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People's Behaviour Is Largely Determined By Forces Not Of Their Own Making - With A Free Essay Review

Prompt: People's behavior is largely determined by forces not of their own making. Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.

The term ‘behaviour’ is not easy to define. There exists a plethora of definitions for it according to different individual perspectives, but in general, it refers to action or reaction of an organism, either directly or indirectly, in response to the stimulus which could be external forces or internal motivations. People develop their behavior depending on the way in which they have been brought up, their environment and the society in which they live. Our world is a collection of individuals belonging to a variety of ethnicity, speaking a diverse mix of languages and practicing various rituals. Hence, it can be called an eclectic blend of human species. Due to this, behaviors are exhibited at two levels; first collective as a nation or ethnicity and the second as individuals. Although, various external factors influence one’s behaviour, it is largely determined by the emotional interpretation of the person and hence, people have the liberty to behave in a particular manner and are solely responsible for it. The external forces do not determine the behavior of people in a major way as people can take the decision to fight the external forces and behave in a manner that opposes the forces. Therefore, it is true to an extent that the behavior of people is influenced by forces that may not be under their control, but it is highly unjustified to assume that they are not responsible for it at all.

Throughout the ages, various examples can be cited to understand how people have responded to actions and attitude forced upon them collectively. Staring from 1885, the Indians started their fight against the Imperialists to gain their independence. Although the fight for freedom was a collective behaviour, shaped by the attitude of the British forces, the methods implemented by different groups within the nation varied. While some resorted to murder and violence to overthrow the British Empire, others used subtle and non-violent movements for the same. This shows that even though people had common aim, different groups interpreted and took different measure for it, emphasizing the concept of ‘individual responsibility’.

In the present time too, ‘individual responsibility’ is not a fiction, but a fact. Take for instance the behavior of students. External forces like the requirement of doing well in one's studies for getting a good job play a significant role in determining a student's behavior with respect to his studies. However, it is ultimately the student's individual responsibility that will determine the exact nature of his behavior. A particular student can choose not to be influenced by this external force and he may decide not to devote time to his studies despite the irreversible effects it may have on his career. On the other hand, there may be a student who chooses to be influenced by this external force and he puts in his level best in studying for doing well in his life. Thus, it can be seen that the behavior of students with respect to their studies is not influenced as much by an external force as compared to their own individual responsibilities.

Next, there are people who choose to break the laws that have been enforced and this is evident by the crime rate that exists in almost all societies. What about the effect of external forces on these people? These people may have no control over the external forces like law and order, but they have decided not to let the external forces determine their behavior. Moreover, they have taken the decision to ignore the responsibilities that they should shoulder and so they alone are responsible for their conduct. No other force can be held responsible for their behavior.

A society which chooses not to blame the individuals for their actions can never thrive. There will be mass disobedience of rules and the framework of law and order of the society will break down. Therefore, it is essential that individuals be held responsible for their behavior as they are the ones who have chosen to behave in that particular manner. In sum, it can be said that more than external forces, it is the individual's responsibility that determines his behavior.



This is a difficult prompt, and it can be quite a challenge to figure out what exactly the issue is, so it is a good example of the kind of prompt that needs to be thought about for a few minutes before rushing straight into the answer. However, and despite what happens in the rest of the essay, I think you get to the heart of the issue, or at least part of the heart (!), early in your first paragraph, where you note that behavior can depend on the familial and social environment in which a person is raised. If that's a good way of identifying the salient issue, then the prompt can be taken as asking you to think about the importance of such environmental factors relative to a person's ability to act freely of her or his own accord. While the first paragraph is generally very verbose, and the thesis you articulate there is a bit odd (I'm speaking of the sentence beginning with the word "although" and find the reference to "emotional interpretation" very odd, and inconsistent with everything else you say in the essay), you do at least have a thesis, which is good, and seem generally to be on the right track: There are external forces that can have an influence, but there is possibly also something called free will, and the prompt is asking you to decide if the first is the strongest determinant of behavior.

If you begin on the right track, however, I think you quickly lose your way. Your example of Indians fighting for freedom pertains, it seems to me, to a different problem. Perhaps it is possible to argue that all freedom fighters grew up in the same circumstances, and yet acted in different ways, and that as a consequence the only way to explain the differences in behavior would be by recourse to the concept of free will, but that seems a fairly difficult argument to make (India is a big place, so it would be problematic to assume shared experiences, and the fact that different groups acted differently doesn't mean that individuals within those groups were not subject to external pressures that had an impact on their choices) and, in any case, you seem to be focusing here on the possible idea that the actions of the British might be taken to be responsible for the counteractions of the Indians, and then rejecting that idea. That's not the kind of thing the prompt is asking you about. It's not asking you whether people are responsible for their actions even when they are, so to speak, forced into a corner, where they must either submit or react. It's asking rather about the general case: is behavior in general determined by external forces (like the environmental forces you mentioned in the first paragraph) or by free will.

Your example of the student who chooses or fails to choose to work hard in response to the "requirement of doing well" for the sake of a job is also a problematic example. The external force that needs to be considered in this case is not the "requirement of doing well" that one can choose to accept or ignore, but rather the forces that might have an impact on whether one chooses to accept or ignore. I.e., if it is generally recognized that one must work hard to get a job, and then I chose not to work hard is that because (a) I simply and freely chose not to work hard or (b) because I have an unconscious tendency brought about by a miserable childhood that causes me to sabotage my own life, or (c) because a priest has convinced me that I must spend an inordinate amount of time fasting and praying to an unforgiving god, or (d) because since the day I was born people have been telling me I cannot succeed and I believed them, or (e) because I belong to a group that thinks working hard at school is for dorks and geeks and losers, or (f) because I was endowed with a particular group of genes whose only apparent purpose is to ensure I'm an incorrigible procrastinator, or (g) because my girlfriend dumped me and I've been crying for a year, or (h) because the laws of the physical universe have determined my path from the outset (an idea that sounds silly when one puts it like that, but one which nonetheless people like Einstein tended to take seriously), or any number of other possibilities that I am too lazy to actually enumerate.

Likewise with your example of criminal behavior. The thing to consider here is whether I choose to be a criminal because of my childhood, or social pressure, or living conditions that I cannot abide, or genetics, or because I'm addicted for some reason to the thrill, or because I'm a sociopath, or, again, am I just simply responsible?

You end with a moral judgement that is unnecessary and probably inappropriate; a society which chooses not to blame the individuals for their actions can never thrive. You seem to be arguing that people are individually responsible because the consequences of not holding them to account would be bad. That's skirting the issue. The issue has to be decided, in other words, without consideration of any policy that might or might not emerge from the way in which it is decided. Is a murderer really responsible for his crime, or was he conditioned in one way or another to be a murderer? What about a bully in the playground at school who fights and insults and steals from the weaker kids? What about a psychopath who enjoys pulling the wings of butterflies? What about the man who donates money to charity? Or the one who runs into a fire to save a child? Are such actions the consequence of independent decisions or of biology or of society or of evolution?

I’m not sure if any of these remarks and questions will seem helpful to you, but I should point out in any case that I’m only suggesting that these questions would be things to think about with a view to writing the essay. I’m not suggesting that one would have to have the answer to these questions. For my part, I don’t. And for the GRE essay, you don’t have to know the “right” answer. It would be enough in many cases (that is, for many GRE prompts) to be able to identify the questions that would need to be answered. The prompt asks you to consider the ways in which the statement might or might not be true. The word “might” is important here. The statement might be true, for instance, if Freud is right and unconscious drives play a very important role in determining behavior, or if Einstein is right, and the physical universe is deterministic, or in general the statement might be right if our notion of free will is an illusion and we are the playthings of nature and nurture, or (“like flies to wanton boys”) the playthings of the gods. For my part, I just don’t know if the statement is true or not, and if I were writing the essay for the GRE test, I wouldn’t care about insignificant fact.

Best wishes, EJ.
Submitted by: sweta

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