Is there a word for this situation?
November 18, 2009 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Is there a word that describes a situation where you *technically* have free will, but don't REALLY have the option to choose otherwise?

My friend who went to Catholic school told me there was a word for this, but she can't remember what it is, and Googling "free will" or "Catholic" or both or whatnot isn't cutting it.

I'm thinking along the lines of a person having a vocation or calling. Being called to be a priest/nun is an example, or if you're Buffy. TECHNICALLY they have free will and can choose not to become one, but for all intents and purposes, once they've been chosen, they can't really duck that destiny.

Mainly I just find it irritating that someone could claim they have free will in that sort of situation, when it seems to me like they don't REALLY have it. And it seems like there should be a word for that!
posted by jenfullmoon to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Hobson's Choice came to mind, though it doesn't quite get to what you're driving at.

Otherwise: fate.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:52 PM on November 18, 2009

posted by buxtonbluecat at 2:53 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by Danf at 2:54 PM on November 18, 2009

Being a child?
posted by dzaz at 2:55 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by bradbane at 2:56 PM on November 18, 2009

Like buxtonbluecat said, "predestined." Or maybe "preordained."
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:57 PM on November 18, 2009

cornered, blackmailed, and forced into?
posted by jchaw at 3:06 PM on November 18, 2009

Under duress

Googling gets some interesting results.
posted by theora55 at 3:07 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dennett talks about this in his book "Elbow Room," but my copy is in storage and I can't remember if he created a specific term for it.
posted by MillMan at 3:16 PM on November 18, 2009

I was thinking hegemony, although this is used more in the context of two groups of people; One in a position of power and the other group has the illusion of acting on its own, yet it really must act as the power group demands.
posted by spatula at 3:35 PM on November 18, 2009

Hmmm. The answer to the short version of your question is in fact Hobson's Choice - though a Hobson's Choice usually refers to one of those "cake or death" type choices.

The added deal with the whole 'calling' thing is a lot more, er, fuzzy. That's just passion, or whatever, and it is different than, say, a Hobson's Choice, simply because it actually is more of a choice, if that makes sense.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:38 PM on November 18, 2009

A few phrases might apply, but are likely not what you are looking for. I offer them anyway...

Caught between a rock and a hard place
6 of one or a half dozen of the other
posted by SLC Mom at 3:53 PM on November 18, 2009

Morton's Fork. All roads lead to the same place.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:58 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

A rock and a hard place.
posted by kensington314 at 4:13 PM on November 18, 2009

posted by Ultrahuman at 4:22 PM on November 18, 2009

The key word you're looking for is "coercion".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:22 PM on November 18, 2009

Fate or destiny describe what you're talking about.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:37 PM on November 18, 2009

Some schools of thought say that omniscience would strip all choice away from decisions, because you would always know the best choice to make, and you'd also always know which choice you had made.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 4:51 PM on November 18, 2009

Fatalism is the idea that there is something that we must do and that we are powerless to do otherwise. This Philosophy Talk show on Free Will is an interesting overview.
posted by calumet43 at 4:58 PM on November 18, 2009

Best answer: In Calvinist branches of Christianity, what you describe is "effectual calling."

From the Shorter Catechism:

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Effectual calling is also known as "irresistible grace," which is not quite the same as predestination. Predestination is the concept of God having determined that a thing will happen. Effectual calling, or irresistible grace, is when a person feels a ... well ... irresistible call to become a Christian. (Or a vampire slayer, though Calvin didn't address that.)

The Wikipedia article explains it well: Calvin says of this intervention that "it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant."

This, however, is obviously not a Catholic concept, but does address the free will thing quite well.
posted by brina at 5:19 PM on November 18, 2009

Election? It's defined in theology as "the choice by God of individuals, as for a particular work or for favor or salvation."
posted by Rhaomi at 5:41 PM on November 18, 2009

Anointed? -- choose by or as if by divine intervention
posted by jack.tinker at 7:09 PM on November 18, 2009

"Soft-determinism" still allows free will..
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 7:51 PM on November 18, 2009

I think the term you're looking for is "Divine Foreknowledge", sometimes shortened to "Foreknowledge" by Catholic scholars.

This is an idea floated by Augustine and elaborated be Boethius that God exists in a state of "timelessness", and therefore sees the past, present, and future all at once. Us mortals, living in time, have free will in the sense that God knows the future, but does not direct us towards it.

The catch is that God created the universe, so technically he did fashion the future that he now sees all at once in his timeless world. So yes, is it quite a hazy concept, but it worked for Catholics in the Middle Ages, and seems to continue to do so.
posted by hiteleven at 8:09 PM on November 18, 2009

Soft Paternalism might also describe your priest example.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 8:25 PM on November 18, 2009

It occurred to me that buxtonbluecat's suggestion of "Predestination" may actually be the word your friend is thinking of. Predestination really implies no free will at all, but since the Catholic Church rejects predestination, it certainly could be spun in some weird way in school to make it sound like something more akin to the Catholic position.
posted by hiteleven at 9:07 PM on November 18, 2009

Response by poster: I think effectual calling/irrestistable grace is what I'm going for, but a lot of these are really close and definitely are interesting reading too. Thanks!
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:45 PM on November 18, 2009

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