C. A. Campbell’s Has The Self ‘Free Will’?

Length: 1303 words

Rubric: What two conditions must be satisfied, according to Campbell, in order for a choice to be an exercise of free will (in the morally significant sense)? How do these two conditions relate to determinism? Also provide a reasoned evaluation of Campbell’s defense of free will.

At the outset, there is no consensus among philosophers as to the definition of free will. The definitions have ranged between the most banal to the most intellectually rigorous. Since Campbell believes that a well-defined problem facilitates its solution, free will is identified with two attendant features – moral responsibility and consequences. In other words, free will is said to be operant whenever an action is seen to be morally responsible or lack thereof. In the same vein, free will is applied to those actions which lead to significant consequences. The second condition is important, for there is no utility in dissecting the intentions of an individual when they do not spring from a will to act. Having said this, sometimes people make the right choices for the wrong reasons. To prevent such pitfalls, Campbell says that ‘inner acts’ is what needs to be considered, as opposed to ‘overt acts’.

Campbell goes on to further refine the

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scope for free will. An individual cannot be held accountable for decisions and actions that are beyond his realm of control. To this extent, only those acts are accounted for, for which the instigator is the sole actor. As Campbell readily admits, his endeavour toward a sound definition of free will is only partially successful. Not only are there too many conditions, but there are also extraneous factors such as heredity and environment which have a bearing on the exercise of free will. Considering all the loopholes and external factors, Campbell adopts a simplified guideline, whereby, an individual can be blamed or praised for his acts, only if he could have acted otherwise.

There is some merit to the view that heredity and circumstance can considerably limit human volition. But this premise only sets the scope within which free will can be evaluated. It does not follow that determinism is the overarching explanation for human action. The other major problem with determinism is that it disburdens people from moral responsibility.

While Campbell’s success in defining free will could be debated, his essay has a definite utility. It helps the reader understand the various truisms, assumptions, variables, factors and pitfalls that the project entails. Yet, by the end of the essay, a good measure of clarity is to be gained by the reader. While Campbell titles the essay in an open-ended fashion, toward the end of it, the authorial viewpoint is clear. Campbell endorses the inclusion of free will in discussing human nature and behaviour. I strongly agree with Campbell and cannot imagine how a philosophic discourse on morality could be conducted by eschewing the role of free will. I would go further and claim that free will is a fundamental characteristic of our species. Even in neurobiological terms, ours is the only species who can exercise control over their instincts and impulses. There is no meaning to culture and civilization without recognition of free will. Even in practical affairs such as legal arbitration is based on the acceptance of free will.


C. A. Campbell, Has the Self ‘Free Will’?

It is quite true that Sarah Penn and Grace Ansley come from contrasting social backgrounds and are separated in terms of place and period. Roman Fever is set at the turn of the 20th century and reflects the values and ethos of urban America at that time. Grace Ansley, though belonging to a particular historical era, cannot be said to typify all women of that era. The strongest proof of her uniqueness is obtained in comparison to her antagonist Alida Slade. Revolt of Mother, in contrast, is set in rural America. Its primary character, Sarah Penn, is a good representation of the homemakers of that generation. She shares the same problems that most women of her generation suffered, chief among them being male domination. While there are these undeniable differences in terms of their social mileau, the stories of the two women share many similarities. The rest of this essay will delve into these similarities.

The most common characteristic between Sarah Penn and Grace Ansley is their strong will. Their stories were set at a time when women’s rights were muted and their self-expression undermined. Yet, in their own ways, the two women show daring and assertiveness. This is not to say that their opposition comes in the form of men. It is the prevailing social mores and prevalent patriarchal mindset that serve as their oppressors. For, in terms of the actual personnel, both men and women present the two women several challenges. The antagonist of Mrs. Ansley is her envious friend of many years Mrs. Slade. Despite the poly-amorous streak in Mr. Delphin, he is not the main oppressor to either of these women. Years earlier, when the two were young women, Mrs. Slade hatches a cunning plan to mislead Mrs. Ansley. Anticipating her fiance’s rendezvous with Ansley, Slade writes a forged letter of excuse on behalf of her fiance. The letter announces the cancellation of the rendezvous. But as fate would have it, the politeness of Mrs. Ansley in replying to this letter proves to be a blessing. Upon reading this reply, Mr. Delphin declares to meet her that evening. This fact is not privy to Mrs. Slade, who is smug on the belief that she sabotaged the prospects of a competitor to her fiance’s attention. It is often lamented that women in the 19th century suffered male domination. But the evidence of Roman Fever prompts how women were undermining their own cause.

The strength of character of the two women can be learnt from other details as well. For example, despite attempts of deception on part of Mrs. Slade, Mrs. Ansley displays real strength of character. She spends no time fretting and regretting about having to lose Mr. Delphin. Instead, the consummation of their love bears her Barbara, who grows into a lovely young girl. As the final line of the story claims triumphantly, Barbara is indeed a symbol of Mrs. Ansley’s success. Despite not having Mr.Delphin to support her and Barbara, Mrs. Ansley does an exemplary job in raising her daughter. She must have surely felt the pain of social ostracization. Yet her tenacity and perseverance proves fruitful in the end. That fruition is in the healthy blossoming of young Barbara. Just like Mrs. Ansley emerges a successful woman in spite of her adversities, so does Mrs. Sarah Penn. In Mrs. Penn’s case, the adversity is not so much an individual as a whole social structure. Her husband, though not meaning to insult her, finds no qualms in being the sole decision maker in the family. In her long battle to alter the mindset of her husband, Mrs. Penn tries various methods of persuasion. But it eventually occurs to her that no amount of constructive dialogue or protest is going to help her meet her objective. This objective of Mrs. Penn is to build a bigger house for the family to live in. But, as Mary Wilkins Freeman skillfully portrays, women of the era faced numerous hurdles in realizing their interests. Mrs. Penn’s patient fight for self-determination comes to a climax when she finally decides to convert the barn into the house without informing her husband. This decisive act of hers towards the end of the story can be interpreted at multiple levels. The obvious interpretation is that it achieves a practical end, namely, finding a bigger abode for a growing family. But, more importantly, it is a symbolic victory for the long suffering wife in Mrs. Penn.

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