Saturday, June 16, 2007

Free-will and Spinoza

On one of those very rare occasions that I could bloghop around, I chanced upon one of auee's posts Bag a wife,literally which narrates a report that women in Krygyztan are being kidnapped by strangers to be their bride. I was thinking that this is just like the cartoon character of a man from the stoneage holding a club on one hand while dragging a woman by the hair to show the world his prize catch. Sure, we outsiders think that this is barbaric. And yet, can we really say that? Do we have the right to judge? As we all know, a culture's ways have been developed over time and is the accepted norm in such a society. Besides, what makes us sure that we don't have something similar?

Then, I read that the Sassy lawyer has her own take on the issue. The entry reiterated my premise that this is culture bound and that we don't have the right to judge. As a matter of fact, she goes on deeper to say that this happens to us also citing rape as an example. I will not go into the details anymore as you can read it from the source here. What I am interested, though, is that she has related the phenomenon to free-will. Free-will is the exercise of control over one's decisions and actions. This concept has been with the Christians for a very long time. In Christian dogma, everyone is given free-will in the belief that God has no control over our actions and that we shall be judged according to our choices in life. Hence, man has complete dominion of his/her own being. If said subject chooses good, then paradise awaits him/her in the after life as a reward. If the choice was to live in sin, then the consequence is eternal damnation.

This talk on free-will reminded me of Spinoza. Spinoza has been excommunicated not only by the Jews to which he belonged but even by his family for his radical ideas. One of these ideas is his counter stand to Descartes' dualism - "that reality consisted of two completely separate substances - thought and extension." To Spinoza, there is only one substance ergo, God is nature and nature is God.

Free-will does not exist to Spinoza. Man is governed by nature, which to him is equivalent to God and vice-versa. Although God does not govern our lives like a puppeteer, His control over our actions is exercised by limiting them by outside forces. As an example, we can decide to wiggle our toes, make circles with it but we can never ask it to detach itself from us and make it jump on its own for this is not within the nature of a foot or our toes. Likewise, an apple tree may choose to bear the sweetest fruit but only if the conditions are right, viz., proper sunlight, water, etc. and moreso, it will never bear pears or mangoes. It is in the same manner that "we can be hindered in our development and our personal growth by political conditions."

This is very interesting in that I can relate our fate as a people amid the turbulence of economic and political upheavals. How can we ascertain whether or not we are making the right choices, right being objectively correct, when most of our people are living in dire straits? Where is free-will when the choices are down to the lesser evil?


BatJay said...

spinoza's idea of god is interesting and probably one that i seriously thought about when i was in my post religious phase.

yung "bag a wife" actually was one of the ways our early ancestors got their partners. pillage was a way to improve the gene pool, so to speak.

kaya siguro maraming kidnapping sa pilipinas. it's in our nature.

Emer said...

For free will to work, I guess the surrounding assumptions must be ideal or at least near-perfect, Tito Rolly. In our case, it certainly wouldn't work. We must have a good government with good leaders working for the welfare of all citizens. Poverty and unemployment must be low or non-existent. In our case, great opportunities to improve life are few, rare, and selective. Hindi available para sa lahat. That's the reason why so many are leaving for greener pastures in foreign lands. Dun kasi, when you exercise your free will, most of the time it works. Dito, hindi.

ipanema said...

Some people would say it's the way things are done. However, this is not reason to make life miserable for other people; that's if it's taken that way.

It's just sad that brides are kidnapped - I hope not on wedding day. :(

gilbert yap tan said...

Free will is largely overrated. Under dire and severe circumstances, free will is the first casualty.

rolly said...

Batjay Hmm, mas malapit ka na ata sa Zen buddhism? di kaya?

doc emer Parang sinabi mo na rin na free-will will never work with our present set-up no? hehe

ipanema hindi naman siguro on a wedding day.

gilbert overrated? maybe.

bingskee said...

i remembered my daughter last week telling me and my hubby not to be judgmental. that was about a series in tv where teenage girls in a part of Mindanao gets married and have kids as young as the age of 14. of course we were shocked seeing that the parents appeared to be very willing to have their kids marry. papsie was reactive. kay told him it was their culture so we dont have the right to judge kasi yun ang kinamulatan nila. sounds sensible to me.

rolly said...

bingskee Lalo kayong masha-shock kung ang nakita nyo e yng ulog sa north!

Yes, that is a cultural thing and we can't judge their ways using our own standards.

auee said...

Batjay's comment 'shocked' me into remembering a paper I worked on in Uni, which is also apt to this "free-will" thingy

When I doing my research about the sexual practices of early Filipinos, I came across articles about the Ifugao's halfway houses. Well I call them halfway house. Before men & women get married, they will stay in these houses & basically have a trial run of their relationship. I don't remember how long they're supposed to stay & what else they "try" other than sex (no not because I'm preoccupied, sex was my topic thus my focus).

Anyhow, if the either party didn't like their experience they can walk away with no problem and are welcome to try the same experience with another person.

Okay di ba?

rolly said...

auee I think that is the "ulog" system I was talking about in my response to Bingskee. What I do remember about the practice is that the trial period was if the girl will be impregnated or not. If not, then no wedding could take place. Of course, my memory might be failing me. After all, it was you who made the research.

At any rate, thanks for the story. said...

tito rolly, pinoys are still 'the' gentlemen. tribes near the yogads tribes of the north and some unknown tribes in palanan, isabela are said to be head-hunting to offer the head or ears to their brides-to-be. yep, it's barbaric and sweet. :)

rolly said...

badoodles I don't think the victim would call it sweet. Not even romantic if its your head on the line, hehe

Connie said...

In the case of coerced consent in marriage (as in the case of a rape victim to "save" her reputation -- whatever the heck that means because it sounds like a total oxymoron to me), my point exactly is that free will is compromised and, therefore, not totally free.

In Emer's example, it is unseen duress caused by poverty that compromises free will.

In short, free will is always relative rather than absolute.

BUT I DISAGREE THAT GOD IS PART OF THE EQUATION. Circumstances compromise free will, not a god -- not any god.

rolly said...

Connie Circumstances compromise free will. No disagreement there. Besides, Spinoza says the same thing when he claims that God's control over people is putting limits to it via outside forces - its own nature (circumstances, maybe.)