Citation for this page in APA citation style.           Close


Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
Michael Burke
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Karl Popper
Huw Price
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
John Herschel
Werner Heisenberg
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
George F. Stout

George Frederick Stout was an English philosopher and psychologist who included Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore among his students.

Stout's first book, Analytic Psychology, was published in 1886. He was the editor of Mind from 1891 to 1920.

As editor of Mind, he must have been intimately familiar with the work of William James, whose Principles of Psychology were published in 1890. Stout's own Manual of Psychology appeared first in 1899, and was published in multiple editions over the next 40 years.

Stout gave the 1919-20 Gifford Lectures, published in two volumes as Mind and Matter, and Nature and God.

In 1896, he published "Voluntary Action" in Mind. It contained a very perceptive analysis of the lack of a necessary connection between a "will" or "volition" and the success of the willed action.

The question as to the nature of a certain mode of consciousness is quite independent of the question whether or not this mode of consciousness will be followed by a certain train of occurrences in the organism and in the environment. If I will to produce an explosion by applying a lighted match to gunpowder, my volition is none the less a volition because in the course of its execution the match goes out or the powder proves to be damp. Similarly, the volition is none the less a volition if it turns out that my muscular apparatus refuses to act, or acts in a way contrary to my intentions...When the conscious state is one of volition, it is indeed necessary that the subject should look forward to the bodily movements either as practically certain, or at least as possible. A belief of this kind is an essential ingredient of the voluntary attitude. But the existence of the belief is in itself sufficient. Its truth or falsehood is a matter of indifference. In a precisely analogous way we must, in determining to produce a gunpowder explosion, assume that the powder is or may be dry enough to take fire. But it is by no means necessary that the gunpowder in point of fact should be dry.
Stout thus neatly separates the volition (the will, the wish, the desire, the intention, the belief - that Peirce identifies with a willingness to act) from the action itself.

Today's thinkers, who emphasize freedom of action (Isaiah Berlin's negative freedom) rather than the freedom of the will (Berlin's positive freedom), can become quite confused. Consider Rogers Albritton's criticism of Elizabeth Anscombe and her essay "Soft Determinism."

Most philosophers seem to think it quite easy to rob the will of some freedom. Thus Elizabeth Anscombe, in an essay called "Soft Determinism," appears to suppose that a man who can't walk because he is chained up has lost some freedom of will. He "has no 'freedom of will' to walk," she says, or, again; no "freedom of the will in respect of walking." "Everyone will allow," she says, "that 'A can walk, i.e. has freedom of the will in respect of walking' would be gainsaid by A's being chained up." And again, "External constraint is generally agreed to be incompatible with freedom", by which she seems to mean: incompatible with perfect freedom of will, because incompatible with freedom of will to do, or freedom of the will in respect of doing, whatever the constraint prevents.
Albritton made it very clear that we could will something even if it proved impossible to do, as Stout made clear in the 1890's. "Where there's a will, there just isn't always a way," said Albritton.
But I do want to dispute, first, what Anscombe thinks "everyone will allow." I don't allow it. I don't see (do you?) that my freedom of will would be reduced at all if you chained me up. You would of course deprive me of considerable freedom of movement if you did that; you would thereby diminish my already unimpressive capacity to do what I will. But I don't see that my will would be any the less free. What about my "freedom of will to walk," you will ask (or perhaps you won't, but there the phrase is, in Anscombe's essay); what about my "freedom of the will in respect of walking"? I reply that I don't understand either of those phrases. They seem to me to mix up incoherently two different things: free will, an obscure idea which is the one I am after, on this expedition, and physical ability to walk, a relatively clear idea which has nothing to do with free will.
Stout says that a "belief" that an action is at least possible is "an essential ingredient of the voluntary attitude." Beliefs are required to will something "practical" as opposed to making a more insubstantial "wish" that one could fly, for example.

Returning to "Voluntary Action," Stout reads Henry Sidgwick as wanting to support our psychological sense, our consciousness, of being able to choose between alternatives. Sidgwick dismisses the psychology as irrelevant, but Stout says it is possible support for contingent human freedom.

Professor Sidgwick has said that "against the formidable array of cumulative evidence offered for Determinism there is but one opposing argument of real force; the immediate affirmation of consciousness in the moment of deliberate action. And certainly, in the case of actions in which 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, however strong may be my inclination to act unreasonably, and however uniformly I may have yielded to such inclinations in the past."2 Sidgwick does not himself definitely accept this as a valid argument. He refuses to discuss it because he thinks the psychological issue is irrelevant to his purpose. Our interest being purely psychological, we cannot adopt this course. We have to inquire how this consciousness of freedom arises, and what support it lends to the argument in favour of contingent freedom. At the outset we must notice that it is not confined to the case contemplated by Professor Sidgwick. Wherever there is full and prolonged deliberation, the subject is up to the time when the decision is formed, under the impression that it is possible for him to choose either of two alternative courses of action.

The reason is I think plain. Before he has decided, he does not know what he is going to do. This is what his indecision means. He must therefore regard all the alternative ends which he has in mind as possible objects of volition. But this obviously constitutes no argument for contingent freedom.

Indeed, the fall of a coin may not be strictly determined. It is the paradigm of probability
We might as well argue that the fall of a penny is not causally determined, because when we throw it we do not know whether head or tail will turn up. There is however a further complication when one of the courses of action is judged to be reasonable and opposing courses unreasonable. We here not merely regard it as possible that the reasonable course may or may not be chosen; we also affirm that it is what we ought to choose. And this, I take it, means that it is what we would choose, if the grounds for it were fully brought home to us, instead of being arrested in their development by the impulse of the moment, or by desires which, if not momentary, are at least comparatively isolated in the total organisation of the self.

When we say that we ought to choose a certain course, we mean, I think, that it would be chosen by an ideal self. The contrast between the ideal self and the actual self is in the first place a contrast between the self as a systematic unity and relatively detached tendencies. In the second place, it is a contrast between an undeveloped and a developed self. The development intended is the development of the self as a whole in the direction at once of more perfect unity and of greater differentiation. The, developed self would recognise itself as the goal to which the undeveloped self was on the whole tending. Thus when we say we ought to pursue a certain course, we mean that we should actually decide on pursuing it if we were more completely what we already are. We mean therefore that there is in us a possibility of so deciding.

Hampshire and Hart on Decision, Intention, and Certainty
Over sixty years later, the Oxford ordinary language philosophers Stuart Hampshire and H. L. A. Hart wrote an article, said to be influenced by Stout, in which they claimed a necessary connection between a decision and a future voluntary action
The necessary connexion between certainty about future voluntary action and decision emerges in the following entailments: (1) 'I have decided to do this' entails 'I am certain that I will do this, unless I am in some way prevented'. (2) ' I am certain that I will do this ' (where the action referred to is entirely voluntary) entails 'I have decided to do this'. [etc.]

If a man does claim to be able to predict with certainty his own future actions, basing his prediction on induction, then he is implying that the actions in question will be in some sense, or to some degree, involuntary, the effect of causes outside his own control. If action in the situation envisaged were entirely voluntary, then it must be up to him to decide what he will do. If it is up to him to decide what he is going to do, then he must still be uncertain what he will do until he has made a decision or until his intentions are formed. While he is making the decision, and while he is reviewing reasons for acting in one way rather than another, he must be in a state of uncertainty about what he is going to do. The certainty comes at the moment of decision, and indeed constitutes the decision, when the certainty is arrived at in this way, as a result of considering reasons, and not as a result of considering evidence.

Hampshire and Hart's picture is consistent with our two-stage model of free will, which has a preliminary "free" stage where there is a "state of uncertainty" followed by a willed decision, which leads to the action, if possible.

But there is nothing "necessary" or "certain" about the connection between the decision and the action. It is enough that the decision will lead to the action with a high degree of probability.

Stout on Libertarian Free Will
In his Manual on Psychology, Stout tries to understand what the Libertarian is looking for when making a decision that is likely to be the result of prior de-liberations.

Stout considers (thanks to JL Speranza for this quotation),

"how the state of decision supervenes on that of deliberation. At this point the vexed question of free-will arises. According to the libertarians, the decision, at least in some cases, involves the intervention of a new factor, not present in the previous process of deliberation, and not traceable to the constitution of the individual as determined by heredity and past experiences. The opponents of the libertarians say that the decision is the natural outcome of conditions operating in the process of deliberation itself. There is according to them no new factor which abruptly emerges like a Jack-in-the-box in the moment of deciding."

"Now it must be admitted that the transition from the state of indecision to the state of decision is often obscure, and that it frequently appears to be unaccountably abrupt. This makes it difficult or impossible to give a definite disproof of the libertarian hypothesis on psychological grounds. But certainly the onus probandi rests with those who maintain the intervention of a new factor which is not a development or outcome of previous conditions. If we cannot definitely disprove the presence of such a factor, we can at least say that the facts are far from compelling to assume its existence."

"Deliberation may be regarded as a state of unstable equilibrium. The mind oscillates between alternatives. First one conative tendency becomes relatively dominant and then another. The play of motives passes through all kinds of vicissitudes, as the alternative courses of action and their consequences are more fully apprehended in relation to the Self. As the process advances, equilibrium tends to be restored. New developments of conative tendency cease to take place; deliberation comes to a standstill because it has done its work. In this relatively stationary condition, it may be that one of the alternatives, with the motives for it, has a decided and persistent predominance in consciousness, so that the mind no longer tends to revert to the others. At this point the mind is made up, and the result is formulated in the judgement, "I will do this rather than that.""

"But there are other cases which present more difficulty. It may happen that deliberation comes to a standstill without any alternative acquiring any definite predominance. The mind tends first to one and then to the other without result. No new developments occur which tend to give a superiority to either, and the result is hopeless suspense.

Robert Kane's "Self-Forming Actions" are undetermined up to and including the moment of choice
It would seem that under these conditions no voluntary decision ought to supervene, or if it does supervene, it must be due to the intervention of a new factor and is not merely the outcome of the deliberative process. Now as a matter of fact we find that under such conditions voluntary decisions frequently do come into existence. They may even be of wide-reaching importance like Caesar's determination to cross the Rubicon. But probably in all such instances one or both of two traceable and recognisable conditions of a psychological kind are operative."

"These are (1) aversion to the continuance of painful suspense and (2) the necessity for action of some kind. "It may be that though we are at a loss to decide between two courses of action we are none the less fully determined not to remain inactive. Inaction may be obviously worse than either of the alternative lines of conduct. We may then choose one of them much in the same way as we take a cigar out of a box, when it is no matter which we select" (*["Voluntary Action", Mind 1896]). In view of the necessity of action, a comparatively slight predominance of the motives for one alternative may be sufficient to determine decision, though it would have been ineffective under other conditions. Or again, being pressed to decide, either by aversion to the state of irresolution, or by the necessity of doing something, we may simply adopt the course which seems to be uppermost in our minds at the moment, although we have no confidence that it would remain uppermost if we continued to deliberate.

Stout here describes what we call an undetermined liberty
Or we may mentally consent to allow the decision to be determined by some irrelevant circumstance such as the fall of a penny. We determine that if heads turn up we shall do A, and that if tails turn up we shall do B. Curiously enough, the reverse frequently happens. If heads turn up we do B, and if tails turn up we do A. This is due in part to an aversion to having one's conduct determined in such an arbitrary and irrelevant way. But it often happens that immediately after the appeal to chance has been made, and it has issued in favour of one alternative, the motives for the other alternative are mentally set in contrast, not with the opposing motives present in preceding deliberation, but with the trivial result of the appeal to chance. They thus acquire a momentary predominance which determines voluntary decision."

"Sometimes volition takes place before the process of deliberation has fully worked itself out. In this way, acts come to be decided on which would have been suppressed if they had been more fully considered. Here again, the necessity of acting in some way, and impatience of the state of indecision, are operative factors. But the reason often lies in the intensity of some impulse of the present Self which derives its strength, not from its relation to the total system of conduct, but from the circumstances of the moment. In the vicissitudes in which the process of deliberation passes, it will often happen that this isolated impulse through its momentary intensity will acquire such a predominance as to arrest the full development of other motives which, if they had come into play, would have given rise to a different decision."

"The decision which thus takes place after imperfect deliberation is generally called impulsive. It is not supposed to be voluntary in the same degree as that which takes place after fuller deliberation. The agent often commits the act knowing that he will live to repent it. Most cases of yielding to temptation are cases of deliberation arrested and cut short by the transient strength of a present impulse. It is in such instances that the agent is most keenly aware in retrospect that he might have acted otherwise than he actually did. He feels that the act does not fully represent his true self. If he had fully developed all the motives which were inoperative owing to imperfect deliberation the momentary impulse might have been suppressed instead of realised."

For Teachers
For Scholars



Chapter 1.4 - The Philosophy Chapter 1.6 - The Scientists
Home Part Two - Knowledge
Normal | Teacher | Scholar