Free Will and Intuition

In class, we discussed the issues involved in the compatibility of free will and determinism. In thoughts about these subjects, most people tend to have two intuitions:

1) People have the ability to make free choices, and

2) The choices we make are influenced or determined by our previous experiences.

Clearly, these intuitions contradict. It seems that the most rational way to mediate this intuitions is to acknowledge that they are both true, but how is this possible?

Simply, there are hard choices and easy choices, as Ruth Chang explains in her Ted Talk “How to Make Hard Choices.” The easy choices are determined by our previous experiences, and clearly have one option being better than another, like the choice between receiving one million dollars or one. Some choices, however, are not so easily decided. Imagine if you had to, say, murder an innocent animal for one million dollars or save an animal from inhumane testing and receive one dollar. Now, the decision has become hard, for most people.

I think it is very important to remember that what may be a hard choice for one person may not be a hard choice for someone else, since each person has their own individual set of values. Using my example from above, if the animal was, perhaps, a fly, then the choice may become easier. Even the choice between a piece of chocolate cake and a peach may be one of the hardest decision someone will ever make.

Everything happens for a reason.

When some tragic instance occurs, the phrase “everything happens for a reason” comforts those in pain, letting them know that there is some bigger picture or plan for all of us. Although this thought is comforting, it actually can bring confusion, anxiety and depression.

In Thomas Nagel’s 6th chapter entitled “Free Will” in his book What Does it All Mean?, he discusses the implications of free will and determinism. If everything happens for a reason, then what is the point of any of our choices? We may believe that we have the freedom to make our own choice, like a major in college, when in reality this is chosen for us by our previous experiences and everything that led up to that decision.

So, then, why is the phrase “everything happens for a reason” so comforting? Furthermore, why do people enjoy the concepts of fate and karma?

I believe that people have several paths that they may take in life. Although these paths are predetermined, they have a high range of variability in-between them. No path to success was ever perfect, and the drawbacks that were found along the way helped them grow and succeed. These downfalls are a part of the path and they help the person succeed. In essence, we have some choice, and can find meaning in several areas in the world. When we are on these paths, we have a set road that we can detour from in a variety of ways, and grow in our lives in the direction we choose.

Philosophical Zombies (And Sex)

In our Philosophy class, we recently discussed the topic of “Philosophical Zombies” or people who can function normally in society and experience that same stimuli as everyone else, but have no deeper consciousness and do not feel it in the same way as others do. We discussed the functional consciousness and the phenomenal consciousness, which are basic stimulus response and what David Chalmer’s calls our “inner movie”, or our thoughts about everything happening to us, respectively. Philosophical zombies lack the phenomenal consciousness, making them experience the world in a bland manner.

So, then, can philosophical zombies even exist?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But I do know that there are people who experience nothing when others experience strong emotional and physical cues in the same context: sex.

Some people are asexual, and when they engage in sexual activity they generally do not feel the same as many other people do. Essentially, their phenomenal consciousness may be lacking when it comes to sexual encounters, so they may be seen as philosophical zombies.

Gay Marriage and Maybe More

In our Philosophy class, we discussed differing views on gay marriage provided by Maggie Gallagher and John Corvino. As a firm believer in gay marriage, I choose to side with Corvino, who argues that marriage should be granted to both opposite- and same-sex couples, since they do not necessarily have an effect on each other. I strongly believe that this is a right for all humans, to be able to commit yourself to the one you love for life, but I believe that everyone deserves even more than that.

Recently, a male Ohio State student kissed his boyfriend in public and got punched in the face by a bystander. In the music video “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, a gay couple gets caught and one member gets severely bashed by a bystander.

I do not believe that it is ever morally correct to hurt someone based off of one of their innate characteristics, such as homosexuality. I argue that we need more than just equality, we need acceptance. Everyone deserves to feel safe, and acceptance is the key to safety, therefore acceptance is necessary to fulfill everyone’s basic human needs.

See the article about the student here:

See the video here:

Circle of Life

In to his paper The Case for Animal Rights, Tom Regan argues that people cannot hurt animals because they have inherent morals and are closely related to humans. Therefore, people should not eat animals or harm them in any way: we will no longer interfere with the circle of life (that Regan argues we must become a part of). Essentially, this extreme attack on our culture in regards to animals is a huge contradiction.

Since animals must be on the same “playing field” as humans, this must work in the other way. Humans must partake in the circle of life, but also must not kill any other animals. All animals are immediately deemed immoral. Many proponents of Regan place children, mentally-handicapped people and animals as the same, but if they were to go and kill everything with their bare teeth, this would definitely not be considered moral.

Regan’s response is not unheard of, however. Factory farming and a vile treatment of animals is not right, and animals do have some inherent morals, possibly even as much as humans. Animals, however, can not be treated exactly the same as humans because they simply are not the same.

Why is this? Probably because we’ve chosen to separate ourselves from animals. But that’s another discussion for another post.


In our Philosophy class, we discussed the idea of equal opportunity and if it truly exists, especially within the United States. The general consensus was that people are born into conditions very different from one another, giving some a head start to success and others some setbacks. An idea discussed to make this system more fair and have more equal opportunity is higher taxes on the rich and smaller taxes on the poor. While I completely agree that this effort is correct, I also believe that there needs to be a more equal distribution of said taxes. Many of the taxes in nice neighborhoods contribute to nicer schools, but the smaller taxes in worse neighborhoods contribute to schools that have worse resources, further continuing the vicious cycle of poverty. If there was a more equal distribution of taxes across a state, region, or town, then the schooling system would be more fair, resulting in a better chance of equal opportunity.

What if I die tomorrow?

Imagine if the doctor told you that you had 24 hours left alive. What would you do?

Samuel Scheffler, in his paper “The Importance of the Afterlife, Seriously” argues that most people would do something meaningful for future generations. In their last moment, they would leave a mark on this world for everyone to remember them by.

What if everyone was going to die in 24 hours?

Rather than make the most out of their last day, Scheffler argues that everyone would be characterized by panic and the world would fall into disarray. Many people, however, would pray for salvation and to have a great afterlife.

But what is afterlife?

Scheffler argues why believe in heaven or hell, or any other after that we cannot ensure, when there is an afterlife: life after us. Our meaning lies in the fact that future generations created us, and that we have an impact on the generations after us. Essentially, the only afterlife we need is the children of the world, and we should strive to make the world better for those who will inhabit it after us.

“Look at the Bigger Picture.”

Or should we?

Our reading for our Philosophy class is the 10th chapter of Thomas Nagel’s What Does It All Mean? which was named “The Meaning of Life.” In this chapter, Nagel discussed many people’s meaning of life: how their actions fit into a larger scheme. Nagel, however, questions the validity of this proposition. How can we know that there is a larger picture, and why does it matter if there is a larger picture for our actions to fit into? Even with religion as an example and the goal of reaching heaven, why is that important? What makes that the meaning of life? If the meaning of life not to simply live? Without the bigger picture, some people will be more satisfied, and others will be depressed, as Nagel says. If we choose to focus on being good people for the sake of being good people and making the most out of our lives, no “bigger picture” should even cross our minds. We will surpass the larger picture by simply living in the world beneath it.

What makes us special?

In our Philosophy class yesterday, we discussed the idea of Cultural Relativism: the notion that good and bad (right and wrong) is relative to culture. For example, in some cultures it is appropriate to commit sacrifice for a greater good, but in American cultures that would be considered immoral. Cultural relativism seems to explain a lot, such as the societal differences in law between cultures and how cultures came to adopt these values. Cultural relativism, however, creates many questions in the mind of the ‘humble’ American. What makes us special? In other words, what makes our progress important or relevant? Have we made any progress? And furthermore, why do we engage in fields such as philosophy? How can we dare explain the minds of others when their minds are so different from our own? The crisis created by cultural relativism is inevitable, and it forces one to wonder: is this explanation worth it? Essentially, yes. The human mind focuses on itself rather than others, so the provincial view provided by cultural relativism is not far from what has been practiced in the past. With the view of cultural relativism, we will finally stop interfering with the lives of others, as we have done so well in the past. (See: Imperialism)

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The “Golden Rule.”

This phrase is passed on from generation to generation as a means of providing morality. Since most of the recipients have a sense of empathy, the message is generally well received. Morality is our set of guidelines on how to live, and what is right and wrong. For the majority of my life, I have abided by this golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated. For example, don’t break into someone’s house and steal their possessions (unless you want someone to do that to you). There are many messages that can be drawn from this rule, but there are three main conclusions: don’t treat others badly unless you want to be treated badly, if you put nothing in, then you will get nothing out, and if you are kind and grateful, then others will be the same in return.

I’m choosing to start with the negative because to me, this argument is the most basic- even though it can have the largest consequences if not followed. It seems fairly simple, don’t steal, harm others, etc or bad things will come to you. Many people, however, believe that they are inherently special and that they can avoid the consequences of their bad actions. If you treat others badly, then you were either treated badly, or you will get what is coming to you, and others will treat you how you’ve treated others. This may seem like a fairly abstract concept, but the golden rule wouldn’t be the golden rule unless many people believed in it. Essentially, the most commonly drawn conclusion from the golden rule is don’t treat others badly unless you want the same to happen to you.

Another conclusion from the golden rule is what you put in is what you get out. Essentially, the more effort you put into a relationship, the more you get out of it. If you want to be truly cared about, then you have to care about others. This also ties into the third conclusion, which suggests that being kind brings kindness. I believe that herein lies the difference between a genuine desire to help others and helping others to help yourself: altruism vs egoism. I do not believe that people are pure altruists or egoists, simply because all people do things for themselves and for others. Rather than confining people in the binary of altruism or egoism, I believe there is more space in-between where all people lie. It is the degree of altruism and egoism that makes a difference. I do not mean to say that people can not commit altruistic acts, and the same for egoistic acts, but I do not believe that one action can define a person. Essentially, almost all people will prioritize themselves at some point and others at another points, but it is the degree to which they do so that makes a difference.  This is where the altruism vs. egoism debate ties back into the golden rule: if you truly care about others, then others will truly care about you. You may still care about yourself more than others, but as long as the degree to which you prioritize yourself over others is not too skewed, then who’s to say you’re not an altruist?