One of the most debated topics by philosophers in history is the meaning and limitations of free will. After analyzing through a number of philosopher’s position, I believe the most plausible explanation of free will would be the following: there are events in life that we could control, but there are always some limitations on how far our free will can take us. In essence, I believe that there is “free will” in this world, but with an asterisk.
This adjusted free will theorem is something that could be seen in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and in Roderick M. Chisholm’s Human Freedom and the Self. Both of these philosophers build upon each other when it comes to the topic of free will. This could be seen with Aquinas, where he would say that our free will comes from powers beyond our control and Chisholm, where he finds that determinism is false with human agents and we have the freedom needed for moral responsibility.
The foundation of free will is something that can be seen with Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, where he talked about where we obtain free will from. Based on Aquinas, “God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel” (Aquinas, 555) Even though I might disagree with Aquinas when he used the word “God” because of my atheist religious views, I would agree with the point of a powerful force creating human and leaving “him in the hand of his own counsel” because of our drive to pursue knowledge.
Additionally, his claim of “man (acting) from judgment” would support the point mentioned because of the “apprehensive power (man) judges that something should be avoided or sought” and this “is not from a natural instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore (man) acts from free judgment and retains the power of being included to various things” (Aquinas, 555-556). Essentially, this means the individual has the ability to control their actions with reason. A real life example of this phenomena would be a situation where student X is taking a multiple choice exam in their class.
Student X has the “free will” to decide which answer to put for each question due to his ability to judge whether an answer is wrong or right because of their “apprehensive power” that “judges something should be avoided or sought”. Therefore, based on this explanation, this creates the basis for the free will debate that shows what are the limitations of free will. To build off of Aquinas’ claim of free will, the ideas of Libertarianism as expressed by Roderick M. Chisholm in Human Freedom and the Self makes the most sense out of the three major ideas of free will, which are Libertarianism, Hard Determinism, and Compatibilism.
The basis of libertarianism is as follows: determinism is proven to be false and human possess the freedom required for moral responsibility. This could be seen with the following excerpt from the respective article: “…at least one of the events that are involved in the that is caused, not by any other events, but by something else instead…and this something else can only be the agent—the man. ” (Chisholm 421) Based on this insight that Chisholm is making, he makes it such that there is responsibility present for human being.
This is based on the two types of causation found in his article, transient and immanent causation. Transient causation is created “when one event or state or affair (or set of events or states or affairs) causes some other event or state or affair”. In contrast, immanent causation is “when an agent, as distinguished from an event, causes an event or state of affairs…” (Chisholm, 421) Combining these findings, Chisholm is trying to say that humans only have moral responsibility in the events that are caused by themselves rather than all events in a chain.
For examining Chisholm’s ideas, we will consider this situation: person A opens the window to let in some “fresh air” and the “fresh air” outside blows some tree leaves into the room that person A is currently in. In this situation, the immanent causation would be the “fresh air” blowing in the tree leaves and the window letting in the “fresh air” because these are all some type of event that causes another event. On the other side, person A opening the window would be the transient causation because the opening of the window occurred because of person A.
In essence, the moral responsibility of creating this series of event would fall onto person A because he was the transient causation and the only human agent in this series of events. Based on these two individuals’ insight on free will, this explanation would make this type of “freedom” plausible. In the libertarianism view, one action would create another action, which would create responsibility, which is the opposite of hard determinism, which claims that all action is somehow predetermined”, as based on the views of Peter Van Inwagen in The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism, where he states that “for every instant of time, there is a proposition that expresses the state of the world at that instant” and “if A and B are any propositions that express the state of the world at some instants, then the conjunction of A with the laws of physics entails B” (Van Inwagen, 186). Based on Van Inwagen’s words, it can be simplified to saying that whatever happens at event A would then make event B to occur, thus causing a cause and effect chain.
To an extent, this claim that Van Inwagen is making is true in a way because of the fact that without event A, there probably will not be event B happening. When comparing these two views of free will, the libertarian point of view would be more favorable because if we go by Van Inwagen, there would really be no point in doing anything in life because everything is already “determined” to begin with. Therefore, if a person wants to live a “good life” rather than a “meaningless and predetermined life”, those individuals should go with any views of free will other than hard determinism.
Even though there are positives in accepting this proposal of free will, there will be disagreement in this theory. For example, in the views of Galen Strawson in The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility, he makes the claim that there is no such thing as responsibility at all to begin with. This could be seen with the following excerpt from this paper: “…nothing can be the cause of itself” and “in order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects”, which therefore ends with with “nothing can be truly morally responsible. (Strawson, 312)
In essence, Strawson is trying to say that in order to explain our decisions, we would have to look at what influenced you to make those decision. But when you look at the influence factor, you would also need to look at what created that influence factor, which makes this a infinite line of influence factors, thus ending with the conclusion of no true responsibility at the end of the day.
This is because of the fact that the roots of where our influence originates from is almost impossible to trace, which is the opposite Chisholm’s idea, where responsibility could be traced to the immanent causation, which is the “root” of where moral responsibility is. This is the problem with Strawson’s theory: no true responsibility. If there is never any moral responsibility, then there is no point in explaining why we do anything because the reasoning would be never ending and meaningless. Looking back the topic of free will, there are a variety of different methods for interpreting the same topic.
In this case, my interpretation of free will would be based on the notion that some higher being giving us the ability to “act free” and the presence of moral responsibility with respect to human agents as based on the perspectives of Aquinas and Chisholm. Additionally, all theories have their adversary and in this case, it would be in Van Inwagen’s Hard Determinism explanation and in Strawson’s theory with the impossibility to trace responsibility at all. At the end of the day, the topic of free will is and will continue to be one of the most heavily debated topic as to how far does freedom takes us.