Free Will: The Foundation of the Free World
JUNE 01, 1960 by HAROLD E. SCHLICHTING JR.
Dr. Schlichting is an Independent Research Biologist at Port Sanilac, Michigan.
The free way of life rests upon the conviction that men are freely willing creatures with the capacity to choose between alternatives. Freedom of the will is man’s primordial liberty, the fountainhead from which every other freedom stems. The free way of life is not simply the absence of arbitrary, external controls—the absence of outside bondage reflects and implements man’s inner liberty. We favor the free society because every variety of totalitarian order violates the demands of man’s nature. But if free will is an illusion, as many contemporary philosophers assert, we cannot complain about the massive denial of free choice which is a collectivist society. Totalitarianism is the end result of the denial of inner liberty, however much determinists may disavow this ultimate consequence of their position.
The question of determinism or free will is a philosophical matter, but determinists frequently base their case on what they regard as the scientific method.
A distinguished British scientist, the late Sir F. S. Taylor, states the position as follows: "Science finds no evidence of free will in matter and energy…. Matter and energy, however organized, have no free will. So, if man consists of nothing else than matter and energy, then man has no free will. The materialist, like everyone else, has the experience of free will and acts as if he were free, for no one could live without doing so; but he regards this sensation of free will as an illusion."1 Thus we are not really free; we only think we are!
According to Freud, "No act is uncaused and the illusion of free will simply comes from the fact that some of our motives are unconscious."2
Dr. E. G. Boring of Harvard University goes further, saying that "freedom, when you believe it is operating, always resides in an area of ignorance. If there is a known law, you do not have freedom…. Both freedom and chance are terms that are used when efficient causes of present events are not known and often appear unknowable."3 This is another way of saying that our concept of free will is due to our ignorance! He adds that belief in human freedom is merely "a useful superstition" but concludes "to get rid of this concept would change the whole of our civilization." Obviously, the despots of today, as of yesterday, are attempting to annihilate the concept of free will. If the basic pillars of our civilization can be shaken, their hope is that the house will crumble. In fact, denial of free will has been the basis for all totalitarian systems and their power over men!
The arguments against free will may be grouped into the following major categories
1. All of our actions are determined by our body chemistry and interrelated past experiences; they are determined according to the laws of physics and chemistry.
2. No act is uncaused and free will is an illusion.
3. The belief in free will is due to ignorance of antecedent causes.
4. The question of free will vs. determinism is unanswerable.
Morality Depends on Choice
It would require a book to explore all of the consequences of these propositions. However, three of these seem most apparent to me. First, for people living by the Judeo-Christian concept of life, free will is essential. The disobedience of the first man to God and its consequences presupposes free will.
An outstanding American geneticist, Dr. T. Dobzhansky, made the following comments: "Ants and termites are neither heroes when they defend their own nests, nor villains when they rob those of their neighbors. They are devoid of virtues and vices because they lack the freedom to decide between possible alternative courses of action…. Insect behavior is, then, not reducible to a common ethical measure with human actions. Praise and blame have meaning only in connection with acts in which the individual is at least to some extent a free agent…. Moral rightness or wrongness have meaning only in connection with persons who are free agents, and who are consequently able to choose between different ideas and between possible courses of action. Ethics presupposes freedom…. Ethics, as such, have no genetic basis and are not the product of biological evolution."4 Thus for the determinists who base their philosophy upon genetics and evolution, there actually is no ethical system for them to adopt!
Second, our entire judicial system is premised upon the existence of free will; man is presumed responsible for his actions. There could be no moral law and order without it. The act of justice is to give each man his due and is preceded by an act whereby something becomes his due. Therefore, one’s right must precede justice! As Josef Pieper, a noted philosopher, has stated, "We cannot state the basis of a Right and hence a judicial obligation, unless we have a concept of man, of human nature. "5 If in truth there is no distinctly human nature, then there can be no human rights or justice. This is the formal justification for every exercise of totalitarian power. The existence of free will is essential to this concept of human nature upon which our justice is based.
Third, there could be no virtue because virtue is a state of character concerned with choice. If the latter is taken away, there is no way for goodness to assert itself.
These three, Judeo-Christian belief, justice, and virtue, are all interrelated in our western civilization. They are the basis for our civilization, and it is obvious that our way of life, as we have known it, cannot exist if we accept the teaching of those who contend that there is no free will.
This is not a one-sided argument. Contrary to many modern teachings, the concept of free will is supported by numerous philosophers. Unfortunately, most of them are dead! It is auspicious, however, that their ideas "live" on. Even though ignored or defamed, the materialists have not succeeded in destroying them.
The question of freedom is one of the most difficult, most rewarding, and most pressing in metaphysics. For a thinker of the stature of Descartes it was free will alone or liberty of choice which he declared to be so great an idea that he could conceive no other to be superior.
"Free Will" Defined
What do we mean by free will? We may use Webster’s definition as a starting point: "Free will: Unhampered or uncoerced choice. The doctrine that human beings are not controlled in their choices by physically or divinely imposed necessity." Free will cannot, of course, be expressed under coercion or irrationality by its very definition.
To concede that the free will question is unanswerable, is really not to confront the problem at all. For one meets problems and must make decisions throughout his entire life; to do otherwise would be to merely vegetate! It would be extremely inconsistent if a person lives part of the time as if he were truly free and at other times as if he were not free at all.
To state that no act is uncaused and that therefore free will is an illusion is to misunderstand the free will position. The proponents of free will do not claim that their actions are uncaused but that the individual causes them from within. Indeterminism is the untenable view that events are not caused. Advocates of free will are not materialistic determinists:they believe that the laws of chemistry and physics do not apply to the will and intellect—these being nonmaterial entities.
Those who would have us believe that free will is due only to our ignorance are merely stating that in the final analysis it is an illusion. Some men are more ignorant than others and this ignorance in a sense makes them less free. This fact, however, does not nullify the concept of free will.
Dr. Etienne Gilson, a scholastic philosopher, proposes that man is both free and determined, i.e., man is free to choose the means to the end but is not free to choose the end itself. In "choosing the means to the end," Gilson writes, "the choice is free beyond all doubt. Man indeed does not choose his end; necessarily he wants to be happy merely on account of his nature as man; but various routes to happiness lie open, and he is free to choose what seems to him the best for the purpose."6 Human happiness is the determined end for all men because of their very nature; man cannot will to be unhappy! All particular decisions are directed toward this end. Since choice is not concerned with the end but with the means to it, man does not choose of necessity but freely. Free will implies the power to choose a good or poor means to an end depending on the rationality of the individual and his desires for what he believes will bring happiness. He may choose any of a multitude of possibilities for obtaining his happiness.
The Responsible Individual
The truth of free will can only be discovered and proven within ourselves! Why did I choose to do a certain act? I chose it as a means to some end which may be called the attainment of my happiness. Thus, I am self-directing and I believe it because there is no conclusive evidence to the contrary.
Frank Chodorov in his "Free Will and the Marketplace" (THE FREEMAN, January 1959) stated: "Many persons who would abolish free choice in the market place, logically conclude that man is not endowed with free will, that free will is a fiction, that man is merely a product of his environment. This premise ineluctably leads them to denial of the soul and, of course, the denial of God." Every truly great man has risen above his environment! He not merely comes from it, as a part, but he adds to it. Society has its impact on man but it must also be remembered that men have their impact on society. Actually, they make it what it is! This fact is forgotten in this age of socialization.
Body chemistry and our past experiences are certainly important in influencing our choice of action. They allow for our selection of alternatives but they do not determine them. Our past experiences and bodily chemistry "set the stage" for the operation of our intellect and will to make a choice from genuine alternatives of action. However, the intellect and will are "actors" which do not have to follow the script! Our behavior in carrying out some action we have decided upon as a means to achieve our end, is subject to physical-chemical laws, biological coordination, and our reason. Because a series of choices in your past influences your present choice, one cannot say that you were determined to choose as you did due to your past experiences. It has not been proven that your past experiences are determined. This materialistic determinism is only an assumption of those who do not believe in free will.
Injection of "truth serum" and physical violence can narrow the alternatives between which a choice is possible. But one is still free to go counter to this coercion even until irrationality or unconsciousness results. As the martyrs of history have shown, men, in fact, have resisted these forces and have given up their lives rather than to select the alternative choice. By their very suffering and death support is given to the concept that man has free will. Chemical, physical, and psychological forces do not rob man of his free will. When one does submit to force of any kind, it does not mean that he does not have free will but that the freedom of action is denied to him!
Some would claim the martyrs could not have done otherwise, that they had to suffer and die because of their past experiences. It is easy and natural to choose non-suffering but very difficult and indeed against our materialistic nature to choose suffering. The materialist, logically, could not be an intentional martyr. Certainly, there have been no martyrs for the stand against man’s freedom!
Material and Spiritual
For most of us man has both a material and a spiritual nature fused into one being. Man’s spiritual nature is not physically determined; man develops his moral nature based upon both the material and the spiritual aspects. The spiritual aspect can be demonstrated to exist empirically by the very behavior of men themselves. For example, the Gene Theory is important in biology because it explains, in part, the transmission of traits passed from parents to offspring. The truth of this theory is based upon its empirical verification and its predictive value. Similarly, the Judeo-Christian concept of life is important because it explains, in part, the whole nature of man, his origin, and destiny. The truth of this concept is based upon empirical verification (i.e., behavior) and its predictive value for man in attaining happiness. Both the Gene Theory and the Judeo-Christian concept of life go beyond empiricism itself to an over-all explanation of reality. Some scientists accept the first but reject the second proposition!
In his explanation of man the materialist reduces man to one aspect of his nature, and then uses this part in his attempt to explain the whole. As far as most thoughtful persons are concerned materialism has not been successful in explaining man. In fact, they have not as yet given a satisfactory explanation of the basic tenet of their belief, namely, matter.
Human freedom does not mean that we can do anything we wish; it means that we can do some things we wish, and it is very important to know what those things are. Free will can be limited only in the carrying out of actions; there being no thought control as yet in the free world, as set forth in Orwell’s 1984. Of course, there are some events which happen to us through no choice of our own. These may be due to natural catastrophies or the decisions of others. Our birth and usually our death are not of our own free choosing; yet their occurrence does not invalidate our concept of free will. The following may limit our free actions:
1. Our native intelligence, which is hereditary.
2. Our total experiences in life, which are environmental and fall into three main restrictions:
a. Faulty education
b. Socialism (where human relationships are coerced)
c. Poverty (If the essentials necessary to sustain life are lacking, our behavior is influenced but not determined)
Nevertheless, our free will still operates even under the most adverse conditions. The act of free choice is an act of both the will and intellect. The acknowledgment of these nonmaterial entities is essential to our free way of life. According to Gilson, "wherever there is intelligence there is free will; and the more intelligence there is by so much is there more liberty." Perhaps an explanation as to why some persons do not believe in free will is implied in the preceding quotation.
Much more has been and can be written on the concept of free will and its importance to our way of life. It is one of those fundamental truths which must constantly be pondered anew, lest inferior and even untrue propositions replace them. It is up to each individual in the free world to safeguard these truths upon which our freedom is based.
1 Taylor, F. S., The Fourfold Vision. London: Chapman and Hall, Ltd., 1946. p. 58.
2 McClelland, D. C. "Freud and Hull: Pioneers in Scientific Psychology," American Scientist, 45:101-13. 1957.
3 Boring, E. G. "When Is Human Behavior Predetermined?" The Scientific Monthly. pp. 189-196. April 1957.
4 Dobzhansky, T. The Biological Basis of Human Freedom. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956. pp. 93-94,132.
5 Pieper, J. Justice. New York: Pantheon Books, 1955. pp. 1-24.
6 Gilson, Etienne. The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1940. pp. 319-321.
The Importance of Virtue
It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and… great Nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a People always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence…. Can it be that
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address