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Do we have free will?

By Louis O'Neill - posted Monday, 5 November 2018


Though what of us without brain tumors?

There are many day-to-day examples that can go unnoticed, but make the case similarly. For example when you are hungry, your free will is somewhat hijacked by thoughts of food. When you are dependent on some kind of drug, your free will is hijacked by addiction. What we don't realize, is that thoughts which we do not conjure up ourselves, commandeer our actions in every scenario in life.

To use a more accessible example, take mindful meditation. For those that have tried (and if you are like myself, you quickly gave up,) you will soon learn that it is easier said than done to abandon your internal monologue. No matter how hard you try to simply focus on your breathing, inevitably, thoughts will emerge.

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Whether you have happy thoughts, anxious thoughts, or even psychopathic thoughts, all depends on the brain you were given from birth.

Upon hearing this however, many question the purpose of the judicial system. If we have no free will, how then can anyone be culpable for their actions?

Well, interestingly, Sam Harris says that we aren't.

Harris' claim is that the judicial system should be focused purely on what will yield the best future outcome.

For example, take two individuals, both of whom unleash a physical barrage upon an innocent bystander.

Take the first individual, let's call them individual A in this case. Imagine this individual is found to have bipolar disorder. The other individual, individual B, is what we might call a stock-standard human.

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With individual A, imprisonment isn't the best recourse, as the mental condition of having bipolar won't change simply through being locked up. In this instance, the best action to take may be some form of medication.

With individual B, however, the best recourse may be in fact to lock them up, perhaps coupled with anger management therapy.

This may yield the significant effect on the person to place them on a course of rehabilitation, to ensure that negative future actions are mitigated.

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This article was first published on Medium.



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About the Author

Louis O'Neill is a writer from Sydney having graduated from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Writing focusing on issues of philosophy, morality, religion and social commentary.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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