Home Concepts Philosophical Foundations The Philosophical Foundations of Professional Coaching I: Are Our Decisions and Actions Predetermined or Free?

The Philosophical Foundations of Professional Coaching I: Are Our Decisions and Actions Predetermined or Free?

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The gods bound Kingu
Condemned him, severed his arteries.
And from his blood they formed mankind.
Ea then toil imposed on man and set gods free.

There is an ancient Hebraic account of the creation of humans. The Babylonian creation-myth accords to we humans a divine status—yet assigns us work and deprives us of the freedom given to the Gods. Humankind is made from the blood of a god who has the freedom of rebellion from the other gods. Yet, ironically, our new role as toilers of the earth enables the gods to be set free to an even greater extent. Like other animals, we, as humans, are bound by the causality of the mundane universe and the capricious whims of the gods. (Jacobsen, 1949, Chapter V)

Today, within the confines of the various schools of psychology, a similar dichotomy is apparent. Some people believe that humankind is a unique, free organism—which violates or at least seems to elude the physicalist world of other organisms and physical objects. Yet others believe that the human being is seen to be a fully engaged participant in a deterministic world which allows for no freedom or, in the extreme case, volition. From the first perspective, the study of humankind is considered to be an enterprise which must be divorced from that of the study of other organisms or physical objects. From the second perspective, the study of animal behavior is considered to be a vital, if not essential, part of a meaningful understanding of human behavior.

Thus, one might conceive of the dichotomy between those psychologists who feel that the task of their field is one of understanding human behavior and those who conceive of the task as being one of studying the behavior of all organisms as residing in the more basic philosophical or theological question regarding humankind’s deterministic or free nature. Whether the psychological approach precedes the deterministic assumption or vice versa is a highly speculative question and no doubt there are individual differences among psychologists regarding this point. Similarly, an approach to psychology as the exclusive study of human behavior seems related to the view of the human being as a free, indeterminant agent. Once again, the question of precedence is debatable.

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