page contents

Blog

Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action

1. Conscious Human Action

TOPIC
Compare Freedom with Lawful Necessity

The traditional idea about ourselves is that we are free to decide what we want to do and then do it, at least some of the time. This naive belief in free will is not normally questioned, even though spiritual leaders, philosophers and scientists have warned us about the illusion of freedom.

"Is a human being free in his thinking and action, or compelled by the unyielding necessity of natural law?" TPOF 1.0

Human Freedom
Freedom: Is a human being free in his thinking and acting? Moralists declare freedom an obvious fact, because without it there can be no moral responsibility.

  

Lawful Necessity
Necessity: 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

Compatibilism
Many distinctions are made to explain how freedom can be compatible with determinism in nature.

STEP #25 (1.1)
Compare Freedom Of Indifferent Choice with Lawful Determinism

Indifferent Choice Lacks Moral Value
Freedom: We are not concerned with the freedom of indifferent choice. When the choice is ‘indifferent’, it is not a factor in determining the moral value of human conduct and character. A person who is indifferent and just doesn’t care has no ethics or character.

  

Free Of Lawful Determinism
Lawful Necessity: An indifferent choice is free of lawful necessity. 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. The will is free of any kind of lawful determinism.

Moral Responsibility
Conscious Action: 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 person is morally responsible for this lawful necessity of their will.
STEP #26 (1.2)
Compare Freedom Of Choice with Necessity Of Desire

Freedom Of Choice
Freedom: Freedom of choice is to make our own choices according to our own preferences. Those who oppose human freedom direct their main attacks against freedom of choice.

Compelled By Desire
Lawful Necessity: The essential principle concealed in the dogma of free will is that our choices are compelled by our desire. An analysis of consciousness shows are not free because we are not at liberty to desire or not to desire, as we please.

Desired Choice
Conscious Action: Our desire expresses our preference.
STEP #27 (1.3)
Compare Free Expression Of One’s Nature with Necessity Of External Causes

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 nature.

Necessity Of External Causes
Lawful Necessity: 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.

Knowing The Cause Of Action
Conscious Action: A person is not just conscious of his action, he can also be conscious of the causes that guides his action. Human actions are not all the same. There is a profound difference between knowing and not knowing why I act. A motive of action fully known to me, compels in a different way than the urges of nature.

STEP #28 (1.4)
Compare Freedom Of Character with Necessity Of Characterological Disposition

Freedom Of 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
Lawful Necessity: 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.

Consciously Adopt Idea As My Own
Conscious Action: 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. Other ideas I follow without a clear knowledge of them

STEP #29 (1.5)
Compare Question Of Free Will with Question Of Knowledge

Is The Human Will Free Or Compelled?
Freedom: Should the question of free will be posed narrowly by itself, in a one-sided way? A deeper investigation is needed before freedom can be understood.

Is The Motive Conscious Or Unconscious?
Lawful Necessity: 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.

Do We Act Out Of Knowledge?
Conscious Action: An even deeper investigation asks why is it important to have knowledge of the motive? 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. But the knower may have knowledge of what to do, but does not act. While the doer may not know what to do, but acts anyway. The one that matters most is the knowing doer, because he acts out of knowledge.

STEP #30 (1.6)
Compare Free When Controlled By Reason with Rational Necessity

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.

Rational Necessity
Lawful Necessity: 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.

Rational Necessity
Conscious Action: If  I am involved in the rational decision it will compel me in a different way than natural urges.
STEP #31 (1.7)
Compare Freedom Is The Ability To Do with Necessity Of Strongest Motive

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.

Necessity Of Strongest Motive
Lawful Necessity: 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.

How Does The Decision Come About?
Conscious Action: Here again only motives in general are discussed, without taking into account the difference between conscious and unconscious motivations. All motives do not work with inescapable necessity. The question to ask is how the decision comes about within me.

STEP #32 (1.8)
Compare Spontaneous Unconditioned Will with Necessity Of Invisible Cause

Spontaneous Unconditioned Will
Freedom: Just as spirited horses run free across open plains, the spontaneous human will is free. The cause of the horse running, with no sense of restraint, is the unconditioned will; it is an absolute beginning. It is the same for spontaneous human action.

Necessity Of Invisible Cause
Lawful Necessity: 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.

Conscious Of The Reason To Act
Conscious Action: 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.

STEP #33 (1.9)
Compare Knowing The Reason with Knowing What It Means To Know

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?
Lawful Necessity: 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
Conscious Action: 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.

STEP #34 (1.10)
Compare Driving Force Of The Heart with Thought Motive

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.

Heart Responds To Thought Motive
Lawful Necessity: Human motives are always shaped by thoughts. The heart and its sensibility do not create the motives of action. Motives are present prior to being received into the hearts domain.

Mind And Heart Work Together
Conscious Action: 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.

STEP #35 (1.11)
Compare Act Of Love with Idealize The Beloved

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
Lawful Necessity: Here, again, it must be pointed out that the way to love is through the head. Love depends on the thoughts we form of the beloved. The more idealistic these thoughts are, the more blissful is our love.

Thought And Feeling Work Together
Conscious Action: Thought is the father of feeling.

STEP #36 (1.12)
Compare Seeing The Good with Perception-Picture Includes Good Qualities

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
Lawful Necessity: The reason we see the good is because we form a perception-picture of the person filled with the good qualities that others have ignored.

Negative Perception-Picture
Conscious Action: Others do not experience love because their perception-picture lacks the good qualities.

Next Question: What Is The Origin Of Our Thoughts?
The illusion of freedom occurs when we are conscious of our striving, but unaware of the causes. By gaining knowledge of why we act, motives compel us in a different way than if they remain hidden. 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. The discussion will turn to this in the next chapter, The Desire For Knowledge.

BOOK TEXT

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 determinism 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 theconscious 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 heartfelt 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.

Email me when people comment –

You need to be a member of The Philosophy Of Freedom to add comments!

Join The Philosophy Of Freedom

© Tom Last 2017