People are products of genes, upbringing, chance, etc. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be accountable for their actions, or that it’s all just destiny. But thinking that no one chose how they ended up as they did, makes it easier to understand or withstand them.
I’ve recently been thinking about what Sam Harris has to say about free will. His thoughts can be accumulated via podcasts, videos and of course the book titled “Free Will”. I was most intrigued by the fact that we exist in a state machine of sorts. And that even though we can consciously affect that state, it couldn’t have ended up in any other way.
This is one of those things that still keeps me thinking about it.
The universe, and therefore our minds, have a state at any given time. Sometime in the past, could you have decided and then done something differently? How much can be attributed to randomness? Quantum level stuff seems to even out in any perceivable scale, but could it somehow affect our thinking? Are we determined to do what we do, as per determinism?
Suppose that the universe has a certain state at any given time. Now imagine yourself making a different decision at some time in the past. Given the fact that whatever the state of you in that particular moment was, nothing suggests that you would indeed make a different choice. Because everything we ever do, is defined by the preceding state we were in. The exact same variables will affect your decision making process this time around. Most likely, you’re not even aware what those variables are.
I’m compelled to mention the theory of a multiverse. All the possible choices and possibilities branch into infinite, parallel universes. But I’m unsure what could have caused those differences, perhaps quantum mechanics or something yet unknown.
We can deliberate, make choices, and act upon them. But we cannot, for sure, say where the choices arise from. I don’t like to think we are bound by destiny. But a lot of what we end up doing is unexplainable and out of our reach.
No one should be without blame. People do dubious things, and they should be held accountable. What should matter, is intention, and the likelihood of them causing more suffering (or joy) in the future.
All this can seem like nonsense and mental masturbation, as in that thinking about this has no real effect on anything anyway. But as Harris points out, is that it enables one to consider others more as people shaped by different inputs. Imagining myself in someone else’s shoes can steer my perception towards better understanding. Seeing people as people, as described more in depth in books “Leadership and Self-Deception” or “Anatomy of Peace”.
In any case, go read Free Will and other Harris’ stuff or listen to his podcast. They’re both often philosophical, and sometimes perhaps heavy. Usually practical, and at times quite theoretical.