William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Has Free Will

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Here we go, sisters and brothers. The crux. Free will, in God and in us.

Chapter 86 That a reason of the divine will can be assigned. (alternate translation)

[2] …For the end is the reason of willing the means. Now God wills His goodness as an end, and He wills all else as means to that end. Therefore His goodness is the reason why He wills other things which are different from Him…

[4] Again. As we have shown above, supposing God to will a certain thing, it follows of necessity that He wills whatever is required for that thing. Now that which imposes necessity on something else, is the reason why this other thing is. Therefore the reason why God wills that which is requisite for a thing, is that the thing for which it is requisite may be [may exist]…

Chapter 87 That nothing can be the cause of the Divine will. (alternate translation)

[1] Now although it is possible to assign some reason of the divine will, it does not follow that anything is the cause of that will.

[2] For the end is to the will the cause of willing. Now the end of God’s will is His goodness. Therefore this is the cause of God’s willing, and is the selfsame as the act of His will…

[4] Nevertheless it is clear that there is no need to allow of any discursion in the divine will. Because where there is one act, we cannot find discursion, as we have proved above with regard to the intellect. Now God by one act wills His goodness and all else, since His action is His essence.

[5] By what we have said we refute the error of some who say that all things proceed from God according to His simple will, so that no reason is to be given for anything except that God wills it.

Chapter 88 That in God there is free will. (alternate translation)

[1] IT is possible to conclude from the foregoing that free-will is to be found in God.

[2] For free-will is applied to those things that one wills not of necessity but of one’s own accord: wherefore in us there is free-will in regard to our wishing to run or walk. Now God wills not of necessity things other than Himself, as we have shown above. Therefore it is fitting that God should have free-will.

[3] Again. The divine will, in those things to which it is not determined by its nature, is inclined in a way by the intellect, as we have shown above. Now man to the exclusion of other animals is said to have free-will, because he is inclined to will by the judgment of his reason, and not by natural impulse as brute animals are. Therefore there is free-will in God.

[4] Again. According to the Philosopher [Aristotle] (3 Ethic.) will is of the end, but choice is of the means to the end. Wherefore since God wills Himself as end, and other things as means to the end, it follows that in regard to Himself He has will only, but in respect of other things choice. Now choice is always an act of free-will. Therefore free-will is befitting God.

[5] Further. Through having free-will man is said to be master of his own actions. Now this is most befitting the first agent, whose action depends on no other. Therefore God has free-will…

Notes Two common mistakes in discussing human free will, since I think most will accept what Thomas has here, at least arguendo, that God has free will. First, free will does not apply to every action of the workings of our body—and thank God for that. How hectic would it be to squirt enzymes into your stomach of just the right amount for every bite you take! And don’t get me started on intestinal fortitude. But anything which is a decision necessarily involves free will. This includes deciding to answer this argument with some (self-defeating) rebuttal. Second, that free will is an “illusion.” This is empty. Only a person with free will can have an illusion. We know there are illusions because we have free will. See also last week’s comments about contingency in the face of an Omnipotent God’s will.

The problem of “determinism” isn’t solved by running to science. I think somebody last week asked for an example of science’s shortcomings with regard to God. This is the prime example.

We’re fast coming to the crucial discussion: if God is good, and has free will, why is there evil? Stick around!

22 Comments

  1. If one ALWAYS takes the optimal choice then the choice is forced. In what way was it freely made?

  2. Dav there is free will but not free choice.

  3. Sander van der Wal

    October 18, 2015 at 11:42 am

    @DAV

    One can choose sub-optimally, out of free will, and secondly, when there are lots of choices the best one doesn’t have to be obvious. So you have to choose something before it becomes obvious what is best.

    Actually, I am waiting for the God-is-all-powerfull argument. Much more interesting than that Evilness business.

  4. Sander,

    You mean deliberately choose a suboptimal selection when a better one is known? Why would anyone do this? If however you mean objectively suboptimal that’s irrelevant. An optimum choice is what the chooser believes is optimal at the time of choosing. Nothing else matters.

  5. Dav there is free will but not free choice.

    Sounds like a contradiction. What does free will mean then?

    Freedom of desire? I don’t think so. You need what you need and you can’t change that anymore than you can see a red square instead of an obviously blue one.

    Freedom to choose which set of desires to satisfy at the present time? But you just said there’s no freedom of choice.

    Freedom to believe what is true? Not possible. You either believe or don’t. You may say you choose to believe the sun didn’t rise this morning but deep down you know that isn’t what you believe.

    No, I think choices are made (including the choice to satisfy a need) based on all that one believes relevant at the time and the option believed optimal wins every time. That we think we could have done something else is an illusion..

  6. Sander van der Wal

    October 18, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    @DAV

    optimal means that there is a Utility function which adds an ordering to a list of choices, and that there is a best choice, or a couple of best choices.

    But what about the Utility function. How do you know you have the right one? Or how do you know which function the Freely Willing person has?

  7. Sander,

    Well, yes. But is it really relevant if I know or don’t know what it is?

    Or how do you know which function the Freely Willing person has?

    Doesn’t that presume there are Free Willing persons? How do you know they exist? It would seem that always making the believed best choice, however determined, implies there really aren’t such persons. Unless you are using ‘free” to mean by no known outside influence. But there are outside influences. Ever try to convince someone of a course of action? Isn’t that external influence? Sure, you can change their beliefs but the belief itself isn’t a choice.

  8. Sander van der Wal

    October 18, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    @DAV

    If you cannot tell the difference between a person with free will and a person with an unknown utility function, then you have free will in a deterministic universe.

  9. I tried posting a response twice but the blog just resets. Maybe it’sin the spam bin? If so, why?

  10. This may be a duplicate. Third try.

    If you cannot tell the difference between a person with free will and a person with an unknown utility function, then you have free will in a deterministic universe.

    Using that definition, “Free will” effectively then means “no idea how” or “random”. So, if I don’t know how my computer works, it must have free will. In fact, so does my dog and even cockroaches. In the quantum arena, free will is apparently rampant. Does the universe have “free will”?

    Sorry, but I don’t see why I need to know the specifics. People toss around all sorts of things here without knowing the specifics, like soul, whatever that really means. Oh, yeah, something like life force, that’s it. You seem to be asking for a detailed description of functionality and without it what I’ve said couldn’t possibly be.

  11. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 18, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    If one ALWAYS takes the optimal choice then the choice is forced. In what way was it freely made?

    What is the optimal choice? If this is not known completely, the will may choose between competing options.

    Let us not confuse the appetite for the good in general with determination of the will in particular choices.

    The will is the “intellective appetite”; that is, a “hunger” for the products of the intellect. As such, it is analogous to the emotions (or “sensitive appetites.”) The distinction you are sensing is the distinction between being hungry and enjoying a good steak.

  12. What is the optimal choice? If this is not known completely, the will may choose between competing options.

    It’s the best one obviously. If what you are saying is that something breaks ties. OK .

    The will is the “intellective appetite”; that is, a “hunger” for the products of the intellect.

    Whatever that means. Do they have to come from an intellect? Why? Is “hunger”, for example, a product of the intellect? Frankly, I don’t think all of the verbiage is necessary,. Why can’t it just be a list of needs/wants and stop worrying about how they arose?

  13. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 18, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    It’s the best one obviously.

    But the best one is not always obvious. The Modern (Cartesian) assumption is that self-knowledge is more or less easy; but this is not the case. Determinism is actually embedded in this formulation, since it assumes that there is one measure of Good, that we can know all the options and rank them by this measure, and that these things are ranked is strict lattice-like order. All of this smacks of computationalism.

    Suppose one decides that world peace is a good to be pursued (as opposed, say, to constant warfare to provide opportunities for brave deeds and acts of valor). But of what does this peace consist? Domination and conquest by one state? (This satisfied the Roman good, though perhaps not that of the Gauls.) Some sort of “league of nations”? Given the specific form of world peace, what are to be the steps taken to pursue it?

    Liberum arbitrium (the phrase translated as “free will”) is not entirely about the will. It includes at least two parts, identified in scholastic terminology “free decision” and “free choice.” I think (though I’m not sure) that this maps onto deciding on an end and choosing a means to that end.

    There are two kinds of necessity: “necessity of coercion” and “necessity of natural inclination.” The end of the will is an inclination to Good in general. This is the natural movement of the will. This does not introduce any “necessity of coercion” because the good in general is precisely that — general — and all actual choices are particular.

    Compare: In the same manner, the natural movement of the intellect is toward truth, but not everything we (think we) know is true.

    An inclination toward the good does not determine us to any particular good. It just makes it possible to choose any particular good. That is, the natural inclination to the good is the necessary precondition for any choice whatsoever.
    ++++
    The will is the “intellective appetite”; that is, a “hunger” for the products of the intellect.
    Whatever that means.

    The products of the intellect are called “conceptions” just as the products of the inner senses are called “perceptions.” The organism experiences a movement toward or away from these things, sometimes called “desire” and “revulsion.” For percepts, which are always sensory, these are called “sensory appetites” or “emotions,” since they are prior to motion. For concepts, the term is “intellective appetite” or “will.”
    http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0010.GIF

    Do they have to come from an intellect?</i?
    Yes.
    Why?
    Because concepts are intellective products.

    Is “hunger”, for example, a product of the intellect?
    No.

    Why can’t it just be a list of needs/wants and stop worrying about how they arose?

    Because the distinctions are important. If a man pushes an old lady in front of a bus and a Boy Scout pushes her out of the way, you miss an important distinction if you lump them together as “pushing old ladies around.”

  14. The Laws of Motion tell us there is no such a thing as Free Will. There is some cause for all things willed. Free Will is just the illusion of liberty of thought.

    It’s a lousy theological device, and even lousier in the social and legal spheres. Free Will was coined as a convenient Christian apologetic, and became a convenient way of meting out social order, an easy way to avoid difficult issues, or to excuse tyranny.

    JMJ

  15. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 18, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    The Laws of Motion tell us there is no such a thing as Free Will.

    You did not choose to post that comment. It was simply the effect of various causes blowing though your atoms, of no more meaningful significance than the whisper of the leaves when the the winds blow through them.

  16. But the best one is not always obvious.

    I maintain that it is to the chooser. You seem to want to argue about how the options would compare using some objective standard. It doesn’t matter at all what YOU think the the bets option is. It’s what the person making the choice thinks it is.

    The only time there would be a quandary is if there were one or more apparently equal choices. If the are truly equal then it doesn’t matter which is chosen. However, some factor that is present bu normally would be down in the noise tips the balance. It could be something trivial such as: this one is more elegant; I like the color; it takes less effort; it’s closer; etc. Things that normally wouldn’t matter, perhaps, if only because their overall contribution is small.

    D: Why can’t it just be a list of needs/wants and stop worrying about how they arose?
    Y:Because the distinctions are important. If a man pushes an old lady in front of a bus and a Boy Scout pushes her out of the way, you miss an important distinction if you lump them together as “pushing old ladies around.”

    Wow. You totally missed the point. I’m talking about a process as a more or less abstract concept that’s rather akin to a numerical calculation but you run off on a tangent supposing where the values used might come from. Bet you had a heck of a time in math class.

  17. “Only a person with free will can have an illusion.”

    It’s pretty clear to me that my dog experiences a variety of illusions. Do you think she has free will?

  18. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 19, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    I maintain that it [the “best” choice] is [obvious] to the chooser. …. what the person making the choice thinks it is.

    And there you have most of Aquinas’ argument. The will is the appetite for products of the intellect; that is, for things thought. But since knowledge is never complete, the will is never completely determined to one thing versus another. Of course, people will generally choose what they believe is the best course of action. What has that to do with the freedom of the will?

    A free will is not one that moves in random directions.

    Bet you had a heck of a time in math class.

    Up through my master’s degree, plus another two years after that.

  19. But since knowledge is never complete, the will is never completely determined to one thing versus another.

    Again with the objective standard. (*sigh*)

    Of course, people will generally choose what they believe is the best course of action. What has that to do with the freedom of the will?

    I suppose if you had an actual point you would have made it instead of dropping cryptic hints of its existence.

    The will is the appetite for products of the intellect; that is, for things thought.

    appetite == desire == will ??
    So the will is merely a collection of desires?

    You want what you want but you can’t control this. You may choose to ignore and not act on wants but you don’t control them. But wait! We’re back to how choices are made and you agree that one is compelled to choose what one thinks best.

    Where’s the freedom in this? Other than no one or thing is stopping you from wanting stuff.

    A free will is not one that moves in random directions.

    Who said it does? I certainly didn’t.

    Bet you had a heck of a time in math class.
    Up through my master’s degree, plus another two years after that.

    Glad it’s over? Ummm … some things never change, eh?

  20. Ye Olde Statistician

    October 19, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    “But since knowledge is never complete, the will is never completely determined to one thing versus another.”

    Again with the objective standard. (*sigh*)

    What “standard”? The only thing “objective” in the statement is that some actual act is chosen as the means to a desired end. Because our knowledge is imperfect, there are degrees of freedom (“play” in the engineering sense) in that the “best” choice is not objectively evident, but only seems that way to the individual. For example, if one knows what is signified by the symbols 1, 2, +, and =, the will cannot withhold its consent to the proposition 1+1=2. But because it is not clear of what “world peace” consists, nor what steps one must take to achieve it, the will is not determined toward this or that particular course of action, such as world conquest or the UN.

    the difference between the sensitive appetite and the will is that … the sensitive appetite is determined to one particular thing, according to the order of nature; but the will, although determined to one thing in general, namely, the good, according to the order of nature, is nevertheless indeterminate in respect of particular goods. Consequently choice belongs properly to the will, and not to the sensitive appetite.
    — Aquinas

    +++
    “The will is the appetite for products of the intellect; that is, for things thought.”

    appetite == desire == will ??
    So the will is merely a collection of desires?

    No.

    The intellect is not merely a collection of thoughts, either.
    +++
    “Of course, people will generally choose what they believe is the best course of action. What has that to do with the freedom of the will?”

    I suppose if you had an actual point you would have made it instead of dropping cryptic hints of its existence.

    You realize that you seem just as cryptic, since you persistently seem to miss the point being made. You are confusing a “necessity of coercion” with “necessity of natural inclination.” Compare this, as I have said before, with the Intellect, which has a natural inclination to the Truth. See also Thomistic Psychology by Robert Brennan, pp. 210-237, esp. ca. p. 215.

    Even in applied decision theory, identifying the good is not as simple as computer programming. The Good may have many dimensions of varying importance, and aids like a K/T matrix serve to sharpen up what we know about the choices, i.e., the intellective aspects, since the more one knows, the more clearly the good can be seen. See 1+1=2, above.

    In case you missed it before:

    Liberum arbitrium (the phrase translated as “free will” [actually means something like “free judgment”]) is not entirely about the will. It includes at least two parts… “free decision” and “free choice.” …

    There are two kinds of necessity: “necessity of coercion” and “necessity of natural inclination.” The end of the will is an inclination to Good in general. This is the natural movement of the will. This does not introduce any “necessity of coercion” because the good in general is precisely that — general — and all actual choices are particular.

    ++++
    You want what you want but you can’t control this. You may choose to ignore and not act on wants but you don’t control them.

    That’s Nietzsche and philosophical egoism. The vaunted triumph of the will over the intellect. Though the last time Nietzcheanism ran free did not end happily for the supermen.

    How can you choose to ignore your appetites and desires if you cannot choose?

    Of course, you can control your appetites. In the first place, you cannot want what you do not know; and the less you know, the more inchoate the desire and the freer the will, even in the libertarian sense. And one may cultivate the strengths of courage, temperance, and prudence (as well as justice) to control one’s unbridled lusts.
    ++++

    you agree that one is compelled [sic] to choose what one thinks best. Where’s the freedom in this? Other than no one or thing is stopping you from wanting stuff.

    a) “Is compelled to.” Compelled by whom? If it is yourself, then how are you not free? The freedom lies in the fact that you choose.
    b) “No one is stopping you” is in fact definitional of freedom. Think of “free fall” in mechanics. There are no constraints upon your natural motion.
    c) Back when I was a sophomore taking Philosophy of Man, the usual objection was What about the crook who says “Your money or your life”? Where is free will in that? It was a sophomoric objection, literally, but it actually seems a more cogent one than “the good is what all pursue; therefore, there is no free choice in how to pursue it, or even in what we identify as good.”

    +++
    A free will is not one that moves in random directions.

    Who said it does? I certainly didn’t.

    But you claimed that the will was not free precisely because it did move in a certain direction; viz., toward the good. What is the negation of “moves in a certain direction”?

  21. But you claimed that the will was not free precisely because it did move in a certain direction

    No, it’s because only one outcome is possible given the inputs.

    “Is compelled to.” Compelled by whom?

    Silly. Compelled by design/makeup/whatever why does it matter? The outcome is fixed given the inputs therefore compelled. Lookup the definition of “compel”.

    “No one is stopping you” is in fact definitional of freedom.

    If you mean no one stopping you from experiencing that which you can’t control is a freedom then, yes, there is freedom here. So, here in the U.S. we are free to be subjected to having our phone data collected. Seems, no one is stopping you from experiencing that. My definition of freedom though is tied to the ability to choose.

    You can’t choose your beliefs and your desires regardless of any claim to the contrary anymore than you can choose when to be hungry. It just happens.

    Of course, you can control your appetites. In the first place, you cannot want what you do not know; and the less you know, the more inchoate the desire and the freer the will

    That’s not control. Control would be necessitate the ability to choose to desire. The desire is simply there. You can’t undesire it. The best you can do is diminish its importance to you hopefully (and that;s the key word) by widening your experiences. But you will not be able to control any changes in desires arising from them.

    Of course, you have now introduced yet another desire: the desire to desire. An interesting concept.

    A similar thing happens with beliefs. You either believe something or you don’t. You can only hopefully control them through more experiences. And, if you think about it, what’s a desire but a belief in a need?

  22. Sander van der Wal

    October 20, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    @JMJ

    Cool. How about predicting my next response to DAV? Should be easy, right?

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