In Chapter 2, both John Locke and James Mill subscribed to the tabula rasa or blank slate school of the human mind. That means they both believed, as your text put it, that the human mind at birth was a blank slate on which experience would write, and both rejected the idea of free will. Obviously their ideas heavily influenced the 20th-century behaviorists, who said that free will is an illusion – that (theoretically) if we know someones complete learning history, we can predict what they will do in every situation with 100% accuracy. So the topic this week is about free will: Does man (you) respond to stimuli automatically or are we capable of acting spontaneously? Are we a set of conditioned responses to stimuli or are we actually in charge of our behaviors?
Before answering the above questions, there are a few concepts that may prove helpful as you contemplate your answer on the existence of a free will. When we discuss free will, what we are really talking about is “determinism,” the view that every event is caused by a chain of prior events or experiences. In contrast, those who support the concept of free will belong to the camp of indeterminism, that not every event has a cause. There are three views in indeterminism:
1. Some events do not have a cause
2. Some events are nondeterministically caused, that there is a cause but the cause is not a previous event or experience
3. Some are agents caused events; a person makes an event happen but no event causes the event to happen
Two other important concepts are compatibilism and incompatibilism. Compatibilism is the view that free will and determinism are actually compatible. David Hume supported this position (though not mentioned in your text). Conversely, those who support incompatibilism suggest that free will and determinism are completely at odds with one another, that both can not be possible. There is no grey area for them.
Warning! You might also want to consider determinism from the perspective of different disciplines before you fully endorse it. For example, biological determinism suggests that we are strictly the product of our genes, and remember the ugliness that the debate over intelligence has spawned because of biological determinism. Biological determinism is also tied to eugenics, the social theory suggesting the improvement of hereditary traits through various forms of intervention, including selective breeding and controlled breeding of those considered genetically inferior. Wow! We are really on a slippery slope now, but you can now understand why the debate over free will versus determinism has so many important social ramifications.