The controversy between freewill and determinism has been argued about for years. Freewill is defined as the belief that our behaviour is under our own control and do not act in response to any internal or external factors. Freewill has been found to have four different conditions and to have freewill at least two conditions must be obtained, these are; people have a choice on their actions, have not been coerced by anything or anyone, have full voluntary and deliberate control of what they do. One example of freewill in psychology is Humanism. The humanists are in favour of freewill as they believe that humans aren’t ever determined to behave in a certain way.
According to Maslow (1950) we all strive for self-actualisation, which is that we move towards freewill. However it’s been found that maladaptive behaviour results from lack of acceptance of oneself which prevents Maslow’s self-actualisation occurring, therefore not everyone can strive for it, after all there are individual differences.
Freewill has been used as a defence in murder, some say that something which is beyond their control has determined them to kill someone i.e. inherited bad temper genes. But the freewill argument will be supported by diminished responsibility in law, because it shows that most behaviour is free, only those who are mentally ill and children have determined behaviour.
More supporting evidence for the existence of freewill comes from Penfield (1947); he stimulated parts of the brain of patients about to undergo brain surgery, to make them feel as though their limbs were moving. Penfield found that his patients said they felt different when their limbs moved when being coerced and when they moved them by their own freewill. Therefore freewill is a subjective feeling and most people believe they have freewill and this feeling supports this. One criticism to this is behaviourists such as Skinner would say that this subjective feeling of being free is just an illusion. The reason we feel free is that we are often unaware of our past reinforcement history.
There are applications from the Humanistic approach, counselling can make people exercise their freewill to maximise the rewards (reinforcements) in their lives. This has good consequences as it gives us power to change. On the other hand, it’s a very optimistic view and doesn’t work for all. Evaluating the Humanistic approach by scientific criteria is difficult because of its phenomenological emphasis. The evidence for the theories is almost entirely co- relational because of the methods used i.e. case studies and interviews, which in comparison to experiments do not produce falsifiable predictions. Although the Humanistic approach remains important, it has limited influence in psychological research because of its un-testable ideas and emphasis on the experiences of the individual.
Determinism is the opposite of freewill and is defined as a philosophy that states that our behaviour/experiences are pre-determined by e.g. genes, learned behaviour or early experiences. There are two sides to determinism, hard and soft determinism and there are four types of determinism, biological, genetic, psychic and environmental.
Hard determinism is the belief that our behaviour is determined and predictable and controlled by these internal and external factors. Hard determinism is usually associated with social scientists such as Skinner, Freud, and Lorenz and usually rejected by philosophers. The behaviourist approach is in favour of hard determinism arguing that human behaviour is determined by learning from the environment and its causes can be explained in terms of environmental stimuli. Skinner, an environmental deterministic, asserted that in actual fact freewill in human behaviour was merely an illusion because in reality we are all at the mercy of our environment. He also proposed that we repeat behaviour that is rewarded and vice versa hence all our behaviour can actually be predicted and is therefore not a result of freewill.
The neo-behaviourist approach founded by Bandura (1997) is less deterministic. It supports the belief that whilst the environment is an important determinant of behaviour, in turn, behaviour is also a determinant of the environment hence the name, reciprocal determinism. This neo-behaviourist approach acknowledges the fact that humans tend to seek out certain behaviours which they find stimulating rather than just responding to environmental stimuli and as a result accounts for a certain degree of freewill.
According to Byrne (1970) who produced the Reinforcement Affect Theory, relationships are formed and determined when one person reinforces the other person directly i.e. operant conditioning. This supports the deterministic view of the debate, as forming relationships are determined by rewards and not by own freewill. Behaviourism therapy on controlling peoples behaviours such as phobic people has been successful, however unethical.
One argument in favour of this deterministic approach in psychology is that it enables the scientific study of human behaviour. Scientific psychology involves manipulating one variable (IV) to see how this determines behaviour (DV). For the behaviourists predicting and controlling behaviour in this way is the ultimate goal of psychology.
If hard determinism is correct, then, there can be no freedom in the sense required for morality and there is no point in punishing or blaming those who do “wrong,” since they cannot help it. However, the hard determinist does not think these consequences are necessarily bad. In fact, some hard determinists argue that the consequences might be very good. For example, Skinner (1938) argues that since people are the result of their conditioning, and will get conditioned by their upbringing and environments anyway, we should control people’s upbringing and environments as much as possible to ensure that their conditioning is positive. He suggested that positive and negative reinforcement should be applied to this task.
Unlike Skinner, Lorenz (1963) says that unconscious forces determine our behaviour. These forces are built into human nature by evolution. However these forces are quite unpleasant. For example, Lorenz holds that aggression and territoriality and sexual competition are innate instinctive drives. Hence, we are destined to want unconsciously to dominate others by violence, whether we consciously “want” to or not. Similarly Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality in the psychodynamic approach, suggests that adult behaviour is determined by innate drives and early experiences. This gives support to the view that our behaviour can be determined, however has little empirical support as it’s based mainly on case studies.
Biological approach is genetic deterministic. It’s been found that there is some genetic link to schizophrenia and depressions, meaning the genes are determining the future of the individual. This has consequences such as maybe a prenatal test in the future could determine whether an unborn child has the schizophrenia gene. Research into the human genome is producing increasing evidence of genetic influences. For example a high IQ may be related to the IGF2R gene (Chorney et al., 1998). Although it is doubtful that total genetic determination will ever be found for any behaviour.
Some determinists see some logic in freewill and they try and mix the two concepts into one. These people are known as soft determinists, as opposed to hard determinists that believe determinism is true and freewill is false. James (1890) first suggested the idea of soft determinism, and that we should separate behaviour into a physical and a mental realm. Soft determinists say that there are different levels of determinism, which are influenced by the situation and have an element of freewill. Support for this view comes from the psychodynamic approach. Freud believed that we are controlled by unconscious forces such as repressed memories, over which we have no control over and are unaware of it. This is an example of psychic determinism.
Freud’s dreams theory that dreams are determined by unfulfilled wishes, has an element of freewill, as lucid dreaming is controlled by the dreamer and could be seen as evidence for freewill. Hence supports the belief of soft determinism. However his account of dreaming is largely unsupported except for evidence from Solms (2000), who found that the irrational areas of the brain remain active during dreaming. This is where the unfulfilled wishes come from and hence supports Freud’s dreaming theory. Useful applications come out of the psychodynamic approach, psychoanalysis therapy aims to gain conscious control over unconscious forces by unlocking them i.e. through free association. On the other hand, it’s a highly controversial therapy.
The Cognitive approach is in favour of soft determinism arguing that mental disorders arise from maladaptive thinking. Previous experiences create expectations (schemas), which determine how we see things e.g. phobias arise from irrational thoughts. Cognitive therapies however involve freewill. Clients are encouraged to take control of their thoughts and turn irrational thoughts into rational.
These deterministic explanations tend to oversimplify human behaviour and are unfalsifiable since it always assumes a cause exists, even if one has not been found yet. They may be appropriate for animals e.g. mating behaviour in a peacock, but human behaviour is influenced by many factors, not just one, including thinking.
Having freewill is more of a philosophical question, than a scientific one because we have no way of testing this. All psychologists agree that our behaviour is not only determined by one factor. Factors such as personality are internal but they still can be the result of what’s happened in the past, like Freud would say, so they are no more or less the product of freewill than any other internal factors. The argument therefore is not so much between freewill and determinism but between soft and hard determinism.
Since hard determinism is the only scientifically defensible way to understand humanity, the concept of freewill still hides the real issues. Also one question that has been found is that isn’t freewill just another aspect of behaviour determined by the brain and mind? Therefore maybe it isn’t just freewill or determinism acting on its own to control our behaviour, but a bit of both. Another alternative such as the libertarian view propose that no matter how much the events around us may be pre-determined, the human mind still has the capability of acting in a completely unpredictable manner without any specific cause for the behaviour.
Determinism is not fatalism and freewill is not randomness. Maybe if we take an eclectic approach and together with its applications could make us understand human behaviour better.