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February 24, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

Stephen R. Covey’s Critique of Determinism and Argument for Free Will

Within the freedom to choose are those endowments that make us uniquely human. In addition to self-awareness, we have imagination–the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality. We have conscience–a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them. And we have independent will–the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences.

Even the most intelligent animals have none of these endowments. To use a computer metaphor, they are programmed by instinct and/or training. They can be trained to be responsible, but they can’t take responsibility for that training; in other words, they can’t direct it. They can’t change the programming. They are not even aware of it.

But because of our unique human endowments, we can write new programs for ourselves totally apart from our instincts and training. This is why an animal’s capacity is relatively limited and a man’s is unlimited. But if we live like animals, out of our own instincts and conditioning and conditions, our of our collective memory, we too will be limited.

The deterministic paradigm comes primarily from the study of animals–rats, monkeys, pigeons, and dogs–and neurotic and psychotic people. While this may meet certain criteria of some researchers because it seems measurable and predictable, the history of mankind and our own self-awareness tell us that this map doesn’t describe the territory at all!

Our unique human endowments life us above the animal world. The extent to which we exercise and develop these endowments empowers us to fulfill our uniquely human potential. Between stimulus and response is our great power–the freedom to choose.

While the word proactivity is now fairly common in management literature, it is a word you won’t find in most dictionaries. It means more than merely taking initiative. It means more than taking initiative. It means that as human beings we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.

Look at the word responsibility–“response-ability”–the ability to chose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feelings.

Because we are, by nature, proactive, if our lives are a function of conditioning and conditions, it is because we have, by conscious decision or by default, chosen to empower those things to control us.

In making such a choice, we become reactive. Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them. Whether it rains or shines make no difference to them. They are values driven; and if their value is to produce good quality work, it isn’t a function of whether the weather is conducive to it or not.

Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 70 – 72

* I realize Covey is just a philosopher of sorts and could do with more nuance his argument is essentially true–that self awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will all 4 suggest the presence of free will. The distinction he draws between reactive and proactive people–those who let life happen to them and those who do the opposite. He probably also could have spoken to those who have self-control and self-concept and those who do not.

I’ve posted a number of times on the issue of free will and determinism which you can read by clicking the link.

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