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53706Re: Belief belies disbelief

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  • Jim
    Nov 1, 2010
      Irvin, Mary,

      I am interested to read what you both have to say on this subject. It is something I reflect on quite a bit.

      I agree that we form dispositions to react in certain ways – no doubt these dispositions are partly determined by our genetic makeup, and partly determined by our upbringing and our cultural situation.

      However, we can monitor our own thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and we can reflect on our instinctive or habitual ways of behaving, and we can override them with conscious attention and determined effort.

      Some alcoholics do stop drinking and some of us change our behaviour as we get older as we see the consequences of our thoughtless actions. No doubt the determinist will say such changes are fully determined by the causal laws of the physical world and any thought that we are acting freely is pure delusion and self-deception. However, I do not think that the subjective experience that we are determining the course of our own lives can be dismissed so easily.

      I agree that some – most – of the time I react spontaneously ("on auto-pilot") to what comes my way, but on the big decisions I deliberate for hours, days, years and here I coolly examine my own reasons as well as the possible outcomes of my actions. These big decisions do seem to me to be based on reason and not knee-jerk instinctive dispositions.

      Agreed we do not know for sure if we are acting freely or if our actions are fully determined in a non-personal way. But given the uncertainty, we still must act on a particular conception of the self. I think that the conception of myself as a free individual, responsible for my own actions, is the only conception which preserves any meaning to human existence.

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