Locke on the freedom of the will
Locke was a libertarian: he believed in human freedom. To be sure, his conception of freedom was different from that of many philosophers who call themselves libertarians. Some such philosophers maintain that an agent is free only if her action is uncaused; whereas Locke thought that all actions have causes, including the free ones. Some libertarians hold that no action is free unless it proceeds from a volition that is itself free; whereas Locke argued that free volition, as opposed to free action, is an impossibility. On the other hand, Locke agrees with the typical professed libertarian that free actions depend on volitions - or, as he often puts it, that an agent is free only with respect to the actions she wills, to those that are voluntary. And he also refuses to make voluntariness sufficient for freedom, whereby a free action is merely one that is willed. The free agent, Locke insists, must also be able or have been able to do something other than she does or did. Thus both Locke and the libertarian professor require indifference as well as spontaneity for freedom. But Locke’s freedom is not contra-causal; and he denies that it extends to volition. In this paper I want to focus on just this last component of Locke’s view of freedom: that freedom in willing, far from being required for free agency, is not even possible. I call this ‘the thesis of volitional determinism’. Locke presents an argument for this thesis in the Essay, but scholars have never paid much attention to it: I want to examine it.