“The Simplicity Of Will” -- By: S. W. Howland

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 063:252 (Oct 1906)
Article: “The Simplicity Of Will”
Author: S. W. Howland

“The Simplicity Of Will”

S. W. Howland

Atlanta, Georgia


The article on the above subject, in the January number of this Review, ought not to pass unchallenged. It closes with the implication that an act of free-will would not be doubtful if we had “all knowledge”. if we knew all that preceded the moment of decision. Some of the writer’s assumptions we may accept, but others he seems to confuse, or rather to misapprehend. He asserts that will-action is the moving of the self toward an end. We may well accept this as a definition of will in general, and animals have this, as he claims. But will in man is very different from will in animals, although they may be alike included in this definition. An animal’s action is determined by heredity and environment. There are certain impulses to action from these two sources, and the action follows from necessity, and, because we know there is no alternative, we do not blame the animal. But when we speak of free-will we mean that when heredity and environment have presented their impulses, as they do in man also, there is an alternative before the man to do or not to do, and that it is impossible to tell beforehand what he will do. If it were possible to predict, the man is not free, in the philosophical sense.

The writer says: “Deliberation is not essential to will-freedom. With, or without, deliberation there may come the decision to act; and this decision, being unforced and unhindered, is free.” But in what is usually regarded as free will, there is the consideration of “to do” or “not to do,” before the choice; and this is what is called “deliberation,” even though it may seem instantaneous. He says again: “Freedom of will does not require the presence in the mind of two or more objects of choice.” It is a matter of definition. To do or not to do are usually regarded as two objects of choice, both present before the mind, and both essential to choice, or what is called free-will. He says again very truly: “The crucial test of any theory of the will is found in its view of character and moral freedom”; and he quotes: “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin,” and adds, “This looks quite the other way

from freedom.” Who would deny this? Christ evidently does not mean to say, “Whosoever transgresses does so because he is a slave of sin,” but, “Whosoever makes the supreme choice of sin, by that becomes a slave of sin.” John explains this in 1 John 3:9: “Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin,” using the very same words. No sane man would presume to dispute Christ, and say that any man whose character ...

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