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Indeterminism: Ethical and Spiritual Insights

Sometimes, people find it problematic to choose and take moral responsibility for their choice. In the analyzed case, a friend laments having been forced by a parent to learn to play the flute instead of the violin, which they find more interesting. This case can be considered from the perspective of William James’ indeterminism.

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The philosophy of indeterminism examines free will from the perspective of one’s regret. James claims that “possibilities exceed actualities and that the past does not completely determine the future” (Mullin 24). The philosopher began to argue for indeterminism when he faced the dilemma of determinism, according to which all human activities were determined and could not be changed (Mullin 24). James believed that free will was possible in an indeterminist world, and the role of a chance should also be considered (Mullin 24). In such a way, a person can choose between two possible but incompatible realities, favoring the more rational one. Therefore, it is important to consider alternative possibilities to determine one’s choice.

With this in mind, one can assume that if the friend learns to play the flute now, they will not necessarily become a professional flute player in the future. Moreover, their decision to play the flute does not mean that they will not be able to play the violin in the nearest future. From the perspective of “judgments of regret,” people wish to think that their past acts were different from their reality (Mullin, 24). The friend might doubt their parents’ advice to learn to play the flute only because all human beings regret something. Thus, if the parents forced them to learn to play the violin, the friend might also lament it, due to James’ argument. In any case, the friend’s reaction to their parents’ words might be either positive or negative, depending on the alternative they accept as morally right.

At the same time, consider the other perspective of the same situation. Suppose that the friend believes that listening to their parents is their moral obligation and that fathers and mothers always know better what is good for them. In that case, the parents may have investigated the labor market and compared the career opportunities for their child, deciding that the flute would give a better future than the violin in their state. Since indeterminism is associated with different possibilities, one should assume an alternative reality for the friend to help them make their choice.

Nevertheless, if the friend does not consider their parents’ thoughts right, they will take moral responsibility and choose to learn to play the violin. In that case, the future of that friend may be different, and they may either regret or not about ignoring their parents’ advice. If the friend’s career is good, and they become a successful cellist, they will never regret their decision. However, if their parents turn to be right, and flutists earn more money and have better opportunities in their state than cellists, the friend will regret their choice and blame their parents for not forcing them to learn to play the flute.

Having analyzed the case through the lens of indeterminism, one can conclude that a person’s choice often depends on their future hopes and desires and is not necessarily predetermined. The friend has at least two options: to listen to the parents and learn to play the flute or ignore the parents’ advice and learn to play the violin. To make this decision, the friend should remind themselves of future opportunities and past mistakes and choose the best alternative reality between the two.

Work Cited

Mullin, Richard P. The Soul of Classical American Philosophy: The Ethical and Spiritual Insights of William James, Josiah Royce, and Charles Sanders Pierce. State University of New York Press, 2007.

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