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If Free Will is our ability to decide to focus or not to focus, then what causes us to decide?

asked Jan 11 '11 at 15:27

snailskin's gravatar image


retagged Nov 04 '12 at 10:08

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦

Life. And I mean to want.

(Nov 05 '12 at 08:03) Twilightseed Twilightseed's gravatar image

No to be too flip about it, but you are the cause. That's the entire point of volition: in exercising your will -- in choosing to focus or not -- you are your own little First Cause, in that moment and respect.

It's a big and tricky topic, but here's an aspect to chew on: Insisting that there must be some deeper cause than "he chose" would essentially mean denying the phenomenon of free will itself, arbitrarily assuming deterministic causation to be the sole form of causation (actually, and a bit ironically, I think maintaining it with any rigor would require outright evasion of one's own direct experience of the phenomenon of volition).

answered Jan 11 '11 at 18:36

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

At the point of development at which the growing individual understands his situation in the world, he comes to appreciate the role of perception and identification, etc., to his getting what he wants. He comes to understand the value of knowing. And that gives him his original reason to exert himself cognitively, and to set himself a standard to know what he can.

It is a matter of greater or lesser effort to focus and think, and requires an investment of time. Also, it not infrequently leads one to come face-to-face with facts that arouse negative or painful emotions. There is, further, the danger that, by being wrong in his conclusions, he causes himself harm or loss. And, there come to be, as he is more involved in life, many social/cultural influences opposed to his knowing, speaking, and/or acting on the truth.

Illness and certain highly unusual stimulus situations aside, there are no external factors that prevent an individual from maintaining his focus, from acknowledging the facts and implications of the evidence present, or from keeping them in mind as is relevant. Whether he does or doesn't is a matter of pure, self-determining choice.

The knowledge that he is a thinking being is permanent and ever-present, and with it, the reason to focus. Other factors, some of which are mentioned above, may range against his choosing to focus at a given moment. At the minimum, there is the correspondingly ever-present cost in terms of time and effort.

Man's fall-back position is to rely on sense-perception and the appetitive factors of his animal nature, the cognitive level which operates automatically. You can see from this the central importance of volition in Rand's ethics, as equating an individual's choice to focus with the choice to be a man qua man.

answered Jan 11 '11 at 22:23

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Jan 11 '11 at 23:08

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Asked: Jan 11 '11 at 15:27

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Last updated: Nov 05 '12 at 08:03