Monday, July 16, 2012

How Much Free Will Does the Average Person Have, Anyway?

It has often been said that You are not 'You', You are the Ambassador of 'You'.  This implies a level of self-deception that is probably true for most people below about the first sigma of self-control.  Can you live within your means (surprisingly independent of what your means actually are) and avoid any major dysfunction?  At least half the population can't.  We often like to mock the dysfunction of the professional athlete, but very few of us have experienced even the half as much of their daily temptations.

The people I know who have the most apparent self-control would be best described as being akin to the Prime Minister of an internal parliament, wherein they presently preside over a somewhat fractious coalition of parties and interests.  Sometimes these Prime Ministers face a vote of no confidence, or have to tack in the direction of one interest or another.  Their apparent Will, isn't all that free at times either.  I suspect quite a number of our readers will recognize themselves here.

So what does actually free Will look like?
Near the end of the Purgatario, Dante has Virgil 'crown and mitre Dante the Lord of Himself', basically at the point of sanctification wherein the corruption of the seven deadly sins has been cleansed from him.  Essentially only saints have this level of self control, to be accurately described as being the Lords of Themselves.


joetexx said...

I never finished Dante, because as Portia Prinz said when she put down the book to keep a hot date,

"If there's one thing that can always wait, it's the Purgatorio!"

But it's a perceptive point, and the crowning an act of profound symbolism. 

Anonymous said...

If we give over to determinism, we give over to nihilism and despair.

Jehu said...

Purgatario is really good---it speaks to me and I'm a Protestant for heaven's sake.
Paradiso is also not to be missed---it is essentially the world's first religious science fiction novel--a la Out of the Silent Planet. Lots and loads of our spiritual 'intellectual furniture' has its 'made in' stamp from the Divine Comedy.
I don't believe in determinism, but we must also be careful not to overestimate how much practical freedom any given person's will has. Dieting, for instance, would have a far higher success rate were the Will not in at least partial Bondage, to borrow from a famous Protestant.