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Franklins Notion of Freedom and Determinism

Franklins Notion of Freedom and Determinism

Two forms of freedom exist in philosophy: metaphysical freedom and circumstantial freedom. On the one hand, metaphysical freedom refers to an individual’s ability to choose between options presented to them or the alternatives availed to them. The choice an individual makes depends on their intellectual capacity and ethical values. On the other hand, the second type of freedom, circumstantial freedom, refers to one’s ability to complete tasks of one’s volition without external influence. The other types of freedom in philosophy are the freedom of action and will. Whereas metaphysical freedom refers to the freedom of will, circumstantial freedom refers to the liberty of actions. Consistently, Franklin’s position on free will shows that he is aligned with determinism over free will.

Non-Morality Argument

One of the primary positions used to argue against free will is the non-moral argument. According to this argument, no action is more moral than another. The opinion cements that all activities are the same regardless of their impact (Tsalikis, 2018). The non-moral argument is based on the notion that since external forces influence actions, it is not justifiable to compare different actions by individuals without assessing the underlying factors that led them to commit such actions (Tsalikis, 2018). For instance, nothing is categorically different when an individual punches a colleague and when a gust of wind blows away the garbage bin across the street. Outside forces of nature influence these actions, and there is nothing the recipients of the actions may do to avoid them. In the case above, the one who punched their colleague is probably a naturally bad person who does not like being in good books with others. Similarly, a municipality can do little to prevent the wind from blowing their bins away. The argument against morality goes a long way in defending metaphysical and circumstantial freedom. If morality were to be accurate, then it would not be possible for human will to be part of the laws of nature, which determine the actions that occur under their auspices. Since external forces influence most actions through determinism, there is no need to have moral standards to measure the morality of human actions.

Instead of using a moral standard, determinists support applying a utilitarian moral idea. According to utilitarianism, the right actions improve human welfare and bring happiness (Tsalikis, 2018). If the action maximizes happiness for all or most relevant parties and reduces pain or harm in a situation, then that is the right action to pursue. Using the utilitarian approach requires a case-by-case assessment to determine whether people’s actions are wrong or right. If an action is likely to maximize human benefit and reduce pain points, then one may proceed and do it. Utilitarians do not ask what is right or wrong when facing a scenario (Tsalikis, 2018). Instead, they seek to establish if the action may maximize human benefit.

According to Tsalikis (2018), most determinists agree with the utilitarian approach to morality because it is suitable in a world without a list of dos and don’ts. The utilitarian approach aligns with the determinist’s viewpoint on why people go to prison. According to the determinist approach, people are imprisoned because they commit transgressions against their counterparts, hence the need to deter them. It is vital to lock criminals even though their actions are predetermined to protect the well-being of other citizens. The utilitarian approach supports the determinist argument and further affirms that the freedom of action is based on what will maximize utility and minimize pain.

Cultural Conditioning

The cultural conditioning perspective also weakens the common-sense notion of free will. People learn and internalize their immediate society’s values, norms, customs, and beliefs through cultural conditioning. Some influential forces that culturally influence people include family members, media, education, and religion. Depending on how individuals interact with these forces, they are likely to imitate or copy some of these behaviors, leading to cultural conditioning. First, cultural conditioning significantly shapes an individual’s choices, desires, and preferences (Robertson, 2017). The values instilled into an individual through culture eventually influence what they deem desirable or acceptable, affecting their actions (Robertson, 2017). For instance, polygamy in the Islamic religion is acceptable based on Islamic teachings, but it is frowned upon by Christians. Due to cultural conditioning, male members of the two religions will view marriage to multiple female partners differently due to the underlying religious influences.

Cultural conditioning also influences people’s implicit biases. This refers to how people view themselves and look at the external environment. For instance, if the head of HR in charge of hiring in an organization is Muslim, they are likely to be biased toward hiring a Muslim. A Muslim candidate is probably likely to talk to them in a way they relate to, hence drawing their admiration. These biases influence people in subtle ways, such that they end up creating unconscious prejudices and preferences. Apart from cultural biases, cultural conditioning also encourages cultural relativism (Robertson, 2017). Cultural relativism refers to a situation whereby people see their culture as universal across society. Once an individual gets affected by cultural relativism, they are less likely to consider other people’s opinions and will instead focus on their perspective as the absolute solution. Cultural relativism hinders an individual’s ability to make independent decisions based on free will.

Furthermore, cultural conditioning breeds social pressure and the need for conformity. To that end, individuals may behave in a specific way due to the pressure from social norms, even though the position violates their inclination. A perfect example is the pressure to conform to societal demands through marriage. Some individuals who may have never wanted to marry end up marrying to conform to social pressure. Also, if celibacy is a condition for priesthood and someone wants to become a priest, they may become celibate due to the need to conform. In that case, becoming a priest was out of one’s free will, but celibacy is not freely willed. The fear of social rejection limits the extent to which people may act according to their preferences, limiting individual free will.

Libet’s Neuroscience Experiments

Benjamin Libet’s neuroscience experiment has significant implications for understanding free will and human agency. Participants were required to perform a neural experiment to compare conscious action against the onset of the underlying subconscious neural activity. Participants were required to press buttons, and their conscious physical initiation of the process was recorded and compared against the initiation of the neural process associated with movement. The experiment results showed that the neural activity associated with movement occurred first before the conscious intention to press the button occurred (Fischborn, 2016). The time discrepancy between the conscious intention to move and the underlying unconscious neural activity attests to the invalidity of the common-sense aspect of free will. (Fischborn, 2016). Concerning human psychology, Libet’s experiment reinforces determinism-that people’s behavior is not due to their free will but an underlying mental process.

The experiment shows the role of the unconscious process in decision-making. The results challenge the psychological viewpoint that decisions are only controlled by the conscious part of the brain process (Fischborn, 2016). By initiating a neural action before making the conscious move to press a button, an underlying, unconscious neural process occurs before the conscious decision. The experiment also challenges the traditional viewpoint that conscious action is the primary guiding factor of human behavior. Based on the experiment results, the conscious process is the byproduct of the underlying unconscious neural process that preceded conscious moves.

Additionally, Libet’s experiment points to loopholes in the traditional viewpoints concerning free will. The experiment questions how human action is influenced by a predetermined neural process independent of one’s brain activity (Fischborn, 2016). Notwithstanding the validity of the experiment results, it suggests limited individual human agency during the decision-making process. In real life, the experiment may apply to a habitual alcohol consumer. While the free will position suggests that drug use is an outcome of personal decisions and initiative, the deterministic position supported experimentally holds a different viewpoint. External factors such as parent(s) genetic makeup or the environment may lead individuals into alcohol abuse.

According to Fischborn (2016), Libet’s neuroscience experiment has legal and corrective system implications. The argument questions the concept of guilt used to subject criminals to jail terms. Suppose the experiment’s results are anything to go by. In that case, one may say that there is no need to convict guilty criminals because their wayward actions are caused by an underlying mental process that may not be seen by legal stakeholders such as judges and juries. The action is also beyond the control of accused individuals. Libet’s concept questions the court system’s reliance on empirical results to make decisions. In other words, it is appropriate to subject an accused person to similar legal standards applied to someone else who may have committed an identical offense without evaluating the factors that led them to offend. To that end, there is a call to individually examine court cases relative to the underlying factors that may have influenced the convicted individuals to offend. Libet’s experiment reveals loopholes in the free will experiment even though the practical verification of the experiment is impossible.

Genetics and Heredity

Another argument that pokes holes in the validity of the common-sense notion of free will is the influence of genetics on human behavior. According to Dawkins (2016)all human behavior, emergencies, and biological development are due to the blind manifestation of an endless tinkering called genes. Dawkins (2016) argues that whatever holds for bird migration, mosquito colonies, and the photosynthesis process among plants also holds for human beings. In essence, just like it is the case in the animal ecosystem, gene replication also applies to humans and manifests through their behavior and actions.

Dawkins’s position on gene reduction profoundly supports the notion of the influence of genes on human behavior. According to him, some humans will get hurt, some will be lucky, and no justification rhymes with it, as no justice will apply in return (Dawkins, 2016). Dawkins further argues that humans see the world as it appears: no evil, no design, purpose, good, or bad. In other words, all humans are subjected to the exact circumstances from birth, and whatever befalls anyone is due to, among others, genetic influences. Dawkins’s position regarding gene replication is consistent with the metaphysical science viewpoint that blind forces drive human fate (Dawkins, 2016). Using the concept of a replicating gene, he shows that human behavior is influenced by some forces that may not be visible to those affected. For instance, every year, some people die from different cancer types as the condition ravages the globe. Those observing the healthiest lifestyles get the disease, while some of those living rugged lifestyles, including smokers, are lucky to escape the killer disease. Gene replication is an uncontrollable and ‘blind’ process that affects human behavior, emergencies, and biological development. The genetic argument raises concerns about people’s freedom to choose and make decisions without the influence of the underlying genetic code.

Genes lead to biological determinism and genetic predisposition. One’s genetic makeup, which is hereditary, may shape one’s behavior and affect one’s decision-making (Dawkins, 2016). For instance, bipolar is one of the most prevalent mental conditions that are considered to be hereditary. A child whose parent(s) exhibit signs of bipolar disorder is likely to become bipolar in the future. Impulsive behaviors characterize bipolar, and an innocent child is likely to be impulsive, not out of their free will, but because their behavior is shaped by the genetic influence of their parents’ DNA. Therefore, one’s free will is limited by genetic forces that may influence how one will make their decisions. Further, the interactionist approach suggests that genetic and environmental factors influence human behavior. The interactionist perspective suggests that there is a dynamic interplay of genes and environmental activities to produce specific human behavior.

Meme Culture

Dawkins uses the meme culture to show how imitation limits the common-sense notion of free will. Memes replicate themselves by leaping from one brain to the next, one generation to the next through imitation. Multiple ideas always compete for human attention, and the most convincing survives and becomes the norm. For instance, God’s existence is one example of ideas that have survived multiple generations and remain influential (Gleick, 2011). God’s existence is passed from one generation to the next through word of mouth, music, and art. The belief in God’s existence has survived across generations, not because it is based on empirical evidence but because it is based on a compelling narrative. Another example of a meme competing with others for survival is the belief that the sun orbits around the Earth (Gleick, 2011). The belief that the Earth orbits around the sun is not dominant because other competing explanations attract significant credibility. The above examples show how meme culture influences human behavior and decision-making.

Images may also be used to perpetuate a narrative or culture, limiting people’s free will to make an independent opinion regarding a piece of work. For instance, Isaac Newton is undoubtedly one of the most famous Englishmen. Nonetheless, not many Britons recall his face since many generations have passed since he passed on. However, today, copies of poorly painted portraits are the ones that represent Newton’s face (Gleick, 2011). Imagery creates a false graphic perception that lasts across generations, having been depicted as accurate in influential spaces. Unlike traditional memes passed from one generation to the next through word of mouth, images today may be preserved through paper drawings, sculptures, and paintings (Gleick, 2011). One of the competitive factors for memes is longevity; hence, the longer an image stays in the public discourse, the more likely these memes will be perceived as the truth. Rhythm is another factor that makes memes, including images, last long and pass to the next generation. Like rhyme helps text be remembered, so does uniformity in artistic works. The longer a fictional imagery about a famous person appears, the more likely people will be convinced about its perceived credibility.

Just like genes, memes impact the world beyond the meme itself. For instance, Jesus’s existence and the meme for fire-making have had significant impacts worldwide. As memes spread across the globe, they influence their survival chances. The ones that bring benefits to their human host are likely to survive longer, while some of the negative ones may be deleted. Some examples of memes that have left positive footprints in human life include the CPR skill and handwashing culture. Just like genes, memes replicate. However, memetic evolution success and genetic evolution success are not comparable, as the former evolves faster (Gleick, 2011). For instance, the concept of suicide bombing is a harmful meme that has brought human suffering, yet it has survived generations in some societies. The meme thrives because it is pegged on the promise that those who participate in suicide attacks have a special place in heaven. The whole point is that some forms of human behavior or actions are a manifestation of memes that have been passed across generations, thus limiting the influence of free will in individual behavior.

Once memes are prevalent in society, they are eventually established as cultural norms. If some practices are emphasized and taught for long enough, they become part and parcel of society’s cultural norms. For instance, polygamy in Islam is depicted as an acceptable practice in society. Due to the longevity of the practice, it is now a cultural norm among Islamic men. Memes’ impact on cultural norms may influence people’s free will as they make decisions based on diverse cultural contexts.

Christian Theology on Predestination

A wide array of Christian theology on free will rubbishes the very existence of some aspects of free will. First, Calvinist theology affirms that humans lack freedom of will but have freedom of action (Peterson, 2006). In other words, the approach rejects metaphysical free will but advances circumstantial freedom. The Calvinist approach infers that God picks individuals destined to be saved and those that will be damned beforehand. To that end, it is the nature of individuals that affects their decision-making process. The Calvinist approach and most other historical Christian theological perspectives support the notion that one’s nature influences how one makes decisions (Peterson, 2006). Saint Augustine elaborates on how nature affects one’s behavior using the concept of sin. According to St. Augustine, people are not sinners because they sin, but they sin because they are sinners. The analogy means that some people are just destined to sin based on underlying deterministic factors regardless of how they may try to avoid sin. St. Augustine argues that free will refers to the opportunity to make a decision based on one’s internal thought process and not external influence. If the sinner chooses who they are not and chooses not to sin, then that is not freedom since they have not exhibited their authentic inner self.

Further, the Calvinist approach rubbishes the existence of a neutralized will-staying balanced between two choices. If a person experiences libertarian freedom and has the opportunity to choose between two choices, they will select one based on some influence (Peterson, 2006). However, given two choices where one is indifferent, they may end up not choosing either of the options. A good example of better understanding the notion is presenting a dog with identical food bowls. If the dog has true libertarian freedom, it will be indifferent and not select either bowl, thus starving. Another example to illustrate why neutralized will does not exist is the functioning of a weighing balance. The left versus right tilting of the weighing balance depends on the applied weight (influence). A neutralized will encourage arbitrary decisions that someone may not be responsible for. The libertarian approach to freedom shows that an individual may choose one option when presented with options, and there is no room for indifference.


In summary, Franklin’s notion of freedom suggests that there are two forms of freedom- metaphysical freedom and circumstantial freedom- independent of each other. While metaphysical freedom refers to freedom of will, circumstantial freedom refers to the freedom of human action. The two types of freedom are distinct because metaphysical freedom depends on one’s values and ethics, whereas circumstantial freedom refers to one’s ability to undertake actions freely independent of external influence. By separating the two forms of free will, Franklin seeks to identify factors that may subtly weaken the common-sense notion of free will while advancing the determinist viewpoint.

One of the positions that weakens free will while cementing determinism is the non-morality argument. According to the non-morality argument, people’s actions and behavior should not be subjected to moral standards as they face different circumstances. Since there is no good or bad on the face of the Earth, the ultimate decision is based on the utilitarian approach, where decisions are made based on maximum benefit. Also, cultural conditioning invariably limits human free will. As people make decisions based on different cultural backgrounds, they will likely exhibit biases that weaken the power of free will. Moreover, Libet’s experiment was used to test what comes first between conscious thought and the unconscious mental process, showing that the latter occurs first. Since the unconscious neural process influences human action, humans have little control over their actions. Also, Dawkin’s position on genetics and heredity shows that genes affect human behavior. The gene, as a blind external force, affects how individuals make decisions. The influence of memes on the culture also affects how an individual exercises free will. Memes leap from one brain to the next and from one generation to another through imitation. Once the memes are trusted across an extended period, they are eventually incorporated as part of the norms of a community. Memes limit free will and human agency as they are passed across generations through a deterministic sequence. Finally, Calvinist theology and most traditional Christian histories agree with free will but question whether it can overwhelm the forces of nature. The Calvinist theology avers that God’s predetermined fate influences humans.


Dawkins, R. (2016). The selfish gene. Oxford University Press.

Fischborn, M. (2016). Libet-style experiments, neuroscience, and libertarian free will. Philosophical Psychology29(4), 494-502.

Gleick, J. (2011, May). What Defines a Meme? Smithsonian;

Peterson, B. (2006). Augustine: Advocate of Free Will, Defender of Predestination. i: Theology5, 1-13.

Robertson, L. H. (2017). Implications of a culturally evolved self for notions of free will. Frontiers in Psychology8, 1889.

Tsalikis, J. (2018). Can we act ethically? Implications of determinism, Chaos Theory and unintended consequences.


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For my term paper, I would like to discuss Franklin’s notion of freedom. According to him, circumstantial freedom refers to the ability to do things without any impeding factors, whereas metaphysical freedom is the ability to choose.

Franklins Notion of Freedom and Determinism

Franklin Notion of Freedom and Determinism

This paper will present arguments that subtly weaken the commonsense notion of free will and support determinism.

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