Look around you, people behave in very predictable ways, and our social systems are designed to show what is predictable and what is not. So nuanced is this process, a small divergence from cultural language causes fear and a massive withdrawal from interaction.

We claim to be intellectual, but emotional ties to ideas causes us to prefer one argument over another. We will sometimes hold opposing ideas, and yet be blind to it because of our emotional need to hold them.

Some ideas mean a loss of social position, income, friends, status, respect. It is suggested our outlook in early teenage years predicts our world view through life. Looking at family relationships with or without strong personality boundaries, also biases us to certain arguments over others, ie group consensus over individual expression.

Experience of trauma closes people down from child like enquiry to sharp defined views on how to handle others. Education and research are founded on a child like enquiry, yet many may have already shut themselves out from this already.

So we may have free will, but it is embedded in a lot of things that suggest the opposite. I believe in free will, but only when freed from the enslaving experiences.

  • 'How bounded' is I think to broad. There is research on twin studies, post hoc rationalisation, cognitive bias and so on. No definitive statement can be made. Buddhists hold that we can identify behaviours & practices that lead to being 'more awake', and that by identifying and developing these in our lives we can identify a kind of radical freedom, 'unshakeable liberation from suffering'. Even so, the Buddhas teaching is from his time, bounded and framed by his culture. We need not just 'free' individuals but a liberating culture, to maximise freedom.
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 6, 2018 at 12:19
  • "How bounded" - I don't understand the question, would you like the answer to be by percentage? Like we're 40% biologically bound and 60% not? Please rephrase the question, as it might lead to interesting answers. And while rephrasing present a more objective question. Jul 7, 2018 at 10:18
  • "It is suggested our outlook in early teenage years predicts our world view through life." - of course, people have genetical template. "group consensus over individual expression" - of course, most people are driven with fear. "So we may have free will" - I don't think freedom (in psychological sense) can be defined outside of will itself.
    – rus9384
    Jul 7, 2018 at 16:12

1 Answer 1


There are aspects of your question that touches on issues that the Stoics addressed. Liberal political thought is fundamentally concerned with maximizing and liberating the elements that you describe, and early enlightenment thinkers recognized this.

The first line of Machiavelli's 'Discourses on Livy' goes like this '

 Although the envious nature of men has always made it no less dangerous to 
 find new modes and orders than to seek unknown waters and lands, because 
 men are more ready to blame than to praise the actions of others, 
 nonetheless, driven by that natural desire that has always been in me to 
 work, without any respect, for those things I believe will bring common 
 benefit to everyone, I have decided to take a path as yet untrodden by 
 anyone, and if it brings me trouble and difficulty, it could also bring me 
 reward through those who consider humanely the end of these labors of mine. 

He offers both an empirical opinion, and his own perspective for choosing altruism. I think a case could be made, that we are absolutely bounded by our biases. And our biases could be in favor of either a strong principle of some kind, or maybe even one of general nihilistic resignation. But there is considerable malleability on what biases we choose to drill into ourselves. Or what society motivates its members to pursue. As Machiavelli says, there has to be a will to reach unknown waters and lands, or in modern times distant planets, or new technologies. A good part of free thought comes down to convincing people that there are utilitarian advantages to free thought, even when going with the herd might seem to be safe at first sight. Freud, Schopenhauer, and Ayn Rand offer great perspectives on this question.

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