The Four Dogs

I was trying to think of a way to express my views on free will, and I finally thought of an allegory that sort of works.

Picture four dogs on elastic leads.  

Before them are two tables, one slightly closer than the other, each laden with food.

The first dog, accustomed to being on a lead, curls up and acquiesces to his limits without ever testing them.

The second dog is dimly aware that he is on a lead and tries his luck getting to the nearby table, but, as soon as he encounters resistance, he joins the first dog and surrenders to his limits, quietly blaming the person who put him on the lead.

The third dog, so self-assured in his own free will, refuses to believe he has any limits and reaches for the farthest table, only to be pulled back when there is no more give in his lead.  Again and again he tries, to no avail, and rather than trying for the easier prize on the nearby table (which he dismisses as somehow inferior), he despairs in himself and the weakness of his will, and tries in vain to find consolation in sneering at the first two dogs.

But the fourth dog first tests the give in his lead as far as he can go, then works within those limits.  He finds the first table too far, but the second table just within reach and, in triumph, devours every piece of food within reach.

The first dog is like the one who never tries to test their limits at all, and submits to the tyranny of their own mind.

The second dog is like the one who, when testing their limits, shrinks at the first sign of resistance and submits as if they had never tried, but feels more sorry for themselves than those who never try at all, because they have at least a little bit of ambition.

The third dog is like one so convinced that free will is the only thing that matters that they scarcely acknowledge their own limits and completely ignore the limits of others.  When they achieve their goals, they gloat because they feel they have only themselves to thank; when they fail, they despair because they feel they have only themselves to blame; when others succeed where they failed, they feign congratulation even as resentment burns within them, a resentment of which they are as unaware as they are of their own limits.

But the fourth dog is like one who considers their limits realistically and, more than simply working within the sphere of least resistance, takes their limits as far as they can and achieves their fullest potential without concerning themselves with irrelevant value judgments.

It is when we behave in this way that we achieve the most as individuals, and when we encourage others to do the same while remaining mindful and compassionate of their limits, we achieve the most as a whole.


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