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Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action

The Philosophy Of Freedom
Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action

HOW DOES INNER TRUTH MAKE US FREE?

Are we free or is our freedom merely an illusion? This prezi examines the views supporting and opposing human freedom. The commentary raises the question of how the matter stands when inner truth is recognized.

Compare Freedom With Necessity

Prezi Script

1. CONSCIOUS HUMAN ACTION

1.0 The Question Of Freedom
[1] Is a human being free in his thinking and action, or compelled by the unyielding necessity of natural law? Few questions have been the focus of so much ingenuity. The Idea of freedom has many enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents. Moral zealots accuse anyone of stupidity who denies so obvious a fact as freedom. Scientific thinkers oppose them. They say its just ignorance for anyone to believe the universality of natural law suspends itself in the field of human action and thought. The same thing is as often called humanity's most precious possession as its worst illusion. Endless distinctions are used to explain how freedom can be compatible with the laws working in nature. Man, after all, is a part of nature. No less effort has gone into explaining how this delusion could arise. The importance of the question of freedom for life, religion, conduct, and science is felt by anyone with any depth of character.

1.1 Freedom Of Indifferent Choice
One sad sign of the superficiality of today's thought is David Friedrich Strauss's book (The New and the Old Belief). It intends to construct a “new faith” from the results of scientific research, yet has only this to say on the question of freedom:

"We are not concerned with the question of free will. The supposedly 'indifferent' freedom of choice has always been recognized as an empty illusion by every reputable philosophy. An indifferent choice is not a factor in determining the moral value of human conduct and character."

I do not consider the book important. I quote this passage because it expresses the only opinion our thinking contemporaries seem able to reach on this question. Everyone who has grown beyond elementary science is certain of one thing about freedom. It cannot consist in arbitrary choosing, entirely at will, between two courses of action. There is always, so we are told, a specific reason why a person carries out one action from among several possibilities.

1.2 Freedom Of Choice
[2] This seems obvious. Yet opponents of freedom still direct their main attacks against freedom of choice. Herbert Spencer, whose doctrines are growing in popularity, says,

"That everyone is at liberty to desire or not to desire, as he pleases, is the essential principle concealed in the dogma of free will. This freedom is refuted by the analysis of consciousness, as well as by the contents of the preceding chapter [on psychology]."

1.3 Free Necessity Of One's Nature
Others begin from the same point when attacking free will. The essence of all the relevant arguments can be found as early as Spinoza. His clear and simple argument against the Idea of freedom has been repeated countless times. Though it is usually enclosed in complicated theoretical doctrines that make it difficult to recognize the simple line of thought, which is all that matters. Spinoza writes in a letter of October or November 1674,

"I call free all that exists and acts out of the necessity of its nature. I call it unfree, if its existence and activity are determined in an exact and fixed way by something else. For example, God is free, even though he exists in a necessary way, because he exists solely out of the necessity of his own nature. Similarly, God knows himself and all other things freely, because it follows solely from the necessity of his nature to know all. I locate freedom, not in free decision, but in free necessity.

[3] "Let us come down to created things, which are all determined by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and exact way. To see this more clearly, let us imagine a very simple case. A stone, for example, receives a certain momentum from the impact of an external cause. Of necessity, the stone continues to move after the impact. The continued motion of the stone is compelled, for it is due to the external impact, and not to the necessity of the stone's own nature. What applies here to the stone, applies to everything else, no matter how complex and many-sided. Everything is determined by external causes with the necessity to exist and to act in a fixed and exact way.

[4] "Now please assume the stone, while in motion, thinks and knows it is striving to the best of its ability to continue in motion. The stone is only conscious of its striving and by no means indifferent. It will be convinced it is free and continues in motion, not because of an external cause, but because it wills to do so. This is just the human freedom everyone claims to have. The reason it appears to be freedom is because human beings are conscious of their desires, but do not know the causes that determine those desires. Thus the child believes it freely desires milk, the angry boy freely demands revenge, and the coward flight. The drunken man believes he says things of his own free will that, when sober again, he will wish he had not said. Since this bias is inborn in everybody, it is difficult to free oneself from it. Experience teaches us often enough people are least able to moderate their desires. When torn by conflicting passions they see the better and pursue the worse. Yet they still regard themselves as free, because they desire some things less intensely. And some desires can be easily inhibited by recalling a familiar memory that often preoccupies one's mind."

[5] Because this opinion is clearly and directly expressed, its easy to detect the basic error. Of necessity, the stone continues to move after an impact. With the same necessity, a human being is supposed to carry out an action when driven by any reason. Because he is only conscious of his action, he looks upon himself as the free originator of it. However, he overlooks the causes driving him that he must obey unconditionally.

The error in this line of argument is easy to find. Spinoza, and all who think like him, overlook the fact that a human being is not just conscious of his action. He can also become conscious of the causes that guide his action. Anyone can see a child is not free when it desires milk, as is the drunk who says things he later regrets. Both know nothing of the causes working deep within their organism that exercise irresistible control over them. Is it right to group such actions together with those of a human being who is not only conscious of his actions, but also of the reasons that motivate him?

Are human actions really all of one kind? Should the deeds of a soldier on the battlefield, a scientist in the laboratory, or a diplomat involved in complex negotiations be ranked in the same scientific category as those of a child craving milk? It is true the best way of seeking the solution to a problem is where the conditions are simplest. But the inability to see distinctions causes endless confusion. There is a profound difference between knowing and not knowing why I act. This is an obvious truth. Yet the opponents of freedom never ask whether a motive of action known to me in full transparency, compels me in the same way an organic process causes a child to cry for milk.

1.4 Conduct According To Character
[6] Eduard von Hartmann, in his Phenomenology of Moral Consciousness, says that human willing depends on two main factors: motives and character. If we look at human beings as all alike, then their will appears determined from outside, by the situations they encounter. But people are different. A human being will adopt an idea as the motive of his conduct, only if his character is such that this idea arouses a desire in him to act. If we keep in mind people are different then their will appears determined from within and not from outside.

Now, the human being believes he is free, independent of outside motivation, because he must first make the idea imposed on him from outside into a motive, according to his character. But according to Eduard von Hartmann, the truth is he is not free,

"Even though we first adopt an idea as a motive, this is not done arbitrarily. An idea is turned into a motive according to the necessity of our characterological disposition. We are anything but free."

Here again, the difference between motives is ignored. There are motives I allow to influence me only after I have consciously made them my own, and others I follow without a clear knowledge of them.

1.5 Action Resulting From Conscious Motive
[7] This leads straight to the standpoint from which the subject will be considered here. Should the question of free will be posed narrowly by itself, in a one-sided way? And if not, what other question must it necessarily be linked?

[8] If there is a difference between a conscious and an unconscious motive of action, then the conscious motive will result in an action that must be judged differently than one that springs from blind urge. Our first question will concern this difference. The position we must take on freedom itself will depend on the result of this investigation.

[9] What is the significance of having knowledge of the motives of one's action? Too little attention has been given to this question because we always split in two what is an inseparable whole: the human being. The doer is set apart from the knower, but the one that matters most is lost sight of—the knowing doer, the one who acts out of knowledge.

1.6 Free When Controlled By Reason
[10] It is said that man is free when his reason rather than his animal cravings control his action. Or freedom means to determine one’s life and action according to purpose and deliberate decision.

[11] Nothing is gained by assertions of this kind. For the real issue is whether reason, purpose, and decision exercise the same compulsion over a human being as his animal cravings. If, without my involvement, a rational decision occurs in me with the same necessity as hunger or thirst, then I must obey it. My freedom is an illusion.

1.7 Freedom To Do What One Wishes
[12] Another argument puts it this way: To be free does not mean being able to will what one wishes, but being able to do what one wishes. The philosopher-poet Robert Hamerling has given very clear-cut expression to this thought in his Atomistik des Willens:

“The human being can certainly do what he wishes, but he cannot will as he wishes, because his will is determined by motives! — He cannot will as he wishes? Let us look at these words more closely. Do they make any sense? Is free will to mean the ability to will something without reason, without motive? But what else does willing mean, other than having a reason for doing or striving for this rather than that? To will something for no reason and with no motive would mean to will it without wanting it. The concept of willing is inseparable from that of motive. Without a determining motive the will is an empty capacity: only through the motive does it become active and real. It is, therefore, correct to say the human will is 'unfree' to the extent its direction is always determined by the strongest motive. But it is absurd to contrast this 'unfreedom' with a possible 'freedom of will' that amounts to being able to will what one does not want.”

[13] Here again only motives in general are discussed, without taking into account the difference between conscious and unconscious motivations. If a motive affects me, and I am compelled to act because it proves to be the "strongest" from among other motives, then the thought of freedom ceases to have any meaning. Why should it matter to me whether I can do something or not, if I am forced by the motive to do it? The primary question is not whether I can or cannot do something once the motive has influenced me, but whether all motives work with inescapable necessity. If I am forced to will something, then I may be completely indifferent as to whether I can also do it. And if, because of my character and the circumstances prevailing in my environment, a motive is forced on me that I find unreasonable, then I would be glad if I am unable to do it.

[14] The question is not whether I can carry out a decision once made, but how the decision comes about within me.

1.8 Freedom Of A Spontaneous Unconditioned Will
[15] What distinguishes humans from all other living things is rational thinking. Activity we have in common with other creatures. Seeking analogies for human action in the animal kingdom does not help to clarify the concept of freedom. Modern science loves such analogies. When scientists succeed in finding among animals something similar to human behavior, they believe this has something to do with the most important question of the science of man. To what misunderstandings this view leads is seen, for example, in Paul Rée’s book, The Illusion of Free Will. Rée says the following on the subject of freedom:

"It is easy to explain why it appears to us the movement of a stone is by necessity, while the will of the donkey is not. The causes that set the stone in motion are external and visible. But the causes that determine the donkey's acts of will are internal and invisible. Between us and the place where they occur is the donkey’s skull... We cannot see the determining cause, and so believe it does not exist. The will, they tell us, is indeed the cause of the donkey’s turning around, but is itself unconditioned; it is an absolute beginning.”

Here too, human actions in which there is consciousness of the reasons is ignored. Rée explains: “between us and the place where they occur is the donkey’s skull.” As these words show it has not dawned on Rée that there are actions, not of the donkey but of the human being, where between us and the deed lies the motive that has become conscious. A few pages later Rée demonstrates the same blindness when he says: “We do not perceive the causes that determine our will and so believe it is not causally determined at all.”

[16] But enough of examples proving many argue against freedom without knowing what freedom really is.

1.9 Self-Determined Reason For Action
[17] Obviously, an action cannot be free if the doer carries it out without knowing why. But what are we to say of the freedom of an action when the reasons are known? This leads us to the question: What is the origin of our thoughts and what does it mean to think? For without knowledge of the thinking activity of the mind, it is impossible to form a concept of what it means to know something, including what it means to know the reason for an action. When we have a general understanding of what it means to think, it will be easy to see clearly the role thinking plays in human action. As Hegel rightly says,

"It is thinking that turns the soul, common to us and animals, into spirit."

And this is why it is thinking that gives to human action its characteristic stamp.

1.10 Driving Force Of The Heart
[18] By no means should it be said that all our actions proceed only from the calm deliberations of our reason. I am not suggesting that only actions resulting from abstract judgment alone, are human in the highest sense. But the moment our conduct rises above the satisfying of purely animal desires, our motives are always shaped by thoughts. Love, compassion, and patriotism are driving forces for deeds that cannot be explained away with cold intellectual concepts. It is said that here the heart-felt sensibility prevails. No doubt. But the heart and its sensibility do not create the motives of action. Motives are present prior to being received into the hearts domain. Compassion appears in my heart after the thought of a person who arouses compassion occurs in my mind. The way to the heart is through the head.

1.11 Idealizing The Loved One
Love is no exception. Whenever love is not merely the expression of the sexual drive, it depends on the thoughts we form of the beloved. The more idealistic these thoughts are, the more blissful is our love. Here, too, thought is the father of feeling.

1.12 Seeing The Good
It is said that love makes us blind to the flaws of the loved one. But we can turn this around and say love opens our eyes to the good qualities of the loved one. Many pass by these good qualities without noticing them. One, however, sees them, and just because he does, love awakens in his heart. What he has done is form a perception-picture that includes the good qualities that others have ignored. Others do not experience love because they lack the perception-picture.

[19] From whatever point we approach this subject, one thing becomes more and more clear. An investigation into the origin of our thoughts must come before we can answer the question concerning the nature of human action. So I will turn to this next.