Are We Autonomous, Free Agents or Are We Conditioned and Constrained by Society?

Are we self-aware, autonomous people, or are we programmed and limited by society?
We live in a world that is influenced by a wide range of factors. Because each of us is bound by a set of constraints in life, our choices are skewed in a specific direction. This raises whether we are autonomous, free agents, or have been socially programmed to think in a certain way. Two main factors affect a person’s growth and development: nature and nurture. Nature dictates that we work within specific parameters set by society. If we do not follow society’s rules, we can be regarded as outcast and fail to live up to the expectations. Nurture depicts the environment in which we are brought up in. It asserts to the culture, we grow knowing an envisioning in our lives. The concept of nature versus nurture therefore elicits another perspective of whether we are free agents or constrained by the society (O’Connor, 2010). In order to understand these concepts, we need to analyze what each concept constitutes and how it informs decision making within the society.

Autonomous, Free Will and a Constrained Society

Free will depicts a philosophical concept where a person has some set of alternatives from which one can choose. The sort of capacity among rational agents means that the society is structured in such a way, that there are alternatives within which a person can use as basis for making decisions (Mill, 2017). However, it is important to distinguish the freedom of will from the freedom of action as the success in realizing our ends is dependent of various factors that are beyond our control. The external constraints restrict our free will and only mean that we are structured to think and act in a certain way. In this case, free will is diminished by the structure and form of our society (O’Connor, 2010).

Karl Max brings in conflict perspective where he asserts that the society is made up of a dynamic entity that goes through constant change derived from conflict of class. Max asserts that the society is always in conflict as competition sets are based on social class (Piper, 2017). In this case, the social class depict own structure of thinking and decision making thereby negating the element of free will. Social classes constrain people to think in a certain way and this is what Marxist theory regards to as capitalism. Through capitalism, we are conditioned to think and act in a certain way. The society fails to adhere to the concept of functionalism, where the society as a complex structure ought to strive for equilibrium (Longino, 2015). If equilibrium was achieved by the society, then the concept of free will could be easily achievable.

On the other hand, autonomy is depicted by Emmanuel Kant as the capacity to develop personal moral law and not adhering to the injunctions of other people. Autonomy means that a person decides for oneself and opts to pursue personal course of action regardless of the societal moral content (Dryden, 2017). However, this may not be achieved, as Karl Marx asserts that social relationships normally compete for the limited resources accessible in the society. When competition sets in then there is no consensus as each person crafts own code and moral autonomy towards life (Piper, 2017). In one case, social structures within the society coin, what we refer to as autonomy setting of the society. People have the free will to do what they want and make decisions (Mill, 2017). However, this may be constrained as one belongs to a certain social class. The sense of belonging to a social class means that we are conditioned to adhere to the morals of that class.

Socrates established the benefits of seeking evidence, examining assumptions and reasoning, evaluating basic concepts, and analyzing implications (Kochiras & Hylarie, 2014). He asserts that even though autonomy proves to be a basic entity in making decisions, there are basic tenets in the society within which personal decisions should be based on. Self-governance and self-determination can be achieved in a society that adopts the concept of functionalism (Dryden, 2017). This means that the society cannot run based on free will as everyone has own desires. If each person was allowed to think and act based on own desires then the society will be in constant conflict than what we see today. The desire for freedom can be difficult to execute, based on the fact, that everyone may have different ideas of moral good. A person pursues own moral idea regardless of any specific moral content (Longino, 2015). This can be difficult to achieve, based on the fact, that the society has set moral content where individuals ought to base their personal moral obligations on.

Autonomy and free will have been criticized as encompassing a bad ideal, as they promote a concept of human individuality. Such a model overlooks the essentials of dependency and social relationships (Noorman, 2012). It can be difficult for a person to live without engaging with other people in the social sphere. This creates the necessity of a constrained society where different ideals are brought together to forge a common entity, that forms the basis of decision making. Autonomy and free will can still be exercised within the constraints of set models of the society.

Is Australia an Egalitarian Society?

The egalitarian society is defined by its mode of looking at the plight of the poor and treating them with dignity (Argy, 2015). Such a society discourages discrimination of any form as it shares the benefits on national productivity. Within the economic structure, workers have a voice at the workplace on their wellbeing, while equality of opportunity proves to be the basis of an egalitarian society. Australia has recorded mixed rates with regards to its model of ensuring equality for all. However, the state of social stratification continues to engulf not only Australia but the whole world. Examining the concept of egalitarian from the perspective of Australia provides an understanding of how different philosophers asserted their arguments and coined the model of egalitarian.

The Dimensions of Australia as an Egalitarian Society

Egalitarian society paves way for equality in quality of life and income. Overwhelming differences in terms of personal capacities, motivation, attitudes to risk and skills presents a different dimension of what egalitarian society is (Pakulski, 2014). Low family income, poor housing, inadequate education and lack of access to public services diminish the concept of egalitarian society. These criteria form the basis of examining Australia`s record. The country has managed to reduce discrimination against women and minority groups, expand higher education, and improve life expectancies (Kapferer & Morris, 2003). The low income families have also been able to share in the country’s increasing prosperity. These elements form the key basics as to which areas Australia has been able to record positive transformation in terms of creating an egalitarian society.

However, the depiction of Australian egalitarianism remains uncertain based on two key reasons (Kapferer & Morris, 2003): its social safety valves have hindered the rise in income inequality, which is now disintegrating; and the social mobility being threatened. According to Marx, it can be difficult for the society to run away from capitalism. This is based on the fact, that the society will at any given time incorporate social classes based on the concepts of power and control. Everyone cannot be wealthy as is the case where everyone cannot be poor. It is through the elements of capitalism entrenched within Australia that we see egalitarian being at stake (Sheppard & Biddle, 2015).

According to Marx, the wealthy and the poor working class have opposing interests and welfares and are separated by vast power and wealth thereby making conflict of classes inevitable (Noorman, 2012). Marx`s ideas presented the basis of how the social class directly influences a person’s life chances and life experiences. The issue of wealth and poverty in the society brings about conflicting perspectives as the alienation through classes always rekindle conflicts between the upper class and lower class (Pakulski, 2014). Australia has not been able to adopt an egalitarian approach and this means that it will still suffer from conflict perspective that arises as a result of class stratification within the society (Kapferer& Morris, 2003).

The collapsing social safety valves within Australia has meant that the country fails to create an egalitarian society. Reform gradualism is one area of disintegrated social safety valve (Sheppard & Biddle, 2015). This means that even in the midst of revised national values and goals, the scale and pace of social change has been wanting. The political systems have created limited checks and balances. This is what Marx regards to as social stratification where the political classes are manipulated by the bourgeoisie to enact policies that only favor the few wealthy people. The hostile senate and intoxicated Federal Coalition splits the society as it exerts pressure of radicalization of policy changes and reforms. This means that the government has not been willing to spend on the redistribution programs to cater for the widening gap within private incomes (Gavrilets, Guzman & Vose, 2008). There is a need for radical reforms in the area of fiscal redistribution and this can be achieved through changes in political ideology. In addition, the lack of sustenance in decline in unemployment further creates social stratification. The real wages have also not been sustainable meaning that inequality still exists in Australia.

The threat on social mobility creates another dilemma with regards to depicting Australia as an egalitarian society (Argy, 2015). Diminished social mobility within Australia means growing polarization directed towards employment opportunities. This is because workers are trapped in low-paying jobs and there is under-employment. Many workers earn less than the half median earnings and this means that the quality of life is decreased (Rogers, Deshpande & Feldman, 2011). Karl Max criticizes the principles of capitalism and believes that it’s a system enforced by the rich class to put them in authority and undermine the lower class. Marx defines capital as economic and social relation between people and not between people and things (Noorman, 2012). Private ownership as a pathway to production enriches capitalists at workers expense. This means that the owners of means of production abuse or exploit the workforce.

However, there is room to adopt policies that will ensure Australia attains egalitarian status. Karl Marx depicted capitalism as an advancing historical stage that would ultimately stagnate as a result of internal contradictions and subsequent socialism (Noorman, 2012). Based on this fact, revolution becomes imminent as people from low to middle class attempt to exert their influence especially in voting blocs to ensure effective reforms are initiated at different levels more so in economic spheres.

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References

Argy, F. (18 May, 2015). Is Australia’s egalitarian society slipping away? Center for Policy Development. Retrieved from http://cpd.org.au/2005/05/is-australias-egalitarian-society-slipping-away/

Dryden, J. (2017). Autonomy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/autonomy/

Gavrilets, S., Duenez-Guzman, E. A., & Vose, M. D. (2008). Dynamics of Alliance Formation and the Egalitarian Revolution. PLoS ONE, 3(10): e3293. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0003293

Kapferer, B., & Morris, B. (01 Dec 2003). The Australian Society of the State: Egalitarian Ideologies and New Directions in Exclusionary Practice. Berghahn Journals. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/015597703782352835

Kapferer, B., & Morris, B. (2003). Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice. Berghahn Journals. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23170097

Kochiras, H. (2014). Locke’s Philosophy of Science. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2014/entries/locke-philosophy-science/

Longino, H. (Feb 9, 2015). The Social Dimensions of Scientific Knowledge. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-knowledge-social/

Mill, D. (May 1, 2017). Freedom of Speech. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freedom-speech/

Noorman, M. (Jul 18, 2012) Computing and Moral Responsibility Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/computing-responsibility/

O’Connor, T. (Oct 29, 2010). Free Will. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

Pakulski, J. (February 28, 2014). Confusions about multiculturalism. Journal of Sociology. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1440783314522190

Piper, M. (2017). Autonomy: Normative. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/aut-norm/

Rogers, D. S., Deshpande, O., & Feldman, M. W. (2011). The Spread of Inequality. PLoS ONE 6(9): e24683. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0024683

Sheppard, J., & Biddle, N. (28 October 2015). Is Australia as Egalitarian as We Think it Is? ABC Australia. Retrieved from http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2015-10-28/is-australia-as-egalitarian-as-we-think-it-is/1508486

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