In Chapter 34, we find the episode confusing issues of freewill with the ability to choose our emotions. The argument seems to be that one’s emotions are in some sense a product of freewill. If one lacks freewill, then our emotions do not count. However, as I will show, there is no connection between to the two.
In this episode, Eleanor is informed by Michael that she is capable of loving even though she had a bad childhood because she fell in love with Chidi in the afterlife. Eleanor, however, argues that it did not count because she was determined. Michael, in a sense, forced her to love Chidi by manipulating them as part of the torture process.
While Eleanor is treating this a reason to reject that it was real love or that the love counts, I am left with the question, does anyone choose who they love? Before I continue, a brief account of determinism may be helpful.
Determinism is the theory that all events are the necessary result of previous causes. Since all human thoughts and actions are events, then these are all necessarily caused by previous events. Since the causes of human actions are external to a person and not the product of choice, then one does not have freewill. Therefore, one is not responsible for one’s actions or events.
There are multiple arguments in favor of determinism and the denial of freewill. We find Eleanor providing a list of reasons that prevent her from having freewill. However, her point is that she is determined to have loved Chidi. Michael set things in motion that caused Eleanor to do things. Because Michael was manipulating the situation, she had no choice. Therefore, it was not real love.
For the moment, let us suppose that determinism is false and we have all freewill. Do we chose who to love? It seems that our feelings of romantic love are in some sense caused by the other person. The other person awakens our desires. We find their qualities appealing. There is something about the other person that is making us like them, care for them, and eventually love them.
What would non-causal love look like? The two best options I can think of are either it is a product of rational deliberation or a random choice. A random choice does not seem plausible. Simply picking someone and deciding to love them is unlikely to cause the emotion. What about rational deliberation? Maybe there are people who make a pro and con list of if to love someone and then after deliberating make the conscious decision to love. Then after making such a decision, they will themselves to experience love. This does not seem plausible either.
I am not arguing that emotions are irrational in the sense that there is no reason for them. We can provide reasons for why we love someone. However, it is those reasons that cause us to love the other person. This is illustrated in a flashback where Eleanor offers to talk to Michael for Chidi. She remarks, “It is the least I can do considering all you have done for me.” Her emotional response is in response to Chidi’s personality and behavior. The fact that she is in that situation because of Michael’s manipulation does not change the fact that her emotions are in response to Chidi’s qualities.
With this in mind, let us return to Eleanor’s deterministic claim. If determinism is true, then she had no choice to love Chidi. However, if determinism is not true, she had no choice but to love Chidi. Either way, her feelings of love are going to be caused. Freewill plays no role in how one feels.
If freewill plays no role in how one feels, what role does freewill play? If we have freewill, then this is what allows us to make choices. It is what makes one responsible for one’s actions. Thus, whether or not one tells someone how one feels is a product of freewill, but being in love is not a product of freewill.