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agitated self that feels them ? The impulses are but phenomena
of your experience ; the formed habits are but a condition and
attitude of your consciousness, in virtue of which you feel
this more and that less ; both are predicates of yourself as
subject, but are not yourself, and cannot be identified with
your personal agency. On the contrary, they are objects of
your contemplation ; they lie before you to be known, com-
pared, estimated; they are your data ; and you have not to
let them alone to work together as they may, but to deal
with them as arbiter among their tendencies. In all cases
of self-consciousness and self-action there is necessarily this
duplication of the Ego into the objective, that contains the
felt and predicated phenomena at which we look or may look,
and the subjective that apprehends and uses them. It is with
the latter that the preferential power and personal causality
resides ; it is this that we mean when we say that ' it rests
with us to decide,' that our impulses are not to be our
masters, that guilty habit cannot be pleaded in excuse for
guilty act." i"

Adhesion to resolution under temptation. — Let

us now take the case of a moral choice freely sustained
in the face of severe pressure. Suppose an angry
impulse, a feeling of envy, or an impure image presents
itself to me. As soon as I advert to its sinfulness, I
deliberately reject the evil thought and endeavour to
direct my attention to something else. But the tempta-
tion recurs again and again in spite of my efforts to
banish or suppress it ; and the victory is only finally
secured after a long and painful struggle. ^^ Now the
most careful introspective observation of my mental
processes assures me here that I am exerting and
sustaining volitional activity against the preponderant
impulse. Further, it forces upon me at each instant the
absolutely overwhelming conviction that the alternative
choice is hie et nunc in my power — that I can, alas !
only too easily surrender. It is only by painful,
constantly renewed, energetic volition that I can inhibit
the sinful inclination. The alternative choice would require
no positive act. Mere cessation from this sustained

^" Martinean, A Study of Religion, pp. 214, 215.

^' The Volitional effort should be carefully distinguished from
Muscular effort. James does this well, Principles of Psychology,
Vol. II. p. 562 ; cf. also Noel, op. cit. pp. 229 — 234.




volitional effort would permit the evil impulse to take
possession of my consciousness — would involve acquie-
scence or consent. The motive of doing right undoubtedly
attracts me ; but the assertion that the cognition of
the rightness of resistance converts such resistance into
the pleasantest course, or constitutes a motive of such
force as to draw me inevitably to the side of virtue, is
extravagantly untrue. It is / myself who, by continuous
painful effort of volitional attention, keep this evane-
scent idea of duty before my mind and give it what
power it possesses. Moral conduct of this kind is, as
Professor James truly says, action in the line of greatest
resistance. It is not merely one original momentary act
of choice against what seemed to be the strongest
motive ; it is a series of volitions in opposition to what
consciousness continuously assures me is the strongest
motive. But according to the determinist, not only the
original decision, but each subsequent volition was
inexorably determined by the preponderant attraction,
and no other alternative was ever possible to me.^'^

An objection. — To these various arguments one general
objection is urged : "The conviction of freedom is an illusion."
" Men," says Spinoza, " deceive themselves in thinking that
they arc free. On what is this opinion based ? On this
alone, that they are conscious of their acts, but ignorant of
the causes which determine them. The idea which men form
of their liberty arises then from this, that they do not know
the causes of their actions/' i'' '• Which motive is chosen,"

1- Cf. M. Piat : "II existe une profonde difference entre mes
representations et mes volitions morales. Mes representations viennent
de je ne sais quelle region de men etre et s'imposent a ma conscience.
Elles se font en moi sans moi. Je ne les produis pas ; Je les subis.
II en va tout autrement des actes que j'accomplis pour me con-
former a la loi morale. Ces actes ne se passent pas en moi sans
mon concours ; je ne suis seulement spectateur de leur evolution ;
je les tire de mon propre fond et par un effort qui ne depend que de
moi. Quand je lutte centre une passion, je sens bien la sollicitation
de I'idt-al et le charme du bien qui m'appellent en haut ; rnais ce
que je sens avec non moins de nettete, c'est que cette sollicitation
et ce charme n'ont rien d'analogue a une force, si subtile et delicate
fju'on la suppose, qui me tire et m'entraine a sa suite. C'est par
un effort qui m'est propre, par une tension de mon energie, que
j'opine pour lui centre la passion." {La Liberie, Vol. II. p. 94)

^^ Cited by Maudsley, op. cit. p. 409.


says Professor Alexander, '' is perfectly fixed and dependent
upon the character, which cannot choose otherwise than it
does." The mistaken notion that " I was free to do other-
wise " is due simply to the fact that : " Given any act, a
different act is conceivable, there is a logical alternative to
everything. But so far as the agent believes that he, with his
character and under his circumstances, could have acted
otherwise, he confuses the feeling that he chooses with this
mere logical possibility."^* The reply is already furnished in
the analysis of the examples of conative activity just given.
My assurance of freedom in voluntary attention, deliberation,
and effort against temptation is founded, not on ignorance of
the causes which have determined my volition, but on the
knowledge that / am that cause — the certainty that it is /
who have originated, developed, guided, and sustained my
volitional activity. I can clearly distinguish certain free
volitions from conative activity which is not free. I can
recognize with not less clearness the wide difference between
the conception of some abstractly possible action and the
conviction that an alternative course is or was really in my
power. And the assertion that whilst I was painfully struggling
against a violent and protracted temptation consent was
there and then never really possible to me, is simply
incredible. If ugly facts are to be got rid of by calling them
" illusions," no psychological or metaphysical hypothesis,
however absurd, could be effectually disproved.

Metaphysical Argument. — The third form of
proof used in establishing the Freedom of the Will is
sometimes called the Metaphysical Argument. The
distaste for metaphysical speculation, which has held
such complete sway in this country during the last two
centuries, has virtuall}?' ostracized this argument from
English philosophical literature. It is indeed of very
little use for the purpose of converting a man who is
not convinced of the existence of Free-will by the
preceding lines of reasoning. But, on the other hand,
it has the advantage, which they do not possess, of
showing the cause of our freedom, and the natural con-
tinuity of that freedom, as long as reason remains to us
in this life. We do not of course mean by this, that
there is moral liberty involved in every use of reason.
We have already pointed out that freedom is limited to

i-* Op. cit. p. 340.



those states of mind in which we advert to thoughts
and desires that have occurred to us, and in which we
are thus in a reflex manner concomitantly aware of the
character of these thoughts — of their real or apparent
worth, of their value estimated from a moral, a pru-
dential, or a hedonistic standpoint. As often as the
mind is in such a condition — and ever}^ man's experience
assures him of its frequency — we are free to indulge or
resist the thought, to foster or struggle against the

The cause of this lies in the fact that the Will is a
rational appetite : an appetite which embraces nothing
of necessity, except what is apprehended as desirable in
every respect. The Rational Will can be irresistibly
drawn only by that which reason proposes as so univer-
sally attractive that it contains no dissatisfactory
feature. As long as the thought of an object reveals
any disagreeable aspect, the Will has not that which it
is naturally longing for — perfect happiness — and it is
able to reject this object. The Will is moved to desire
an object only in so far as that object is good. Appe-
tency is in truth merely tendency towards good,
whatever form that good may take ; and an object
which contains any deficiency is the reverse of desirable
so far as that feature is concerned. If, then, attention
is concentrated on this undesirable feature, and with-
drawn from those which are attractive, the object loses
its enticing force. But during this present life no object
presents itself to the intellect as attractive under all
aspects when ive advert to its vahie, — that is, in the mental
situation for which liberty is claimed. As regards /zw^Y*?
goods it is obvious that, either in the difficulty of their
acquisition, or in the uncertainty of their possession, or
in their possible incompatibility with our highest good,
there is always something on account of which they are
undesirable, and for which man may turn away from
them to seek the infinite good — God Himself. At the
same time it is equally clear that man is not at present
drawn inevitably in this latter direction. The inade-
quate and obscure notion of God possessed in this life,
the difficulty of duty, the conflict of man's pride and


sensLialit}' with virtue, all make the pursuit of our true
good disagreeable in many respects to human nature,
so that we can only too easily and freely abandon it.
The clear apprehension of an Infinite Good, such as is
given in the Beatific Vision of the blessed in Heaven,
would, theologians teach, remove this freedom. The
blessed cannot help loving God above all things ; we,
however, though necessitated to seek after good in some
shape or other, are at libert}' to reject any particular
form of it presented to us. Our Freedom, accordingly,
lies in our power of choosing between the manifold kinds
of good which are ever conceivable by the Intellect ; it
is, in fact, a free acceptance of intellectual judgments
concerning the desirability of thoughts and external
actions. Free-will is, therefore, a result of man's
possession of a spiritual faculty of cognition whose
object is the universal, and which can conceive
unlimited and unalloyed good. Consequently, where
such a power does not exist, as in the case of brute
animals, moral liberty is absent.

The establishment of Free-will by the two former
arguments demonstrates that independently of the
intellect we are endowed with a spiritual faculty, an
activity superior to matter, and not completely con-
trolled in its operations by the physical organism. This
in truth is the rock of offence. If the Will is free, then
there is more in man than an organized frame.

Objections against Free-will. — We shall now handle briefly
the leading objections urged against Free-will. Since many
of these claim to be the outcome of modern science, we shall
treat them under the heads of the several branches of know-
ledge to which they belong. We shall start with those which
are asserted to proceed from the study of the mind itself.

Psychological Difficulties. — i. Many determinists devote a
considerable quantity of abuse to the doctrine of Free-will,
as a fitting exordium to prepare the reader's mind to make
proper estimate of the pros and cons. Thus, Dr. Bain
characterizes his opponent's view as incomprehensible and
unintelligible. Free-will, he tells us, is " a power that comes
from nothing, has no beginning, follows no rule, respects no
time or occasion, operates without impartiality;" and reason-
ably enough he looks on such a conception of voluntary


action as "repugnant alike to our intelligence and to our
moral sentiment." ^^ In the same strain Dr. Maudsley : "A
self-determining will is an unmeaning contradiction in terms
and an inconceivability in fact."^« Such rhetorical devices
are to be met by simple denial. That the mind possesses
at times the power of free choice, of freely yielding to or
resisting the most agreeable attractions, that it is not always
inevitably determined in the direction of the greatest
pleasure 'is at least as intelligible a proposition as its contra-
dictory. Moreover, since it expresses what is practically the
universal conviction of mankind, it cannot be self-evidently


Similarly, when Professor Stout compares free volition in
the libertarian view to "a Jack-in-the-box," and says that
"contingent choice" in that theory " springs into being of
itself as if it were fired out of a pistol," ^' the anti-determinist
can, of course, at once retort the illustration and reply that,
on the contrary, it is in Professor Stout's theory human choice
resembles the pistol-bullet— is just as free, meritorious, or
blameworthy, and that the Brockton murderer is just as
responsible and worthy of reprobation as the revolver with
which he shot his wife !

2. It is affirmed that our own internal experience is in
favour of the necessarian view. Introspection tells us that
we are always determined by motives ; and it is denied " that
we are conscious of being able to act in opposition to the
strongest present desire or aversion." ^^ By " strongest," is
meant strongest estimated in quantity of pleasure or pain.
Now, here we come to the point of assertion and denial about
an ultimate fact of consciousness which is incapable of
demonstration, and which each must examine for himself.
We hold that each man's own internal experience reveals
the fact that he can at times resist the strongest desire or
aversion, and we believe that most men, at least occasionally,
do so. In involuntary acts we admit also that we are inevit-
ably necessitated by our character and the motives operating
upon us. Even in deliberate choice we are influenced by the
greater weight of motive on one side, but we are not inexorably
determined thereby.

3. "The strongest motive always prevails." This is
either a tautological statement, or it is untrue. If strength
of motive is to be determined by its final prevalence, then it
is an identical proposition affirming the undeniable truth that
the motive which prevails, does prevail. This seems to be

15 Emotions and Will (3rd Edit.), pp. 483, 492, 500.

w Op. cit. p. 412. 1^ Manual of Psychology, pp. 590, 614.

^8 Mill, Exam. (2nd Edit.), p. 505.


Bain's viewJ^ Mill, however, says, by strongest is meant
most pleasurable.-'^ In this sense the statement must be
denied, and appeal made to the illustrations given above.

4. Some determinists find misrepresentation the most
convenient method of demolishing the case for Free-will.
" That every one is at liberty to desire, or Jiot to desire, which
is the real proposition involved in the dogma of Free-will, is
negatived as much by the analysis of consciousness as by the
contents of the preceding chapters." ^^ The question is not
whether desire be free, or whether action in opposition to wish
be possible. G. H. Lewes is here less unfair towards his
opponents. "No one," he says, " supposes that our desires
are free." - Desire is an ambiguous term. Primarily, as we
have already indicated, it means a consciousness of want or
insufficiency to be satisfied by some represented object.
Such a state is, of course, not a volition or free act of the
will. The latter consists in the rejection of, or consent to,
this feeling — in the act of permitting or resisting the spon-
taneous movement of the appetite towards the desired object.
We certainly can at times put forth an act of will to restrain
this spontaneous desire. The word desire is, however, also
used to designate the movement of the appetite, when this
motion has been accepted or adopted by the will, and of
course in this sense it is impossible not to will or desire what
we freely desire.

5. One of the difficulties most frequently urged is, that
experience of our neighbour's actions shows that they are
ever determined by character and motives. " We always
explain the voluntary action of all men except ourselves on
the principle of causation by character and circumstances.
Indeed, otherwise social life would be impossible, for the life
of man in society involves daily a mass of minute forecasts
of the actions of other men founded on experience." ^^ "All
the massive evidence to be derived from human conduct,
and from our interpretation of such conduct, pomts to the
conclusion that actions, sensations, emotions, and thoughts,
are subject to causal determination no less rigorous than the
movements of the planets." 2* ,,

This objection, however, really proves nothing against -^ - -s/t^
our doctrine. For, (a) such predictions and judgments deal f*^ «^^^^**^^
mainly with external acts of which a large part are inde- ^^*^
liberate, and so necessitated by nature and circumstances.

^9 Emotions and Will (2nd Edit.), p. 409. ^o Exam. p. 519.

21 H. Spencer, Principles of Psychology, § 219.

22 The Study of Psychology, p. 109.

23 Sidgwick, op. cit. Bk. I. c. v. n. 2. '^^ Lewes, op. cit. p. 102.





{b) Even in deliberate actions, unless their moral quality be
very marked, men follow freely the spontaneous impulse of
the will, which is the resultant of character plus motives.
The most thorough-going libertarian allows that man's will
is influenced, though not inexorably constrained, by these forces;
and hence Christian teachers of all times have laid the
greatest stress on the formation of virtuous habits, (c) Even
where the morality of an act becomes prominent, it is only
men aiming at a virtuous life who frequently resist the solici-
tations of pleasure, (d) That in an unreflective mood we
should thus seem to consider other men's acts to be com-
pletely determined by character and motives, is quite
explicable on the principles of mental association. Character
and motives have admittedly great influence, and they are
the only factors of the case which come within our cognizance.
Accordingly, the unknown element of the will being always
neglected, the observed agents impress themselves vividly on
our mind, especially in connexion with successful predictions,
and so cause the existence of the unseen element to be for-
gotten, {e) Finally, when we reflect upon the deliberate
moral acts of others, we most certainly do not believe them
to be the inevitable outcome of their circumstances, as is
shown by our allotment of praise and blame.

6. The fiction of Free-will, it is said, has its root in the
illusion, that the mind is at any moment not merely the
aggregate of conscious states then present, but something
persisting amid these changing phases. " The collective ' I,'
or ' self,' can be nothing different from the feelings, actions,
and intelligence of the individual." ^^ " Considered as an
internal perception, the illusion consists in supposing that at
each moment the ego is something more than the aggregate


and fundamental
ego is merely an

of feelings and ideas, actual and nascent, which then exists."
Here, of course, we again reach ultimate
differences of view. We deny that the
aggregate or a series of states. The unity of consciousness
refutes such a doctrine. If there were not a permanent
abiding principle or subject, underlying our transient con-
scious states, then memory, reflexion, deliberation, and
reasoning would be impossible.

7. Herbert Spencer urges : " Either the


which is

supposed to determine or will the action is present in con-
sciousness, or it is not. If it is something which is not present
in consciousness, it is something of which we are unconscious
— something therefore of whose existence we neither have nor

25 Dr. Bain, Mental Science, p. 402.
^'^ Spencer, Principles of Psychology, § 219.

Pn£E-wiLL And determlvis.v. 4i

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 42 of 63)