On free will and necessity

All previous attempts to reconcile the contradictions between free will and necessity have neglected the decisive role of social class in distributing the two. While there are gray areas in the middle areas of the social hierarchy, broadly speaking free will is the province of the lower classes while necessity is the prerogative of the privileged.

The lower classes always “had a choice” — emphasis on the past tense. They could have worked harder in school. They could have formed a more stable family. They could have gotten a job rather than choosing a life of crime. They could have been more deferential and polite to the police officer. That choice is, sad to say, always already in the past, but it is enough to establish that practitioners of bad choices deserve what they get.

By contrast, the privileged act according to sheer necessity. They do what they must, for their families, for the country, for the company. They respond to political pressures and market forces. If they did not do what they did, someone else would — for the upper classes are all obedient servants of necessity. Even when they do not exercise their critical thinking skills to consciously discern the dictates of necessity, they “just react,” responding in a quasi-mechanical way to the choices made by those in the lower classes.

Deprived of free will, which belongs to the oppressed alone, the privileged cannot be held morally accountable for what they do — unless we think of obedience as the highest moral value, in which case the ruling classes are clearly of a much higher moral caliber than those they command. And if they are occasionally a little over-exuberant in enforcing that obedience, surely we can agree that their victims deserved what they got. After all, they had a choice.

6 Responses to “On free will and necessity”

  1. medievalkarl Says:

    am reminded of WAR AND PEACE, Book III, Chapter 1, on historical necessity. Freedom is on the side of the lowliest soldier; Napoleon, though, is just an engine of history, wound up to do as history must.

  2. Michael Says:

    This kind of thing happens a lot in cop shows: when a murderer is shown to have a loose grasp on reality, or have been severely abused as a child, the villain of the episode is usually a slimy lawyer who wants to get them off the hook by excusing their actions. When a cop has to break the rules to catch a suspect, it’s treated as morally tarnishing them, but being necessary nonetheless,

  3. Rob Saler Says:

    The rhetoric also imposes present and future choice on the lower classes, though, right? “Bootstraps,” “the poor are [currently] lazy and should get jobs [right now,]” etc?

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Yes, but always with the proviso: before it’s too late.

  5. SLHinchey Says:

    Interesting that one area where the upper classes are recognized as exercising free will is in charity and ‘philanthropy’. I have chosen to give! You shall be subject to my personal benevolence!


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