Locke on the Suspension of Desire

Locke Studies 29:23-38 (1998)
In the first edition of the Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke claims that human beings have freedom of action - that is, that some of their actions are free - but that they do not have freedom of will - that is, that none of their volitions are free. Volitions themselves are actions for Locke; they are operations of the will and hence acts of willing. And volitions give rise to other actions: an action that follows and is caused by a volition is thereby a voluntary action. But volitions are not subject to the will; they cannot be caused by acts of willing and so cannot themselves be voluntary actions. This doctrine, that acts of willing cannot be voluntary, is one of Locke’s reasons for thinking that they are not free. (He also has a reason for holding this doctrine, and a second reason for thinking that acts of willing cannot be free, both of which I’ll be considering later on.) Locke follows not only the scholastics but also Descartes and Hobbes in holding that being voluntary is a prerequisite for being free. But unlike Descartes and Hobbes, though not unlike the scholastics, Locke does not make voluntariness sufficient for freedom. In addition to being voluntary, a free action must be one its agent can avoid - avoid, that is, merely by willing, whether by willing not to do it or by willing to do something else that is incompatible with doing it.
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