Skip to content
February 24, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

Answers to hard determinism arguments in debate

Sorry….these two cards don’t have tags……yet. Note: they have slightly different understandings of free will (ie the Covey evidence is much rosier than the Frankl evidence.) You can probably get away with it if you have a way to frame the tension.

Within the freedom to choose are those endowments that make us uniquely human. In addition to self-awareness, we have imagination–the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality. We have conscience–a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them. And we have independent will–the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences.

Even the most intelligent animals have none of these endowments. To use a computer metaphor, they are programmed by instinct and/or training. They can be trained to be responsible, but they can’t take responsibility for that training; in other words, they can’t direct it. They can’t change the programming. They are not even aware of it.

But because of our unique human endowments, we can write new programs for ourselves totally apart from our instincts and training. This is why an animal’s capacity is relatively limited and a man’s is unlimited. But if we live like animals, out of our own instincts and conditioning and conditions, our of our collective memory, we too will be limited.

The deterministic paradigm comes primarily from the study of animals–rats, monkeys, pigeons, and dogs–and neurotic and psychotic people. While this may meet certain criteria of some researchers because it seems measurable and predictable, the history of mankind and our own self-awareness tell us that this map doesn’t describe the territory at all!

Our unique human endowments life us above the animal world. The extent to which we exercise and develop these endowments empowers us to fulfill our uniquely human potential. Between stimulus and response is our great power–the freedom to choose.

While the word proactivity is now fairly common in management literature, it is a word you won’t find in most dictionaries. It means more than merely taking initiative. It means more than taking initiative. It means that as human beings we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.

Look at the word responsibility–”response-ability”–the ability to chose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feelings.

Because we are, by nature, proactive, if our lives are a function of conditioning and conditions, it is because we have, by conscious decision or by default, chosen to empower those things to control us.

In making such a choice, we become reactive. Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shines make no difference to them. They are values driven; and if their value is to produce good quality work, it isn’t a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not.

Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 70 – 72

* I realize Covey is just a philosopher of sorts and could do with more nuance his argument is essentially true–that self awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will all 4 suggest the presence of free will. The distinction he draws between reactive and proactive people–those who let life happen to them and those who do the opposite. He probably also could have spoken to those who have self-control and self-concept and those who do not.

Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather he determines himself whether he give in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.

By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. Therefore, we can predict his future only within the large framework of statistical survey referring to a whole group; the individual personality, however, remains unpredictable. The basis of any prediction would be represented by biological, psychological, or sociological conditions. Yet one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.

What he becomes–within the limits of endowment and environment–he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.

Victor Frankl, Professor in Neurology and Psychology
Using life experience, including living in 4 concentration camps as his evidence
Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 131 to 134



Leave a Comment
  1. commpassioninpolitics / Sep 20 2012 10:30 pm

    Principle Centered Leadership by Covey from page. 92 to 95 also has another card….either cut as one card….or two cards. Also you can omit the religious rhetoric if you want to. I haven’t really thought about which is more advantageous. I would just use it perhaps as a metaphor…or story-based proof, assuming it works like that.

  2. compassioninpolitics / Feb 14 2013 4:44 am

    Also, I might suggest that determinists make no sense when they speak of themselves doing something. (or maybe the way we define “I” is just different). Or rather referring to it and expecting something.

    There is no such thing as justice or fairness of reward if we’re all robots.

    Theres something about upward or downward causation or the framework from which a materialist science works which is flawed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: