How to Live Without Guilt
It is hard to be alive without messing up, often significantly. The more one lives, the more opportunity one has to make mistakes. We often have feelings of guilt, regret, and remorse for these actions or inactions. Feelings of guilt pervade our society. One article that appeared in the Guardian in 2017 was entitled, “Why Do We Feel So Guilty All The Time?” Its author laments:
Filial guilt, fraternal guilt, spousal guilt, maternal guilt, peer guilt, work guilt, middle-class guilt, white guilt, liberal guilt, historical guilt, Jewish guilt: I’m guilty of them all.
Guilt has been a major focus of psychological studies and theorizing at least since the time of Freud, who had a lot to say on the subject. A Google search for “scholarly articles on guilt” turns up over 2.5 million hits. Therapists routinely deal with feelings of guilt in their practices.
Afreeism is the philosophy that we have no free will. It is based on the idea that the universe is completely causal. Consequently, every event is determined by a long chain of causation originating before any of us were born. Humans are not exempt from the laws of physics and chemistry. Every firing of a neuron, every action we take, every thought we have is the result of a chain of causation that began eons ago. We often do what we want, but what we want has also been determined.
Afreeism is not based on dogma or faith, but rather on scientific observation of how the universe works. It is an idea based in physics, chemistry, biology, and most recently, neurobiology. It is not a new idea. More than two millennia ago, a number of philosophers and scientists concluded that the universe is completely deterministic. Most prominent among them were Leucippus and Democritus (proponents of the atomic theory of matter) and the Stoics. More recently, Baruch Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche rejected free will. In modern times, doubters of free will include the late physicist Stephen Hawking, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, biologist Owen Jones, and cognitive scientists Wolf Singer and Paul Bloom, just to name a few.