On free will

by Voltaire.

Before you say not again, Voltaire argues that all our actions are caused. And when there are two competing activities, the dominant idea will take precedence. He writes

The will, therefore, is not a faculty that one can call free. A free will is an expression absolutely void of sense, and what the scholastics have called will of indifference, that is to say willing without cause, is a chimera unworthy of being combated.

Free will by Voltaire

He concludes by saying we can only do what we will, but we can not will what we will do.

Schopenhauer in his essay on Freewill wrote

A free will would therefore be one that was not determined by grounds; and since everything determining something else must be a ground ± a real ground, i.e., a cause, in the case of real things ± a free will would be one that was determined by nothing at all. The particular manifestations of such a will (acts of will) would therefore proceed absolutely and quite originally from itself,without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule. In the case of such a concept clear thinking is at an end because the principle of sufficient reason in all its meanings is the essential form of our whole faculty of cognition, yet here it is supposed to be given up. However, we are not left without even a terminus technicus for this concept; it is liberum arbitrium indifferentiae. Moreover, this is the only clearly determined, firm, and settled concept of that which is called freedom of the will. Therefore one cannot depart from it without falling into vague and hazy explanations behind which lurks a hesitant insufficiency, as when one speaks of grounds that do not necessarily bring about their consequents. Every consequence of a ground is necessary, and every necessity is a consequence of a ground. From the assumption of such aliberum arbitrium indifferentiae, the immediate consequence that characterizes this concept itself and is therefore to be stated as its mark is that for a human individual endowed with it, under given external circumstances that are determined quite individually and thoroughly,two diametrically opposed actions are equally possible.

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will

May you will what you will in this coming year!

If you have time, I suggest this post. The history of the free will problem

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

31 thoughts on “On free will

  1. ladysighs says:

    NO KIDDING! When I saw the topic Free Will, I said to myself ….. can’t we just move on from this. lol
    Your first sentence confirmed my sentiment.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. john zande says:

    BBC had a BRILLIANT doco on today about free will. Summed it up beautifully. Of course, I go to try and find it and found this, which is by the same reporter, has the same people in it, but it’s NOT the doco that they showed today. I’m guessing this is the first.



  3. Before making statements of any kind one might ask are they based on ones own authenticity or are they just statement to provoke a discussion? If the former applies then it all depends with which school of philosophy one prefers to be associated with! I am always peeved about statements and quotations that are removed from the personal philosophical view.
    The existentialist for example is quite clear that we are dammed to unending freedom by the fact of being indeterminate beings, existing in a perpetual temporal flight away from the past towards the future. Existentialists are of the convictions that human consciousness is essentially temporal, that implies that human consciousness is necessarily free. Simply put, only in the mind absolute freedom of will can be had!


    • makagutu says:

      Following Kant, the will can be said to be the thing in itself and in that sense it is absolutely free. But when we come to the world of experience/ phenomena, we must be guided by the principle of sufficient reason.
      And on to your first point, I think, as others have argued, that to ask ourselves questions and answer them, we clarify our ideas.


  4. If I may correct Schopenhauer and my friend Voltaire, the “free” in “free will” does not refer to some kind of “free floating will”. That’s a bit silly. What it refers to is our ability to freely choose for ourselves what we will do. Free will is literally a freely chosen “I will”.

    We see this in our everyday language: “What WILL I have for lunch today?”, “WILL I have the Chef Salad?”, or “WILL I have the Quarter-Pounder with Cheese?” “I’ve had salads all week, so, I WILL have the cheeseburger today”.

    Having set our intent (will) upon the cheeseburger, that intent then motivates and directs our subsequent actions. We drive to McDonalds and place our order for the cheeseburger. Before handing us our lunch, the McDonald’s guy asks us for the money (holding us responsible for our deliberate act), then we take our lunch and eat it, fulfilling our freely chosen “I WILL have the cheeseburger”.

    This notion of a freely chosen “WILL” is used when assessing moral and legal responsibility. It’s opposite is when our will is not freely chosen by us, but instead imposed upon us by someone or something else. For example, a mugger points a gun at you and demands you hand over your wallet. He forces you to submit your will to his, which is why this is not a freely chosen “I will”, but rather one forced upon you against your will by someone else.

    And that is all that is meant by “free will”. The question of whether you have it or not depends upon whether it is you or someone or something else that is controlling what you choose to do.

    Most people understand and correctly apply this notion. But philosophy has imposed a paradoxical definition in its place which continues to puzzle philosophers to this day. Fortunately, regular people, that is those who have not been infected with the paradox, understand and correctly apply this practical definition.


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