Free Will = Moral Free Fall? The Impact of Free Will & Determinism On Dishonesty

 

Deterministic theory proposes that all events and actions are caused by factors outside of human control. Something in our environment or in our genes pushes us to inevitably make a certain decision or commit an act, like a child who grows up to become aggressive as a result of being raised by violent parents. This seems to imply that we cannot necessarily be held responsible for our choices – or their repercussions, as such. Here’s how Ayn Rand put it (although her views were somewhat contradictory):

It’s true that there’s no such thing as free will. We can’t help what we are or what we do. It’s not our fault. Nobody’s to blame for anything. It’s all in your background…and your glands. If you’re good, that’s no achievement of yours – you were lucky in your glands. If you’re rotten, nobody should punish you – you were unlucky, that’s all.

Yet every time I listened to teachers discuss the concept of free will, it always seemed to be synonymous with evil, sin, and debauchery. This led to an interesting study we conducted at Queendom where we asked people who took the Integrity and Work Ethics Test whether they believe in free will or determinism. What we discovered was that a belief in free does not necessarily lead to an inevitable tumble into a Dante-like inferno.

Analyzing data from nearly 1,000 people, we compared determinists to those who believe in free will on a number of traits associated with honesty. Not only was the free will group more honest overall, they also outscored their deterministic counterparts in the following areas:

(Note: Scores range on a scale from 0 to 100)

Strict Attitude Towards Dishonest Behavior

  • Score for deterministic group: 75
  • Score for free will group: 82

Those who believe in free will had a more stern attitude towards dishonesty, and were less likely to rationalize unscrupulous behavior like lying and stealing.

Values Integrity

  • Score for deterministic group: 72
  • Score for free will group: 83

The deterministic group either did not possess a strong set of values or, ironically, willingly chose not to live by them all the time. They were slightly more likely to cast aside their principles if doing so was to their benefit.

Trustworthiness

  • Score for deterministic group: 69
  • Score for free will group: 76

The deterministic group was more likely to engage in actions that could make them appear less credible and trustworthy in the eyes of others.

 

Loyalty

  • Score for deterministic group: 70
  • Score for free will group: 77

Determinists’ loyalty to an employer can sometimes be called into question. This could translate to a lack of engagement and commitment to their work, or a tendency to jump from one job to another.

Conscience

  • Score for deterministic group: 70
  • Score for free will group: 77

Determinists are less likely to follow their conscience and won’t always take the time to consider the consequences of their actions.

Conscientiousness

  • Score for deterministic group: 71
  • Score for free will group: 78

The deterministic group was less concerned about working hard, following rules, and getting tasks done to the best of their ability.

Accountability

  • Score for deterministic group: 75
  • Score for free will group: 81

Determinists were less willing to take responsibility for their actions and more likely to try to find scapegoats (other people, factors beyond their control, etc.).

In terms of rationalizing dishonest behavior, we asked participants whether an employee should be forgiven for committing an act of theft. Determinists expressed that an employee should be pardoned if:

  • He/She has a clean record (44% vs. 35% of free will group)
  • He/She has been with the company for more than 10 years (41% vs. 25% of free will group)
  • He/She hasn’t had a raise in more than five years (23% vs. 15% of free will group)
  • He/She regularly puts in overtime and asks for little in return (39% vs. 32% of free will group)
  • He/She is having problems at home (28% vs. 19% of free will group)
  • Other employees are committing the same act (18% vs. 13% of free will group)

Although our free will group had a more cynical view of humanity and was more likely to perceive others as dishonest, this perception didn’t seem to have had an impact on their own behavior. In the end, they still showed a higher propensity for honesty than the deterministic group. What it comes down to, I believe, is a sense of personal control. Essentially, if you don’t believe that you have the power to change your life, to become a better person, or to quit a bad habit, you will struggle to find the incentive to defy the odds or defy what you perceive as fate.

Personally, I prefer to believe that we have the power to choose how we behave. And while this means that we can choose to commit acts that infringe on the well-being of others, we also have the power to do good, even if we’ve been exposed to an environment that would have us believe otherwise.

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Sirius Black

 

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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