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Afreeism 101

Why I Don’t Believe in Forgiveness

It Feels Good to Stop Judging

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Imagine lending your car to a friend who then wrecks it by driving off the road into a telephone pole. Your friend walks away with minor injuries, but your car is toast. Your friend is sorry and she apologizes profusely. She asks for forgiveness.

You are curious as to why the accident happened. Was your friend driving recklessly, was she drunk, was she high, was she sleep-deprived?

Suppose, however, that it was none of these reasons. Instead, the accident was caused by a previously undetected brain tumor that at the last minute impinged up a certain part of your friend’s brain causing her to experience a seizure.

In such a case, forgiveness is not even an issue. Your friend did nothing wrong. She just happened to be the victim of bad luck. (Her bad luck goes way beyond destroying your car.) You also were the victim of bad luck. No one is at fault. As a result, no one needs to be forgiven.

Afreeism

Here is the thing though. What applies to your friend applies to everyone in every instance. The exact reasoning applies even if your friend got into the accident by reckless driving, drunk driving, driving high, driving without sleep, whatever. We live in a causal universe. Every action is the product of a chain of causation that began long before any of us were born. The result is that no one can ever do otherwise than what they do.

In other words, free will is just an illusion. All of our actions are determined. True, we may sometimes be able to do what we want, but our wants are also completely determined by a chain of causal factors that began eons ago.

This notion is called afreeism. It is an idea that is both old, dating back to the ancient Greeks, and modern, stemming from the recent work of neuroscientists. Free will skeptics include the ancient Greeks Leucippus and Democritus, the philosophers Spinoza and Schopenhauer, and in modern times, the late physicist Stephen Hawking, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, biologist Owen Jones, cognitive scientists Wolf Singer and Paul Bloom, and the philosopher Derk Pereboom, among many others. Afreeism is a scientific…

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Stephen Marks

Economist, teacher, student, dabbler in philosophy, ideas, music, and sport. Knows nothing for sure or maybe at all.