The Bounds of Free Will

What is destiny? What does it mean to believe in fate? Are we all destined for greatness or to an end beyond our control? What if our delusions of grandeur are a subconscious projection of our innate capacity fully realized in the world? If this is the case, how would we even tell? What if fate is our ex-post-facto justification for our own choices? What if destiny is the lie we tell ourselves for not making better choices? Is free will a delusion we thrust upon ourselves to feel our lives are meaningful? After all, if we aren’t free to choose and our destiny is set, what is the purpose of doing anything at all in our lives? I cannot speak to the existence of fate or destiny, but I do believe in free will.

The notion of unadulterated free will is a straw man designed to give the nihilistic determinists a foe they can burn. Unadulterated free will does not exist, and it is not possible for it to. In order for the concept to exist, it must be bound by reality. More importantly, it must be enacted by actors composed of matter bound by reality. The existence of anything bound by matter immediately gives it restraint. This is one of the arguments against the existence of God. If God is all powerful, all knowing, and essentially limitless, then he cannot exist because existence would give him constraints. This argument is worth discussing in further detail another time, but hopefully it illustrates the point. Unadulterated free will cannot exist because we are actors bound by existence in matter in space and time. So what sort of free will does exist?

Activistic determinism is the theory that our free will is bound by our existence in space and time. More specifically, our choices are limited to our environment and the circumstances of our actions. I cannot simply choose to buy a new car, even though I might desire to do so, and given the means I would. If I lack the money for a new car, my will is restrained by that fact of reality. Likewise, if I want to be able to deadlift a truck, but I cannot pick up a barbell, I am not going to be moving any car. This, however, does not mean I cannot make choices in order to better enhance my freedom of will. If I work harder, or take a job that earns more money, I will be able to get a new car. Likewise, if I train regularly with weights, eat correctly, and probably take some steroids, I will be able to lift that truck.

Ludwig Von Mises believed in three requirements for human action: one, an unease with your current situation; two, a perception of something better; and three, the belief that positive action will get you from where you are to where you want to be. These too are restraints on your free will.

Choice implies action or the option to act. If you have no desire to improve your situation given the lack of a sense of unease, essentially you are completely content, you will not act, and therefore are not exercising your will. In this instance, you would be oblivious to the possibility of something giving you unease. Likewise, if you are ignorant of any perception of something better, despite living with a sense of unease, you cannot act, and therefore are not exercising your will.

Let’s say, however, that you have a sense of unease, and you perceive something better, however, you do not believe you have the capacity to take positive action. You are still making a choice about your capacity to act, and are therefore exercising your free will. In this instance, your will is bounded by your own belief in yourself. This is often the greatest limiting factor for so many people; they simply lack the belief in their own capacity to improve their own lives or the world around them.

Lastly, let’s look at the scenario in which a person recognizes their sense of unease, perceives something better, and believes they have the capacity to change their situation. This person is at the maximum capacity of their free will. Regardless of their choice to act or not to act, their will is not bounded by a lack of capacity, and is therefore at its greatest potential. They are also in a position to take full responsibility for their choice. If a person lacks the capacity to make a change, they can hardly be faulted for not trying. However, it is the person that can make a change and chooses not to that shoulders the consequences of their choice to not act. Despite this capacity for actualization of the personal capacity, the actor is still bounded by external constraints.

An individual may be uneasy about his inability to transport himself places, recognize the potential of owning a car, and believe that getting a job will help him pay for that car and know he can get a job that pays enough. He still faces external boundaries. He will be limited by the kinds of jobs he can get, either by his own skills or the market. He might want to and be capable of drilling for oil on the moon, however, that does not mean that job is available to him. Likewise, he might want a five wheeled car, however, those are not readily available. Even at our greatest capacities for exercising our wills, we are still bounded by reality.

It is possible that destiny is the sum of all of our choices, given the limitations of our reality, both external and internal. However, it is not possible that our free will is boundless. Nor is it nonexistent. Anarchy is simply the realization of our own limits, our desire and capacity to find them, and the moral imperative not to limit others with aggression, coercion, and initiated force. I hope it is within your capacity to join me in the splendor of anarchy, and I hope you choose to do just that.

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