Sunday, October 11, 2009

God and Freewill

I know that Sartre does not believe in God, I think his reasoning behind this comes from the fact that if God made us then we can only do what God programmed us to do. We would not have free will because we were programmed by some other being. From what I heard in class Sartre would not think robots and AI do not have free will because they were programmed by us. I do not think that created beings would not have free will though. I think that free will and the idea of someone creating us are not mutually exclusive. For example if God did not exist then that would mean that man would have been programmed by nature and the environment. It would mean that nature created man and gave us everything we have; it would have programmed us to follow survival of the fittest. It would mean that nature and the events around us encoded our genes and us to a certain destiny. This would mean that there is no free will. Nature and our environment would therefore be the only thing that governs us.

If this is the case and we were programmed by something else, then we do not have freewill. So either people can have freewill despite being initially programmed by God or nature or whatever, or freewill does not exist at all. Things like A.I. would therefore have freewill. So the super computer in the Terminator movies would be a rational being.

On a slightly different note why do people assume genetics take away peoples freewill? Like people with a genetic disposition to alcoholism do not have the freewill not to be an alcoholic. They make the choice every time they pick up a drink, and at anytime they can put it down if they really wanted too. They can choose not to drink. It seems to me that genetics are merely blueprints to the body, and that it merely guides people to survival. Instincts are merely tools to help people survive. If Sartre is right though and people are a blank slate when they are born, then people shouldn’t be influenced at all by genetics. But it seems true that genetics will greatly influence people’s decisions. Does Sartre take genetic disposition into account, does he think it matters in terms of freewill and how we choose, or are people truly blank slates that can only be influenced through our choices.


  1. Genetics do not eliminate free will, but it does negate Sartre's argument in that it shows that there is essence before existence. Our essence thus affects out thought processes and relation to our external environment, which affects our free will. Someone who is genetically linked to alcoholism is inclined to develop the disorder, or to pick up that first drink, and develop a dependency. Yes, that person used its free will to have an alcoholic beverage, which it did not have to do. But we must remember that his decision making must be in some way affected by his link to become dependent on alcohol, as it coded in his DNA.

    I think Sartre thinks of genetics as an "excuse" that humans use to explain the decisions we make.

  2. I think there the is a large gap in our understanding of genetics between the code itself and how exactly it affects our behavior. I think this is largely due to our innate free will which I personally doubt will ever be physically discovered in the human body. Genetics do seem to act as a blue print but we are not slaves to them. Sarte says "there is freedom only in a situation, and there is a situation only through freedom" (243). It seems to me that genetics is a situation.

  3. Jen, I agree with your last comment that genetics are a way of excusing our responsibility in the choices we make. I think we also need to take into account how genetics are viewed in society. I feel that alot of the way we perceive things and make decisions are influenced by the way society has done it in the past. If someone has an alcoholism problem, they are expected to attend AA meetings, not to drink, and to control they cravings for alcohol. They have the free will to start drinking whenever, but usually try to abide by the ways people have done it in the past to help them stay on track. I feel that Sartre would also think of people using guidance from history as a way to alter their responsibility.

  4. Even given genetic coding, I don’t think much is necessarily taken away from Sartre's argument.Because we are free in our ability to make decisions in situations, and those situations are only possible because of our freedom to choose, genetic coding might mean that we are more likely to end up in one situation than another, but we still maintain the freedom to choose. Also, even if everything were determined by God, genetics, or nature, it still seems tricky to say that this absolute lack of choices means we have no freedom in the situations. Brian wrote a good blog a long while about this. The example he explains basically ask you to imagine that a person is goes into a situation to choose A or B, and that unknown to them, a scientist has rigged a chip in their brain so that if they attempt to choose B, the chip will fire and they will choose A instead. In the example though, the person goes straight ahead and chooses A in the first place. In this case, the person had absolutely not choice but to choose A- they could not have done anything differently even if they wanted to. At the same time though, they freely choose A in this situation, just like the alcoholic. So like Cole said, it might be impossible to prove one way or another, but even if genetics or nature may seem to determine how we act there is still some room for Sartre, choice, and freedom.

  5. I agree with the idea that there is still room for freedom, choice, etc. If your father is an alcoholic and alcoholism is in your genes, it doesn't mean you have to be an alcoholic, or if you are, it doesn't mean that you are only an alcoholic. Some excuse our responsibility, like Courtney and Jen said, but we can't use the excuse for everything. There has to be some room for your own free will and choice--as mentioned, you may use genetics for an excuse to drink but you still make the choice to pick up the drink and swallow it. Thus, genetics can never fully be a solid excuse.

  6. Sarah, this is sort of the way I think about cigarette smoking. I like to think of myself as merely a social smoker, if that. I always say to myself that I won't become addicted to cigarettes because I have the power over my physical possibilities (to buy cigarettes, light them, and inhale their smoke), but I'll never really know if I could overcome addiction, because, well, I'm not addicted. I'd like to keep thinking that I'll never be addicted because I can control myself, but how will I know until I'm actually addicted and can't control myself? It's almost like proving a truth to be false. Or something. Anyway, yeah.


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