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Is it “Reasonable” to Deny Free Will to Satisfy

the Logical Requirements of a Metaphysical System?

Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective positions of the beings which compose it, if moreover this intelligence were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in the same formula both the movements of the largest bodies in the universe and those of the lightest atom; to it nothing would be uncertain, and the future as the past would be present to its eyes.

Pierre Simon Laplace

A deterministic world is one in which the future is already contained in the present (just as the present was contained in the past) and nothing genuinely new ever happens. The ‘unfolding’ of the future is nothing more than the outworking of pure logic through the laws of dynamics.

We do not think we were necessarily not free in the past, merely because we can now remember our past volitions. Similarly, we might be free in the future, even if we could now see what our future volitions were going to be. Freedom, in short, in any valuable sense, demands only that our volitions shall be, as they are, the result of our own desires, not of an outside force compelling us to will what we would rather not will. Everything else is confusion of thought, due to the feeling that knowledge compels the happening of what it knows when this is future, though it is at once obvious that knowledge has no such power in regard to the past. Free will, therefore, is true in the only form which is important; and the desire for other forms is a mere effect of insufficient analysis.

Bertrand Russell

What the Naturalist believes is that the ultimate Fact, the thing you can’t go behind, is a vast process in space and time which is going on of its own accord. Inside that total system every particular event (such as your sitting reading these words) happens because some other event has happened; in the long run, because the Total Event is happening. Each particular thing (such as this page) is what it is because other things are what they are; and so, eventually, because the whole system is what it is. All the things and events are so completely interlocked that no one of them can claim the slightest independence from “the whole show.” None of them exists “on its own” or “goes on of its own accord” except in the sense that it exhibits, at some particular place and time, that general “existence on its own” or “behaviour of its own accord” which belongs to “Nature” (the great total interlocked event) as a whole. Thus no thoroughgoing Naturalist believes in free will: for free will would mean that human beings have the power of independent action, the power of doing something more or other than what was involved by the total series of events. And any such separate power of originating events is what the Naturalist denies. Spontaneity, originality, action “on its own,” is a privilege reserved for “the whole show,” which he calls Nature.

C. S. Lewis (from Miracles)

Foreknowledge is not the same as predeterminism (in the sense of determinism). If it is possible for a being, let us say a God, to know what is going to happen in the future there is no more of a problem about his knowing that at some particular time in the future I am going to decide, entirely of my own free will, to do a particular thing than there is about his knowing any other kind of future event. Future free decisions, future free choices, are neither more nor less future than other future events: if there can be knowledge of future events at all then no special problem is raised about knowledge of future choices.

Bryan Magee (from Confessions of a Philosopher, 1997)

If we accept the dubious premise that an omnipotent, omniscient God exists, then free will is merely an illusion.

(from website JR’S Free Thought Pages)

The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end.

G. K. Chesterton

Women get more unhappy the more they try to liberate themselves.

Brigitte Bardot




Thoughts about Freedom, Free will & Determinism

A liberal may be roughly defined as someone who, if he could stop all the deceivers from deceiving and all the oppressors from oppressing merely by snapping his fingers, wouldn’t snap his fingers.

All that makes existence valuable to anyone depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people.

John Stuart Mill

Freedom is a good horse, but you must ride it somewhere.

Matthew Arnold

The emancipation of the self requires commitment.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Freedom is not simply doing what you want. Freedom is wanting to do what you have to do. And this kind of freedom is always rooted in practised habit.

The mode in which the inevitable comes to pass is through effort.

Oliver Wendel Holmes

Half of knowing what you want is knowing what you will have to give up in order to get it.

Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.

G. K. Chesterton

Institutions make freedom possible in the same way that a routine does. Destroy them and some form of totalitarian autocracy becomes inevitable.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Mental and emotional liberty are not so simple as they appear. They require almost as careful a balance of laws and conditions as do social and political liberty.

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.

George Bernard Shaw

We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.

John Henry Newman

Once and for all, we are not born free; and we never can be free. When all the human tyrants are slain or deposed there will still be the supreme tyrant than can never be slain or deposed, and that tyrant is Nature.

George Bernard Shaw

Civilization in the best sense merely means the full authority of the human spirit over all externals. Barbarism means the worship of those externals in their crude and unconquered state.

G. K. Chesterton

Necessity is the argument of tyrants and the creed of slaves.

William Pitt

All science, all art, even human reason itself must serve the will of nature. And nature is fundamentally aristocratic.

Adolf Hitler

Our system of social arrangements must always be such that we do call people to account. Even if it’s unfair in the sense that they’re not free agents, we have to treat them as if they are free agents. Otherwise society would degenerate into chaos.

Richard Lewontin

Most Monist moralists simply said that Man has no choice; but he must think and act heroically as if he had. Huxley made morality, and even Victorian morality, in the exact sense, supernatural. He said it had arbitrary rights above nature; a sort of theology without theism.

G. K. Chesterton

The human will is free, otherwise there would be no room for agonized feelings of struggle and responsibility, since the physical instincts wouldn’t meet with any resistance.

B. F. Skinner is regarded as the grandfather of behaviourial psychology. He theorized that all human behaviour is a series of responses to external, or environmental stimuli and that the soul, free will and the inner man do not exist. The only way to change human behaviour is to change and control the environment.

There is no such thing as a condition of complete freedom, unless we can speak of a condition of nonentity. What we call freedom is always and of necessity simply the free choice of the soul between one set of limitations and another.

G. K. Chesterton

Any conception of reality which a sane mind can admit must favour some of its wishes and frustrate others.

C. S. Lewis

To be free is to know who we are.

Jean Vanier

We act as we do because we are what we are: and what we are is the result very largely of the use we have made of our freedom to act as we will.

We cannot do good, or even evil, unless we do it freely.

Hilaire Belloc

We have to believe in free will. We’ve got no choice.

Isaac Bashevis Singer

You can’t exercise your freedom to deny your freedom. If free thought is possible then free will is a fact.

We live on the borders of multiple determinisms, and it’s that which gives us the sensation of freedom when we’re acting. Those determinisms are shaping the way in which we act and respond at any given moment. But they are not free will in the Cartesian sense.

Stephen Rose

You can’t say that you’re advancing freedom when you use free thought to destroy free will. The determinists come to bind, not to loose.

G. K. Chesterton

We think our way along by choosing between right and wrong alternatives, and the wrong choices have to be made as frequently as the right ones.

The man who has never made a mistake will never make anything.

George Bernard Shaw

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.

Eric Hoffer

Look at America. That must be the greatest and noblest experiment in collective freedom known to man, and yet when such advantages are officially and traditionally encouraged, individuals seem to acquire cold feet, and to spend their time imitating a collective image of averageness, and their one ambition seems to be to disappear inconspicuously into a human mass as typical and as free as themselves.

Peter Ustinov

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