FREE WILL IS NOT WILLPOWER
FREE WILL IS NOT WILLPOWER
D. R. Khashaba
I have frequently maintained that the so-called Free Will problem is a pseudo-problem needlessly complicated by confusing free will with freedom of choice. Psychologically, Choice is always conditioned by antecedents; practically it is conditioned by circumstances. Genuine free will is only evidenced in spontaneous deeds and in creative activities. I have reiterated this a score of times, primarily in “Free Will as Creativity” (in The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009). I have written these lines on coming across Carl Erik Fisher’s “Against Willpower.”I will see if I have any comments to make.
The first few words of Fisher’s paper show clearly that the willpower under discussion is a species of choice. “Will I or will I not have another glass of wine?” This is a very intricate issue relating to the psychology of character and the theological problem of sin. The theological contention that we sin willfully is absurd. To say that we are free since we are free to sin is nonsense. Rather, we sin because we are not free; because, from the moment of birth, we are subjected to influences that shape and limit and control our choices. We sin because, in Spinoza’s words, we do not have adequate ideas, or as Socrates says, we are ignorant. This is Socrates’ much-maligned so-called intellectualism. I have gone into this many times in my writings and this is not the place to expand on it.
In my previous writings about free will I stressed the error of confusing free will with freedom of choice, but I did not pay much attention to the theological problem. Still I don’t think I will have much to add to what I said in the preceding paragraph. What concerns me is to emphasize that freedom is spontaneity and that spontaneity is creative. The anteecedents of a spontaneous deed or creative act condition and colour the deed or act but do not determine it. Shelley’s character, upbringing, and culture condition and colour Prometheus Unbound, but no god, given the data of every cell and neuron in Shelley’s body and brain and every trace of memory in his mind, could predict “It doth repent me: words are quick and vain: Grief for a while is blind, and so was mine. I wish no living thing to suffer pain.” Our deeds of love and valour are instances of spontaneous creativity. We are truly free when the intelligence that is our inner reality creatively outflows; not our conceptual reason but that intelligence that, to my mind, is the ground and fount of all reality and all life. I believe that our simplest acts are free and creative in the sense that they are not physically predetermined. I stretch my hand, hold the cup of coffee, put it to my mouth, take a sip and swallow. These do not proceed mechanically one from the other but flow as elements of a single act because I want to take a sip of coffe. This is true of all human activity. Even while the vilest deed is, on the moral plane, conditioned by the vile character, on the physical plane it is not causally determined (taking ‘physical’ in a wide sense to include all natural processes).
I hope it will be seen from that that when I speak of free will as creativity I am thinking of two planes: On the moral plane we are only free in our best deeds and acts, in deeds of love and valour and in poetic, philosophical, and artistic creativity. On the physical (natural) plane our acts are creative (originative) in the sense that they are not causally determined. I believe that nature never repeats itself. All natural process comes with a difference, perhaps imperceptible to our finest instruments of observation. The revolution of the earth around the sun cannot, simply cannot, be perfectly identical this year with what it was last year if only because the mass of both earth and sun has changed in the meantime and continues to change all the time.
Thus the endless fruitless controversies about the compatibility or incompatibility of free will with causal determinism rest on three errors; (1) the confusion of free will with freedom of choice; (2) the failure to distinguish between the moral plane and the metaphysical plane; (3) the error of ignoring that the processes of nature are never repetitive so that all the so-called laws of nature are essentially approximations and are always transitional.
I think I will emd this blog here (before going any further into Fisher’s paper) but will only add that I do not speak of free will as a faculty but as a metaphysical principle, consistently with my metaphysical vision where I hold that ultimate Reality is sheer intelligent creativity (which I also designate creative intelligence or Creative Eternity).
D. R. Khashaba
February 28, 2017