Sunday, 22 July 2012

Free Will - Part I

Stephen R. Covey died on the 16th of this month. He was the writer of the famous personal management book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The news of his death was a small feature in the newspaper. Yet it caught my attention because coincidentally, I happen to be reading his book these past few weeks. I am still reading the introduction to the 7 Habits and am finding it very insightful already. In this introduction, one of the many things Stephen talks of is human nature and behavior, and the factors which determine it.

He lists what he calls the 3 determinsims of human nature:
  • Genetic determinism, which says that I do something because its in my genes.
  • Psychic determinism, which means that I do something because I have been raised to or taught to do it.
  • Environmental determinism, which means that I do something because I have been forced or shaped to do so by my environment.

All of human behavior is a combination of these 3 factors. Stephen goes on to argue that these 3 factors exist in not just humans but even in animals and what separates us from animals is our ability to choose our response. We can choose what combination of these 3 factors will affect our response in a particular situation. This choice is what we call free will. This separates us from other animals.

Stephen compares this to the programming of a robot. These deterministic factors are like the programming which govern out behavior. But we are different from robots in the sense that we are aware of this programming and have the power to choose whether we want to follow it or not. This is what makes us more than animals or robots. This is what makes us human, with an infinite range of capabilities, able to perform concious actions and having the ability to own the responsibility for the same.

To be continued...



  1. You talked about 3 determinsims of human nature. That made me think, do we really have free will as such? Yes, we can think and we have the ability to choose our responses but isn't the way we think ultimately influenced by the mentioned factors. So, the decisions we make are "causality" and not the events due to our decision, if we look at it that way. Also, are we even truly aware of the programming? I would be happy to be corrected here, cause the very idea of me not having a free will in true sense is scary...

    1. Neha, you are right. Our thinking/choices too are influenced by some factors. But that is the whole point. We need to realise that that we have the power to make a choice. Above all, we have the power to make a choice objectively, rationally.

      What you are talking about is 'instinct'. But that is exactly what we are not supposed to follow. Follow your 'intellect' instead.

      So, our decisions are causality when you want them to be (when you follow your instinct) or they can be free will (when you follow your intellect). Your ability to choose causality or free will is the 2nd level of free will that we are empowered with.

      Moral of the story: we are very much aware of the programming, atleast at one level. I don't know if there is a deeper level of programming that we are not aware of yet.

  2. Yeah, that is there. Intellect should overpower instinct but it should not be overshadowed. I believe that instinct plays an equally important role in many situations if not all. And we being able to choose between causality and free will is a relief. :)