On The Role of Film as Course Material

In the years I have been teaching philosophy, religious studies, and communications, I have used a variety of resources in my courses. Textbooks are useful in many courses and students are expected to complete assigned readings in order to be prepared for class. The same expectation applies to other readings such as primary source readings online, the complete text of “The Apology of Socrates” by Plato for example.

In class, students are attentive to lectures and participate in discussion as expected. Audio podcasts, video lectures, and written lecture notes supplement my course material for students who wish to further immerse themselves in the content of the class. In the 21st-century classroom this is all accepted as commonplace. Much to my surprise, television and film are looked upon differently.

From episodes of television series including Star Trek, The West Wing, and Family Guy to films such as The King’s Speech, After the Dark, and The Shawshank Redemption, I screen video content in class frequently. This content demonstrates course material as effectively as textbooks, primary source writings, and lectures. Yet students consistently see these class periods as throwaways, opportunities to take the day off, zone out, or even take a nap during class.

Film and television viewing is part of course curriculum. Dismissing it demonstrates a lack of dedication to success in the class and deliberate disrespect for the instructor and his/her efforts to educate. While entertaining, good film and television educate us in ways we may not even realize until we see them incorporated into a course. The primary functions of the mass media are to inform, educate, and entertain. Allowing these media to educate in the classroom open the students’ minds to abstract concepts in tangible, entertaining, relatable ways. Dismissing them not only does a disservice to one’s education, it robs oneself of a new way of experiencing a mainstream medium and art form.

Lecture Notes: Ethical Systems

Cultural Relativism

This system asserts that an action is right if one’s culture approves of it. Moral rightness and wrongness are relative to cultures. So, culture A cannot judge culture B by culture A’s moral standards. To each his own.

Subjective Relativism

The subjective relativist believes an action is right if one approves of it himself. If I believe it is right, it is right. This school of thought makes everyone morally infallible as morality is determined by each individual. Genuine moral disagreement between individuals is nearly impossible using this system as moral judgments are a matter of preference (“taste”). It’s bad taste to argue taste.

Universal Morality

The universalist asserts that some things are simply right and wrong regardless of culture, geography, religion, or any other qualifiers. For example, the taking of innocent life is wrong no matter where it happens or who does it. It is wrong.


Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory that weighs outcomes as the greatest measure of morality. If an action produces the greatest possible good, it is morally acceptable. The ends, in other words, justify the means. This system favors effects that have the greatest good for the most people.

The greater good was the underlying theme of a three-film story arc in the Star Trek movies of the 1980s.


Lecture Notes: Life Issues – Abortion


Verbiage related to where a person stands on the issues of abortion has become insanely politicized. Terms like “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” “anti-choice,” etc. have become lobbying brands more than moral positions. So, for the purposes of discussion in this course, let us employ simple wording: pro-abortion and anti-abortion.

Abortion: The deliberate termination of a pregnancy, usually by surgical or other medical means.

Therapeutic Abortion: An abortion performed for the sole purpose of preserving the health of life of the mother.

Indirect Abortion: An abortion which occurs as a secondary, not necessarily intended effect of a life-saving medical procedure.

Conception: The moment when a sperm cell from a male breaches the ovum, or egg, from a female. The process is also known as fertilization and is the initial stage of development for human growth (study.com).

Viability: A stage of pregnancy between 24 and 28 weeks at which the fetus can survive outside the womb.


Very few, in any, rational persons would agree that taking an innocent life is morally acceptable or that murdering a baby or a child is a good thing to do. For this reason, the morality or immorality of abortion comes down to the question of when life begins Once the unborn child is alive, it is an innocent life. If abortion is killing the unborn child and the unborn child is an innocent life and taking an innocent life is immoral, then abortion is immoral. See notes on logic.

When I survey students and ask the simple question “When does life begin,” I consistently get the same answers:

  • Conception
  • Brain activity
  • Heartbeat
  • Viability
  • Birth

Conception and viability are defined above. The United States Library of Medicine states that the brain, nerves, and heart begin development in week five. In weeks six and seven the heart beats with regular rhythm and the brain has expanded significantly into five areas. If you don’t know what birth is, ask your mother.

A student once tried to argue that life begins when a baby gets a social security numbers. The class easily disproved this argument by pointing out that 1) By this logic, anyone who is not a U.S. citizen is not alive, and 2) This would make it legal to kill a baby after birth.


Woman’s Right to Choose. This position asserts that a woman has a right to choose what she does with her own body and that no person or entity can infringe upon that right.

Resource and Stability Argument. This stance argues that it is morally acceptable for a woman to seek an abortion if she is not in an unstable life situation (financial or otherwise) that would result in a seriously negative environment for the child.

Rape and Incest. In this scenario, the argument is that if a woman becomes pregnant against her will, she should not be forced by any person or entity to carry a child she was forced to conceive.


The Life Argument. This argument is central to all opposition to abortion. Regardless of circumstance, this position asserts that taking innocent life is morally wrong and that an unborn child is an innocent life.

The Father Argument. Positions supporting abortion generally consider the mother’s point of view as she is the one who will carry the child. The father argument asserts that both parents should have input into the ultimate fate of their child.

The Adoption Argument. As an alternative to abortion, this position presents offering an unwanted child for adoption.

Examine each argument and consider the question of when life begins. Is it possible to logically conclude whether abortion is morally right or wrong?


Most major world religions oppose abortion, some more strictly than others. Here are details about reasoning behind the positions of the world’s largest organized religions:


The Supreme Court case of 1973 established the following legal guidelines regarding abortion in the United States:

  • In the first trimester, a woman’s right to an abortion is unrestricted.
  • After the first trimester, the state may regulate (but not ban) abortion to protect the mother’s health.
  • After the fetus becomes viable, the state may regulate or forbid abortions except when necessary to preserve the woman’s life or health.

Lecture Notes: The Communication Process

While communication technology continues to evolve at an extraordinary rate, the basic process of communicating remains the same. In fact, new communication tools (mobile technology, video calling, social platforms, etc.) are based this process.The Communication Process

Elements of the Communication Process

Sender: Also referred to as the messenger, this is the person or organization who is putting forth a message. For example, s person composing a text message intended for a another person to read is a sender. Another sender might be a company running a television ad campaign intended to reach a broad audience.

Message: The content being communicated. This can be a simple text message, verbal statement or question, email, social media post, TV commercial, or any other information being sent.

Medium: This is the way in which the message is being sent. It may be voice, text message, phone, social media, or any other tool used to convey a message. Note: The word “media” is the plural form of “medium.”

Intended Receiver: Sometimes and audience, this is the person or persons for whom the message is intented. For example, when Bill calls Sally on the phone, Sally is the reciever of Bill’s message. When XYZ Enterprises posts information about their new product to their Facebook page, the people who like that page are the recievers, the audience.

Inadvertent Receiver: Occasionally. or maybe often, a message is received by people for whom the message was not originally intended. This can be good or bad. If Sally emails Bill, and Anne looks over Bill’s shoulder while he’s reading the message, Anne become an ancillary receiver, even though the message was not intended for her.

Inadvertent receivers can be beneficial. Let’s go back to XYZ Enterprises and their Facebook message. While the intended receivers are the people who like the page, the message might be seen by friends of those who like the page. This expands the audience for the message. It reaches more people.

Feedback: When a receiver responds to a message, they become a sender. This process is called feedback. A conversation, for example, is a series of messages going back-and-forth. Commenting on a social media post is a form of feedback.

Noise: This is anything that makes the message more difficult to get to the receiver. This can be a bad connection on a phone, loud sounds in a place where people are trying to talk, even direct interception and blocking of content.

Lecture Notes: Logic

Solid arguments are built with logic. Proving a point, defending a position, or establishing a solid concept relies on logic. Without it, arguments become senseless back-and-forth conversations or endless unsupported contradictions. This video, for example:

Logical arguments are made up of two parts: premises and a conclusion. The conclusion is that which the argument seeks to prove. The premises are factual statements that support, and ultimately prove, the conclusion.

Let’s look at a syllogism as an example of a basic logical argument made up of two premises and a conclusion.

P1. The White House is in Washington, DC.

P2. The Oval Office is in the White House.

 The Oval Office is in Washington, DC.

In this argument, the two premises prove the conclusion.

When examining a logical argument, we first look to whether it is valid, then determine if it is sound.

A valid argument is one in which the premises force the conclusion to be true; the logic flows. It is important to remember that neither the premises nor the conclusion need to actually be true in order for the argument to be valid. The if/and/then test is a simple way of determining validity without getting mixed up in truth (that comes later).

Let’s apply the if/and/then test to our original argument:

IF the White House is in Washington, DC

AND the Oval Office is in the White House,

THEN the Oval Office is in Washington, DC.

This logically flows. If the White House is in Washington, DC and the Oval Office is in the White House, then it stands to reason that the Oval Office is in Washington, DC. The argument is valid.

Now we test the argument’s soundness. A sound argument is a valid argument in which all the premises and the conclusion are actually true. Some quick research would show us that the premises are true; likewise for the conclusion.

This argument is sound. QED.

QED is a common conclusion used when one has successfully completed a logical proof. It stands for the Latin “quod erat demonstrandum,” which means “what was to be demonstrated.” More loosely translated, it means, “that which was to be demonstrated (or proven) has been.”

Here’s some fun with logic:

Let’s try another one.

P1. All philosophy teachers are millionaires.

P2. John is a philosophy teacher.

 John is a millionaire.

First, we test validity—without worrying about whether the premises or conclusion are true. We only want to see if the logic flows, so we apply the if/and/then test:

IF all philosophy teachers are millionaires.

AND John is a philosophy teacher.

THEN John is a millionaire.

The logic of this argument flows; it passes the if/and/then test. If all philosophy teachers are millionaires and John is a philosophy teacher, then John would have to be a millionaire.

This valid argument, however is not sound. The first premise is not true. This is what we call proceeding from a false premise. If one premise is false, the argument is not sound. We can stop there, but for fun, let’s look at the conclusion. It is not true. I am not a millionaire.

So, we have examined two logical syllogisms, both of which are valid, one of which is sound. Let’s look at an invalid argument:

P1. All doctors have advanced college degrees.

P2. Allie has an advanced college degree.

 Allie is a doctor.

When we apply the if/and/then test, we easily find this argument to be invalid:

IF all doctors have advanced college degrees

AND Allie has an advanced college degree,

THEN Allie is a doctor.

The logic of this argument does not flow. If all doctors have advanced college degrees and Allie has an advanced college degree, then it still does not necessarily mean Allie is a doctor. Allie might have a Master of Fine Arts degree. The premises do not force the conclusion to be true. This argument is invalid.

An invalid argument cannot be sound.

More Debacles of the English Language

As with my previous post on this topic, the following requires a sense of humor. A little levity can be a good thing. I also extend my thanks to the creators of these debacles as they have helped me show my students what not to do.


Why would anyone want to dispose of contemplative nuns?


Oh, the humanity! What did the English language do to deserve such brutality?


If one is going to abuse apostrophes and spell recklessly all over a restaurant, at least be consistent.

I don’t know which end is up!

Okay. Seriously, who writes these headlines? Apparently the Pope is talking to cats … and more!

Apostrophes still do not form plurals, not even at a college cafeteria.

In the highly unlikely event of an emergency, please offer constructive criticism about the building.

Lecture Notes: Essentials of Ethics

Audio Lecture

Ethics, also referred to as morality, is a discipline that examines right and wrong. The study of ethics is also referred to as moral philosophy.

Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb took a look at values and ethical issues in “Class,” a song they wrote for the musical Chicago, which was made into a film in 2002. In this clip from the film, Mama Morton (Queen Latifah) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) discuss morality with a touch of irony.

While ethical issues deal with what is morally right and morally wrong, the discipline neither defines nor depends upon what is legal or illegal. While legal statutes may be based upon a basic moral code, it is possible and often likely for actions to be illegal yet still ethically or morally acceptable, and vice versa. Let’s look at a couple examples:

Ethical, but not Legal

In the following video clip from the Showtime television series “Shameless,” we see Debbie and Ian, two young children from a large and extremely poor family sealing food and coupons with the help of their neighbor Veronica.

This is an illegal act. Stealing is against the law. However, this is not an immoral act. Stealing, in this case, is an ethical act in an effort to feed hungry children who have neither the financial means nor the parental support to provide for themselves.


Legal, but not Ethical

Bill and Sally have been married for several years. Sally begins a sexual relationship with Andrew while still married to Bill. She keeps the relationship a secret. Sally is committing adultery. Adultery, defined as sexual relations between a married person and a person outside said marriage, is considered by many to be immoral.

While Sally’s actions are seen as a violation of a moral code, they are not against the law in the United States.

Lecture Notes: Social Contract, State of Nature, Natural Law

Social Contract: An understood agreement of obligations and responsibilities among members of a society and between those members and the society’s leadership.

State of Nature: A scenario in which governmental structure does not exist in a society.

Natural Law: An inherent understanding of right and wrong instilled in humankind by God or nature.

The Social Contract theory asserts that people live under an unwritten, understood agreement to form the society in which they live. This agreement is among members of the society and between those members and the society’s leadership. One can argue that this contract is what forms society as without it chaos may ensue.

As members of many societies, we are under more than one social contract simultaneously. As citizens of the United States, we have obligations to our national society. Organized religions present another society that exceeds national boundaries. College campuses, workplaces, sports teams, and families are examples of other sub-societies in which we live.

Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, offers an example social contract—perhaps to the extreme—when he accepts a death sentence claiming the state made it possible for him to live and thrive and he therefore owes his life to the state at their will, not his (Plato).

Early 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a heavy view of social contract, which he expressed in his The Social Contract, Book I by writing, “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains” (49). He argues that man gives up freedom when he enters into a social contract. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains

Through the collective renunciation of the individual rights and freedom that one has in the State of Nature, and the transfer of these rights to the collective body [society], a new ‘person’, as it were, is formed. The sovereign is thus formed when free and equal persons come together and agree to create themselves anew as a single body, directed to the good of all considered together.

It is not often in the modern world that man finds himself in a State of Nature, though pop culture has examined the issue well. Films like I Am Legend, After the Dark, and Blindness and television shows like “Lost,” “Revolution,” and even “The Walking Dead” are three of virtually countless examples that address the fallout of societies being thrust into a State of Nature. Philosophers have considered the issue for generations.

Thomas Hobbes, and English philosopher who lived at the turn of the 18th century based his thinking about social contract and state of nature on mankind’s inherent selfish nature. Like Rousseau, he believed Social Contract to be a surrendering of certain freedom. Consider this excerpt from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Given that men are naturally self-interested, yet they are rational, they will choose to submit to the authority of a Sovereign [political power] in order to be able to live in a civil society, which is conducive to their own interests. In the State of Nature, every person is always in fear of losing his life to another. They have no capacity to ensure the long-term satisfaction of their needs or desires.  It is the state of perpetual and unavoidable war.

John Locke, a contemporary of Hobbes, had a different view as the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains

The State of Nature is a state of liberty in which people are free to pursue their own interests and plans, free from interference, and, because of the Law of Nature given by God [Natural Law] and the restrictions that it imposes upon persons, it is relatively peaceful.

In Locke’s State of Nature, people recognize the Law of Nature and therefore do not harm one another. For Locke, State of nature is a desirable scenario of proverbial rainbows and unicorns.


Lecture Notes: Human Rights

The most basic of all human rights is the right to life. This is supported by a simple contingency argument. All other rights are predicated on the right to life. If one does not have life, no other rights apply.

This fundamental principle is the basis for the philosophical and theological definition of the term “pro-life.” While the political definition of the term is merely an anti-abortion position, the theological/philosophical implications are different. A pro-life theologian/philosopher recognizes the sanctity and dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. This position opposes not only abortion, but capital punishment, human trafficking, slavery, and any action that violates the dignity of life.

While human rights are vital to a moral and just society, they are not without limit. Generally speaking, a person’s rights end when they infringe on those of another. For example, a persons right to free speech ends when he uses his words to incite violence thus infringing on someone else’s right to security of person.

Human rights have been addressed throughout history in documents such as the United States Declaration of Independence and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The former identifies life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as specific rights endowed in all men by their creator. The latter does not acknowledge a creator, but identifies certain rights with which “all persons” are born, thus dismissing rights of the unborn, but not reserving rights only for men. These rights include life and security of person.

Lecture Notes: Capital Punishment

Capital punishment, often referred to as the death penalty, is matter of great moral debate. It is one of many topics that full into the Life Issues category of ethics.

In his book Doing Ethics, Lewis Vaughn defines capital punishment as “punishment by execution of someone officially judged to have committed a serious, or capital, crime” (354).

Merriam-Webster defines the death penalty as “death as a punishment given by a court of law for very serious crimes.”

Deathpenaltyinfo.org reports that as of 2018, the death penalty is legal in 31 U.S. states in addition to the United States federal government and the United States military. Four of these states—Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington—have gubernatorial moratoria. This means the governors of these states have halted the death penalty by executive order, but the moratorium is not permanent law.

As moral philosophers, we are called to look beyond legal statutes and objectively and logically decide whether or not capital punishment is morally acceptable.


The Hypocrisy Argument

This argument breaks down the issue to its core elements and asserts the following premises:

  1. Killing is wrong.
  2. Those who kill deserve punishment.
  3. Punishment is death.
  4. The death penalty is carried out by someone killing the guilty party.

It is hypocritical to kill someone as punishment for killing someone. The punishment itself is equal to the crime in this argument. This is also an argument that creates an infinite cycle of killing. Consider the above with the following premises applied:

  1. The punisher kills the guilty party.
  2. Killing is wrong.
  3. Those who kill deserve punishment.
  4. Punishment is death.

Capital Punnishment Hipocracy Cycle

The Hypocrisy Argument can be used in opposition to the Eye for an Eye argument, positioning that if every guilty party is punished by his own crime, then everyone would be killed eventually. When an eye is taken for an eye, the whole world goes blind.

An opposition to the Hypocrisy Argument places different value on different lives. One can argue that the life of the guilty party is less valuable than that of the person carrying out the punishment. After all, he punisher is only doing his job. The guilty party is a criminal. This begets the question of who decides the value of each life.

The Pro-Life Argument

As we established in the Human Rights lecture, the philosophical and nonpolitical definition of “pro-life” is respecting the sanctity and dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. This position validates the Hypocrisy Argument in that all life is valued equally to the pro-life philosopher.

The Pro-Life Argument asserts that the death penalty is morally unacceptable because of the sanctity and dignity of all human life. No man may decide when another’s life ends, regardless of what the other may have done during that life. Killing in any way is a violation of a strict pro-life philosophy.

From a theological standpoint, one would argue that only God decides when life enters and exits the world.


The Revenge Argument

This position hardly stands up to logical scrutiny as it is self-serving and driven by emotion. It posits that a person deserves to die in exchange for doing something bad. It is a fine example of subjective relativism. Composer John Kander and Lyricist Fred Ebb examine this argument through their song “Cell Block Tango” in the musical Chicago.

The Eye-for-an-Eye Argument

“You shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25). This verse from the Torah and the Bible is the source of the commonly-employed phrase for which I have named this argument. The argument takes many forms.

Some argue An Eye for an Eye as a revenge scenario. One who kills should be killed because one who takes a life forfeits his own. When we discussed Human Rights, we agreed that rights have limitations and that a person’s rights end when they infringe upon another person’s rights. The Eye for an Eye argument asserts that one’s right to life ends when he infringes on another’s right to life. This can be countered, however, by acknowledging the infringement argument is not necessarily right-to-right. For example: A person’s right to free speech ends when he infringes on another’s right to security of person. That doesn’t mean the speaker loses his right to security of person.

Some argue An Eye for an Eye from a religious standpoint. The Bible and the Torah clearly state, “eye for eye” (above). The Bible and Torah, however, also clearly state “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). One can take a line of scripture out of context and defend virtually anything. When arguing from a religious point of view it is necessary to consider the whole of the particular religion’s teachings.

For Christians, the “eye for eye” statement is in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Matthew 5:38-39).

The Deterrent Argument

This argument asserts that the prospect of the death penalty is daunting enough to dissuade people from killing. The punishment frightens people into compliance with rule. This argument can be proven and disproved with historical data.

The Socratic or Social Contract Argument

Ancient philosopher Socrates was sentenced to death for corrupting youth and preaching monotheism in the polytheistic Greek city of Athens. Though the charges were at best political in nature, and hardly concrete, Socrates declined the state’s offer for him to leave the city and live in exile. He opted to stand trial, knowing he would be found guilty (Plato, Apology).

We learn through Plato’s Socratic dialog Crito that Socrates was presented with an opportunity to escape from prison and avoid his death sentence. In the dialogue, Socrates presents many arguments supporting his decision to submit to execution. One of these arguments is an example of a social contract obligation.

Socrates argues that he owes his existence to the state in that he was conceived in a marriage licensed by the government. Furthermore, Socrates was educated by government-funded schools, so he believed his vocation and success were the result of the state. So, if the state was responsible for Socrates’ birth, development, and success—essentially his life—then the state has the right to terminate his life at their discretion (Plato, Crito).

One can apply this argument to modern society. While western societies do not necessarily hold government-licensed marriage as a prerequisite for conception and birth of a child, people do get much directly and indirectly from the government. Many are educated in public schools, have freedoms assured through the law, and are protected by military and police. These are a few examples that lead us in the direction of a modern-day Socratic argument in favor of capital punishment.

Works Cited

Lecture Notes: The Concepts of Evil

We will examine two kinds of evil in class discussion and assignments: Natural Evil and Moral Evil.

Natural Evil is a privation, a lack of good where good ought to be.

An excellent example of natural evil (a lack of good where good ought to be) is the example of a stone and a man presented to me by Jesuit priest, philosopher, and theologian Fr. Peter Ryan, SJ at Mount St. Mary’s University:

Consider a stone. It cannot see. This lack of sight, however, is not an evil as a stone ought not to see. Sight is not part of what makes up a stone. This is how God created the stone.

Now consider a man. If the man cannot see, this is a natural evil. It is the lack of a good (sight) that ought to be there. Unlike the stone, man was created by God with sight as part of his being.

Moral Evil is a conscious choice to do what one ought not to do; an unethical act.

Every day men and women are faced with choices—some of them good and some of them evil. An evil (or immoral) choice is a decision to do what one should not do. For example: If a person sees an unlocked car with keys in the ignition, he is faced with some choices. He can choose to attempt to find the owner and let him know of the unsecured state of his vehicle, he can ignore the situation and continue on, or he can choose to steal the car. The question becomes one of what the man ought to do. The best, most morally correct option would be the first, if possible. It would be a good.

The second choice is indifferent; it is neither a good nor an evil. Though one could construe the this option as an evil as it leaves the car in a position to be stolen, it does not, however, change the situation for better or worse. It is not a clear-cut choice between good or evil.

The third choice is clearly an evil. A person taking something that does not belong to him it causes harm and undue loss to another. It is an example of what one ought not to do, the choice of a moral evil.

The Role of Suffering

We must also distinguish between evil and suffering. Suffering is not evil. Suffering is the experience of evil. The man who cannot see suffers in his blindness; his suffering is the experience of his lack of sight. Suffering is a concept that is often misunderstood and mistaken for evil.

Consider pain. Both pleasure and pain exist for positive reasons; they are positive realities. Pain is a signal to a person that something is wrong. If one touches a hot burner on a stove, for example, he will experience pain, and quickly pull his hand away from the burner, avoiding further damage to the body. The pain in this case has a positive and saving effect.

Pain for no reason can be an evil. If one experiences pain that is not a signal of something wrong, then the cause of the pain is an evil and the experience of it is suffering.

Lecture Notes: Fate and Free Will

Fate: Predetermined outcome that cannot be controlled or changed.

Free Will: The ability to make choices which can change and/or determine an outcome.

The Robert Frost Argument

In “The Road Not Taken,” poet Robert Frost writes about a split in the road. The narrator in poem is forced to make a decision as to which road to travel; he chooses the road that appears to be less traveled and argues that it made an impact on his life. “I took the one less traveled by,” the poem ends, “And that has made all the difference.”

Frost argues through his symbolic poem that Free Will is what controls mankind’s existence. The choice of the road less traveled makes a difference as the choice influences the outcome.

The Argument for Free Will

The argument in favor of Free Will asserts that life is not a journey from point A to point B, but a journey from point A to any point we choose. The choices we make have a direct effect on path of our lives; each choice affects an ultimate outcome.

Free Will Illustration
Note: In the illustration above, points B, C, and D, are examples. The number of actual outcomes in the free will argument is infinite.

This argument begets an important question: If each decision we make sends us to a different outcome, do those decisions affect the outcomes of others, and vice versa? If this is the case, then we are not solely in control of our fate, it also rests on the actions of others.

When examining this argument from a philosophy-of-religion point of view, God’s plan comes into question. If Free Will determines our outcomes, then either God already knows our outcome, or He has one in mind for us.

If God already knows a person will end at point C, then Free Will is an illusion as the outcome is never really in question.

However, God may have an outcome in mind for each person, but He allows each of us to choose our own. For example, God might have a plan for a person to become a teacher, but the person chooses a life of drug use and dies of an overdose. Since an all-loving God would likely desire happiness for His people, the teaching option would have made this person the happiest in life. In addition, it is unlikely God wants any of His creation to lead an immoral life and die of a drug overdose.

The Argument for Fate

This argument asserts that man has no control over the outcome, it is predetermined in spite of any action man might take. In the Argument for Fate life is a journey from point A to point B. Though there may be many paths and choices along the way, the outcome will always be point B. All roads lead to point B.

Fate Illustration

While three paths are illustrated above, an infinite number of paths leads from point A to point B if Fate is in control.

Examining the Argument for Fate from a religious standpoint, we must consider that fate is likely God’s will. So, if our lives are controlled by fate, then even immoral lives and tragic deaths are the will of God. This takes us back to our discussion about God and the Problem of Evil. See lecture notes on that topic.

Even if we separate the concept of Fate from religion, a belief in fate still presupposes the existence of a higher power. If Fate is a predetermined outcome, then someone or something must do the predetermining.

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