Ayer, A.J. “Freedom and Necessity” is a philosophical work that explores the concepts of free will and determinism. Ayer argues that although we may feel that we have free will, our actions are actually determined by causal factors beyond our control.
He uses the example of a person who intends to shoot a target but misses due to a gust of wind; even though the person tried to exercise their free will, the outcome was determined by external forces. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have any control over our lives, but it does show that our choices are not as free as we might think they are.
Ayer’s work has been influential in the philosophical debate surrounding free will and determinism. His argument that our choices are not as free as we might think has been used to support determinism, and his work has been cited by many philosophers who argue for a deterministic view of the world.
In this essay, I’ll discuss A.J. Ayer’s “Freedom and Necessity,” as well as his compatibilist solution to the problem of determinism. I’ll go through some of the examples Ayer uses to distinguish between cause and constraint, as well as how both might impact one’s free will. Finally, I’ll explain why Ayer’s compatibilism resolution to the conundrum is currently the best answer.
Ayer begins his paper by explaining how the problem of determinism has two parts: the logical part and the psychological part. The logical part of the problem is that if everything in the future is already determined, then we do not have any real choice in what we do.
The psychological part is that if we could not help but act as we do, then it would be pointless to hold us responsible for our actions. Ayer believes that both of these parts of the problem can be solved if we realize that there is a difference between being caused to do something and being constrained to do something.
A cause is something which makes something else happen, while being constrained means that you are unable to act in any other way than you do. For example, if you are caused to jump off a bridge, then there is something which makes you do it, such as being pushed. If you are merely constrained to jump off the bridge, then it is not that something is making you do it, but rather that you cannot help but do it because there is no other way for you to act.
Ayer believes that we can be both caused and constrained to do something without our free will being affected. An example he gives is of a man who has been hypnotized into believing that he is a chicken. The man will behave like a chicken even though he does not want to, but this does not mean that he does not have free will. This is because the man is still acting according to his own desires, even though he has been caused to believe something which is not true.
The distinction between being caused and being constrained is important because it allows us to see that determinism does not have to undermine our free will. If we are merely constrained by the laws of nature, then this does not mean that we do not have any real choice in what we do. We might not be able to act in any other way than we do, but this does not mean that we are not responsible for our actions.
Ayer’s compatibilist solution to the dilemma of determinism is the best solution so far because it allows us to hold people responsible for their actions even if everything in the future is determined. It also allows us to see that we still have free will even if we are constrained by the laws of nature.
A.J. Ayer claims that the problem of free will is caused by a conflict between two competing beliefs: men acting freely yet morally accountable for their deeds, and human action originating from causal laws. Determinist philosophers have been the target of most criticism. The determinist believes that everything, including people’s behaviors, are determined by cause-and-effect laws.
Ayer believes that determinism is not only false, but also incompatible with the notion of moral responsibility. If our actions are determined by causal laws, then we cannot be held responsible for them.
Ayer then turns to the other side of the argument, those who believe in free will. He believes that the belief in free will is based on a misunderstanding. The problem is that people believe that they are the cause of their own actions, when in fact they are not. Free will is an illusion caused by our lack of understanding of the causes of our own behavior. We think we are in control when we are not.
Ayer concludes by saying that both sides of the debate are wrong. We do not have free will, but we are also not determined by causal laws. Our actions are the result of a combination of both chance and necessity. We are not responsible for our actions, but we are also not victims of determinism.
Ayer’s argument is interesting in that it does not completely discount either free will or determinism, but instead argues that both play a role in human behavior. It is a middle ground between the two extremes, and provides a way to reconcile the two conflicting ideas. However, it is important to note that Ayer does not believe that we are responsible for our actions. This may be a difficult pill to swallow for some, but it is an important part of his argument.
Causal laws cast doubt on free will because if one’s actions are causally determined, they would not be able to act freely. To put it another way, a determinist is someone who believes that everything one does, has done, and will do; is predetermined at the origin of the universe. The determinism problem emerges from here.
Determinism removes the freedom of agents to act as they please. So, if everything is determined then there is no room for free will and if there is no free will, then how can one be morally responsible? This was the problem that faced early determinists such as Laplace who said ‘we may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the succeeding state’ (Laplace 1814: 641).
Laplace’s view was that given a knowledge of all the relevant past states of affairs, it should be possible in principle to predict future states with complete accuracy. If this were so, then it would seem that human beings do not have any real control over their actions and so cannot be held morally responsible for them.
The problem of determinism has been taken up by many philosophers including David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer. One way of responding to the problem is to deny that determinism is true. This is the approach that Hume takes. He argues that we have no good reason to believe that the future will resemble the past in the way that determinists claim.
We only have experience of a limited number of past events and so it is far from certain that the future will continue to follow the same pattern. For Hume, this means that there is room for free will and so we can be held morally responsible for our actions.
Another response to the problem of determinism is to accept that determinism is true but to deny that it has the implications that the early determinists thought it did. This is the approach taken by Immanuel Kant. Kant argues that although our actions may be determined by causal laws, we are still free in the sense that we are not subject to these laws.
We are free, he claims, because we are not part of the natural world and so are not subject to its causal laws. We are ‘noumenal’ beings who act according to our own ‘categorical imperatives’. For Kant, this means that we can be held morally responsible for our actions even if they are determined by causal laws.