Ramble on free will

St. Thomas explains the freedom of the will though the indetermination of the intellect: we choose in virtue of some concept or idea, but our idea is not determined to some one particular, so neither is our choice. Whenever I read debates about “libertarian free will”- or scientific trials that hook up electrodes to a guys head to anticipate what he will decide when we tell him to make some random choice- I get the sense that the debaters have a much more elaborate notion of “free will” than St. Thomas had. Who can object to the idea that we act in virtue of concepts that are not sufficiently determined to one result, and so far as this is true, our action is not determined to a result? Do we really need to argue about this? There is mountain of after-market qualifications we can add to this rather weak account of free will. Habits (which for St. Thomas are any determination of a power, whether this arose from personal, cultural, or genetic origins) certainly play a role in fast-tracking our undetermined concepts to one deteminate thing.  A good deal of life needs to be simply executed automatically, and so much of our action- probably much more than is worth thinking about- is almost certainly “determined” in the sense of foreseeable by another. Do we really need a brain scan to tell us this? Can’t we figure this out by living with someone for a week?


  1. Mike said,

    December 30, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Well, and the brain scans can’t be all that reliable if they can come from a dead fish.

    • December 30, 2009 at 11:47 am

      Awesome. What a hoot.

      Even after they work out all the kinks in brain scans, i still doubt whether predictability based on physical processes antecedent to our awareness of choice is the salient feature of free will.

  2. Brandon said,

    December 30, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Interesting — I think I am in full agreement, but my inclination is to say it in exactly the opposite way: when I read modern debates about ‘liberatarian free will’ I get the sense that the debaters have a much less elaborate notion of free will than Thomas had. And I think that there’s grounds for both reactions, because modern debates on the subject involve conflations, and that is in a sense what conflations do: they oversimplify complex aspects and overcomplicate simple aspects.

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