Determinism, Natural Law, and Free Will

It is inevitable for those who spend time thinking about morality to think about free will, consciousness, and our ability to make the right choices.  So I’m going to take a crack at it from my own personal reflections.  I don’t think I necessarily have a consistent argument, but just some ideas and suggestions.

Free will, which I will define as the ability to take the better choice/action out of the choices we understand we can take.  Better is defined by some objective (measurable) morality that we believe in.  For example, if you believe in a productivist morality, then you should take the action that maximizes your wealth (when you’re young) out of all the actions you should take.  If you had to choose between driving drunk, and letting your sober friends drive you, you should choose to let your friends drive you, since nature will not be very kind to you (and as such your wealth) if you choose the converse.  You don’t necessarily have to believe in what I believe, productivism, to have free will.  You may be making choices that are accomplishing your own objective morality.

Over the recent centuries, science has shown to be very powerful in improving our understanding of nature.  We can predict with great accuracy and reproducibility the dynamics of particles, molecules, and objects via the physical theorems that we have come to accept (Newtonian mechanics, general relativity, quantum field theory, thermodynamics, etc.).  It is not unreasonable to believe there exists laws of nature that are universal and unchangeable that control everything, of which our physical theorems help explain (as fallible or infallible as they may be).

This is what many scientists believe.  We believe in natural law, a universal order to this world and our existence.  The scientific method, combined with logic, is our best mechanism to understanding this natural law, through the theorems we posit and test.  If we didn’t believe in natural law, then our pursuit to understand nature would be folly, since nature would change and render that understanding worthless.  What a chaotic world that would be if we could even envision it.

Just as there are laws of nature that control particles and objects, are there not laws of nature that control us?  If we believe in natural law, then there must be natural laws that govern our actions, and as such, our choices?  If nature determines our choices, what is the point of making the better choice?  Hasn’t nature already determined what we are going to do?  What is the point of even having morality then to rank our choices?

Well, here’s one potential suggestion:

I believe it is not nature that is making the choices, we are still the ones making the choices.  It’s just that we are products of nature.  Nature has produced us.  The act of choice is not the domain of nature, it is our domain.  Here’s a simplistic diagram (I’m an engineer after all):

Actions, A, are a function the individual, I, which is a function of nature, N. So, even though our actions are ultimately a product of nature (determinism), it is through us as individuals, products of nature, are our actions made (free will).  Since we are products of nature, we are nature, nature only determines our actions and outcomes because we determine our actions.

Yes, how nature creates us will determine how we will act and how we will make choices, but we make choices none the less.  In a way, nature is “relying” on us to make the choice.

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