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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Free will” is to be defined in general as international
action uninhibited, or alternatively as the power so to
act. The idea of will adds nothing to the idea of action,
so long as action is taken in its full and personal sense;
for personal action is such insofar as it is voluntary.
To call it voluntary, or the expression of will, is to
negate a negation about it—to exclude the suggestion
that it is something less than a piece of genuine per-
sonal doing. It is a further point of refinement, to take
up will, the voluntariness of voluntary action, and to
distinguish an exercise of it which is free, from one
which is not; a man may act with conscious intention
to do what he does, and yet not seem to merit the
description of being a free agent. The assertion of free
will has no significance, except in relation to some
constraint it is intended to exclude. The force of the
term has varied, and still does vary, with predominant
interest in various types of constraint; and it is this
variation which makes the history of the notion.

The notion of freedom as such plainly derives from
the distinction between the freeman and the slave. So
long as freedom of will is simply equated with freedom
of status, no point of philosophical interest arises; free-
men are men who do what they like, slaves are men
who do what they are told. But reflection will suggest
that in many things slaves do what they choose, and
in some things freemen are liable to constraint, being
subject (for example) to kings. Nor can kings themselves
do whatever they wish; they must obey the gods, or
suffer the consequences. The development of legal
practice leads to systematic thought on the topic. A
man is not to be held accountable for actions which
were not his own. The slave's action under orders is
his master's. But equally on occasion a freeman might
be coerced to act against his will; whose, then, is the
action, and whose the responsibility?

Sophistic Doctrine. An early Greek philosophical
position regarding freedom was the simple denial of
all intrinsic limitations upon the pursuit of voluntary
aims. Moral convention and social structure are mere
conveniences of life, and can be made the instruments
of masterminds who know how to get outside them
and to manipulate them. Such was, or was said to be
(e.g., by Plato, Republic 336b ff.) the doctrine of cer-
tain fifth-century Greek Sophists who claimed to teach
well-placed young men the art of success in public life.
In opposition to this doctrine, Socrates and Plato
shifted attention from external to internal constraint—
from the rub between one's own will and one's neigh-
bor's to the rub between one's reason and one's passion
or appetite. A man's true self was his Reason; to be
free was to rule one's passions; it was no true freedom
to make one's fellowmen the instruments of mindless
appetite, or of exorbitant ambition.

Plato and Aristotle. In the Republic Plato boldly
inverted the historical order. The philosophical notion
of inward sovereignty does not arise through the inte-


riorization of political relations; it is the other way
about: men acknowledge political sovereignty through
first recognizing the intrinsic right of Reason to rule
their souls, and then accepting sovereignty in the
State—“the individual writ large”—as the outward
embodiment of the same Reason (Republic 534d). Po-
litical sovereignty is to be valued as supporting Reason
in the individual, and keeping it on its throne. We are
not enslaved by a genuine exterior sovereignty; we are
liberated by it. Here is the beginning of that famous
philosophical paradox, that a right choice of service
is the only freedom.

The model or parable exploited by Plato is hierarchi-
cal. Suppose a household presided over by a master
capable of finding the path of right reason for himself
and the other members of it, while they have no such
capacity. If he lets himself be run by his inferiors, he
will be enslaved and they (through the resulting chaos)
will be unhappy. If he maintains control he will be
free, and they will be both outwardly well-circum-
stanced and inwardly content, for they can feel the
intrinsic rightness of rational direction, even though
they cannot find it for themselves. Such is the position
of the rational self in relation to the passions or appe-
rites. Reason persuades passion; passion merely over-
bears reason (Republic 548b, 554b-d).

Plato and after him Aristotle introduced several
refinements into the doctrine in their progressive real-
ization of the necessity for reason to train the passions
themselves, and to take them into partnership as fellow
initiators of right intentions. It remained that essential
freedom was the freedom of thoughtfulness to find the
right path; particular and practical choice was to be
seen as general reason finding expression under given
circumstances. A man had no freedom to invent prin-
ciples of good life, for they were laid down in the
nature of things. Free thought would lead to agreement
about the Good, as it would lead to agreement in
mathematics (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1106b).

To be rational, then, is to be free. But does it lie
within a man's power to be rational? Does effort of
will suffice to bring the passions into line? Plato and
Aristotle make no such unequivocal claim. They discuss
the psychology of struggles for self-mastery (Plato,
Republic 439e ff., Phaedrus 246ff.; Aristotle Nicom.
1145-47); they show how ruinously our very
judgment of what is good can be perverted by an
ill-formed character (Nicom. Ethics 1113a). They feel
no concern to enquire whether or not every soul that
is capable of hearing the philosophical gospel is capa-
ble also of winning her interior battle and finding
felicity. Their concern is rather to vindicate the free
power of Reason as such to perform its function of
moralizing human existence. It is a hopeful enterprise,
even if hope lies rather in conditioning the next gener-
ation than in self-culture. Such an attitude was natural,
considering that the whole discussion arose out of a
critique of city-state life. Reason was to prevail by
being socially projected, and embodied in institutions,
above all in schools.

Aristotle lived to see the collapse of city-state au-
tonomy; but the cultural mission of his pupil, the
all-conquering Alexander, was still conceived as the
planting of Greek self-governing cities the world over,
to drill men into rational freedom. Plato made some
concession to the individual's aspiration after the free-
dom to save his soul, by the myth of transmigration.
One's effort in this life might not take one far; but
it might suffice to enable one to make the choice of
such an embodiment or destiny in one's next life, as
to allow of one's going further (Republic 617e).

Later Greek Philosophers. The progressive over-
shadowing of city autonomy by monarchical empire
after Alexander provided a soil for Stoicism, a philoso-
phy which both made the individual the captain of
his soul, and at the same time related his strenuous
self-government to the governing mind of the Universe.
It was still the ideal, to let Reason rule; but Reason
was now seen as embodied in the Universal Order, the
recurrent cycle of world-process. Since the cycle must
fulfill its pattern, and universal Reason (of which the
individual's reason is but a function) must prevail, the
new problem is theoretically posed, of the relation
between the individual's exercise of freedom, and the
operation of a universal, rational necessity. The official
solution lay in the doctrine of Relaxation—though it
is the Universal Reason which functions as our rational
mind, it relaxes its operation in us to what is (initially)
the mere rudiment of actual rationality; and from that
starting-point finds its level in us by and as our personal
or free endeavor. So far from feeling himself oppressed
by the World-Reason, the Stoic embraced it con amore
and, by willing in the line of Cosmic Will, enjoyed
that freedom which is escape from all frustration. (For
the spirit of this ethos, see Marcus Aurelius, passim.)
If one asked whether the sinner or fool could resist
Cosmic Destiny, one was put off with such sayings as
that God leads good will by the hand and drags re-
calcitrance by the hair. In practice a man was offered
the choice of being the victim of fate or the partner
of providence; how men could have such a choice was,
no doubt, theoretically insoluble and must always be
so in a strictly pantheist system.

The contemporary rival to Stoicism, the School of
Epicurus, taught an out-and-out libertarian individ-
ualism (Diogenes Laërtius, X. 133-34). The philosopher
shook from his shoulders both the burden of politics
and the burden of cosmic destiny, and pursued an


amiable, cultured life at his own sweet will, under the
leadership of the laudable and tranquil emotions. It
must surprise the modern reader to observe that Epi-
curus supported his doctrine of freedom by a strict
atomic materialism. Everything, including the human
soul, is a chance constellation of atoms. But he does
not conclude “So we do what the atoms make us do.”
He insists, “Our choices are ours to make.” The ex-
planation of the paradox is that the ancients were not
obliged to view the movements of matter as the realm
of inflexible regularity. Reason it was that imposed
order; be rid of Cosmic Reason, leave matter to itself,
and there might be scope for the self-determination
of a soul which atoms had transiently blown together.

Epicureanism proved to be a deviation which was
not followed up. The settlement of world-empire in
the seemingly everlasting Roman dominion and the
infiltration of oriental attitudes toward divine monar-
chy favored a philosophical development building on
Stoic foundations, but tending towards an elevation of
the Supreme Principle into an absolute transcendence
over the world. Neo-Platonism, as this development
is called, reached maturity in the third century A.D.
Insofar as the system viewed the human soul as an
emanation from the universal being rather than as a
part or function of it, it allowed a more intelligible
basis for the substantial distinctness of the human agent
and so for his freedom to determine his own relation
to the Divine. Emanation proceeded in a cascade of
descending steps, and man embraced within his being
an epitome of nature's sinking scale, from spirit above
to mere matter below. He had in his faculty of desire
a corresponding scale of “loves,” each with affinity for
its own objects. His freedom of choice essentially lay
in the power to identify himself with one love or
another, and supremely with love for the Supreme.

Christendom. It was as a doctrine of free will that
Neo-Platonism was embraced by Saint Augustine at
the turn of the fourth to the fifth century. It afforded
him deliverance from the crude heresy of Christian
Manichaeism. In common with other forms of Gnos-
ticism this sect attributed the genesis of mankind to a
cosmic defeat by which elements of “light” were cap-
tured and enmeshed in “darkness.” The Neo-Platonic
psychology gave arms to Augustine in which to appear
as the champion of God's good creation. By a shift
in the level of his love, man, created in the divine
image, had become the author of his own degradation.
Being free, he had misused the power of choice (Con-
vii 3-21).

So far, Augustine was all for free will. He was soon
to face in another direction. There was nothing arbi-
trary or accidental in his change of front. There were
special emphases in biblical and Christian theism
which tipped the balance of the Neo-Platonic system.
Neo-Platonic deity is not seen as the Judge of men's
souls, fixing their eternal destiny according to their
merit; and so there is no urgency in the enquiry about
the degree of a man's personal responsibility for his
character or attitudes. If men are wise and holy, they
are wise and holy; they can be infuenced towards such
a desirable state, and their own choices or resolves will
help. The absolute question, how much could have
been expected of any one soul, has no practical impor-
tance. It is another thing for the Christian who sees
himself placed before the bar of the Eternal Judge.

But while on the one side biblical theism sharpened
the sense of a free choice of will determining one's
salvation or perdition, on another side it called it in
question. The God of the Bible is conceived as sover-
eign will, the creator of all things by fiat, and the savior
of men by interposition. How then can the creature's
will be anything but the instrument of the Creator's,
and how can the salvation of the elect be the work
of any but God? Neo-Platonism conceived of God not
as sovereign will, but as supreme perfection; less per-
fect beings were the outfall and overspill of his being,
not the creatures of his will. He was their savior only
in the sense that he was their true Good, and that
without the pull of his attraction, no one would aspire
after him. But equally if one did not aspire, the attrac-
tion would have no effect. On these terms it was
scarcely meaningful to ask whether the turning of a
soul to God was its work or his.

Augustine felt able to save man's free will on the
side of the Creatorship of God. The Creator had chosen
to confer on his human creature much such a free will
as Neo-Platonism taught, for had not he created man
in his own image? But on the side of Redemption no
such concession could be made. Redemption was a
rescue of the perishing, a sheer seizure of minds in-
capable of loving God through their own act or choice.
Though created free to love God, man had lost that
freedom by his disobedience or irreligion. Mankind,
apart from the grace of salvation, was sick or corrupt;
it needed to be restored or healed by God, before it
regained freedom to love God. Fallen man might in-
deed exercise free choice in the pursuit of such objec-
tives as he was capable of loving; he could not give
himself the higher love. Restored by grace, he would
choose freely on all levels, except insofar as his un-
redeemed condition still hung about him (De spiritu
et litera, De natura et gratia

Augustine's teaching provoked vigorous reactions
from Christians who feared it would enervate spiritual
effort. It would be wiser, said Pelagius and Julian, to
see in salvation God's provision of indispensable means,
means which it lay in the free choice of man to employ


or to neglect. Augustine rejected that doctrine as in-
adequate to the Christian facts and as conducive to
spiritual pride. We do not reach out our hands and
take salvation; salvation takes us. The controversy
drove him into extremes. God had eternally predes-
tined whom he would elect to salvation and his saving
will was irresistible. None who truly aspired to salva-
tion, indeed, were denied it; but their aspiring was by
God's predestination and grace.

Augustine carried the day against Pelagianism, but
the sharp paradox of human responsibility and divine
predestination was found difficult to live with and was
soon qualified by the Church. The Scholastics of the
high Middle Ages elaborated a subtle account of the
cooperation of free will with grace (e.g., Aquinas,
Summa Theologica, prima secundae Quaest. cix-cxiv).
But the balance of interest for them was somewhat
shifted by their adoption of a Neo-Aristotelianism
drawn from Muhammadan sources. The system derived
from Islam an overwhelming concern with the absolute
sovereignty of the Creator's will over all created things
and events. The human agent, like every other crea-
ture, was a secondary cause instrumental to the sole
primary cause, God. The Christian philosophers
labored to find a place for free will under the all-
determining and all-foreseeing mind of God (ibid., pars
prima, qu. xiv art. 13, qu. xxii art. 4). Within the
created system, says Thomas Aquinas, there are chances
genuinely open to the choice exercised by human free
will; human decision is as real a cause as any other
finite cause. But that does not stand in the way of our
acknowledging the whole system, including the human
volitions it contains, as the effect of divine ordination.
It is a superstition to suppose that a divinely ordained
effect must operate by a process of mechanical deter-
mination rather than by one of free choice. It would
be misleading, then, to say that I was bound to do what
I freely decided, since there is no binding in the case.
It remains that I was going to do what I did. It must
surely be objected that if this is a harmless tautology,
it does not give reality to God's prior causality; while
if it is so understood as to do this, it reduces free choice
to a subjective illusion. Freely as we may act, we shall
be toeing a predetermined line.

The Protestant Reformation rejected the subtleties
of Scholastic Aristotelianism together with its meta-
physical preoccupations. The interest of Luther and
Calvin reverted to Augustine's position on salvation,
which they reasserted in all its uncompromisingness.
Indeed, the paradox is sharpened, insofar as Augustine
is now seen as a commentator on Saint Paul simply,
and his Neo-Platonic overtones are lost. The sover-
eignty of the divine will is conceived as decisive power
rather than as self-fulfilling Good and the collision of
omnipotent grace with creaturely free will is un-
cushioned. Salvation is an unmerited gift towards
which the fallen will can do nothing. Luther wrote
a treatise Of the Will Enslaved (De servo arbitrio,
1525); Calvin carried the speculation of predestination
to unexampled extremes (Instituta, iii 21-23; definitive
ed., 1559). Reaction was not slow to follow; on the
part of the Catholic Church it was immediate (Council
of Trent, 1545-63). Within the Calvinist confession
Arminius led the revolt. Strict Calvinism has since been
reasserted by one reform after another, but on balance
has lost ground.

Modern Physicalism. Meanwhile a totally different
issue has come to the fore and defined the freewill
question as it is now commonly understood. This is the
issue raised by the development of scientific materi-
alism. If the activity of the human person is geared
to the movements of a physical body, and if that body
is a system operating by rules of perfect and as it were
mechanical uniformity, how can the apparent freedom
of choice be real? Atomistic materialism had been a
school of Greek speculation but, as we have seen in
the case of Epicurus, carried no necessarily deter-
ministic implications. The parentage of scientific
determinism is rather to be found in astronomical
studies. It was an ancient and a medieval commonplace
that the movements of the heavenly bodies were math-
ematically exact and ideally predictable. Supposing the
“influences” of the stars upon the causality of earthly
events to be determinative, human actions will be
subject to fate. It was easy to refute the argument by
pointing out that the effect of astral influence was
highly general; different earthly agents reacted to it
variously, and men as they might choose (Aquinas,
Summa Theologica, prima, qu. cxv). But now the hy-
pothesis of the mathematical physicists was that earthly
bodies were composed of constellated atoms or of
vortices, of which the motions and mutual influences
were as mathematically exact and as predictable as
those of the stars. Physical fate seemed to have de-
scended from the skies, and so closed in upon us as
to leave no escape.

No conclusion could have been more unwelcome or
more out of tune with the times. The new science was
the expression of humanist self-assertion, of the resolve
of strong minds to make all events, however unpromis-
ing, subject to human calculation or control. The
method of physical enquiry was the voluntary inven-
tion of experimental tests and the forcing of them upon
Nature; besides, as Descartes pointed out in his Medi-
(i, iv, vi), it was only by a constant act of will
that one could hold the mathematico-physical hypoth-
esis itself in face of the contrary suasions of one's five
senses. What could be more preposterous, therefore,


than to make the will to intellectual world conquest
the prisoner or even the creature of the mechanism
it postulated? Descartes deserves the highest credit for
the firmness with which he held to both sides of the
duality of free mind or will and of determinate matter;
and for the honesty with which he admitted his in-
ability to construe the operative unity of the mind-
body person. There were thinkers who took the des-
perate course of denying free will, e.g., Hobbes or
Spinoza; they were violently disliked by their contem-

The Cartesian position treated thought as the activ-
ity of a spiritual subject and found the immediate effect
of will in the formation of mental decisions. How the
clockwork body came to register or execute such deci-
sions was beyond comprehension; all one could study
on that side was the mechanism through which it did
so. For practical purposes such a division of the ground
was not inconvenient, and people could laugh at the
rage for consistency which led George Berkeley to rid
himself of dualism by reducing material objects to
“ideas,” thus making will or spirit the sole substance,
agent, or cause, subject only to the higher will of God.

It was a more serious matter when the proved fruit-
fulness of experimental physics began to suggest that
its methods and basic conceptions were the models for
all factual science, including psychology. It was then
not merely a matter of squaring a freely-choosing mind
with its mechanistically-conceived embodiment; it was
a matter of squaring an experienced exercise of free-
dom in the mind with a causal explanation of mental
experience in terms of invariant regularities. It was
David Hume who first rubbed the sore of this problem
in his Treatise of Human Nature (1739). His subtle
thought continues to exercise its spell on English-
speaking philosophers, and it is still widely held in
academic circles that an empiricist logic distilled from
the study of physical phenomena is binding upon all
thought about matters of fact; and that its applicability
to thinking and to behavior makes determinism in some
sense inescapable.

Solutions were bound to be attempted. Immanuel
Kant, in his two first Critiques, conceded to Newton
and to Hume that we are forced to think deterministi-
cally about both physical and mental processes, when
making them an object of study; but Kant also main-
tained that our need so to think is an inescapable
limitation of the human mind. Reality is not such, as
is shown by the fact that we know ourselves called
to exercise free and responsible choices in favor of the
moral law. How our power so to do fits in with the
actual order of nature lies (Kant thought) beyond our
comprehension; what we can understand is that the
very form of our cognitive processes prevents their
attaining the knowledge of things as they are in them-
selves. Kant's solution is a rational and systematic
agnosticism. His German successors attempted more
positive answers by advancing bold metaphysical
speculations concerning the subjective and the objec-
tive poles of existence (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel,

Modern defenders of free will insist on the abstract
or diagrammatic character of our scientific knowledge
but do not need to go all the way with Kant's scientific
agnosticism. For the progress of the natural sciences
themselves has eased their task. The scientist's model
of physical reality is no longer the simple man-made
machine. Nature is seen as a complex of forces, which
by knotting themselves in combinations of increasing
elaborateness develop astonishing new properties of
joint action; and so a physical basis for free conscious-
ness becomes less starkly inconceivable.

The Human Sciences. The decreased urgency of the
problem on the physical side in the present century
has been balanced by increased pressure from histori-
cal, social, and psychological science. However little
capable these sciences may be of attaining the mathe-
matical rigor pursued in physical enquiry, they disclose
a deep and complex conditioning of the individual by
background, environment, and subconscious makeup,
such as threatens to reduce the exercise of genuine
choice to trivial proportions. Several thinkers have
been impressed by the predominant effect of one factor
or another: Marx by the pressure of economic needs
and of the current system for coping with them; Freud
by the twists of emotional attitude formed in us during
one helpless immaturity; Jung by the individual's in-
heritance of ancestral archetypes of personal relation
or function.

Self-creation. In the face of such considerations men
have looked in opposite directions for a vindication
of significant free decision. A new and historicized
version of the Stoic creed calls on us to identify our-
selves with the march of historical process from which
we should vainly hope to cut ourselves off; so let us
lead it on. Such, broadly, was the attitude of Hegel;
such is the attitude of Marxists today, and, in effect,
of those Western optimists who are content to back
the momentum of scientific and technological advance.
By contrast, several schools of existentialism have put
forward a parody of Augustinianism—our acknowl-
edged conditionedness by factors of all kinds is a state
of subhumanity from which we must be raised into
authentic existence by deciding for ourselves what we
will be and do. Kierkegaard and the religious existen-
tialists see the challenge to self-creation as the chal-
lenge to determine your existence in the face of God;
Sartre and the atheists see it as the challenge to be


God to yourself—there being no other God for you.

The call to embrace historical destiny and the call
to exercise self-creation, however seemingly opposed,
equally exemplify a distinctively modern belief in the
openness of the future. The ancients saw free will as
freedom to fulfill the determinate requirements of
human nature, human nature being a fixed quantity.
Insofar as thought later turned in a theistic direction,
human nature became a God-given form, articulated
in divine commands, and oriented towards God, the
immutable living perfection. Even Kant, with his pas-
sion for moral autonomy, was still viewing free will
as power to impose upon one's conduct a law written
into the very structure of one's mind. The two suc-
ceeding centuries have dissolved the fixity of the human
aim. Romanticism popularized the conception of the
artist as a creator of the unique and allowed the indi-
vidual life or even the common life of an epoch to
be seen as an unique invention. Historicism showed
the degree to which what passed for human nature
had been a cultural product changing with the times.
Evolutionism suggested the mutability in principle of
the human species, and technology has seemed to put
into our hands the means of transforming our existence
beyond recognition. In consequence, freedom of will
is seen as no longer limited in scope to the fulfillment
of human nature, but as the power and the respon-
sibility, whether corporate or individual, to determine
in some measure the very nature we are to express.

Linguistic Philosophy. The linguisticism now pre-
dominant in American and British academic philosophy
offers no contribution, perhaps, to the development of
the free will idea; but it offers a fresh approach to
the free will-determinism issue, seeing it as a question
of adjusting to one another two modes of speech,
through a careful study of the natural uses proper to
each. We use the language of sheer personal action—
with or without implications of alternative choice—
and we use the language of event, process, etc. Actions
we talk of as what we simply or freely do; events we
talk of as happening. To actions we assign intentions,
to events we assign causes. Of an event we ask, “What
led to it?” Of a man's action, “What is he up to?”
The problem of free will (excluding its theological
aspects) will be the problem of relating these two
ranges of speech to one another.

One point must first be made clear. Language which
describes or mentions choiceful action is secondary to
language in which we do our choiceful thinking or
make our choice itself, as when you say to someone
placing alternatives before you “I opt for” A or B
(J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, Oxford,
1962). Having made this point, we may proceed to
show that the correlation of event-style and personal
action-style speech, so far from being an oddity, is
common form. In the case of your talking choice, or
spoken option, you choose in view of an opinion of
facts or events, which, if you do not explicitly state
it, you still take for granted. Indeed, your making of
your choice is a virtual affirmation of the facts in view
of which you make it. Voluntary decision to act upon
(supposed) facts will often be taken as a more serious
assertion of those facts than a direct statement of them.
If you did make the mere statement, it would be in
event-style form.

Or take the case in which you are simply describing
events or their interrelations. It remains true that you
do the describing, and you go about it as you choose,
talking backwards, forwards, or across the event-
process you describe, picking one word and rejecting
another. And if I wish to understand your speech, I
do not look for the causes of the vocal inflections, I
look to your expressive intention. Whereas, to under-
stand what you are talking about, I attend to the causal
sequences you are describing. In fact, I am bound to
do both. To understand you as speaking I must under-
stand the facts you state and to understand the facts
you state I must understand you as speaking; so in-
separably are the two modes or logics connected.

But if the matter is as straightforward as this, how
can we ever come to think of denying either mode
of speech its rights? Why should anyone dream of
reducing voluntary-action statements to the happen-
ing-by-cause category? The answer is this. So long as
we are talking our way into or through choiceful acts
we can use no category but the category proper to
such talk—I cannot talk to myself the choice I am
making, as being an event which occurs. But often we
speak of choiceful actions from outside, as having been
done or as likely to be done, and then it is possible
for us to switch categories, and to talk of them as
events—or, more accurately put, to talk, instead, about
the events in which they take effect. And events as
such are subject, we assume, to the category of causal-
ity—to exposition in terms of uniform sequence—and
are in principle predictable from a knowledge of their
antecedents. If, then, the event in which a choiceful
act takes form is predictable, and causally determinate,
how can that act itself be free? Such appears to be
the puzzle.

The determinist case is that the causal regularity of
choice-produced events should be accepted. There are
two stories—one descriptive from “within” of the way
in which the choice is made, another descriptive from
“outside” of the event's position in the event-sequence.
Each story is veridical in its own sphere, and there
is no difficulty in letting them run parallel.

The freewill rejoinder is that a solution in that sense


rests on a falsification. Two stories covering the same
ground and expressed in different logical idioms may
rightly be tolerated when they are both objectively
descriptive stories. I may tell a story of past voluntary
activity in cold detachment, and feel no great mental
discomfort in doubling it with a causal account of the
same behavior. But that is because in imagination I
degrade a personal story to the level of a story about
a process which unrolled as it did unroll. And that is
to depersonalize the story. It is only personal insofar
as I identify myself in some measure with the charac-
ters or agents in it and express them as personally
active from “within.” And then the acquiescence in
a parallel cause-and-effect story becomes impossible.

All the rejoinder achieves is to set aside the deter-
minist's soothing compromise. Three possible positions
remain. We may say (1) So much the worse for the
ultimate validity of the free-action language—a deter-
minist conclusion; (2) So much the worse for that of
the caused-event language—a libertarian conclusion;
(3) So much the worse for both, our language in either
case having a purely pragmatic value, in serving our
purposes—an agnostic conclusion.

The determinist will speak slightingly of the “sub-
jective character” of personal experience and its ex-
pressions, the libertarian of the “abstract and diagram-
matic character” of causality-constructions; while the
agnostic will cite the agelong inconclusiveness of the
debate between the two other parties, and the inade-
quacy of language as such to the nature of things.

The defender of free will ruins his case if he over-
plays his hand. He must not deny the validity of
causal-regularity interpretations so far as they go; but
he will maintain that we have no reason to suppose,
and much reason to disbelieve, that the grid of natural
uniformity fits so tightly upon living processes as to
deny scope to free personal action. On the other side
of his case, he must avoid exaggerating human liberty.
The individual is constantly subject to pressures, visible
and invisible, which he often has no motive and some-
times no ability to resist; and the free options he does
exercise are mostly within a range of choice narrowly
circumscribed by conditions outside his control. So
human conduct may often be broadly predictable. On
the other hand, the libertarian is not going to admit
that all the predictability in a man's conduct is de-
pendent upon the operation of determining causes
which restrict his freedom of choice. For in taking a
decision, a man will follow his usual policy in such
matters unless he now sees reason to revise it. If we,
his friends, have formulated his policy to ourselves, we
may think of the policy-rule, taken in conjunction with
the circumstances invoking its application, as causing
his action. But voluntary consistency is not subjection
to any determining causality. His policy only guides
the man because he goes on choosing to maintain it.
It is a hard case, if voluntary freedom is only to be
evinced by wild and continuous caprice.

Most difficult of solution along linguistic lines is the
theological problem of free will in face of a sovereign
divine will, insofar as religious conviction puts forward
statements about divine initiative in the origination of
human free acts which are in formal conflict with
statements about the human agent's own initiative.
Appeal may be made to the believer's practical under-
standing of what it is to exercise his will in prolongation
(as it were) of God's. But no formal solution can be
attempted without a prior examination of the special
sense and status of statements about the Divine Subject
(traditionally known as the topic of Analogy).


As will have been seen from the body of the article, the
history of the freewill idea is the history of philosophy from
a certain angle, and correspondingly difficult to supply with
a limited bibliography. Harold Ofstad, An Inquiry into the
Freedom of the Will
(London, 1961) contains a very full
bibliography as well as a thorough discussion of the subject
from a semi-determinist standpoint. An out-and-out liber-
tarian is Corliss Lamont, Freedom of Choice Affirmed (New
York, 1967). He offers a good historical survey. Austin
Farrer's Freedom of the Will (New York, 1960) works largely
from linguistic ground.

To turn to historical positions, in addition to references
in the article we may cite the following. For a classic
defence of the Calvinist position: Jonathan Edwards, Careful
and Strict Enquiry
... (1754). For German Idealism, Arthur
Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea (DieWelt als
Wille und Vorstellung
), trans. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp,
3 vols. (London, 1883). For American Pragmatism, William
James, “The Dilemma of Determinism” (1884), in The Will
to Believe
... (New York, 1897). For Vitalistic Philosophy,
Henri Bergson, Essai sur les données immédiates de la
(Paris, 1889). For Existentialism, J-P. Sartre,
L'Etre et le néant (Paris, 1943), trans. H. Barnes as Being
and Nothingness
(New York, 1956).


[See also Agnosticism; Causation; Dualism; Epicureanism
and Free Will; Existentialism; Free Will and Determinism;
Freedom, Legal Concept of; God; Love; Nature; Necessity;
Sin and Salvation; State; Stoicism.]