I hate the taste of coffee. Whenever I find myself drinking a cup for the sake of keeping up friendly discourse, I can’t help but try to dull the nauseating taste with as much sugar and milk as possible. This act makes the experience more bearable, but it always leaves me wondering how I should have just declined to have the beverage altogether. I doubt any of my friends would take offense at me not drinking coffee. Still, I can’t help but feel a sense of obligation to have a cup of coffee with a friend once they invite me. That’s not to say that I have never declined to drink coffee. In fact, more often than not, I have opted for a glass of iced tea or soda rather than even bother with the foul-tasting brew. But all those times, the feeling that I should have had the coffee with my friends is ever present, regardless of the actual decision I make.
I’m told that I have the free will to choice my behavior independent of the situational conditions of my choice. Meaning that if the clock was rewound to the exact same spot I could freely choose a different course of action. But why don’t I have the free will to choice my emotional reaction to a situation? Why must I feel a sense of obligation to have a cup of coffee (whether or not I actual do have the coffee)? Whenever I return to the same situation, I have the exact same feeling every time. No matter how much I try to will it away. Perhaps, free will is my ability to decline the cup of coffee when offered, but isn’t this reaction also just determined by the fact that I don’t like coffee in the first place? Which is another condition I did not freely choose.
I don’t want the coffee; I have the free will to decline or accept the coffee; whether or not I have the coffee I feel obligated to have the coffee. The end result is always the same. It always follows a completely deterministic framework. Maybe my subconscious reaction is deterministic, but my behavioral actions that lead from that are freely willed. But my behavioral actions are completely dependent on the conditions/events that preceded them. I’m invited for coffee; I feel obligated to have coffee; thus, I begrudgingly drink the coffee. And for those times that I decide not to have the coffee, I’m simply acting in accordance to the predetermined fact that I didn’t want the coffee to begin with. The fundamental cause of either result (have the coffee/don’t have the coffee) exists independent of my ability to choose a course of action. Why don’t I have the free will to cause myself to like coffee? Why can’t I freely will myself to not feel obligated to have coffee with my friends?
Perhaps, free will exists but is limited by deterministic conditions. As Schopenhauer puts it, “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.” However, in what sense can such a will be called free? If I cannot will myself to like coffee or feel obligated to drink coffee, then how does my response to this determined condition constitute an independent will? If I cannot control my will, then is it not by definition deterministic? And aren’t the actions that extend from this entirely determined by causes over which I have no control? Where does my free will come into play? When I decide to either drink the coffee or not? But am I not just responding to the causal events that preceded it (i.e. my detestation of coffee/feeling obligated to have coffee)? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but what choice do I have but to ask them?