“You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have the right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.”- Desiderata
Subquestions and everyday relevance
- Do you have free will?
- How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions)
- Are we really free, or just feel like free? What is freedom? To do what?
- Are you an optimist or pessimist? Do you believe your choices matter? How about your actions?
- Do you support social activism, are you an activist, if not, why not?
- Do you think the public opinions are manipulated, is it a conspiracy or “normal” behavior?
- What do you think about social engineering?
- Is publishing your Worldview on the Internet an act of freedom?
How to work on the answer to the Question #5
This question can call for some deep and pompous philosophy or can be simple and intimate. If you make any plans and projects whatsoever, you have to answer this question first. If you are going to get up from the bed tomorrow morning, you have to answer this question first.
Notice that the fact that you are answering this question is actually kind of answer.
An example by Peter Brown: “Yes. Small but useful in the right place. Think fulcrum.”
Working on this question improves mood. It helps people be more grounded and positive about their plans. Even finding of constraints in one’s freedom make one’s realize how much freedom he or she has. It helps with finding a meaning of life.
The interview with Dr. Tamara Welsh.
Me: I would like to talk to you about the free will and freedom. These concepts are obviously related: free will seems to be more philosophical, while freedom -personal and political….
Dr. Talia: I belong to traditions of existentialism and phenomenology. During the last two decades when I’ve been doing philosophy I come to the conclusion that the free will is pretty limited. Most of our choices have origins in our habits. For example, an alcoholic can refrain himself from the drink now, but over the time we will see the pattern typical for the problems with drinking. Still, I think, that there is something like freedom or free will and this can be related to the worldview.
In the moment when we do not make these choices, like voting or not voting for somebody, there is a place for a reflective assessment of ourselves. In this retrospective mood we can think, what kind of person I want to be, and I think, one has some control over creating certain esthetics and striving toward this kind of person, and in so doing, working on what one potentially can consider bad habits or good habits, and so by and by you become this kind of person that habitually will live that kind of life you ideally would like to live. But I do not think it is a momentary decision, that’s sort of larger, you can call worldview or personal view.
Me: So, these habits serve, in your understanding, by limiting our free will as a psychological version of materialistic determinism. We act more or less like a machine, with habits determining the pattern of behavior?
Dr. Talia: Yes, but I do not see limits so materialistic, linear and rigid, with habits determined by the multitude of physiological, environmental and social reasons.
Me: Both materialists and religious people take our freedom and free will away from us, humans – these are really strange bedfellows?
Dr. Talia: I generally agree with both of these views, determinist and religious, even Sartre has a hard version of freedom, they object seen as a general possession, which occurs in the conscious state, sort of “ I am free and I will go, do free things..” But I am thinking about freedom “provided “ by the environment, and some environments are less free than others, also as a tendency someone has, and one has to cultivate freedom like one has to cultivate good health habits, cultivate good study habits or be a just cultured person. You can not say “I’ll now become cultured”, one has to engage in a long period of study and this is an ongoing process, rather than a state, either yes or no. The deterministic and religious concepts are just too static, you have to see freedom as a quality which occurs over the time.
Me: As a phenomenologist, you should appreciate free will almost by definition. Talking about the “first person philosophy” seems to be equivalent with the accepting free will?
Dr. Talia: I think it fits very well with Descartes and Sartre. Both of these philosophers had strong ideas of freedom. On the other hand, most of the phenomenologists stressed the concepts of being embodied in the culture and in the language which picks away this strong idea of free will. Also when you look at different cultures you see that the centrality of freedom is the western tradition.
This doesn’t exist in other cultures. So, one has to ask “ are we, westerners, free in different ways than the people in other cultures?” and, it seems to me, that the answer is “yes”. Probably, reading Confucius there exists there a kind of freedom. He encourages us to cultivate ourselves in certain ways and have certain attitudes toward the family and certain behaviors. But he definitely sees human more like a relational being rather than an individual.
In our tradition, the free will is an individual’s possession, and when you compare both systems, one can ask oneself a question: “am I free because of me, or because I am honoring behaviors typical within my society in which I am committed to do “free” things”? And now in my thinking, I am leaning more towards this relational concept of freedom. It requires others to have certain habits and me to have certain habits in order to see myself free.
Me: This is very close to the perennial quandary about subjectivity versus objectivity. Subjectively you feel free, but if somebody observes you, for the observer, you just act within your societal restraints and personal habits.
Dr. Talia: That’s right. And we also often view ourselves as objects. If you look in your past, you do not see so much freedom as in present. You see your past as a fixed record of historical events and you think, “ well, of course, I made all these bad decisions, because I was in my twenties and I couldn’t have done otherwise. I would be nice to go back and with the experience I have now and make all these good decisions”. But you can’t. The past appears objective but the future is the world of possibilities.
Me: The worldview owner’s manual encourages one to explore big questions. Do you think that the conversation or writing down one’s opinion about, for example, free will can help the person be more grounded, more positive regarding creating one’s life?
Dr. Talia: HaHa, I suppose, because of my job, I should say, “sure”. But I do feel super strongly, yes. Nietzsche has this idea of many wills inside of us. It seems, here is a multiplicity of subjects inside of us, like, there is this lazy person inside of us who wants to do one thing and there is another who wants to do something else and it is hard to tell who is the real self. And I think, that self-reflexion and thinking about your worldview and about other cultures, this philosophical reflection might help you come to better terms with yourself. You can see your strengths and weaknesses and you can potentially see the world in more reflective manner. It has an educational purpose but also has a therapeutic purpose. I think if one do not reflect much, one has to hope for the fate to turn very well for one. If you do self-reflect, it doesn’t mean that you will have the successful life, but at least it gives you some tools to deal with suffering, both external and internal.
I was working with domestic violence abusers. It was really interesting, because, as these abusers came from the wide spectrum of social, income, educational strata, I found them, mostly, very relatable. And most of them appeared to very strongly wanted to break out the circle of violence, but for many reasons were unable to. It reminded me that it is so difficult to say- “these are bad people and these are good people”. But I think as much as one can engage in the self-reflection it can only help-” why I keep doing these things’’, “ why I am here again”, “ why this pattern keep occurring in this relationship?” and it applied to both abusers and the victims. Talking to them and teaching them self-reflection aimed at the question “what can I do in the future if a similar situation occurs”? But most of these people saw the world as just happening to them, without being an active agent, they just reacted to things happening. And this is the worldview without free will and without freedom.
Me: We are back to upbringing, habits, and education…
Dr. Talia: Right, both Foucault and Confucius using very different terms, talk about the value and necessity of self-cultivation. Rather than always trying to make good choices one should work steadily, continuously on self-cultivation until these good choices would come naturally.
This work is much more difficult, almost like the habit to save money or working on your worldview…
Me: Thank You Dr, Talia, I couldn’t agree more.