The debate around free will has long captivated western culture. From a storyteller's point of view, a kind of romantic fatalism -- as a balance between choice and determinism -- seems to be favored. The idea that no matter how we go about things, no matter how or when or how many times we attempt it, the result is the same and predetermined by our character. It's a nice variation on predestination, which, the way it was presented in school, always seemed to offer a weird kind of hollow absolution, making marionette dolls of all of us. Instead, the preferred interpretation is that we struggle, of our own free wills, but somehow reach the same result anyway. It stokes our egos. It grants agency. It confirms identity through choice, but also offers the comforting surrender to "there's nothing we can do about it in the end." It's a perspective that wisely parallels life.
One thing I've been wondering about recently, though, with respect to will and action, is: where does honesty come into play? What are the ways in which we're false to others and to ourselves? In other words, is there a model for predeterminism that has less to do with fate or the universe and more to do with kinds of truth? Truths that can betray us. Truths perhaps more fundamental but present in our characters that, like a stronger current beneath the surface, pull us towards our inevitable destination without our knowledge. I'm curious about this because then the responsibility of choice hinges upon observation. If we could only see ourselves truthfully, would we perhaps understand better some of our choices and even choose differently?
I'm also curious, finally, about the relationship this brings up between character and action. I think where this becomes interesting from a psychological perspective, is when our motivations are complex and not obvious. For instance, when someone acts selfishly, we tend to assume that they are self-centered or only care about themselves. But perhaps that person was brought up with a strong sense of community and learned to make selfish choices because it was necessary as a way of asserting oneself in that environment. Similarly, when someone acts considerately, we tend to think of them as particularly empathetic or caring, but perhaps consideration -- outwardly directed sensitivity -- is an adaptive mechanism in people who are in fact more isolated and self-centered, as a way of necessary connection to those around them.
Tied up with both of these examples is, of course, the question of how well we know ourselves. On a given day, how capable is any one of us of distinguishing our behaviors from our character? And how deeply embedded is something like empathy or selfishness? Is it possible to be fundamentally empathetic or fundamentally selfish, and is that something determined by nature or nurture? Or are we all fundamentally one or the other? Various philosophers (Hobbes, Rousseau) have investigated this question, which these days are perhaps better answered by neuroscientists. But perhaps none of these perspectives, philosophical or scientific, are as important as simply being able to ask, and try as best we can each day to answer, "What feels true to us?"