What is free will, and how do we represent it to others and ourselves? If we say we believe in it, do we also leave at least some sort of room for the romantic fatalism we so enjoy in narrative? By romantic fatalism, I mean something like the idea that: no matter how or when or how many times we attempt things, the result is the same and predetermined by our character. It's a nice variation on predestination, which would make puppets of us at every step. Predetermination, as opposed to predestination, would have us make our decisions but somehow reach the same result anyway. It grants agency and confirms identity through choice while offering a comforting surrender in the end. It's a perspective that wisely parallels life.
One thing I've been wondering about recently is whether there exists a model for predeterminism that has less to do with fate and more to do with kinds of truth? Are our choices perhaps more proscribed than we think by truths about ourselves that we fail to see? Perhaps an our notion of fate is only our way of making sense of events in hindsight. Yet if we could see ourselves truthfully, or at least differently, might our choices then differ? Would we even make different choices in the first place? Truths can betray us, but they can also, like a stronger current beneath the surface, pull us forward inevitably without our knowledge. In this model it would be the recognition of truth that would lend us the power to change ourselves. The responsibility of choice would hinge upon observation.
I'm curious, finally, about the relationship this implies between character and action. Psychologically, I think this becomes interesting when our motivations are complex and not obvious. For instance, when someone acts selfishly, we tend to assume that they are self-focused. 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 a community-centered environment. Similarly, when someone acts considerately, we tend to think of them as particularly empathetic or caring, but perhaps consideration is an adaptive mechanism in people who are in fact more naturally isolated and self-focused, as a way of connecting 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? Perhaps these are questions better answered by neuroscience than philosophy. 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?"