Compatibilism is the belief that free will – in the sense required for moral responsibility – is compatible with a world where every action is determined by the events preceding it. Compatibilists believe that freedom can be present or absent in situations for reasons that have nothing to do with metaphysics. They argue that determinism is compatible with human freedom. In other words, compatibilists believe that there must be deterministic or casual connection between a person’s will and his actions, which therefore ensures that he take responsibility for his actions; whether they are good or bad. Compatibilism, therefore, is a position taken because of the perceived need to have some idea of accountability or responsibility for human behavior.
Freedom of action (free will) in humans, is the power or capacity to choose among alternatives or to act in certain situations independently of natural, social, or divine restraints. This means that free will can only be present when the agent is free from external coercion.
According to David Hume, free actions are those that are caused by the agent’s will and desires. An agent is held responsible for their actions because it was his desires or will that were the determining causes of the action in question. Action caused in this way is voluntary, and involuntary when caused in some other way. There is, therefore, no incompatibility between an action being causally necessitated and it being a free action for which the agent is responsible. On the contrary, morally free and responsible action requires that an agent caused his actions through his will. If an action is the result of “violence” or constraint of some kind, then, although it may be necessitated or caused, it is not the result of the agent’s will, and so it cannot be attributed to him. In these circumstances, the agent is forced or compelled to act, and, therefore, he is not responsible for his actions.
When we speak of freedom, there are two types of freedom:
- Circumstantial freedom: the liberty to achieve an action without interference from obstacles.
- Metaphysical freedom: the power to choose between opportunities.
Determinism is the belief that everything that happens, including all human actions, is determined completely by previously existing causes. Often times, determinism is confused with casuality (the idea that all events have causes) while in fact, some events may be undetermined by prior events. Determinism maintains that man may have circumstantial freedom, but he does not have metaphysical freedom. It asserts that man’s path is predetermined. According to determinism, freedom is an illusion. When we think we’re making choices, we’re at the mercy of physical impulses or events that have already happened. There are various determinisms which are listed below:
- Behavorial determinism: our actions are reflex actions developed in us by environmental conditioning.
- Biological determinism: our actions are determined by our genetic makeup.
- Casual determinism: every event has an antecedent cause in the infinite casual chain.
- Fatalism: everything is fated to happen.
- Historical determinism: the dialectical idealism assumed to govern the course of History.
- Logical determinism: the truth is outside of time just like the foreknowledge of God.
- Linguistic determinism: language determines the things we can think and say and therefore know.
- Mechanical determinism: Newton’s laws of classical mechanics govern man.
- Necessitarianism: everything is simply necessary.
- Physical determinism: our actions must be determined by the best possible reason or our greatest desire.
- Religious determinism: god has foreknowledge of all events.
- Spatio-temporal determinism: time is simply a fourth dimension that already exists.
How compatibilism helps in the practice of mindfulness and mindful activities
Our bodies are programmed to heal without any command, but an overworked mind interferes with the healing process. However, practicing mindfulness brings back order to the body by reducing stress hormones and balancing different parts of the brain. However, the present-moment attention and awareness central to mindfulness practice may offer a way out of the impasse presented by the alleged illusion of free will. The meditative spaciousness of non-judgmental, present-moment awareness can help to foster the capacity to transform those mental formations which constrain autonomous thought and action. This is informed by the general thesis that free will is not a given — an innate aspect of the human condition — but, like wisdom or rationality, it is a potential quality of mind which may be developed through training, education and skilful means.
Mindfulness is a philosophy of action and responsibility that provides a framework of values, ideas and practices that nurture our ability to create a path in life, to define ourselves as individuals, to act, to take risks, to imagine things differently, and to make art. It points towards possibilities for self-awareness, freedom, wisdom and compassion. In this way, mindfulness and compatibilism (the belief that free will – in the sense required for moral responsibility – is compatible with a world where every action is determined by the events preceding it) are relatable in more ways than one.
The idea of free will implied asserts personal authenticity, action, self-awareness and responsibility. How can we be authentic or take full responsibility for our actions if our decisions and intentions are not to some extent freely chosen by us? According to Charles Goodman,
One may acknowledge that one’s views, intentions, speech, actions, efforts, one-pointedness, and mindfulness are ultimately impersonal in origin, on the one hand, but that together they constitute a tightly clustered causal system that exhibits system reflexive features (system monitoring, system approving or disapproving, system revising, and so forth) that ground conventional or pragmatic attributions of responsible agency to the system, on the other hand, without erroneously identifying with them. [Original italics].