Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Impact of Free Will on Moral Behavior

The following is an essay that I wrote for a college summer reading class in 2010.

It can be argued that morals have an influence on our free will choices. In a given situation, we can choose to cheat or we can choose to do our best, whether or not we studied for a test. Even though we may make the right choice, that does not mean we will succeed. I myself would rather not study and fail on a test than cheat and get in trouble for doing so. It terms of free will, we are presented with choices in regards to
morality. It is up to us to make the proper choice, though, which is not necessarily some deterministic event.

G.E. Moore has stated that because of moral responsibility, our free will choices can be either right or wrong. In addition, there is always the possibility that we should have done something, be it either right or wrong after making a moral choice. Debra S. Schaller-Demers has inferred that sometimes we have to make unethical or immoral decisions, but for the most part, we able to choose what we feel is best (105). In terms of dealing with groups, even though we may not always have free will, at least we can come to a compromise after the fact about what we feel would have been the best choice. For example, I may be dealing with a group of people and we are making a decision about whether or not sexual education should be taught. If I say no because of my values, the majority might say yes, but I would have still made what I believe to be the right choice. If the majority wins and my vote does not count, we could discuss
how we would have all agreed on the issue.

A recent study shows that a group of students took a computer-based math test, which had a glitch causing the answers to be revealed (21). Before taking the test, some students read arguments against free will, while some read an unbiased passage on consciousness. The researchers found that the students who read the arguments against free will were more likely to cheat, and that they were less likely to believe in

free will than those who read about consciousness. This shows that even though some students ended up not believing in free will, it could have still influenced them as to whether ornot they decided to cheat. It makes me wonder how the outcome would have been different if most of them did not cheat even though they read arguments against free will. It is safe to say that what they read influenced their actions, but that does not nullify free will and its impact on how we act in a morally acceptable way. If I myself read the arguments, I would definitely ensure that I would not cheat and that I would somehow stop the answers from being revealed to me. As I said before, I would rather get a bad grade than get caught cheating and forfeit my efforts.

R.L. Franklin wrote about how ethics relate to free will (145). In this philosophical account, he doubts there is a neutral starting point in conjunction with our actions nor does he think ethics can be morally neutral. I would have to agree with him on that part. If ethics can be morally neutral, then there is no sense of right and wrong, which leads to relativism. I would not like to live in a world where everyone’s sense of morality is somehow in-between the two opposing sides. It seems that would cause strong disorder in what could be an otherwise crimeless society. Franklin continues on by stating that that in moral philosophy, there are many different starting points. When someone has a dilemma, they will often put much thought into the choices they have. I have found myself doing this, thinking strongly about what I feel is morally just. He concludes by saying that a philosopher should not eliminate his views from his philosophy, but rather make them apparent to himself and others. I think that is a good way of putting it. If I am able to share my views with someone else, I will most likely take advantage of the opportunity.

Referring back to Moore, his theorizes that if a man had decided to act differently, it makes sense to say that what he chose to do was right or wrong. That illustrates there are two moral choices and no in-between or gray areas. I think the aspect of there being no gray areas in his theory shows that we often have to choose between two things. He concludes with we could have chosen what we did not do, but in sense of doing something morally right or wrong, we often find that we should have acted differently for a different outcome either way. That is something I have faced before. When I did something that was not appropriate and ended up getting in trouble, I would usually think about how things would have turned out differently if I did what was morally acceptable or did not act in a questionable way in the first place. I would not necessarily say I regretted this unacceptable behavior, but it is good to think about how I would have acted differently for future situations.

Matthew Huston figured that if an overall deterministic worldview is discovered by researchers, it will question our ability to think for ourselves, and to make morally correct decisions (21). I would have to agree with him on that, seeing as how a deterministic worldview is not, I would say, based on freedom to make decisions. That worldview opposes what Huston believes in and it could possibly cause much controversy if discovered by researchers. I also think that just because a deterministic worldview is discovered, it would question the validity of not only free will in philosophical terms, but also in moral terms. It may even come to the point where our choices have no relation to our moral behavior, to the point where that ideal
becomes void. A recent study showed that causing fewer students to believe in free will will cause them to be more likely to cheat. This is along of the same lines of what I mentioned earlier about students who took a computer-based test. I am not sure if the study was conducted in the same manner, but I figure that causing us to not believe in free will could, in general, have an impact on how we choose to act when facing a moral dilemma. Adopting another viewpoint seems as if it would cause someone to not think about the consequences of their actions, which, in turn, would most likely cause them to behave in an disorderly way. In relation to the influenced disbelief in free will, Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota feels that people should be mindful of how they act. I would have to agree with her, especially because even though one may be exposed to something that goes against what they believe, that does not mean they have to easily give in. Perhaps the students were strongly convinced that there is no such thing as free will and did not bother to question what they were being taught. Vohs continues by saying that our actions are not just limited to moral behavior. She figures that there has be a sense of stability in regards to personal freedom. To me, that means there is a balance regarding right and wrong. Earlier I said that there is no in-between, but I am not contradicting myself here. By balance I mean that morality can lean towards either side: to make the choice we feel is right leans on that side of the metaphorical scale. Two researchers named Knobe and Shaun Nichols conducted a study recently and concluded that complete moral responsibility and determinism cannot co-exist. I think if they were able to co-exist, that would cause confusion. People would not know what to believe overall. If that was the case, moral behavior would be questionable to the point where no one would even think about it anymore.

Since it is a problem for deterministic and morally relative viewpoints to be taught to students, I feel a way to solve the problem would be to present the argument of free will and its impact on moral behavior taught and teach it in an unbiased way. I think that would be an ideal way to address the problem, depending on how big the problem is. The more students are influenced, though, the less independent thinking they develop.
It can also be said that some students will discern what they believe to be true from the opposite of what they are being taught. I see that as another solution to the problem. I think the problem should be solved to avoid any future controversy. That way, for the most part, people realize that they do have the freedom the choose when facing a situations where their values may be questioned.

                                                                  Works Cited

“To be, determined?" The Atlantic June 2008: 21. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 24 June 2010.

Schaller-Demers, Debra S. "Why do ethical scientists make unethical decisions?" Journal of Research Administration 37.1-2 (2006): 105+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 28 June 2010.

Moore, G. E. "Free Will." Determinism, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1970. 129-40. Print.

Franklin, R. L. "Moral Philosophy and Morality." Ed. Ted Honderich. Freewill and Determinism. New York, N.Y.: Humanities, 1968. 145-53. Print.

Hutson, Matthew. "Giving up the ghost: the burdens and blessings of belief in free will." Psychology Today 41.2 (2008): 21. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 6 July 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment