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April 09, 2022 3 min read

philosophy barber meme

 

It was Arthur Schopenhauer who wrote: “Man does at all times only what he wills, and yet he does this necessarily. But this is because he already is what he wills.” [Chapter 5 of On the Freedom of the Will] As paraphrased by Albert Einstein in his essay “My View of the World“ (1931), it is put like this: “A man can do as he will, but not will as he will.”

Schopenhauer tries to explain that we can actually do what we want, but we cannot choose (or want) what we want, and in this sense we are not free - what we want is determined by our nature or programmed into us. For example, when someone is hungry, he may think that he is choosing to eat something, and that he is acting out of free will, i.e., that he is eating something because he wants to; but he has not really chosen to eat something, but his determined/born or innate nature is forcing him to eat something.

Any example of a motivational state we can think of can be explained in this way, e.g., anger, thirst, jealousy, fear, disgust, etc. Naturally we are able to suppress things we want, such as refusing to eat when we are hungry, but Schopenhauer would say that in this case our character is such that this was not a choice; rather, our disposition to asceticism or our health consciousness (or whatever impulse caused us to refuse to eat) compelled us to refuse to eat. So he would say that even if we disregard what our body initially tells us, this is not a counter-example to his view. Rather, this would just be an example of a second-order impulse overriding a first-order basic impulse.

Schopenhauer's conclusion was that we do not have free will, as most people believe - that is, we do not freely choose to be the way we are or to do the things we do. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer was not a hard (mechanistic) determinist. More specifically, Schopenhauer thought that our circumstances or situation (e.g., new information, altered resources, or a different social environment, etc.) can change our behavior, but that our character - our motivations, desires, or who we are inside - remains unchanged. Many other philosophers and scientists have subscribed to this deterministic view or quasi-deterministic variants of it - so it is by no means a fringe view anymore.

Theoretically, we could say that we want to behave completely differently tomorrow, be a new person, so to speak, and we could theoretically do that, but we still don't do it to the fullest extent. Personal change, i.e. a readjustment of character or even the change of attitudes are extremely lengthy in psychological therapy, which is why it must be assumed that the human being carries something stable within him that can only be broken open and changed with a great deal of effort. Perhaps this is what we understand by imprinting, which determines our will.

Nevertheless, the philosophical debate about free will and determinism is still far from being decided in one direction or the other. Philosophers are still very much divided on this issue. Indeterminism, on the other hand, holds that not all events are uniquely determined by preconditions, that is, there are certain events that are not uniquely determined by causes but are indeterminate. We speak then of coincidence or also chance and ultimately of astrophysical chaos theory.

By the way, you can give this answer to your hairdresser and annoy him so much that there will be no more small talk. You get the hairstyle that you thought you wanted - or just something completely different, which you accept without grumbling, because the hair is already cut now and will grow back anyway. If necessary, you can also wear a cap.


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