Nature v Nurture: Determinism and Free Will


If gender is performative as Butler suggests, does that mean everything is just an expression of our free will? Or is everything still determined?

Hard determinism suggests that humans are no different from other things. This means that we shouldn’t necessarily override the feelings or views of other living species. We cannot believe that humans are more special or of higher status over physical objects or animals because we are all equally the same. By accepting this hard determinist view, traditional Christian teachings on humanity and free will are instantly tarnished. And if a human is without free will or any sort of independent freethinking mind, how than could one decide their gender or sex?

Christianity teaches that God gave humans the divine specialty of free will, the ability to choose and do as we wish, a specialty only we as human beings received. In the story of creation (Genesis, Old Testament, The Bible) God made the first human beings (Adam and Eve) in his “image” (imago dei) and “breathed life” into their bodies. These two details are hugely important as they prove that God only did these things to the human species, thus we possess a touch of divinity that places us above every other living thing on Earth. On the one hand, it could be suggested that biological sex is definitive and special as humans are all made in God’s image and he is the one that decides our sex. However, if free will is true than someone who moves beyond the normal gender binary or chooses to change their biological sex, it could be argued that they are simply exercising their own free will.

However, hard determinism removes all these ideas, meaning that we are no different to any other creation, ultimately suggesting that we therefore possess no divinity or free will. Hard determinism goes on to suggest that because free will does not exist, humans are simply living a life that has already been set out for them. Our present actions are part of a causal chain that extends back far before our birth (reducto ad absurdum), and each link of the chain determines the next link on the chain. Hence, although it may appear to you that you have control over your present actions and mental states, you really have no control. 1) No action is free if it must occur 2) Human actions result from wants, wishes, desires, motivations, feelings, etc. 3) All these are caused in turn by a specific destiny that ensure their occurrence 4) Human actions are not free.

John Locke suggests that free will is a human made illusion to comfort ourselves into thinking we are free, when in reality we are not. He used the example of a man waking up in a room, which, unknown to him is locked from the outside. The man chooses to remain in the room, believing he has chosen to do so freely. In reality, the man would have had no option to leave the room anyway. However, his ignorance of this gives him an illusion of free will. Overall, hard determinism suggests that because humans have no real free will we cannot blame or punish anyone who does what is considered, “wrong” or “abnormal” because they cannot help it; everything that happens was already planned. So if we are not free we cannot be blameworthy or in control of our lives. In relation to those who are transgender or transsexual, it could be argued than that the feelings they feel and changes they go through were all apart of a ready made plan set out for them. As a result, we should not view them as abnormal or strange, they are simply living the life planned for them.

Soft determinists believe both free will and determinism are compatible, meaning someone can have both free will and the ability to take responsibility for their choices and actions. Soft determinists agree with the Thesis of Determinism, the claim that everything that happens must happen, because everything is caused in accordance with causal laws, which force effects which, in theory, can always be precisely predicted. Therefore, 1) Everything that happens must happen 2) My wants happen 3) So I can’t want otherwise 4) But I can often do what I want. 5) Freedom is simply the ability to do what I want (capability + desire) 6) Many acts are free, in this sense of freedom. Therefore, soft determinism suggests that humans do possess free will and can act freely but should take responsibility for their actions and not place blameworthiness on their environment or fate. In this sense, it could be argued that changing one’s biological sex is an act of free will but not necessarily something, which was planned for them.

Meanwhile, unlike soft determinism liberationists believe that free will and determinism are completely incompatible because humans are free autonomous agents. Libertarianism teaches that humans are absolutely free and are therefore responsible and blameworthy for their actions. This suggests that being blameworthy one has to be free in the choices and actions they undertake. Libertarians believe that human beings are rational creatures and have therefore the moral capacity to weigh up options before embarking on a course of action.

Overall, in relation to gender and those who are transgender, transsexual and intersex, I believe and follow the beliefs on free will and soft determinism. I believe we as human beings have the right to dictate our own lives and pursue whatever makes us happy. If that means changing your biological sex than all for it!

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