Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action.
The meanings of "freedom" and "free will" have been and are under debate, and the debate is confused because there is no generally accepted definition of either "freedom" or "free will". Adler's “Institute for Philosophical Research” spent ten years studying the “idea of freedom” as the word was used by hundreds of authors who have discussed and disputed freedom. The study was published in 1958 as Volume One of The Idea of Freedom, sub-titled A Dialectical Examination of the Idea of Freedom with subsequent comments in Adler's Philosophical Dictionary. Adler's study concluded that a delineation of three kinds of freedom – circumstantial, natural, and acquired – is necessary for clarity on the subject.
1. “Circumstantial freedom” denotes “freedom from coercion or restraint.”
2. “Natural freedom” denotes “freedom of a free will” or “free choice.” It is the freedom to determine one’s own decisions or plans. This freedom exists in everyone inherently, regardless of circumstances or state of mind.
3. “Acquired freedom” [Moral freedom] is the freedom “to will as we ought to will” and, thus, “to live as [one] ought to live.” This freedom is not inherent: it must be acquired by a change whereby a person gains qualities as “good, wise, virtuous, etc.”
Free will --
The meanings of “freedom” and “free will” have been and are under debate, and the debate is confused because there is no generally accepted definition of either “freedom” or “free will.” “Freedom” and “free will” are often treated together because “free will” is commonly used as synonymous with “freedom".
Three meanings of freedom -- Adler’s “Institute for Philosophical Research” spent ten years studying the “idea of freedom” as the word was used by hundreds of authors who have discussed and disputed freedom. The study was published in 1958 as Volume One of The Idea of Freedom, sub-titled A Dialectical Examination of the Idea of Freedom with subsequent comments in Adler's Philosophical Dictionary. Adler’s study concluded that a delineation of three kinds of freedom is necessary for clarity on the subject. These three kinds of freedom were delineated as follows:
1. “Circumstantial freedom” denotes “freedom from coercion or restraint,” a freedom that allows us “to do as we please.” Thus, circumstantial freedom was also called the “freedom of self-realization.” It has been observed that this is the kind of freedom that Thomas Hobbes and David Hume thought was compatible with determinism.
2. “Natural freedom” denotes “freedom of a free will” or “free choice.” It is the freedom to determine one’s own decisions or plans. This freedom exists in everyone as a “natural endowment.” It is, according to Adler, “(i) inherent in all men, (ii) regardless of the circumstances under which they live and (iii) without regard to any state of mind or character which they may or may not acquire in the course of their lives.”
3. “Acquired freedom” (also called “moral freedom”) is the freedom “to live as [one] ought to live.” In his description of acquired freedom, Adler sometimes used freedom’s synonym “ability.” Thus, Adler described acquired freedom as “the ability to will as we ought to will” and the ability to act as we ought to act. This kind of freedom/ability is not inherent: it must be acquired. To live as one ought requires “a change or development” whereby a person acquires “a state of mind, or character, or personality” that can be described by such qualities as “good, wise, virtuous, righteous, holy, healthy, sound, flexible, etc.”
As Adler’s interest in religion and theology increased, he made references to the Bible and the need to test its articles of faith for compatibility with certainties from fields of natural knowledge such as science and philosophy. The article Theodicy and the Bible demonstrates the compatibility between Adler’s three kinds of freedom and the Bible.
The Denial of Free Will - The philosophical defect here is not so much a demonstrable philosophical error as a manifest misunderstanding of the issue itself. That misunderstanding lies mainly on the side of philosophers and scientists who are determinists. They do not correctly understand the premises upon which an affirmation of freedom of choice rests. The determinists held that all the phenomena of nature are governed by causal laws through the operation of which effects are necessitated by their causes. Nothing happens by chance. What the determinists who deny freedom of choice fail to understand is that the exponents of free choice place the action of the will outside the domain of the physical phenomena. The will, as they conceive it, is an intellectual faculty. The intellect and the will, being immaterial, do not act in accordance with the physical principles and laws.
Except and condensation from Mortimer J. Adler's "Ten Philosophical Mistakes" - Chapter 7: Freedom of Choice
Three meanings of freedom --
Circumstantial freedom - "It is the freedom we possess when we are able to do as we please or wish. ... Such obstacles as coercion and duress limit the extent to which we can do as we please; so does the lack of enabling means. As R.H.Tawney said, the poor man is not free to dine at the Ritz.
However, no one, not even the slave in chains or the prisoner in solitary confinement, is totally devoid of the freedom to do as he wishes. There are still some respects, however slight, in which he can do as he pleases." (Adler 145)
Another circumstantial freedom is political liberty. "And people have political liberty under favorable circumstances when they are governed with their own consent and with a voice in their government". (Adler On Liberty)
"The two remaining types of freedom do not depend upon outer circumstances" ...
"One of these is the Acquired Freedom of being able to will as one ought. Only through acquired moral virtue and practical wisdom does anyone come to possess such freedom. It is freedom from the passions that lead us to do what we ought to do what we ought not to do, ... When reason dominates, then we are able to will as we ought in conformity to the moral law." (Adler 146)
"Natural freedom is the freedom of the will in its acts of choice. Freedom of choice consists in always being able to choose otherwise, no matter what one has chosen in any particular instance." (Adler 147)
"Natural freedom has been the subject of the most extended and intricate controversy over the centuries. Its existence has been affirmed by a large number of philosophers and denied by an equally large number." (Adler 147)
"With knowledge of all the ins and outs of the controversy, I cannot show that the exponents of free choice are right and that the determinists who oppose free choice are wrong. The philosophical defect here is not so much a demonstrable philosophical error as a manifest misunderstanding of the issue itself.
That misunderstanding lies mainly on the side of philosophers and scientists who are determinists. ... They do not correctly understand the premises upon which an affirmation of freedom of choice rests." (Adler 148)
"The determinists held that all the phenomena of nature are governed by causal laws through the operation of which effects are necessitated by their causes. Nothing happens by chance. ... In their view, free choice is exactly like a chance event and so cannot occur within the natural domain." (Adler 148)
"What the determinists who deny freedom of choice fail to understand is that the exponents of free choice place the action of the will outside the domain of the physical phenomena." The will, as they conceive it, is an intellectual faculty. The intellect and the will, being immaterial, do not act in accordance with the physical principles and laws. (Adler 150)
"The affirmation of freedom of choice rests on the immateriality of the will." (Adler 151)
The exponents of free choice do not attempt to show "how the causality that operates in the realm of immaterial phenomena differs from the causality that operates in the physical world. The only thing they are sufficiently clear about, and rightly insistent on, is that freedom of choice is not to be identified with chance." (Adler 152)
"The controversy between the determinists and the exponents of freedom of choice goes beyond the denial and affirmation of that freedom. It concerns such questions as whether moral responsibility, praise and blame, the justice of rewards and punishments, depend on man's having freedom of choice." (Adler 152)
"The determinists in recent times have divided into two groups - the soft-determinists and the hard-determinists."
"The soft-determinists hold the view that the circumstantial freedom of being able to do as one pleases provides sufficient grounds for attributing moral responsibility to those who act with such freedom."
"The hard-determinists concede that, without freedom of choice, no one should be held morally responsible for what they do; no one should be praised or blamed, rewarded or punished." (Adler 153)
"The punishment for criminal actions may have some pragmatic or utilitarian justification. It may serve the purpose of reforming the criminal and of deterring others from committing the same crime, thus protecting society in the future from such depredations. But how can punishment be retributively just if the criminal was not morally responsible for what he did because it was not a free choice on his part?"
"On these counts, the position taken by the exponents of free choice is sounder than the position taken by the soft-determinists."(Adler 153-154)
We regard self-determination as "a freedom which is possessed by all men, in virtue of a power inherent in human nature, whereby a man is able to change his own character creatively by deciding for himself what he shall do or shall become.
We have further explained that "being able to change one's own character creatively by deciding for one's self what one shall do or shall become" expresses the topical agreement about self-determination only when at least two of the three following points are affirmed:
(i) that the decision is intrinsically unpredictable, i.e., given perfect knowledge of all relevant causes, the decision cannot be foreseen or predicted with certitude;
(ii) that the decision is not necessitated, i.e., the decision is always one of a number of alternative possible decisions any one of which it was simultaneously within the power of the self to cause, no matter what other antecedent or concurrent factors exercise a causal influence on the making of the decision;
(iii) that the decision flows from the causal initiative of the self, i.e., on the plane of natural or finite causes, the self is the uncaused cause of the decision it makes.
These three points, as we shall see, generate three distinct existential issues about man's natural freedom of self-determination. Writers who deny (iii) that, on the plane of natural or finite causes, there are any uncaused causes deny, in consequence, the existence of a freedom the conception of which posits such causes. Writers who deny (ii) that an effect can be caused in a manner which does not necessitate it deny, in consequence, the existence of a freedom the conception of which attributes to the self the power of causing but not necessitating the decisions it makes. The existence of self-determination is also denied by writers who claim (i) that God's omniscience excludes a freedom the conception of which involves the intrinsic unpredictability of decisions that are the product of man's power of self-determination.
—Mortimer J. Adler, The Idea of Freedom, vol.II, p.225
In points (i) and (ii) Adler has defined a two-stage model of free will like that of William James and a dozen other philosophers and scientists.
(Source: Project Gutenburg)
On the lighter side
The concept of free will has undergone some hard times lately. The obvious success of science, and the materialistic, deterministic, reductionistic assumptions that usually accompany it, have made free will seem old-fashioned, associated more with scholastic theologians than modern men and women. But I find the concept impossible to ignore, much less dispose of.
Let’s begin by saying what free will is, and what it isn’t. Free will is not the same as freedom of action. Freedom of action refers to things that prevent a willed action from being realized. For example, being in prison means you are not free to paint the town red. Being in a straight jacket means you are not free to wave hello. Being paralyzed means not being able to move your limbs. These are not issues of free will. Free will means being free to try to escape (or not), to try to wave (or not), to try to move your limbs (or not).
Neither is free will the same as political or social freedom (better known as liberty). Just because you will be executed for taking the local dictator’s name in vain, doesn’t mean you aren’t free to try, or even free to actually do so. You’ll just wind up paying for the satisfaction.
And one thing free will is certainly not is "willpower". "Willpower" is a mythical power some people claim to have and like tell other people they should have. In reality, it is just a matter of one motive out-weighing another. The runner runs his marathon despite the pain and exhaustion, not because he has some special power, but because he likes to demonstrate his prowess more than he likes being pain-free. The model restricts her diet to salad despite her hunger, not because she has a powerful will, but because she values appearance over satiety. These folks may tell the fat man that he should just use his "willpower" and start dieting and exercising, when in fact he has been doing exactly the same thing that they have been doing. In his case, his desire for food and rest outweigh his desire for health and long life. Telling him to use his "willpower" is like telling a diabetic to start producing insulin. .......
Read the article at webspace.ship.edu
Winfrey has had a long, public battle with her weight. Perhaps the most famous of her weight-loss stories happened in a 1988 episode of her talk show when she famously wore a pair of size 10 Calvin Klein Jeans -- her smallest size in years -- while wheeling a wagon loaded with animal fat to represent the 67 pounds she had lost on a liquid protein diet. Winfrey, who is no longer a size 10, has since called this episode her "biggest, fattest" mistake. She also told Barbara Walters in a 2010 TV special that "I think I did myself a great disservice focusing so much on the external body features ... What I've learned is that overeating for me is about being out of balance and being disconnected and using that as a comfort for the stress." Charles Bennett / Associated Press
Traditionally, only actions that are freely willed are seen as deserving credit or blame
Don't mess with God.
God is almighty.
The Illusion of Free Choice.