“The Simplicity Of Will” -- By: L. S. Potwin
BSac 63:252 (Oct 1906) p. 732
“The Simplicity Of Will”
The foregoing fair and pertinent criticism can be answered indirectly by my going over in outline the whole question of Free Will, and its relation to Cause.
What is freedom? We commonly think of it, in a negative way, as the opposite of bondage. We imagine all sorts of fetters and obstacles and coercions, and then sweep them all away, and call it freedom. We even extend the term to lifeless matter. Water is free from impurities; a road is free from obstructions. In this usage, that from which a material thing is free is something that interferes with its best and purest condition. We do not say that a rose is free from fragrance, but destitute of that quality, while it may be free from thorns. When we come to sentient beings, we say that they are free from pain, from fear, etc., and we see in this freedom a contribution to their better selves. Rising to rational and moral beings, we recognize a freedom, from interference with their wishes, aspirations, strivings. We call a man free who can do as he pleases, and as his best self demands. He is “free indeed “in a high practical meaning when the inner fetters of evil are gone.
But all this is not freedom, of will. There is a question underlying this relative and character freedom. Is all volition itself free? And, if so, from what is it free? Certainly not from the man’s self or nature, for it is the outcome of that nature. It seems idle to try to go back of the spontaneous act of self, in our search for the foundation of freedom. Locke found “the liberty of intellectual beings “in the power to suspend decision. The objection to this is too obvious to have escaped general notice; for if the volition to suspend is free, then suspension is not necessary to freedom, and if it is not free it
BSac 63:252 (Oct 1906) p. 733
cannot be the basis of freedom. There is nothing you can do to yourself to give you free will, although there is no limit to what may be done to promote what I have called character freedom. Volition, also, is not free from the opportunities that constitute motive, for without such opportunities it can find no object, and no possibility of action.
Can we also say that volition is not free from the law of cause and effect? Causation is not coercion, and, abstractly considered, is not the opposite of freedom. Further, if the whole realm of voluntary action is to be excluded from causation, what does the law of cause and effect amount to in the interpretation of the universe? The causal links of lifeless matter are of small account compared with the linked activities of myriad minds and countless generations.
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