Free will as involving determination and inconceivable without it

Mind 43 (169):1-27 (1934)
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The thesis of this article is that there has never been any ground for the controversy between the doctrine of free will and determinism, that it is based upon a misapprehension, that the two assertions are entirely consistent, that one of them strictly implies the other, that they have been opposed only because of our natural want of the analytical imagination. In so saying I do not tamper with the meaning of either phrase. That would be unpardonable. I mean free will in the natural and usual sense, in the fullest, the most absolute sense in which for the purposes of the personal and moral life the term is ever employed. I mean it as implying responsibility, merit and demerit, guilt and desert. I mean it as implying, after an act has been performed, that one " could have done otherwise " than one did. I mean it as conveying these things also, not in any subtly modified sense but in exactly the sense in which we conceive them in life and in law and in ethics. These two doctrines have been opposed because we have not realised that free will can be analysed without being destroyed, and that determinism is merely a feature of the analysis of it. And if we are tempted to take refuge in the thought of an "ultimate ", an "innermost" liberty that eludes the analysis, then we have implied a deterministic basis and constitution for this liberty as well. For such a basis and constitution lie in the idea of liberty. The thesis is not, like that of Green or Bradley, that the contending opinions are reconciled if we adopt a certain metaphysic of the ego, as that it is timeless, and identifies itself with a desire by a " timeless act". This is to say that the two are irreconcilable, as they are popularly supposed to be, except by a theory that delivers us from the conflict by taking us out of time. Our view on the contrary is that from the natural and temporal point of view itself there never was any need of a reconciliation but only of a comprehension of the meaning of terms. (The metaphysical nature of the self and its identity through time is a problem for all who confront memory, anticipation, etc.; it has no peculiar difficulties arising from the present problem.) I am not maintaining that determinism is true; only that it is true insofar as we have free will. That we are free in willing is, broadly speaking, a fact of experience. That broad fact is more assured than any philosophical analysis. It is therefore surer than the deterministic analysis of it, entirely adequate as that in the end appears to be. But it is not here affirmed that there are no small exceptions, no slight undetermined swervings, no ingredient of absolute chance. All that is here said is that such absence of determination, if and so far as it exists, is no gain to freedom, but sheer loss of it; no advantage to the moral life, but blank subtraction from it. -- When I speak below of "the indeterminist" I mean the libertarian indeterminist, that is, him who believes in free will and holds that it involves indetermination.

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Citations of this work

Free will.Timothy O'Connor & Christopher Evan Franklin - 2018 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Reflection and Responsibility.Pamela Hieronymi - 2014 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 42 (1):3-41.
Laws of Nature as Constraints.Emily Adlam - 2022 - Foundations of Physics 52 (1):1-41.
How to Think about the Problem of Free Will.Peter van Inwagen - 2008 - The Journal of Ethics 12 (3-4):327 - 341.

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References found in this work

Physics and Philosophy.Arthur S. Eddington - 1933 - Philosophy 8 (29):30 - 43.

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