence as an ego having freedom and grow to being a person. Marcel’s

philosophy can be systematized in terms of having and being. Having and Being are two realms

of life.

Having pertains to things, external to me, and therefore autonomous (independent of me). Things

do not commune with me, are not capable of participation, closed and opaque, quantifiable, and


The life of having therefore is a life of instrumental relationship. Having is the realm of the

problem. A problem is something to be solved but apart from me, the subject. Having is also

applicable not only to things but also to ideas, fellowmen, and faith. I can have my ideas, possess
other people, and have my religion. Here I treat my ideas, other people, religion as my

possessions, not open for sharing with others.

Being on the other hand, pertains to persons, open to others, able to participate, creatve, non-

conceptualizable, plenitude. The life of being is the life of communion. The realm of being is the

realm of mystery. A mystery is a problem that encroaches on the subject, that is part of me, the







 Philosophy of the Human Person I (Lecture Notes) by: Dr. Manny Dy