Freedom From Ourselves

Does the word “evil” sit comfortably with you? When someone is described as “evil”, what does this make you think of their decisions and motives? Are they aware they’re doing the “wrong” thing but, for whatever reason, are doing it anyway? What reason do you suppose that is?

To a certain extent we are aware that we cannot decouple a person’s moral actions from A) their neurophysiology and B) unconscious, formative factors. This awareness is what has lead, for example, to a recent acknowledgement by the Supreme Court of Canada that these factors must be weighed in the case of aboriginals.

To what extent should this be taken? One of my earliest “humanist” memories (before I was aware of the term) was, in one moment, reading angrily about the actions of Somalian pirates and, in the next moment, wondering if I, Alan Byers, would have ended up differently had I been born and raised under the same circumstances.

The Question of Free Will is a moral question in which rational humanism offers, in my opinion, a fair-minded and understanding approach to our understanding of immorality: rationally, and as a budding humanist, I could not say no, a Somalian Alan Byers would never become a pirate. A social conservative may balk at “understanding” immorality for fear of seeming permissive or being an enabler; what that person would fail to realize is that it is understanding, not fear and ignorance, that breeds solutions.

If you find free will even half as fascinating as I do, you may be interested to hear Sam Harris’s fascinating and easily digestible talk on the subject. Enjoy.

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