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Event Details

Is Free Will An Illusion?

Time: April 1, 2012 from 11am to 12:30pm
Location: First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
Street: 2125 Chestnut Street
City/Town: Philadelphia, PA 19103
Website or Map: http://www.philauu.org
Phone: 215-563-3980
Event Type: worship
Organized By: Former Settled Minister
Latest Activity: Mar 27, 2012

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Event Description

Do you have the ability to freely make choices without constraints? Should you be held morally accountable for your actions?  Arthur Schopenhauer writes, "Everyone believes himself a priori to be perfectly free, even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life. ... But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity, that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns." Join Reverend Nate for this philosophical service where he will explain that what you believe about free-will may predict your behavior.

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33m5vypjn7q5s Comment by 33m5vypjn7q5s on March 22, 2012 at 9:01am

"Free will" is a difficult topic, Nate.  I was interested in it as a graduate student, and advised away from it. It was some good advice for a younger man. Since you are set to consider the topic, I'd advise you to consider both Emerson and Wm. James on this topic. How freedom consorts with necessity and causation is about the deepest side of the matter. 

It cannot be doubted that each of us is able to do some of what we want to do, though also always unable to do some of what we want to do. In some degree we are also each able to change our wants and desires--though not always. I think that is about as much freedom as it makes sense to want, though we notice, too, that it is sometimes possible for us to come to be able to do what we were not able to do before. The power of thought is important in this. So, I conclude that we are free, in a sensible meaning of the term, though we are each also always constrained by circumstance --and physical law.

Freedom is not magical, though it is quite powerful when we learn to accept its reality. We contain in ourselves the same elements that power the universe, and we are capable of thought and action. When we understand the constraints or law and circumstance, we become able to change things by use of this knowledge.

Be careful, I advise, of equating freedom with something magical. Keep it naturalistic. We must work at being free. On the other hand, avoid the equation of necessity and constraint with fatalism and acquiescence in external control or manipulation--or with determination by some internal state of character or disposition of soul and body. In that direction one finds the well-worn path of original sin and depravity--which the founders of Unitarianism fought against and freed us from.

Kind regards,

Howard

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