In everyday life we experience events, these events are assumed to occur in a linear fashion in which each event is a predecessor of the previous; in effect, all events have a cause. This is referred to in philosophical terms as determinism. Determinism embraces the relationship between earlier and later events. If determinism is true, and we were to rewind time and start an event in the exact same way as it was initially, the outcome would be the same (Opie 2009, p. 1).
As determinism is accepted, we also believe that we are in control of our own lives, and are capable of making choices from an array of choices; leading to the conclusion that we have freewill (Opie 2009, p. 1). Freewill is something that is imperatively important to human beings as there is a close relationship between freewill and responsibility, and simply because we like to feel in control of our own fate.
To assume that both of these doctrines were correct, would lead us into a paradox. A paradox occurs when two individually plausible beliefs are inconsistent with each other. In the case of determinism and free will, it is obvious that the two ideas conflict. If determinism were true, it is unreasonable to believe that we have free will, as the way things were before you were born settles in advance every choice you will ever make, leaving it impossible to make any choice other than the one you are going to make. Contrarily, if we have full control over our actions, making the choice a free choice, determinism is ruled out.
Determinism threatens the existence of free will through a number of channels; it argues that events are determined not only by things that occurred before your birth (known as ancestral determinism) (Opie 2009, p. 6), but are also heavily influenced by things that are immediately local to us (known as local determinism) (Opie 2009, p. 6). So, if event X is the cause of event Y, the occurance of X makes Y inevitable, leaving no room for the array of choices we assume we have in the case of freewill (Opie 2009, p. 2).
Although there are extremists that argue for either side of the paradox, there are others that aim to resolve the paradox of freedom and determinism. To do this, we are offered two options: to dismiss the paradox, and argue that freewill is compatible with determinism or to accept the paradox and deny either the thesis of determinism or the thesis of free will. Let’s consider the option that accepts the paradox, and denies the thesis of determinism. This is known as libertarianism, who argue that the evidence of freewill makes the claim of determinism implausible (Opie 2009, p. 6). In everyday examples we appear to have a variety of options, for example: you catch the bus every day, on one occasion, you decide to sit down and on another you stand. On both occasions, the option to do the opposite of what you did was open to you because over time you do a mixture of both. Libertarians argue that these examples are cases of deliberate action, and are the result of conscious control, again asserting that freewill unarguably exists (Opie 2009, p. 6).
Opie, J (2009) Freedom and Determinism, University of Adelaide