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Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Henry Sidgwick

Henry Sidgwick's 1874 Methods of Ethics was called the "first truly academic work in moral theory" and "the clearest and most accessible formulation of what we may call 'the classical utilitarian doctrine'." by John Rawls.

Utilitarian Ethics makes the ultimate moral end of individual and social action to produce the greatest increase in the sum of the happiness (or "well-being" in Sidgwick's formulation) of all sentient beings. Sidgwick also considers the Intuitionist Ethics of Whewell and the Deontological Ethics of Kant.

In Chapter 5 on Free Will, Sidgwick comments that he has "not exactly found that the comments which it has called forth have removed my difficulties in dealing with this time-honored problem." He presents the formidable array of cumulative evidence offered for Determinism, but concedes the Libertarian contention as to the demoralising effect of Determinism, if held with a real force of conviction.

Sidgwick is confused by Kant's definition of "freedom" as acting rationally (i.e., morally). This is the ethical fallacy. Freedom is a prerequisite for moral responsibility, but freedom can not be equated with moral (i.e., good) behavior. Kant echoes the church philosophers who said men were free when doing good, and unfree slaves to their passions and desires when doing evil. Sidgwick sees this absurdity somewhat late in his work. He says in the preface to the sixth edition:

Kant's resting of morality on Freedom did not indeed commend itself to me, though I did not at first see, what I now seem to see clearly, that it involves the fundamental confusion of using "freedom" in two distinct senses — "freedom" that is realised only when we do right, when reason triumphs over inclination, and "freedom" that is realised equally when we choose to do wrong, and which is apparently implied in the notion of ill-desert.
Free Will
Chapter 5 of Book I, Methods of Ethics, 1874 (7th ed. 1907)
§ 1. In the preceding chapters I have treated first of rational, and secondly of disinterested action, without introducing the vexed question of the Freedom of the Will. The difficulties connected with this question have been proved by long dialectical experience to be so great, that I am anxious to confine them within as strict limits as I can, and keep as much of my subject as possible free from their perturbing influence. And it appears to me that we have no psychological warrant for identifying Disinterested with either "Free" or "Rational" action; while to identify Rational and Free action is at least misleading, and tends to obscure the real issue raised in the Free Will controversy.

In the last chapter I have tried to show that action strictly disinterested, that is, disregardful of foreseen balance of pleasure to ourselves, is found in the most instinctive as well as in the most deliberate and self-conscious region of our volitional experience. And rational action, as I conceive it, remains rational, however completely the rationality of any individual's conduct may be determined by causes antecedent or external to his own volition: so that the conception of acting rationally, as explained in the last chapter but one, is not bound up with the notion of acting 'freely,' as maintained by Libertarians generally against Determinists.

I say "Libertarians generally," because in the statements made by disciples of Kant as to the connexion of Freedom and Rationality, there appears to me to be a confusion between two meanings of the term Freedom, which require to be carefully distinguished in any discussion of Free Will. When a disciple of Kant1 says that a man "is a free agent in so far as he acts under the guidance of reason," the statement easily wins assent from ordinary readers; since, as Whewell says, we ordinarily "consider our Reason as being ourselves rather than our desires and affections.

We speak of Desire, Love, Anger, as mastering us, or of ourselves as controlling them. If we decide to prefer some remote and abstract good to immediate pleasures, or to conform to a rule which brings us present pain (which decision implies exercise of Reason), we more particularly consider such acts as our own acts." 2
I do not, therefore, object on the score of usage to this application of the term "free" to denote voluntary actions in which the seductive solicitations of appetite or passion are successfully resisted: and I am sensible of the gain in effectiveness of moral persuasion which is obtained by thus enlisting the powerful sentiment of Liberty on the side of Reason and Morality. But it is clear that if we say that a man is a "free" agent in so far as he acts rationally, we cannot also say — in the same sense — that it is by his own "free" choice that he acts irrationally, when he does so act; and it is this latter proposition which Libertarians generally have been concerned to maintain.

They have thought it of fundamental importance to show the 'Freedom' of the moral agent, on account of the connexion that they have held to exist between Freedom and Moral Responsibility: and it is obvious that the Freedom thus connected with Responsibility is not the Freedom that is only manifested or realised in rational action, but the Freedom to choose between right and wrong which is manifested or realised equally in either choice.

Now it is implied in the Christian consciousness of "wilful sin" that men do deliberately and knowingly choose to act irrationally. They do not merely prefer self-interest to duty (for here is rather a conflict of claims to rationality than clear irrationality); but (e.g.) sensual indulgence to health, revenge to reputation, etc., though they know that such preference is opposed to their true interests no less than to their duty. 1

Hence it does not really correspond to our experience as a whole to represent the conflict between Reason and passion as a conflict between 'ourselves' on the one hand and a force of nature on the other. We may say, if we like, that when we yield to passion, we become 'the slaves of our desires and appetites': but we must at the same time admit that our slavery is self-chosen.
the question of could we do otherwise?
Can we say, then, of the wilful wrongdoer that his wrong choice was 'free,' in the sense that he might have chosen rightly, not merely if the antecedents of his volition, external and internal, had been different, but supposing these antecedents unchanged? This, I conceive, is the substantial issue raised in the Free Will controversy; which I now propose briefly to consider: since it is widely believed to be of great Ethical importance.

§ 2. We may conveniently begin by defining more exactly the notion of Voluntary action, to which, according to all methods of Ethics alike, the predicates 'right' and 'what ought to be done' — in the strictest ethical sense — are exclusively applicable. In the first place, Voluntary action is distinguished as 'conscious' from actions or movements of the human organism which are 'unconscious' or 'mechanical.' The person whose organism performs such movements only becomes aware of them, if at all, after they have been performed; accordingly they are not imputed to him as a person, or judged to be morally wrong or imprudent; though they may sometimes be judged to be good or bad in respect of their consequences, with the implication that they ought to be encouraged or checked as far as this can be done indirectly by conscious effort.

So again, in the case of conscious actions, the agent is not regarded as morally culpable, except in an indirect way, for entirely unforeseen effects of his voluntary actions. No doubt when a man's action has caused some unforeseen harm, the popular moral judgment often blames him for carelessness; but it would be generally admitted by reflective persons that in such cases strictly moral blame only attaches to the agent in an indirect way, in so far as his carelessness is the result of some wilful neglect of duty. Thus the proper immediate objects of moral approval or disapproval would seem to be always the results of a man's volitions so far as they were intended — i.e. represented in thought as certain or probable 1 consequences of his volitions: — or, more strictly, the volitions themselves in which such results were so intended, since we do not consider that a man is relieved from moral blame because his wrong intention remains unrealised through external causes.

This view seems at first sight to differ from the common opinion that the morality of acts depends on their 'motives' ; if by motives are understood the desires that we feel for some of the foreseen consequences of our acts. But I do not think that those who hold this opinion would deny that we are blameworthy for any prohibited result which we foresaw in willing, whether it was the object of desire or not. No doubt it is commonly held that acts, similar as regards their foreseen results, may be 'better' or 'worse' 2 through the presence of certain desires or aversions. Still so far as these feelings are not altogether under the control of the will, the judgment of 'right' and 'wrong' — in the strictest sense of these terms — seems to be not properly applicable to the feelings themselves, but rather to the exertion or omission of voluntary effort to check bad motives and encourage good ones, or to the conscious adoption of an object of desire as an end to be aimed at — which is a species of volition.

We may conclude then that judgments of right and wrong relate properly to volitions accompanied with intention — whether the intended consequences be external, or some effects produced on the agent's own feelings or character. This excludes from the scope of such judgments those conscious actions which are not intentional, strictly speaking; as when sudden strong feelings of pleasure and pain cause movements which we are aware of making, but which are not preceded by any representation in idea either of the movements themselves or of their effects. For such actions, sometimes distinguished as 'instinctive,' we are only held to be responsible indirectly so far as any bad consequences of them might have been prevented by voluntary efforts to form habits of more complete self-control.

We have to observe further that our common moral judgments recognise an important distinction between impulsive and deliberate wrongdoing, condemning the latter more strongly than the former. The line between the two cannot be sharply drawn : but we may define 'impulsive' actions as those where the connexion between the feeling that prompts and the action prompted is so simple and immediate that, though intention is distinctly present, the consciousness of personal choice of the intended result is evanescent.

In deliberate volitions there is always a conscious selection of the result as one of two or more practical alternatives.

In the case, then, of such volitions as are pre-eminently the objects of moral condemnation and approbation, the psychical fact 'volition' seems to include — besides intention, or representation of the results of action — also the consciousness of self as choosing, resolving, determining these results. And the question which I understand to be at issue in the Free Will controversy may be stated thus: Is the self to which I refer my deliberate volitions a self of strictly determinate moral qualities, a definite character partly inherited, partly formed by my past actions and feelings, and by any physical influences that it may have unconsciously received; so that my voluntary action, for good or for evil, is at any moment completely caused by the determinate qualities of this character, together with my circumstances, or the external influences acting on me at the moment — including under this latter term my present bodily conditions? — or is there always a possibility of my choosing to act in the manner that I now judge to be reasonable and right, whatever my previous actions and experiences may have been?

In the above questions a materialist would substitute 'brain and nervous system' for 'character,' and thereby obtain a clearer notion; but I have avoided using terms which suggest materialistic assumptions, because Determinism by no means involves Materialism. For the present purpose the difference is unimportant. The substantial dispute relates to the completeness of the causal dependence of any volition upon the state of things at the preceding instant, whether we specify these as 'character and circumstances,' or 'brain and environing forces.1

On the Determinist side there is a cumulative argument of great force. The belief that events are determinately related to the state of things immediately preceding them is now held by all competent thinkers in respect of all kinds of occurrences except human volitions. It has steadily grown both intensively and extensively, both in clearness and certainty of conviction and in universality of application, as the human mind has developed and human experience has been systematised and enlarged. Step by step in successive departments of fact conflicting modes of thought have receded and faded, until at length they have vanished everywhere, except from this mysterious citadel of Will.

Everywhere else the belief is so firmly established that some declare its opposite to be inconceivable: others even maintain that it always was so. Every scientific procedure assumes it: each success of science confirms it. And not only are we finding ever new proof that events are cognisably determined, but also that the different modes of determination of different kinds of events are fundamentally identical and mutually dependent: and naturally, with the increasing conviction of the essential unity of the cognisable universe, increases the indisposition to allow the exceptional character claimed by Libertarians for the department of human action.

Again, when we fix our attention on human action, we observe that the portion of it which is originated unconsciously is admittedly determined by physical causes: and we find that no clear line can be drawn between acts of this kind and those which are conscious and voluntary. Not only are many acts of the former class entirely similar to those of the latter, except in being unconscious: but we remark further that actions which we habitually perform continually pass from the conscious class into the — wholly or partly — unconscious: and the further we investigate, the more the conclusion is forced upon us, that there is no kind of action originated by conscious volition which cannot also, under certain circumstances, be originated unconsciously.

Again, when we look closely at our conscious acts, we find that in respect of such of them as I have characterised as 'impulsive' — acts done suddenly under the stimulus of a momentary sensation or emotion — our consciousness can hardly be said to suggest that they are not completely determined by the strength of the stimulus and the state of our previously determined temperament and character at the time of its operation: and here again, as was before observed, it is difficult to draw a line clearly separating these actions from those in which the apparent consciousness of free choice' becomes distinct.

Further, we always explain1 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 of mankind generally, or of particular classes of men, or of individuals; who are thus necessarily regarded as things having determinate properties, causes whose effects are calculable. We infer generally the future actions of those whom we know from their past actions; and if our forecast turns out in any case to be erroneous, we do not attribute the discrepancy to the disturbing influence of Free Will, but to our incomplete acquaintance with their character and motives.

And passing from individuals to communities, whether we believe in a "social science" or not, we all admit and take part in discussions of social phenomena in which the same principle is assumed: and however we may differ as to particular theories, we never doubt the validity of the assumption: and if we find anything, inexplicable in history, past or present, it never occurs to us to attribute it to an extensive exercise of free will in a particular direction.

Nay, even as regards our own actions, however 'freed' we feel ourselves at any moment, however unconstrained by present motives and circumstances and unfettered by the result of what we have previously been and felt, our volitional choice may appear: still, when it is once well past, and we survey it in the series of our actions, its relations of causation and resemblance to other parts of our life appear, and we naturally explain it as an effect of our nature, education, and circumstances.

Nay we even apply the same conceptions to our future action, and the more, in proportion as our moral sentiments are developed: for with our sense of duty generally increases our sense of the duty of moral culture, and our desire of self-improvement: and the possibility of moral self-culture depends on the assumption that by a present volition we can determine to some extent our actions in the more or less remote future.

No doubt we habitually take at the same time the opposite, Libertarian, view as to our future: we believe, for example, that we are perfectly able to resist henceforward temptations to which we have continually yielded in the past. But it should be observed that this belief is (as moralists of all schools admit and even urge) at any rate to a great extent illusory and misleading. Though Libertarians contend that it is possible for us at any moment to act in a manner opposed to our acquired tendencies and previous customs, — still, they and Determinists alike teach that it is much less easy than men commonly imagine to break the subtle unfelt trammels of habit.

§ 3. Against the formidable array of cumulative evidence offered for Determinism there is to be set the immediate affirmation of consciousness in the moment of deliberate action. Certainly when I have a distinct consciousness of choosing between alternatives of conduct, one of which I conceive as right or reasonable, I find it impossible not to think that I can now choose to do what I so conceive, — supposing that there is no obstacle to my doing it other than the condition of my desires and voluntary habits, — however strong may be my inclination to act unreasonably, and however uniformly I may have yielded to such inclinations in the past.1

I recognise that each concession to vicious desire makes the difficulty of resisting it greater when the desire recurs: but the difficulty always seems to remain separated from impossibility by an impassable gulf. I do not deny that the experience of mankind includes cases in which certain impulses — such as aversion to death or extreme pain, or morbid appetite for alcohol or opium — have reached a point of intensity at which they have been felt as irresistibly overmastering voluntary choice. I think we commonly judge that when this point is reached the individual ceases to be morally responsible for the act done under such overmastering impulse: but at any rate the moral problem thus presented is very exceptional; in ordinary cases of yielding to temptation this consciousness of the irresistibility of impulse does not come in.

Ordinarily, however strong may be the rush of appetite or anger that comes over me, it does not present itself as irresistible; and, if I deliberate at such a moment, I cannot regard the mere force of the impulse as a reason for doing what I otherwise judge to be unreasonable. I can suppose that my conviction of free choice may be illusory: that if I knew my own nature I might see it to be predetermined that, being so constituted and in such circumstances, I should act on the occasion in question contrary to my rational judgment.

But I cannot conceive myself seeing this, without at the same time conceiving my whole conception of what I now call "my" action fundamentally altered: I cannot conceive that if I contemplated the actions of my organism in this light I should refer them to my "self " — i.e. to the mind so contemplating — in the sense in which I now refer them. In this conflict of arguments, it is not surprising that the theoretical question as to the Freedom of the Will is still differently decided by thinkers of repute; and I do not myself wish at present to pronounce any decision on it. But I think it possible and useful to show that the ethical importance of deciding it one way or another is liable to be exaggerated; and that any one who will consider the matter soberly and carefully will find this importance to be of a strictly limited kind.

It is chiefly on the Libertarian side that I find a tendency to the exaggeration of which I have just spoken. Some Libertarian writers maintain that the conception of the Freedom of the Will, alien as it may be to positive science, is yet quite indispensable to Ethics and Jurisprudence; since in judging that I "ought" to do anything I imply that I "can" do it, and similarly in praising or blaming the actions of others I imply that they "could" have acted otherwise.

The standard Determinist Objection
If a man's actions are mere links in a chain of causation which, as we trace it back, ultimately carries us to events anterior to his personal existence, he cannot, it is said, really have either merit or demerit; and if he has not merit or demerit, it is repugnant to the common moral sense of mankind to reward or punish — even to praise or blame — him.

In considering this argument, it will be convenient — for clearness of discussion — to assume in the first instance that there is no doubt or conflict in our view of what it is right to do, except such as may be caused by the present question. It will also be convenient to separate the discussion of the importance of Free Will in relation to moral action generally from the special question of its importance in relation to punishing and rewarding; since, in the latter species of action, what chiefly claims attention is not the present Freedom of the agent, but the past Freedom of the person now acted on.

As regards action generally, the Determinist allows that a man is only morally bound to do what is "in his power "; but he explains "in his power" to mean that the result in question will be produced if the man choose to produce it. And this is, I think, the sense in which the proposition "what I ought to do I can do" is commonly accepted: it means "can do if I choose," " not "can choose to do."

Free will just an illusion
Still the question remains "Can I choose to do what in ordinary thought I judge to be right to do ? " Here my own view is that — within the limits above explained - I inevitably conceive that I can choose; however, I can suppose myself to regard this conception as illusory, and to judge, inferring the future from the past, that I certainly shall not choose, and accordingly that such choice is not really possible to me.

This being supposed, it seems to me undeniable that this judgment will exclude or weaken the operation of the moral motive in the case of the act contemplated: I either shall not judge it reasonable to choose to do what I should otherwise so judge, or if I do pass the judgment, I shall also judge the conception of duty applied in it to be illusory, no less than the conception of Freedom.

So far I concede the Libertarian contention as to the demoralising effect of Determinism, if held with a real force of conviction. But I think the cases are rare in which it is even on Determinist principles legitimate to conclude it to be certain — and not merely highly probable — that I shall deliberately choose to do what I judge to be unwise.1

Ordinarily the legitimate inference from a man's past experience, and from his general knowledge of human nature, would not go beyond a very strong probability that he would choose to do wrong: and a mere probability—however strong—that I shall not will to do right cannot be regarded by me in deliberation as a reason for not willing:1 while it certainly supplies a rational ground for willing strongly—just as a strong probability of any other evil supplies a rational ground for special exertions to avoid it.

Indeed, I do not see why a Libertarian should not — equally with a Determinist — accept as valid, and find it instructive to contemplate, the considerations that render it probable that he will not choose to do right in any particular circumstances. In all ordinary cases, therefore, it does not seem to me relevant to ethical deliberation to determine the metaphysical validity of my consciousness of freedom to choose whatever I may conclude to be reasonable, unless the affirmation or negation of the Freedom of the Will somehow modifies my view of what it would be reasonable to choose to do if I could so choose.

I do not think that any such modification of view can be maintained, as regards the ultimate ends of rational action which, in chap. i., I took as being commonly accepted. If Happiness, whether private or general, be taken as the ultimate end of action on a Libertarian view, the adoption of a Determinist view affords no ground for rejecting it: and if Excellence is in itself admirable and desirable, it surely remains equally so whether any individual's approximation to it is entirely determined by inherited nature and external influences or not: except so far as the notion of Excellence includes that of Free Will.

Now Free Will is obviously not included in our common ideal of physical and intellectual perfection: and it seems to me also not to be included in the common notions of the excellences of character which we call virtues: the manifestations of courage, temperance, and justice do not become less admirable because we can trace their antecedents in a happy balance of inherited dispositions developed by a careful education.2

Can, then, the affirmation or negation of Free Will affect our view of the fittest means for the attainment of either end? In considering this we have to distinguish between the case of a connexion between means and end believed to exist on empirical or other scientific grounds, and the case where the belief in such connexion is an inference from the belief in a moral government of the world.

According to the received view of the moral government of the world, the performance of Duty is the best means of attaining the agent's happiness largely through its expected consequences in another world, in which virtue will be rewarded and vice punished by God: if, then, the belief in the moral government of the world and a future life for men is held to depend on the assumption of Free Will, this latter becomes obviously of fundamental ethical importance: not, indeed, in determining a man's Duty, but in reconciling it with his Interest.

This, I think, is the main element of truth in the view that the denial of Free Will removes motives to the performance of Duty: and I admit the validity of the contention, so far as (1) the course of action conducive to an individual's Interest would be thought to diverge from his Duty, apart from theological considerations, and (2) in the theological reasoning that removes this divergence Free Will is an indispensable assumption. The former point will be examined in a subsequent chapter;1 the latter it hardly falls within the scope of this treatise to discuss.2

If we confine our attention to such connexion between means and ends as is scientifically cognisable, it does not appear that an act now deliberated on can be less or more a means to any ulterior end, because it is predetermined. It may, however, be urged that in considering how we ought to act in any case, we have to take into account the probable future actions of others, and also of ourselves; and that with regard to these it is necessary to decide the question of Free Will, in order that we may know whether the future is capable of being predicted from the past.

But here, again, it seems to me that no definite practical consequences would logically follow from this decision. For however far we may go in admitting Free Will as a cause, the actual operation of which may falsify the most scientific forecasts of human action, still since it is ex hypothesi an absolutely unknown cause, our recognition of it cannot lead us to modify any such forecasts: at most, it can only affect our reliance on them.

We may illustrate this by an imaginary extreme case. Suppose we were somehow convinced that all the planets were endowed with Free Will, and that they only maintained their periodic motions by the continual exercise of free choice, in resistance to strong centrifugal or centripetal inclinations. Our general confidence in the future of the solar system might reasonably be impaired, though it is not easy to say how much; 1 but the details of our astronomical calculations would be clearly unaffected: the free wills could in no way be taken as an element in the reckoning. And the case would be similar, I suppose, in the forecast of human conduct, if psychology and sociology should ever become exact sciences. At present, however, they are so far from being such that this additional element of uncertainty can hardly have even any emotional effect.

To sum up: we may say that, in so far as we reason to any definite conclusions as to what the future actions of ourselves or others will be, we must consider them as determined by unvarying laws: if they are not completely so determined our reasoning is pro tanto liable to error: but no other is open to us. While on the other hand, when we are endeavouring to ascertain (on any principles) what choice it is reasonable to make between two alternatives of present conduct, Determinist conceptions are as irrelevant as they are in the former case inevitable. And from neither point of view does it seem practically important, for the general regulation of conduct, to decide the metaphysical question at issue in the Free-will Controversy : unless — passing from Ethics into Theology - we rest the reconciliation of Duty and Interest on a theological argument that requires the assumption of Free Will.

§ 4. So far I have been arguing that the adoption of Determinism will not — except in certain exceptional circumstances or on certain theological assumptions — reasonably modify a man's view of what it is right for him to do or his reasons for doing it. It may, however, be said that — granting the reasons for right action to remain unaltered — still the motives that prompt to it will be weakened; since a man will not feel remorse for his actions, if he regards them as necessary results of causes anterior to his personal existence.

Peter Strawson's reactive attitudes
I admit that so far as the sentiment of remorse implies self-blame irremovably fixed on the self blamed, it must tend to vanish from the mind of a convinced Determinist. Still I do not see why the imagination of a Determinist should not be as vivid, his sympathy as keen, his love of goodness as strong as a Libertarian's: and I therefore see no reason why dislike for his own shortcomings and for the mischievous qualities of his character which have caused bad actions in the past should not be as effective a spring of moral improvement as the sentiment of remorse would be.

For it appears to me that men in general take at least as much pains to cure defects in their circumstances, organic defects, and defects of intellect — which cause them no remorse — as they do to cure moral defects ; so far as they consider the former to be no less mischievous and no less removable than the latter.

This leads me to the consideration of the effect of Determinist doctrines on the allotment of punishment and reward. For it must be admitted, I think, that the common retributive view of punishment, and the ordinary notions of "merit," "demerit," and "responsibility," also involve the assumption of Free Will: if the wrong act, and the bad qualities of character manifested in it, are conceived as the necessary effects of causes antecedent or external to the existence of the agent, the moral responsibility — in the ordinary sense — for the mischief caused by them can no longer rest on him.

At the same time, the Determinist can give to the terms "ill-desert " and "responsibility" a signification which is not only clear and definite, but, from an utilitarian point of view, the only suitable meaning. In this view, if I affirm that A is responsible for a harmful act, I mean that it is right to punish him for it; primarily, in order that the fear of punishment may prevent him and others from committing similar acts in future.

The difference between these two views of punishment is theoretically very wide. I shall, however, when I come to examine in detail the current conception of Justice, endeavour to show that this admission can hardly have any practical effect; since it is practically impossible to be guided, either in remunerating services or in punishing mischievous arts, by any other considerations than those which the Determinist interpretation of desert would include.

For instance, the treatment of legal punishment as deterrent and reformatory rather than retributive seems to be forced upon us by the practical exigences of social order and wellbeing — quite apart from any Determinist philosophy.1

Moreover, as I shall hereafter show, if the retributive view of Punishment be strictly taken — abstracting completely from the preventive view — it brings our conception of Justice into conflict with Benevolence, as punishment presents itself as a purely useless evil. Similarly, as regards the sentiments which prompt to the expression of moral praise and blame — I admit that in the mind of a convinced Determinist, the desire to encourage good and prevent bad conduct must take the place of a desire to requite the one or the other: but again I see no reason why the Determinist species of moral sentiments should not be as effective in promoting virtue and social wellbeing as the Libertarian species.

§ 5. It is, however, of obvious practical importance to ascertain how far the power of the will (whether metaphysically free or not) actually extends : for this defines the range within which ethical judgments are in the strictest sense applicable. This inquiry is quite independent of the question of metaphysical freedom; we might state it in Determinist terms as an inquiry into the range of effects which it would be possible to cause by human volition, provided that adequate motives are not wanting. These effects seem to be mainly of three kinds: first, changes in the external world consequent upon muscular contractions; secondly, changes in the train of ideas and feelings that constitutes our conscious life; and thirdly, changes in the tendencies to act hereafter in certain ways under certain circumstances.

I. The most, obvious and prominent part of the sphere of volitional causation is constituted by such events as can be produced by muscular contractions. As regards these, it is sometimes said that it is properly the muscular contraction that we will, and not the more remote effects; for these require the concurrence of other causes, and therefore we can never be absolutely certain that they will follow. But no more is it certain, strictly speaking, that the muscular contraction will follow, since our limb may be paralysed, etc.

The immediate consequent of the volition is some molecular change in the motor nerves. Since, however, we are not conscious in willing of our motor nerves and their changes, — nor indeed commonly of the muscular contractions that follow them, — it seems a misuse of terms to describe either as the normal 'object' of the mind in willing: since it is almost always some more remote effect which we consciously will and intend. Still of almost all effects of our will on the external world some contraction of our muscles is an indispensable antecedent; and when that is over our part in the causation is completed.

II. We can control to some extent our thoughts and feelings. It would seem, indeed, that an important part of what we commonly call 'control of feeling' comes under the head just discussed. Our control over our muscles enables us to keep down the expression of the feeling and to resist its promptings to action: and as the giving free vent to a feeling tends, generally speaking, to sustain and prolong it, this muscular control amounts to a certain power over the emotion. But there is not the same connexion between our muscular system and our thoughts: and yet experience shows that most men (though some, no doubt, much more than others) can voluntarily determine the direction of their thoughts, and pursue at will a given line of meditation.

In such cases, what is effected by the effort of will seems to be the concentration of our consciousness on a part of its content, so that this part grows more vivid and clear, while the rest tends to become obscure and ultimately to vanish. Frequently this voluntary exertion is only needed to initiate a train of ideas, which is afterwards continued without effort: as in recalling a series of past events or going through a familiar train of reasoning. By such concentration we can free ourselves of many thoughts and feelings upon which we do not wish to dwell: but our power to do this is very limited, and if the feeling be strong and its cause persistent, it requires a very unusual effort of will to banish it thus.

every action or decision adds information to the mind and may slightly alter character
III. The effect of volition, however, to which I especially wish to direct the reader's attention is the alteration in men's tendencies to future action which must be assumed to be a consequence of general resolutions as to future conduct, so far as they are effective. Even a resolution to do a particular act — if it is worth while to make it, as experience shows it to be — must be supposed to produce a change of this kind in the person who makes it: it must somehow modify his present tendencies to act in a certain way on a foreseen future occasion.

But it is in making general resolutions for future conduct that it is of most practical importance for us to know what is within the power of the will. Let us take an example. A man has been in the habit of drinking too much brandy nightly: one morning he resolves that he will do so no more. In making this resolve he acts under the belief that by a present volition he can so far alter his habitual tendency to indulgence in brandy, that some hours hence he will resist the full force of his habitual craving for the stimulant.

Now whether this belief is well or ill founded is a different question from that usually discussed between Determinists and Libertarians: at the same time the two questions are liable to be confused. It is sometimes vaguely thought that a belief in Free Will requires us to maintain that at any moment we can alter our habits to any extent by a sufficiently strong exertion. And no doubt most commonly when we make such efforts, we believe at the moment that they will be completely effectual: we will to do something hours or days hence with the same confidence with which we will to do something immediately. But on reflection, no one, I think, will maintain that in such cases the future act appears to be in his power in the same sense as a choice of alternatives that takes effect immediately.

Not only does continual experience show us that such resolutions as to the future have a limited and too frequently an inadequate effect: but the common belief is really inconsistent with the very doctrine of Free Will that is thought to justify it: for if by a present volition I can fully determine an action that is to take place some hours hence, when the time comes to do that act I shall find myself no longer free. We must therefore accept the conclusion that each such resolve has only a limited effect: and that we cannot know when making it how far this effect will exhibit itself in the performance of the act resolved upon.

At the same time it can hardly be denied that such resolves sometimes succeed in breaking old habits: and even when they fail to do this, they often substitute a painful struggle for smooth and easy indulgence. Hence it is reasonable to suppose that they always produce some effect in this direction; whether they operate by causing new motives to present themselves on the side of reason, when the time of inner conflict arrives; or whether they directly weaken the impulsive force of habit in the same manner as an actual breach of custom does, though in an inferior degree. 1

If this account of the range of volition be accepted, it will, I trust, dispel any lingering doubts which the argument of the preceding section, as to the practical unimportance of the Free Will controversy, may have left in the reader's mind. For it may have been vaguely thought that while on the Determinist theory it would be wrong, in certain cases, to perform a single act of virtue if we had no ground for believing that we should hereafter duly follow it up; on the assumption of Freedom we should boldly do always what would be best if consistently followed up, being conscious that such consistency is in our power.

But the supposed difference vanishes, if it be admitted that by any effort of resolution at the present moment we can only produce a certain limited effect upon our tendencies to action at some future time, and that immediate consciousness cannot tell us that this effect will be adequate to the occasion, nor indeed how great it will really prove to be. For the most extreme Libertarian must then allow that before pledging ourselves to any future course of action we ought to estimate carefully, from our experience of ourselves and general knowledge of human nature, what the probability is of our keeping present resolutions in the circumstances in which we are likely to be placed.

It is no doubt morally most important that we should not tranquilly acquiesce in any weakness or want of self-control : but the fact remains that such weakness is not curable by a single volition: and whatever we can do towards curing it by any effort of will - at any moment, is as clearly enjoined by reason on the Determinist theory as it is on the Libertarian. On neither theory is it reasonable that we should deceive ourselves as to the extent of our weakness, or ignore it in the forecast of our conduct, or suppose it more easily remediable than it really is.

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