No matter what happens around you, you always have the freedom to choose. There is nobody responsible for your behaviour but you.

Apart from situations where a person's brain is damaged or affected by drugs that were administered against their will, then they are in control of their own life.

Throughout history philosophers have debated whether a person is truly responsible for their acts. Theorists try to determine how much of behaviour is uncontrollable "stimulus and response" as compared to "free will." However, the more we study the human mind, the more explainable it becomes, and the less that is left to the mysterious "free will".

Is it reasonable to believe a doctrine of "destiny," which teaches that each person's future can be determined by cause and effect, and therefore the person ought not to be held responsible?

There is a flaw in this way of thinking, so let's explore it a bit more:

What destiny is not:

Destiny is not predictability. Because we can predict the actions of machines which we do not recognize as having a consciousness, it is often assumed that predictability means that no consciousness or free will exists. But with a little consideration it can be seen that the other alternative--not predictable--isn't too appealing either. Obviously it's no better to write off your free will to randomness as to mechanism.

The believer in free will, then, accepts consistent behaviour (or predictability) as long as it originated from our will. Setting up circumstances in order to get a person to act a certain way would not be destiny because the person is still acting of his own accord.

What destiny is.

Destiny is what results when someone else makes a decision for your mind. The following experiment, if successful, would show destiny:

Consider an electrical impulse, which when delivered to a nerve in a subject, causes his hand to close. Now suppose that the subject is blindfolded and a probe is used to stimulate various nerves in the subject's arm and brain. Every time his hand closes he is asked, "did you close your hand?" Normally he would be aware that his hand closed but also aware that he did not decide to close it. If however, he consistently answered "Yes" to a stimulus that closed his hand, it would be apparent that the experimenter had been successful in controlling his will.

Of course it might be pointed out that if the subject volunteered for the experiment then his actions were indirectly chosen by himself and would not constitute a destiny. But any decision made for him against his will, whether with drugs, electricity, or other means would definitely constitute destiny. In fact, if a permanent alteration is made, more than destiny will have occurred--one person will have been destroyed and another created in his place.

Can we be destined?

Since the experiment described in the previous section has never been performed successfully the question arises as to whether or not it is possible to destine a human being. We can speculate that it might be theoretically possible, but there is no reason to believe that people are being controlled in that fashion.

Is it fair to say that people cannot be accountable if their behaviour is broken down into cause and effect relationships? But we are not just the effect of a cause; we are the cause and the effect. Our actions are not forced upon us by any machine; we are the machine. There is no future which exists apart from our choice; the future is our choice.

Practical advice

Each of us faces a different situation, but none of us can avoid deciding what we will do. You cannot "predict" what you will do next; you can only "decide" it. It is not possible to escape using your own will. Therefore, each of us might as well make the best decisions we can and assume responsibility for our own choices.

From Pathways daily ideas file, copyright Arthur de Leyssac, 2009; all rights reserved.