Whether to take credit for her or his

Whether
future is predetermined and decisions of an individual are meaningless, since
the outcome of their actions does not, whatsoever, depend on choices they make
throughout their lives. Or people are free to choose their own fate and the
individual is the only one responsible for the consequences of his or her
actions, as well as entitled to take credit for her or his achievements – is an
interesting question. The purpose of this work
is to prove that whether each person has power to influence the outcome of
events in their lives is entirely up to them. It will be argued that free will is not naturally given to people, but has
to be learned, earned, and trained.

It
can be safely speculated that, given the nature of the subject in question
(i.e. power of an individual over her or his future, which is quite pressing
considering the fact that the strategy needed for survival in each case varies),
it is most likely that people pondered the question of predetermination long
before it became evident for the history. Nevertheless, an argument based on
speculation rather than evidence can hardly be called an argument.

Considering
surviving written sources, early occurrences of this question in philosophy
happened to be around the Hellenistic period. Nevertheless, traces of it can be found earlier,
for example in Protagoras by Plato – “I want to know whether you still think
that there are men most ignorant and yet most courageous? – It is contentious
of you, Socrates, to make me answer. Very well, then, I will gratify you, and
say that this appears to me to be impossible consistently with the argument.” (68,
segment 360e). There Socrates argues and Protagoras agrees that ignorant cannot
be courageous, because, if one is unaware of danger, he or she does not fear
possible consequences of their actions and therefore, cannot perform an action
despite his or her fear, which is, in turn, the essence of courage. Knowledge
gives the choice – one cannot decide whether or not to do something if they do
not know the difference in consequences. Of course, they would attempt to act,
but that can hardly be called a decision since there could not be an internal
dialog on the matter an individual was not aware of (for example, a man who
wonders in the forest where a mighty beast resides without knowing that it is
there and therefore, unaware of the danger it poses to his life, can hardly be
called courageous). The principle is applicable to the freedom of will – if a
person does not know that he or she has a choice, he or she cannot make it. Moreover,
a person, who does not see the choice out of ignorance, may decide that there
is no choice to begin with (since it is not an easy feat to acknowledge one’s
ignorance). As a result, the concept of predetermination arises. Importantly,
it happens to be a rather simple way to justify poor judgment. And that is
where things start to turn dangerous, because ignorance becomes appealing. At
that point, defying the possibility of choice may subconsciously seem
beneficial. Thus, it persists. It finds its ways into the minds of people in a
variety of different forms. Traces of it can be found all around the human
history.

In
literature, many authors advice against considering predetermination as a
factor in devising decisions, by showing, potentially dire consequences of
doing so. Good examples of this can be found in a number of works. They include,
but are not limited to The Meditations
by Marcus Aurelius Antonius, The Three
Theban Plays by Sophocles, and the
epic of Gilgamesh.

The
significance of the Roman civilization in the history of development of
humanity can hardly be overstated.  The influence
it had and still has on the development of humanity overall is staggering. Up
until modern times, its presence is still evident in many aspects of modern
life. Even though many of the accomplishments accumulated by Romans, were not
exclusive to their culture, the extent to which they incorporated and later
improved upon every borrowed element of foreign cultures deserves admiration.
After the 27th year BC the opportunity arose for a single man, by
accumulating great resources in single hands, to achieve great things.
Throughout human history there can rarely be found instances of people holding
greater power than the Emperor of Rome. Great power was a downfall of many a
man, yet, there were some who resisted its corrupting influence. One such person
was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Being a member of a noble family close to the
acting Emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus received the very best education
available at the time. Among his tutors were representatives of the popular at
those times Stoicism
–  Quintus Julius Rusticus and Claudius
Maximus, who were among the most well-known and as such, among the most
influential stoics of the that time. It is not surprising that Marcus
Aurelius Antoninus took after their worldview significantly. In his Meditations, their influence is evident.
However, it can be argued that while seemingly following in ways of stoicism,
he eventually left it for his own way, like all great minds do. As he writes in
his Meditations, “Our life is what our thoughts make it,” which
emphasizes heavily the thought that there is no other power that can shape the
life of a human to a greater extent than his or her own mind, it can always
influence, but never define. Another prominent quote states – “You have power over your mind – not outside events.
Realize this, and you will find strength,” what it means is that an individual
cannot control the circumstances of his or her life, but he or she can navigate
these circumstances to his or her advantage.  Since there is no reliable way to figure out
what future holds, it is pointless to dwell on it too much – that is the
message behind yet another memorable quote from The Meditations- “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet
it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against
the present.” Great influence society forces upon individual often forcing him
or her to live by the rules they are rightfully uncomfortable with was also
reflected in the book – “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves
himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own
opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.” Before proceeding to the
next entry on the list there is one more impressive quote in support of the
notion that every individual is an architect of his or her life – “Very little
is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of
thinking.”

The three plays, being written
throughout the life of Sophocles, with quite significant time lapses in between
them, might be considered three different works, which may technically be true,
since each of them focuses on whereabouts of different characters during
different parts of their lives. However, all three of the plays together tell
the story of one family, where poor judgment of one person (i.e. Jocasta the queen of Thebes), affected the lives of her whole family in a rather tragic way.  When she learned of the prophecy, concerning Oedipus
(i.e. that he will cause the death of his parents), she ordered to dispose of
him. Even though, it may be considered presumptuous to say that she should have
embraced her fate and potentially risked her life as well as the life of her
husband for the sake of her son. Besides, the notion to embrace her fate may
seem contradictive to the statement of this essay, this idea (i.e. that she
should have chosen a selfless path) deserves further examination. But first,
the essence behind the notion of free will should be scrutinized. Free will is
a characteristic of an action taken unimpeded in a physical or any other way,
motivated by the decision taken by an individual himself or herself, solely
involving their knowledge and personal values. Knowledge is needed to figure
out an accurate chain of events following the decision in question, and personal
values are needed to decide which of the consequences are more preferable for
the particular individual. Knowledge is always based on hard evidence (i.e. empirical),
and personal values are established by individuals themselves through self-knowledge.
Before commencing an analysis of the recently mentioned idea (i.e. considering
Jocasta), there is one more issue demanding attention. Events described in these
plays take place in ancient Greece. This is important, because on that
territory, in those times, religion played an important role in people’s
understanding of the world and general worldview. Hence, rather than admit that
there was no actual knowledge on particular matter, populous would prefer
explaining it as manifestation of will of the higher powers, thus, many of
their choices were impeded by socially supported or even socially enforced
beliefs, which, lacking hard evidence to support them, could not be regarded as
knowledge. All things considered, the choices laid before Jocasta – to kill and
live or to save and die, would be an accurate depiction of the given situation only
in case, if there were hard evidence of existence of the higher power, which is
lacking. However, considering that, as mentioned previously, it was a wide
spread, common and even enforced point of view, it can be argued, that it would
take an outstanding individual to see through all the circumstances of the
unfolding events.  Thereby, as analyzing
the matter from the exceptional point of view would be inaccurate, it would be
proper to analyze Jocasta’s actions from the point of view intrinsic to her
contemporaries. First of all, for the sake of this analysis, as was already
pointed out, the will of gods is considered absolute, and oracles, as conduit
of the will of the gods, is considered truthful (despite Jocasta saying later
in the play that all prophecies are false, her actions prove that at the moment
she believed otherwise), the actual choices laid to Jocasta were – to accept
prophecy as a blessing from the divine beings who she believed in and try to
live the remaining part of her life to the best of her ability, or to doubt the
divinity of those beings. At first glance, her actions may seem as a sign of doubt,
which, in turn, is a sign of free will, but that is false impression. If she
doubted the divinity of her gods, she would have ignored the prophecy altogether.
But she did not. Also, she ignored the possibility that prophecy may have been
sent to her as a test of faith. The logical course of action in those
circumstances was to keep the baby, show him all the love she could master,
rather than anger gods, she believed were real, by trying to prove them wrong,
and possibly failing the test of faith, thus, demonstrating not an instance of
free will, but of poor judgment. Important notion to remember is that this
logic originates from the point of view which states that gods are real, their
will is absolute, and prophecies are truthful. That point of view exists only
due to reluctance to question beliefs. If Jocasta did question her beliefs and admitted
that even if indeed there is no better explanation of how the world works than god’s
will, yet, it is not reason enough to consider the theory, not supported by any
hard evidence, the truth, and to base her life decisions on it. All other characters,
similarly to Jocasta, show poor judgment. Interesting fact is that at one
moment in the play Jocasta says – “It’s
all chance, chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead,
groping through the dark,” (Oedipus the
King, 1068–1078) acknowledging her disbelief for
predetermination, while unbeknownst to her the whole situation they are in at
the moment is testament of the opposite. She believed in it even though she did
not want to – clear sign of lack of self-reflection.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, features a vain and cruel king, who
in his ignorance oppresses his subjects, until he is faced with a personal
tragedy and after that, while pondering upon his own mortality, embarks on a
quest to find the secret of an eternal life, only to find peace in what seems
to be acceptance of divine predetermination. However, by looking deeper into
the plot, it becomes evident that actually Gilgamesh found piece thanks to the
wisdom he obtained in his adventures and realized that all that matters in the life
of every human being is their own choices, while everything else is just a
decoration.

Up to this point, opinions of different
authors agreed upon the fact that predetermination is ether insignificant or
nonexistent, and all that truly matters is knowledge, thoughtfulness, and
awareness. However, there is quite a lot of literature advocating
predetermination. Of course, the vast majority of it is represented mostly by
religious texts or religiously themed literature. For that type of works it is
natural to possess one inherent trait – imminent divine retribution. This trait
comes into play on different stages of the work, takes different shapes but one
thing is certain, it is always there. No matter how hard each character tries
to avoid it – their efforts will be in vain. The reason for it is one
significant misconception, that the only reliable way to ensure obedience is
fear. And it is common knowledge that punishment is scary mostly due to its
imminence rather than its severity, since, if avoided, even the effect of the
most severe punishment is nullified. The reason why divine beings are usually
depicted as omniscient is to instill fear in believers and to gain control over
them by organizations supporting respective religion. Christianity is no
exception. The Bible contains more
than enough statements referencing the absolute status of God’s will, which
makes free will obsolete. The logic behind the argument is as follows. If God’s
will be absolute, then everything is or will be as God declares, no matter
what, which in turn would mean that choices do not matter. As a result, people
has to either follow the instructions of the organization representing the
deity, or be expelled out of the ranks of the believers, putting them at
disadvantage in their relations with believers (who in most scenarios are the significant
part of the community, expelled members belong to). In these conditions, it is
not surprising that many people do not show preference to the concept of free
will. What is surprising and perhaps, even inspiring is that despite those
conditions, which lasted throughout a significant part of human history, up
until modern times, there still were people who advocated the concept of free
will and total irrelevance of the concept of predetermination.

In the end of this work, it would be prudent to make a
final statement regarding the topic this essay is dedicated to. Free will is
not a trait we are born with. To gain it, one has to learn that he or she has a
choice in all circumstances, then he or she needs to take responsibility for
the consequences of their actions, since there cannot be free will without
responsibility, and lastly, they need to train it, just like they might train
their bodies, by using it. It can be safely stated that even if one accomplishes
all of the above, their plans may still crumble, and there is no guarantee that
it will all work out. That is true, the outcome is uncertain. The human kind is
yet to achieve mastery over our world, to earn knowledge, to develop awareness
and to gain skills needed to perceive our existence to its very core. Until
then it cannot truly be deduced if the evidence we possess is sufficient to decide
if we have free will or everything is predetermined. But since, there no way to
know it yet, uncertainty persists, and when the outcome is uncertain, it is up
to an individual to decide whether he is just a speck on the wind of fate or is
he is willing take responsibility for her or his actions.  Everybody can decide for themselves whether or
not they have free will. And that is free will