Matt Damon on Free Will

“For the philosophically and theologically disposed, The Adjustment Bureau is a movie in which not only two lovers, but two forms of determination collide. One form of determination, philosophically speaking, focuses on the human agent’s active efforts, by exercise of “free will” (a term with a rich history and thus impossible to define easily), to resist or even to defeat impersonal forces attempting to fix authoritatively the large contours of his or her destiny. The pitiable speaker in Maurice Hare’s limerick expresses another form of determination, which we might simply call determinism. This second form expressly rules out the agent’s capacity to act by an exercise of free will. Indeed, it asserts (or can assert, because it is also a historical tradition with complex permutations) that we do not have, and never have had, free will. Rather, we are hapless pawns (agents would emphatically be the wrong word)—chess pieces moved around by some inscrutable transcendent source for the implementation and completion of a mystifying and inscrutable cosmic plan. Our illusory aspirations and destinies are not so much chosen as given and inflexibly imposed. We are trams in a groove. Worse, cosmic designs are enforced by sinister agents, who exist only to ensure we remain trapped in our grooves of fate. The two major protagonists in The Adjustment Bureau attempt to exercise what we shall loosely call their free will against the determined forces that vigorously attempt to control their destiny. The movie poses the philosophical question: which theory corresponds more truthfully to the human condition? Or, to put it more crudely and in competitive terms, which will win?”  Kevin Madigan, Harvard Divinity Bulletin

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