Are we free or is our freedom merely an illusion? This presentation examines the views supporting and opposing human freedom. The commentary raises the question of how the matter stands when inner truth is recognized.
Freedom: Is a human being free in his thinking and acting? Moralists declare freedom an obvious. Without it there can be no moral responsibility. Many distinctions are made to explain how freedom can be compatible with the laws working in nature.
Necessity Of Natural Law
Opposing view: The human being is compelled by the unyielding necessity of natural law. Science says we are a part of nature, so we too are subject to the universality of natural law just like the rest of nature.
Question Of Freedom
Comment: Anyone with any depth at all recognizes the importance of the question of freedom for life, religion, conduct, and science.
Freedom Of Indifferent Choice
Freedom: The freedom of indifferent choice is to be indifferent about what to do. It is to impartially choose, entirely at will, between two courses of action without having a preference. The indifferent choice is made without being compelled by any reason. In this way the will is ‘free’. The will is free of any kind of determinism.
Compelled By A Reason
Opposing view: We learn about cause and effect in elementary science. The ‘will’ is always determined by a cause, a specific reason, whether we are aware of it or not. A ‘free will’ without a cause would be to act randomly or by chance. A person who is indifferent and just doesn’t care has no ethics or character.
Freedom Of Choice
Freedom: Those who oppose freedom direct their main attacks against freedom of choice. Freedom is to make our own choices according to our own preferences.
Compelled By Desire
Opposing view: Free choice is refuted by examining consciousness. Our choices are compelled by our desire. Introspective observation shows that freedom is not located in desire. We are not free to desire or not desire, as we please.
Free Expression Of One’s Nature
Freedom: This view believes freedom is not located in free decision, but rather in free necessity. If we know our self, and exist and act solely out of the necessity of our “own” nature, we are free, even though we exist in a necessary way. We must remain true to our self.
Necessity Of External Causes
Opposing view: Everything is created by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and exact way. Human nature is both inherited and the result of environmental conditioning. We strive to the best of our ability convinced we are free, but what we express is merely our conditioning. Because a person is only conscious of his action, he falsely looks upon himself as the free originator of it.
Action Guided By Inner Truth
Comment: A person is not just conscious of his action, he can also be conscious of the inner truth that guides his action. Human actions are not all the same. There is a profound difference between knowing and not knowing why I act. The actions of a scientist in the laboratory, or a diplomat involved in complex negotiations are not the same as those of a child craving milk. A motive of action fully known to me, that has become inner truth, compels in a different way than the urges of nature.
Character Free Of Outside Influences
Freedom: We build up our own character with learning and life experience. Before we act on an idea given to us from the outside, it must first meet the approval of our character so that the idea arouses in us a desire to act. In this way a person is motivated from within, and free of outside influences.
Necessity Of Characterological Disposition
Opposing view: Even though we must first adopt an idea as a motive, this is not done arbitrarily. An idea is turned into a motive of action according to the necessity of the disposition of our character. We are anything but free.
Make Outside Idea Into Inner Truth
Comment: Here again, the difference between motives is ignored. There are ideas given from the outside that I accept only after I have consciously made them my own inner truth. Other ideas I follow without a clear knowledge of them.
Action Resulting From A Conscious Motive
Freedom: There is a difference between a conscious motive and an unconscious motive. An action cannot be free if it springs from an unconscious motive as blind urge. A free action is the result of a conscious motive.
Knowledge Of The Motive?
Opposing view: A deeper investigation is needed before human freedom can be understood. We need to ask, why is it important to have knowledge of the motive?
Knowing Doer Acts Out Of Inner Truth
Comment: Too little attention has been given to what it means to 'know' a motive, because we normally split people into the knowers and the doers. The knower may have knowledge of what to do, but does not act. The doer may not know what to do, but acts anyway. The one that matters most is the knowing doer. He is empowered to act, because he acts out of inner knowledge.
Free When Controlled By Reason
Freedom: 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.
Opposing view: 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.
Freedom Is Having The Ability To Do
Freedom: Freedom is not found in our will, since our will is always determined by motives. Instead, freedom occurs when we have the ability to do what one wishes. Freedom depends on having the right external circumstances and technical skill to successfully carry out our idea of action.
Determined By Strongest Motive
Opposing view: Our motives vary in strength, with some being stronger than others. The will is determined by the ‘strongest’ motive from among the others, so it is not free. And if I am forced by the motive to do something I find unreasonable, I will even be glad if I am unable to do it. This is not freedom.
Does The Decision Arise As Inner Truth?
Comment: The question to ask is how the decision comes about within me. All motives do not work with inescapable necessity. A conscious motive that arises from inner truth does not compel in the same way as a motive that I am forced to follow because it is the strongest.
Spontaneous Unconditioned Will
Freedom: Just as spirited horses run free across open plains, the spontaneous human will is free. The cause of the horses running, with no sense of restraint, is the unconditioned will; it is an absolute beginning. It is the same for spontaneous human action.
Will Determined By Invisible Cause
Opposing view: The causes that determine the horse’s acts of will are internal and invisible. The horse is not free and neither are we. We do not perceive the determining cause, and so believe it does not exist
Inner Truth Guides Action
Comment: Here too, human actions in which there is consciousness of the reasons is ignored. There are actions, not of the horse but of the human being, where between us and the deed lies the motive that has become conscious. We are free because we are conscious of the inner truth that guides our action.
Knowing The Reason For Action
Freedom: Obviously, an action cannot be free if the doer carries it out without knowing why. An action is free when the reasons are known.
What Does It Mean To Know?
Opposing view: An action is free if we know the reasons, but what does ‘knowing’ actually mean? To discover what it means to ‘know’ requires an investigation into the thinking activity of the mind. We ask, “What does it mean to think?” and “What is the origin of our thoughts?”
Self-Determined By Inner Truth
Comment: What does it mean to know? There is a difference between outer truth and inner truth. Outer truth is given from the outside, while inner truth appears within the individual. When we make the reason to act completely our own through the activity of thinking, the idea of action lives within as inner truth. When inner truth is the source of action, compulsion ceases and we become self-determined, the master of our conduct. When you know why you act, you become conscious of your freedom.
Driving Force Of The Heart
Freedom: Freedom consists of more than abstract judgments produced by the calm deliberations of reason. Love, compassion, and patriotism are driving forces for deeds that cannot be explained away with cold intellectual concepts. For an action to be truly human, the heart-felt sensibility must prevail.
The Way To The Heart Is Through The Head
Opposing view: It is true human action has heart. 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.
Mind And Heart Together
Comment: The moment our conduct rises above the satisfying of purely animal desires, our motives are always shaped by thoughts. When these thoughts spring from the core of our nature our motives are shaped by inner truth. The reasoning mind works together with the sensibility of the heart to make inner truth a powerful force for action.
Act Of Love
Freedom: We are free when our action is an expression of love for what we are striving for. We act out of love.
Idealize The Beloved
Opposing view: Here, again, it must be pointed out that the way to love is through the head. 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. Thought is the father of feeling.
Seeing The Good
Freedom: 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. Many pass by these good qualities without noticing them. One, however, sees them, and just because he does, love awakens in his heart.
Perception-Picture Includes Good Qualities
Opposing view: The reason we see the good is because we form a perception-picture of the person that includes the good qualities that others have ignored. They do not experience love because their perception-picture lacks the good qualities.
What Is The Origin Of Our Thoughts?
Comment: From whatever point we approach the question of freedom, one thing becomes more and more clear. The motives that direct human action are shaped by thoughts. So before we can answer the question of whether we are freely self-determined or not, we must investigate the origin of our thoughts. Do they originate as outer truth given from the outside, or as inner truth that arises from the deepest core of our being? So the discussion will turn to this next.