In time, their decisions and acts are also determined

In this essay, a stimulus was chosen from the movie ‘The
Truman Show’ prompted me to question whether we truly have free will or if our
actions are pre-determined. However, before this is explored, the concept of
free will must be understood. This is seen as a unique concept to each individual
and lets them control their own actions.1  In order to answer this question, the two
main theories to be examined will be Determinism and Compatibilism backed up by
philosophic viewpoints. This therefore raises my central philosophical
question: Are we truly free?

The stimulus presents a two minute and fifty-nine second
scene when Christof, the maker of the Truman Show is being interviewed after
Truman discovers his whole life has been a lie and essentially all his life
choices were made by Christof depending on public appeal and choices. The
interviewer speaks of how the show has generated much revenue. At one point in
the scene, the creator of the show says about Truman “if he wanted to discover
the truth there is no way we could prevent him.” After this, a call comes
through to speak to Christof and it is revealed the caller is a former female
cast member who went against their ‘plan’, resulting in Truman falling in love
with her. However, the producers noticed this and made the girl leave the show,
forcing him to marry someone part of the ‘plan’. An important part at 1:04 is a
poster that says “Say no to the Truman Show”, clearly showing a minority of
people who disagree with the ‘capturing’ of Truman and controlling his

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Firstly is the theory of Scientific Determinism. This is
based on the idea of Universal Causation which states all events in nature have
a cause, and as human beings are existing in nature at the present time, their
decisions and acts are also determined as everything else in the world is.2  Likewise, Truman was never free to make any
choices as no one is ever free according to this. In the clip, as stated in the
clip summary above, Christof clearly states “if he wanted to discover the truth
there is no way we could prevent him.” This is significant as according to
Scientific Determinism we would say Truman was never in control of his own
decisions, which is different to the fact when he was being filmed in captivity
(of which he was unaware), he was living according to the belief he was free to
make his own decisions, otherwise he would have felt forced and would have
realised earlier, but he did not, showing his decisions were influenced.

To back this up, Laplace proposed ‘Laplace’s Demon’, which
stated: “An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set
nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed…
would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the
This essentially means if a higher being could know at a single given time the
speed and position of every particle in the universe, then they would be able
to know their position in the present, future or past. This implies it is
almost certain our futures have already been determined and we do not have the
ability to make a choice. This ties into the argument as it is essentially
saying if we know the position of a particle at any given time, then we have no
free will as everything is pre-determined. Likewise in the scene, as stated
above, if Truman did want to discover if his life had been a lie and his
actions had been controlled then he would have been able to. But the fact he
did not, shows he had no free will as everything was already pre-determined for

Moreover, Sam Harris supports the idea of Scientific
Determinism in his book ‘Free Will’, stating free will is purely an illusion.
He states that to claim we have free will we must note the elements that form
our thoughts and actions, and we must have complete control of these elements.
Another point Harris makes to claim we have free will is that if we are free,
then it is essential we have acted in another way to what we did in the past.4  However, these points are just not possible,
hence Harris concludes free will is just an illusion, along with the opinion
the universe has a deterministic nature due to every motion occurring by the
fixed laws of nature. Using this, he states human responsibility does not
exist, and human beings are therefore not responsible for their actions.5  Linking this to the stimulus, Truman did not
have the choice to find out the truth of his existence as if his life was
already predetermined by these physical laws, then it was already decided these
events would take place; Truman would find out about his existence at that
certain time in his life, and also already known Christof would be the one
influencing Truman’s life and decisions.

Opposing the idea of Scientific Determinism is the idea of
the Uncertainty Principle, proposed by Werner Heisenberg showing we do have
free will. He stated we can never measure the position and velocity of an
object exactly at the same time.6  Simply put, this is not possible as the
subatomic particles would collide in an unpredictable way, making it an invalid
measurement. The significance of this is that it suggests the world has no
indeterminacy in its nature, showing events occur randomly and by chance, and
are therefore free actions. In the scene, this is shown by when the anonymous
caller is revealed to be a former cast member that was taken off the show for
going against the producers ‘plan’. This can further be explained as Truman by
his own free will, fell in love with the girl who called Christof, but Christof
did not want this to happen as he had previously arranged him to meet a girl in
university which he would marry, and was married to at the point of time in the
scene. This proves Uncertainty Theory to be correct as Truman falling in love
with the anonymous girl was random and by chance, showing free will as Christof
only planned for Truman to fall in love with his current partner.

To furthermore prove we do have free will is the theory of
Compatibilism, showing Truman’s actions were not influenced or predetermined.
To understand Compatibilism we must first understand what determinism is.
Determinism is when “decisions and actions are causally determined by an
unbroken chain of prior occurrences”7;
essentially stating the extent that human beings have an impact on their future
depends on the present and past. Hence, Compatibilism is the notion determinism
is compatible with freedom and responsibility8,
so when we cause our actions, our actions are then free. This is shown in the
scene using the same example from above when Christof states if Truman ever
wanted to discover the truth about his reality then he would, as according to
Compatibilism, Truman wanting to make an initiative would allow him to find out
the truth, showing he does have free will. Augustine backs this up by saying
even though our actions are predetermined by God they are essentially still
free actions due to the fact we make decisions that are purely up to us.
Leading on, Augustine defines freedom as having the choice to act or not,
therefore if an act is caused by external forces then it is not free, but if it
is an internal choice within oneself, then it is free. Likewise in this
example, Truman has the internal choice of whether to discover the truth about
his reality –he is captured and is his life is being made into a reality show
for other people’s amusement but has to come to form that conclusion himself.
This supports Augustine’s belief as there is no external force to influence his
internal choice showing Truman did have free will.

Another Compatibilist view presented in “Freedom of the Will
and the Concept of a Person” by Frankfurt, is the idea of first and second
order desires. In this, he explains what a free action really is. Before he
defines his ‘free action’, he presents a set of terms. The first term is what
is known as a ‘first order desire’, which is a desire to do an action. The
second term he uses is ‘will’, defined as a first-order desire that is
effective, or in simpler terms, a cause that causes us to do what we desire.
This leads to his ‘second-order desire’- a desire to have another specific
desire. For example, a desire to desire to exercise rather than sleeping.
Finally, he presents a ‘second-order volition’ which is a desire that a desire
can be someone’s will9  – not just to desire to exercise, but that
this desire is effective enough to allow one to actually exercise instead of
going to sleep). These terms are used by Frankfurt to show a person will
undergo these desires in order to have free will. To put this into context,
Truman had the first order desire to investigate the meaning of his existence
when he came across signs which stirred his curiosity. This lead to his second
order volition, he did not just have the desire to discover the truth of his
existence, but this desire was effective enough for him to discover he was
being held in captivity and being controlled, showing he had free will due to
Frankfurt’s terms.

However, Pereboom challenges Compatibilism with Manipulation
argument. This is a situational argument stating if an agent (A) was
manipulated to existence by some other agent (B) then we cannot say the
decision of doing this was made freely by A. Furthermore, this was not in A’s
control. Due to this, the situation was put forward: if A’s hand was grabbed
and a gun was placed in it and the other hand was used to pull the trigger to
kill another person, then the act was not due to A’s own free will and is due
to manipulation. Likewise, Truman is trapped inside a world and is manipulated
to make decisions to appeal to the majority of the public seeming like he is
acting on the basis of his own free will when he is not. In the scene, this is
shown by when in the background of the clip, a poster saying “Say no to the
Truman Show” is stuck up with multiple pictures of Truman through surveillance
cameras. For example, this minority saw Truman was extremely distressed when
the girl he chose to love on his own accord was taken away from him just
because the public wanted a source of drama and action.  To further back this up, the manipulation argument
shows that therefore all the decisions we make are manipulated by certain
factors that an agent is not in control of. In this case, Truman’s decisions
were all influenced by Christof, giving the illusion he had free will, but did
not. Due to this, no one is said to be free and neither is Truman.

Overall, the arguments for Scientific Determinism such as
Laplace’s Demon and Sam Harris prove to be stronger, as they propose Truman did
not have any free will as the arguments essentially say that as all events in
nature have a cause, and that as human beings are existing in nature at the
present time, that their decisions and acts are therefore already determined,
hence in this case, making Truman incapable of making his own internal
decisions as Christof influenced and made all the decisions for his life in the
public’s interest, such as when they forced him to marry a lady he did not even
want to, showing that he did not have free will.