Feodor Dostoevsky writes, “will is a manifestation of all life, that is, of all human life including reason as well as all impulses. And although our life, in this manifestation of it, is often worthless…it is life nevertheless” (45). While free will certainly seems an ideal aspect of life, and one I think most believe themselves partakers in, I wonder if it really does constitute life, if free will is, moreover, necessary to life? Even if we are all subject to some greater order, directing all our courses in life, are we still not alive, and perhaps, not alive to a further degree? It seems that a greater kind of purpose, a greater sort of life is engendered when life is directed by fate, or “arithmetic,” as Dostoevsky calls it (47). In this life, every action has significance; life is not “worthless,” because it is part of a greater schematic, and therefore, seems a better kind of life than the one that Dostoevsky, sullenly, describes as “worthless” (45).
In any case, what is the difference between a fate-driven world in which people believe they have free choice but do not, and a world in which they veritably do have free choice? It seems to me that in either instance, man’s attitude towards the world is the same. Whether or not he is free, as defined by having free will or not, seems ultimately superfluous in that it does not determine his actions. Therefore, free will does not seem the essential element of life; it is not necessary, because the same sort of life, it seems, can exist with or without it. Some might say that this sort of life, one with a false sense of free will, is not real life, because our senses and attitudes are false. But by what do we have to judge life other than our senses, perceptions, and attitudes? If we perceive and reason the world a certain way, that seems enough justification to define it accordingly; these are the only parameters by which we can define the world and our lives in it.
Dostoevsky’s ideas, then, seem to conflict with others of the purpose of life, and what, specifically, constitutes life. It seems there is more to life than free will, because, it seems, the same kind of life can exist with or without free will. In my opinion, a life governed by an overarching purpose or schematic, seems far more appealing, far more assuring than a life “worthless,” but a “life nevertheless” (45). But in the end, regardless of appeal or assurance, Dostoevsky’s argument seems problematic for other, more substantive reasons.