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Who is Free and Who is Not: The Dimensions of Freewill

In On Liberty, Stuart Mill attempts to establish standards for the relationship

between authority and liberty. He argues that people are enjoying much of their free

will. In this paper, I will argue that this argument fails because people are never free.

In Mills first chapter, still in On Liberty, he also introduces his basic

argument in favor of respecting liberty, to the degree that it does not harm anybody

else. This harm principle holds that the actions of individuals should only be limited

to prevent harm to others. The example Mill uses is in reference to corn dealers: he

suggests that it is acceptable to claim that corn dealers starve the poor if such a

view is expressed in print. It is not acceptable to make such statements to an angry

mob, ready to explode, that has gathered outside the house of the corn dealer. The

difference between the two is that the latter is an expression such as to

constitutea positive instigation to some mischievous act, (1978, 53), namely, to

place the rights, and possibly the life, of the corn dealer in danger.

So far so good. However, Mill further claims that silencing people is in one way

or another counterproductive, not just for society generally, but for the silencers in

particular. This is where I disagree.

The character of Mills arguments for free discussion is useful in this context.

As a utilitarian Mill rejects the idea of natural rights, and emphasizes that society as
a whole, not just the silenced individual, loses by the repression of free discussion.

But this means that the social majority, which is the source of the oppressive public

opinion that Mill fears, also loses by repression (Cartwright, 2003). I will not be

addressing all of Mills arguments for liberty and utilitarianism. Instead, I will

examine what I take him believe is the strongest one: the argument that free will

should be limited or should have dimensions.

Today, the faith of free will runs through each part of politics, from welfare

provision to criminal law. It passes through our culture and furthermore underpins

our dreamthe conviction that anybody can make something of themselves

regardless of what is their status in life. Likewise, Barack Obama composed in The

Audacity of Hope, Values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in

free will.

So what happens if this faith erodes?

The sciences have grown steadily bolder in their claim that all human behavior

can be explained through the clockwork laws of cause and effect. This shift in

perception is the continuation of an intellectual revolution that began about 150

years ago, when

(1) Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species.

Shortly after Darwin put forth his theory of evolution,


(2) Sir Francis Galton began to draw out the implications: If we have evolved,

then mental faculties like intelligence must be hereditary.

Are our actions the unfolding effect of our genetics? Or the outcome of what

has been imprinted on us by the environment? Impressive evidence accumulated for

the importance of each factor. Whether scientists supported one, the other, or a mix

of both, they increasingly assumed that our deeds must be determined by something.

So our ability to choose our fate is not free, but depends on our biological

inheritance.

In recent decades, research on the inner workings of the brain has helped to

resolve the programmed-brain debateand has dealt a further blow to the idea of

free will. Brain scanners have enabled us to peer inside a living persons skull,

revealing intricate networks of neurons and allowing scientists to reach broad

agreement that these networks are shaped by both genes and environment. But

there is also agreement in the scientific community that the firing of neurons

determines not just some or most but all of our thoughts, hopes, memories, and

dreams.

In conclusion, I have argued that freewill is dimensionless, because there is

no such thing as free will in the first place so people are and will never be free.

MANZANO, Anne Jhoriel