Free Will in Ancient Thought
Frede. Chapter One: "Introduction," 12-20
For each number, I quote a
paragraph from (the online versions of) A Free Will. These quotations
are in boldface and in the order in which they occur. The
remarks in plainface that follow are mine. In these remarks, I try to call
attention to and explain important points in Frede's discussion.
notio, Latin noun, "idea, conception, notion." 1. The notion of a free will is a notion we have inherited from antiquity. It was first in antiquity that one came to think of human beings as having a free will.
What is it to have a "notion" of free will?
It is, it seems, at minimum, to think (believe is true) that human beings are a certain way, that they have or can have "free will," and that this means such-and-such about human beings.
What is the such-and-such? Frede will tell us in 15.
It can seem surprising that we "inherited" the notion of free will. One might think that human beings had the notion had all along, but Frede explains in 8 why this is a mistake.
2. But, as with so many other notions we have inherited from antiquity, for
instance, the notion of an essence or the notion of a teleological cause, we
"the notion of an essence"
"the notion of a teleological cause"
What are these notions? have to ask ourselves whether the notion of a free will has not outlived its usefulness, has not become a burden rather than of any real help in understanding ourselves and what we do. ... In this situation it may be of some help to retrace our steps and see what purpose the notion of a free will originally was supposed to serve, how it was supposed to help our understanding, and whether it was flawed right from its beginnings, as we might now see in hindsight.
Not all notions "we have inherited from antiquity" are still useful. Frede gives examples, but we will not look into them. He suggests that the same might true for the notion of free will.
How do we tell if the notion of free will is still useful?
Frede proposes to identify the "purpose ... [the notion of free will] was supposed to serve." The suggestion is that if we still have the need the notion was supposed to serve, the next step would be to determine whether we can still use the notion to serve this need.
What is it to have a need for the notion of free will?
The answer, it seems, is that we need the notion if something else we think is true about human beings or the world requires that human beings have or can have free will.
Is there something else we think that requires that human beings have free will?
We will not much try to answer this philosophical question.
"Of all the major ancient philosophers we have come across, only Alexander of Aphrodisias lets himself be driven into accepting a conception of a free will which is very close to the kind of conception criticized nowadays by philosophers. All the other authors we have considered seem to me to have notions of a free will which, perhaps for good reasons, we might not want to accept but which do not seem to be basically flawed in the way a notion like Alexander's is" (Frede, A Free Will, 103.) What it is for the notion to be "flawed from its beginnings"?
One possibility is that the notion is incoherent. If so, we cannot need it for anything.
It might be, though, that the notion of free will is not incoherent but still is not something we need because it essentially includes assumptions about human beings or the world that we no longer accept. The notion, in this case, would have no application for us now.
This, it seems, is what Frede believes about the notion of free will that appears in antiquity.
3. In these lectures ... I want to pursue the question “When in antiquity did one first think of human beings as having a free will, why did one come to think so, and what notion of a free will was involved when one came to think of human beings in this way?”
The assumption is that the notion was created, not discovered. This
contradicts a famous statement in Frege.
"What is known as the history of concepts is really a history either of our knowledge of concepts or of the meaning of words" (Gottlöb Frege, Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik , xix). When was the notion introduced?
Frede will argue that it is part of a late Stoic theory.
Why did the Stoics introduce the notion? Presumably they were tying to solve some problem and thought that the existence of free will was part of the solution.
To understand the historical origins of the notion of free will in late Stoicism, we need to understand Stoicism and the problem the Stoics thought free will solved.
This will take time. Stoicism has an early, middle, and late period. Further, before Frede considers Stoicism, he discusses Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. He does this (i) to show that they do not have a notion of the free will and (ii) because he is interested in how subsequent Platonists and Aristotelians incorporated a notion of free will into their thought.
So, in trying to understand and evaluate Frede's argument, it is necessary for us to consider a substantial part of the history of Ancient philosophy.
4. To raise this question ["When in antiquity did..."], though, is to make a substantial assumption about the very nature of the notion of a free will. I assume, and I will try to show, that this notion in its origins is a technical, philosophical notion which already presupposes quite definite and far from trivial assumptions about ourselves and the world.
This ("origins is a technical, philosophical notion") is a little confusing to think about.
If we create a notion as part of a theory, then prior to the theory no one had the notion.
For the notion of free will, there seem to be two possibilities.
One is that no one had the notion because no one had the notion of the will. The other is that some had the notion of the will but that no one had the notion of free will because no one thought one way or the other about what it is for the will to be free.
Which is Frede's view?
I am not sure, but I think it is the first one. I think he means to argue that no one had the notion of the will, that it was introduced at some point as part of a theory, and that the will in this theory was understood as something that can but need not be free.
"All the other authors we have considered seem to me to have notions of a free will which, perhaps for good reasons, we might not want to accept but which do not seem to be basically flawed in the way a notion like Alexander's is. To the contrary, considered from a sufficiently abstract level and disregarding the particular features which reflect their particular historical circumstances, they seem to me to more or less share one feature which I find rather attractive. They all involve the idea that to have a good life one must be able to make the choices one needs to make in order to have such a life. They also involve the idea that what prevents one from making these choices is that one forms false beliefs or irrational attachments and aversions which are in conflict with the choices one would have to make. Given these false beliefs and inappropriate attachments or aversions, one is not free to make the choices one would reasonably want to make. So, to be free, to have a free will, we have to liberate ourselves from these false beliefs and from attachments and aversions which are not grounded in reality. We can do this, moreover, because the world does not systematically force these beliefs, attachments, and aversions on us. This does not seem to me to be a basically flawed idea at all, but also, without being developed appropriately, it is not much of an idea. Explaining that, however, is not a task for a historian" (Frede, A Free Will, 103). Frede thinks that the assumptions in this theory are ones we no longer share, but he will suggest that the notion of free will includes an idea worth thinking more about.
5. [T]his is not the view scholars took until fairly recently. They went on the assumption that the notion of a free will is an ordinary notion, part of the repertory of notions in terms of which the ordinary person thinks about things and in terms of which the ancient Greeks must have already been thinking all along. And on this assumption, of course, there is no place for the question of when the ancients first came to think of human beings as having a free will.
Not too long ago [in the last hundred years] it was thought among historians of Ancient philosophy that free will is a notion we have had all along.
This is interesting, if it is right, because it is an example of how the history of philosophy can go wrong because it holds onto incorrect assumptions about the ancients.
6. The assumption that the Greeks all along must have been thinking of human beings as having a free will seems truly astounding nowadays. For, if we look at Greek literature from Homer onwards, down to long after Aristotle, we do not find any trace of a reference to, let alone a mention of, a free will. This is all the more remarkable, as Plato and in particular Aristotle had plenty of occasion to refer to a free will. But there is no sign of such a reference in their works.
There is an argument here for the conclusion that free will is a technical notion.
1. Plato and Aristotle did not have the notion of free will.
2. If (1) is true, then it is a technical notion that was introduced at some point.
3. Free will is a technical notion that was introduced at some point.
What is the evidence for premise 1?
Plato and Aristotle do not "refer to a free will ... in their works."
What about the will?
Frede, as we will see in the next lecture, thinks that Plato and Aristotle do not have the notion of the will and thus do not refer to the will in their works either.
How surprising is this?
I suppose the answer depends on how convinced we are that the will is part of the ordinary way we understand the human beings and their actions.
For my part, I am not convinced. When, in ordinary language, someone talks about beliefs and desires, I do not find myself puzzled like I do when someone talks about the will. Of course I understand expressions like "strong willed." I take this to mean "stubborn" and not to attribute a "will" to the person as part of a psychological explanation of this stubbornness.
7. Scholars did indeed notice this with a certain amount of puzzlement. But it
did not occur to them to draw what would seem to be the obvious inference,
namely, that Plato and Aristotle did not yet have a notion of a free will and
that it was for
William David Ross, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Ross (1877–1971) was an academic who did and was recognized for important work in ancient philosophy. this reason that they did not talk of a free will. As eminent a scholar as W. D. Ross again could note that Plato and Aristotle do not refer to a will, let alone a free will. But even Ross concludes that we must assume that Aristotle, as Ross puts it, “shared the plain man's belief in free will.”
1. Plato and Aristotle did not discuss free will.
2. Plato and Aristotle did not have the notion of free will.
Why did historians reject this argument?
They were convinced that free will is a notion human beings have had all along and hence that the philosophers must have had this notion even if they did not discuss it.
Why were they convinced of this? Frede gives his answer in the next quotation.
8. But why should we assume in the first place that Aristotle believed in a
free will? To understand the assumption Ross and earlier scholars make, we
have to take into account the following. Let us assume that it is a fact
that, at least sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what
we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we
our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way. Let us also
assume, as is reasonable enough, that this is what the Greeks believed all
Socrates, 469-399 BCE
Plato, 429?-347 BCE
Aristotle, 384-322 BCE
Socrates, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Plato, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Aristotle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Zeno of Citium, late 4th to middle 3rd century BCE. Founded the school in about 300 BCE.
Cleanthes, late 4th to late 3rd century BCE. He succeeded Zeno as head of the school.
Chrysippus, early 3rd to late 3rd century BCE. He was the third and most influential head of the Stoic school.
Panaetius of Rhodes, late 2nd to early 2nd century BCE. He succeeded Antipater of Tarsus in about 129 BCE to become the seventh head of the Stoic school in Athens.
Posidonius of Apameia, early 2nd to middle 1st century BCE. He was polymath whose writings have survived only in fragments.
Seneca, late 1st century BCE to middle 1st century CE.
Epictetus, middle 1st to late 2nd century CE.
Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 CE. Roman Emperor from 161-180 CE. It certainly is something Aristotle took to be a fact. The notion of a free will was originally introduced within the context of a particular theory, namely, a late Stoic theory, in a way specific to this theory, to account for this presumed fact. But once this notion had been introduced into Stoicism, rival theories, either Peripatetic or Platonist, developed their own version of a notion of a free will,which fitted in with their overall theory. In fact, it was a notion which was eagerly taken up by Christians, too. And, largely due to the influence of mainstream Christianity, it came to be a notion which, in one version or another, gained almost universal acceptance. People quite generally, whether followers of Stoicism, Platonism, or mainstream Christianity, felt committed to a belief in a free will. Even if they themselves were not able to give a theoretical account of what a free will is, they relied on such an account's being available. This had the effect that the mere assumption that sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, since we do it not because we are forced to but because we ourselves want to, came to be regarded as tantamount to a belief in a free will. From here it was just a short step to the assumption that the mere notion of a free will was an ordinary notion, with philosophical theory coming in only to give a theoretical account of what it is to have a free will. This is why Ross could assume that Aristotle shared the plain man's belief in a free will but failed to give a theoretical account of that.
Why were historians convinced that free will is a notion human beings had all along and hence that the ancient philosophers must have had this notion?
Here is Frede's explanation.
There is something "the Greeks believed all along": that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way."
The Stoics introduced the technical notion of free will to explain the truth that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing."
What exactly is this proposition that supposedly was believed all along?
We start, it seems, with the idea that we are responsible for what we do of our own initiative. The question then becomes about the necessary and sufficient conditions for doing something of our own initiative. To provide them, we might say that we doing something on our own initiative just in case "we our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way."
The technical notion of free will became identified with this belief about why we are sometimes responsible, and this allowed historians to think the ancients "believed all along" in free will.
What does "identified" mean here?
Frede says "that the mere assumption that sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, since we do it not because we are forced to but because we ourselves want to, came to be regarded as tantamount to a belief in a free will."
Frede thinks that at some point in antiquity (primarily due to the influence of Christianity), people came to think of free will not as something specific but as whatever explains the truth of the belief about responsibility. Further, he says that "[f]rom here it was just a short step to the assumption that the mere notion of a free will was an ordinary notion, with philosophical theory coming in only to give a theoretical account of what it is to have a free will."
Is Frede's explanation plausible?
The authors seem to suggest that the attempt to find
the "origin" of the notion of free will is confused.
"One finds scholarly debate on the ‘origin’ of the notion of free will in Western philosophy. (See, e.g., Dihle (1982) and, in response Frede (2011), with Dihle finding it in St. Augustine (354–430 CE) and Frede in the Stoic Epictetus (c. 55–c. 135 CE)). But this debate presupposes a fairly particular and highly conceptualized concept of free will, with Dihle’s later ‘origin’ reflecting his having a yet more particular concept in view than Frede. If, instead, we look more generally for philosophical reflection on choice-directed control over one’s own actions, then we find significant discussion in Plato and Aristotle (cf. Irwin 1992)" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Free Will. 1. Major Historical Contributions 1.1 Ancient and Medieval Period").
The argument seems to be that "free will" is the ordinary idea that there is "choice-directed control over one's own actions" and that the "scholarly debate on the 'origin' of the notion free will in Western philosophy" confuses this ordinary idea with historical conceptions of "choice-directed control" in terms of a theory of the mind. In the entry for "Free Will" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Timothy O’Connor and Christopher Franklin give what they take to be the now standard interpretation of "free will" and the history of the notion in philosophy. They write that "[t]he term 'free will' has emerged over the past two millennia as the canonical designator for a significant kind of control over one’s actions." Further, they say that the history of philosophy shows that "free will has traditionally been conceived of as a kind of power to control one’s choices and actions."
I find their discussion confusing, but it seems that they understand "free will" to be an ordinary notion whose analysis is given in the history of philosophy as a "kind of power to control one’s choices and actions." Their idea, as I understand it, is that we all along have supposed we can exert control over our actions and that at some point we came to refer to this belief about ourselves by saying that we have "free will" and can exercise it over our choices.
There are two important consequences if this interpretation is correct.
The first is that "free will" was never part of an explanation of why we can exert control over our actions. It was never more than a way to refer to what we need to explain.
The second is what we need to explain is different. According to Frede, the truth we believe about ourselves that needs explanation is that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way." According to O’Connor and Franklin, it is that we have a "kind of control over one’s actions."
Are these just two ways of saying the same thing?
O’Connor and Franklin say that in thinking about "free will," one "idea is that the kind of control ... in free will is the kind of control ... relevant to moral responsibility" and that according to this line of thought, "understanding free will is inextricably linked to, and perhaps even derivative from, understanding moral responsibility" and that "even those who demur from this claim regarding conceptual priority typically see a close link between these two ideas."
I am not sure I understand what they are saying, but it does not appear to be that "free will" is a technical notion introduced to explain why it is true that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way."
9. [W]e should carefully distinguish between the belief in a free will and the ordinary belief that at least sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, because we are not forced or made to behave in this way but really want or even choose or decide to act in this way. This belief in a free will is involved in some theoretical accounts of what we ordinarily believe. But it is not to be identified with this ordinary belief. And it seems to me that Aristotle is a good example of a philosopher who is committed to the ordinary belief but does not resort to the notion of a free will to account for this belief. Hence, since even Aristotle does not yet talk of a free will, we should assume that he did not yet have a notion of a free will.
This identification of the technical notion and the ordinary belief is mistake.
Some philosophers had the belief but not the technical notion. Aristotle is an example.
Further, even if it turns out that the notion of free will is "flawed," it will not follow that we have to give up the ordinary and plausibly true belief that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way."
10. This indeed is what scholars nowadays are generally agreed on. The change of scholarly opinion is largely due to the fact that philosophical discussions, of the kind we find, for instance, Gilbert Ryle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy in Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind [published in 1949], have persuaded scholars that the notion of a free will is at best a highly controversial notion.
"Most of the mental-conduct concepts whose logical behaviour we examine
in this book, are familiar and everyday concepts. We all know how to
apply them and we understand other people when they apply them. What
is in dispute is not how to apply them, but how to classify them, or in
what categories to put them.
The concept of volition is in a different case. We do not know in daily life how to use it, for we do not use it in daily life and do not, consequently, learn by practice how to apply it, and how not to misapply it. It is an artificial concept. We have to study certain specialist theories in order to find out how it is to be manipulated. It does not, of course, follow from its being a technical concept that it is an illegitimate or useless concept. ‘Ionisation’ and ‘off-side’ are technical concepts, but both are legitimate and useful. 'Phlogiston' and ‘animal spirits’ were technical concepts, though they have now no utility.
I hope to show that the concept of volition belongs to the latter tribe.
It has for a long time been taken for an indisputable axiom that the Mind is in some important sense tripartite, that is, that there are just three ultimate classes of mental processes. The Mind or Soul, we are often told, has three parts, namely, Thought, Feeling and Will; or, more solemnly, the Mind or Soul functions in three irreducibly different modes, the Cognitive mode, the Emotional mode and the Conative mode. This traditional dogma is not only not self-evident, it is such a welter of confusions and false inferences that it is best to give up any attempt to re-fashion it. It should be treated as one of the curios of theory.
The main object of this chapter is not, however, to discuss the whole trinitarian theory of mind but to discuss, and discuss destructively, one of its ingredients. I hope to refute the doctrine that there exists a Faculty, immaterial Organ, or Ministry, corresponding to the theory’s description of the ‘Will’ and, accordingly, that there occur processes, or operations, corresponding to what it describes as ‘volitions’. I must however make it clear from the start that this refutation will not invalidate the distinctions which we all quite properly draw between voluntary and involuntary actions and between strong-willed and weak-willed persons" (Gilbert Ryle, "III. The Will," The Concept of Mind, 49-50).
"The fact that Plato and Aristotle never mentioned them in their frequent and elaborate discussions of the nature of the soul and the springs of conduct is due not to any perverse neglect by them of notorious ingredients of daily life but to the historical circumstance that they were not acquainted with a special hypothesis the acceptance of which rests not on the discovery, but on the postulation, of these ghostly thrusts" (The Concept of Mind, 52). Frede says that historians now recognize the difference between the ordinary belief and technical notion of free will. Frede cites, for example, the influence of Gilbert Ryle for the change. In chapter III ("The Will") of his Concept of Mind, he says that the "concept of volition" is a technical concept (like "phlogiston" in 18th century chemistry) that now has "no utility" (49).
Ryle (1900-1976) supervised G.E.L Owen's B.Phil thesis at Oxford. Owen (1922-1982) was an influential figure in ancient philosophy. Frede attended Owen's seminars in Oxford in 1962.
11. Once one finally comes to see that it is not the case that the Greeks all along had a notion of a free will and that we do not yet find this notion even in Aristotle, the question naturally poses itself: When did the notion of a free will arise?
When, then, did the notion of a free will arise?
Frede gave his answer in 8: "[t]he notion of a free will was originally introduced within the context of a particular theory, namely, a late Stoic theory..."
12. I regard my inquiry as purely historical. ... I am interested, as I said at the outset, in trying to find out when and why a notion of a free will arose in the first place and what notion this was. I will then try to trace the history of this notion to see whether and how it changed in the course of the discussions to which it gave rise in antiquity. In this way, I hope, we shall also be able to identify ... the ancestors of any later notion of a free will. It is in this sense that I plan to talk about the origins of the notion of a free will.
Frede, as a historian, is interested is in the Stoic notion and in the ways Platonists and Aristotelians tried to incorporate this notion into their philosophies.
Frede's historical interest is our primary interest too in this course.
13. Now, though I do not presuppose a specific notion of a free will, let alone want to endorse or advocate some specific notion of it, I do rely on something like a general idea of a free will,something like a schema which any specific notion of a free will or any particular version ofthe notion of a free will, at least in antiquity, will fit into. I do not arrive at this general idea or schema on the basis of some philosophical view as to what any notion of a free will has to look like but rather with the benefit of historical hindsight. That is to say, I have looked at the relevant ancient texts and have abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will. In having such a schema, we shall at least have a general idea of what we are looking for when we investigate the origins of the notion of a free will but without having to commit ourselves to any particular view, ancient or modern, as to what a free will really is.
Frede does not simply assert that a notion the Stoics introduced is the first notion of free will. He argues for this view by looking at the history of philosophy prior to the Stoics.
For this procedure to work, we need to know what notion to look for in these philosophers.
Frede sets out a "schema" of the notion free will.
What does this mean?
Frede says that he has "looked at the relevant ancient texts and [has] abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will."
What texts? We need an answer to have confidence in Frede's schema. He does not identify these texts, at least not explicitly. Maybe he has Epictetus, a late Stoic, in mind.
Given the schema, Frede looks at the philosophers in historical sequence to see who first has a theory of mind and action that contains something that fits the schema.
Frede's discussion of why historians wrongly thought free was not a technical notion provides a more specific way to think about this. The notion of free will was introduced to explain something: that we are sometimes responsible for our actions. So the search is an effort to see if in connection with responsibility the ancient philosophers talk about anything that fits the schema in an effort to establish that in fact we are sometimes responsible for what we do.
14. It should be clear that in order to have any such notion, one must first of all have a notion of a will. As a matter of historical fact, it turns out that a notion of a will is not necessarily a notion of a will which is free. In any case, in order to have a notion of a free will, one must, in addition to the notion of a will, also have a notion of freedom. These notions of a will and of freedom must be such that it makes sense to say that we have a will which is free.
What is the schema?
It contains a notion of "will" and a notion of "freedom."
Remember that the "notion" is the thought that something is true of human beings. So, for example, the notion of "will" is the thought that a human being has a "will," that this means human beings are a certain way, and that they are such-and-such.
15. In order to get any notion of a will at all, one must assume the following. Unless one is literally forced or made to do something in such a manner that what one is doing is in no way one's own action (as when one is pushing something over because one is pushed oneself), one does what one does because something happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does. Moreover, one has to assume that what happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does is that one chooses or decides to act in this way. Or at least one has to assume that there is something going on in the mind which can be construed as a choice or decision. We need not worry for the moment about this qualification or its significance. Thus, for instance, if one feels hungry or feels like having something to eat, one might or might not choose or decide to have something to eat. If one then does have something to eat, it is because one has chosen or decided to have something to eat, since one feels hungry.
The notion of "will" in "free will" (as part of the "schema" that Frede mentions in 13) is the thought that in human beings something happens in the mind every time one acts.
"[O]ne has to assume that what happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does is that one chooses or decides to act in this way. Or at least one has to assume that there is something going on in the mind which can be construed as a choice or decision."
This is crucial for Frede's argument that the notion of will does not appear until the late Stoics.
Why is this the right schema for "will"?
Frede says that he has "looked at the relevant ancient texts and have abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will."
So the implication seems to be that in these texts from which Frede abstracted the schema for "will," the authors are using Greek or Latin words that translate as "will," "freedom of the will," or "free will." Frede tells us what these words are in 17 and 18.
Frede, though, does not provide citations to the texts and the specific places in these texts that the words occur. This makes it hard for us to check this part of his argument.
Another worry is about what "abstracting" means here.
The authors Frede consults are talking about "will." Frede "abstracts" from they say. What, in the various authors, does Frede leave out in this "abstraction"?
The answer, it seems, is that what he omits is how the authors think "choice" fits together with what the authors understand as the other parts of the mind.
16. But the notion of the will, at least in antiquity, involves a notion of the mind such that the mere fact that one feels hungry will not yet explain why one is having something to eat. This is supposed to be so, because, even if one does feel hungry or does feel like having something to eat, one might choose or decide not to have anything to eat because one thinks that it would not be a good thing to have something to eat now. One might also decide to have something to eat, though one does not feel hungry at all, because one thinks that it would be a good thing to have something to eat. But, in any case, for there to be an action that is one's own action, there is supposed to be an event in one's mind, a mental act, a choice or decision which brings about the action. The notion of a will, then, is the notion of our ability to make such choices or decisions which make us act in the way we do. It is crucial for the notion of the will that this ability differs greatly from person to person, as different people not only have different thoughts about what is or is not a good thing to do but also have quite different feelings about different things. This is why different people in the same situation will make very different choices and hence will act quite differently. It is also crucial for the notion of the will that it is an ability which needs to be developed, cultivated, and perfected. One can get better and better at making choices, just as one can get worse and worse. One can choose or decide to improve one's will, one's ability to make choices.
Having feelings, like feeling hungry, are things ordinarily thought to happen in the mind, but these things do not fit the schema for the will in the notion of free will.
Having such feelings is not the same thing as choosing or deciding.
Why is this true?
Frede takes it is as obvious.
Frede says that the will can vary "from person to person" and can be "developed, cultivated, and perfected." We will have to wait to see what this means, but the rough idea is that choosing or deciding can be done well or badly. It can "developed, cultivated, and perfected."
So now we have more detail about what it is for human beings to have a will. Every time a human being acts, the action stems from a choice. The ability to make these choices is the will. It is something that can be "developed, cultivated, and perfected."
προαίρεσις, proairesis, noun, "choice"
βούλησις, boulēsis, noun, "willing"
θέλησις, thelēsis, noun, "will"
voluntas, noun, "will" 17. The standard Greek term for the will is prohairesis, literally, “choice” or “disposition to choose.” Later boulêsis and, in particular, thelêsis will also be used in this sense, especially in Byzantine times. The standard Latin term, of course, is voluntas.
In this course, we do not need to think too much about the Greek and Latin terms. They are interesting, though, so I provide links to their dictionary meanings.
Frede talks about Greek words in terms of their transliterations. So, for example, he uses prohairesis for προαίρεσις. This makes it easier for those who do not know the language to pronounce the words. Some publishers insist too, presumably for practical reasons, that all Greek words be transliterated. I do not know if this is true for the publisher of A Free Will.
A search in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (founded with money in the estate from the Zenith corporation) shows that forms of προαίρεσις occur in Plato only once (Parmenides 143c3). Forms of the word occur 209 times in Aristotle. Most are in the ethical works.
What does this show?
Although "choice" is presumably an ordinary notion, Aristotle is the first to theorize about it.
18. The Greek term for the relevant notion of freedom is eleutheria.
ἐλευθερία, eleutheria, noun, "freedom"
ἐλεύθερος, eleutheros, adjective, "free"
The earliest occurrences of ἐλεύθερος and προαίρεσις together are in Philo of Alexander (On the Unchangeableness of God 114-115) and Epictetus (Discourses II.15: "the will is free by nature and unconstrained (ἡ μὲν προαίρεσις ἐλεύθερον φύσει καὶ ἀνανάγκαστον).").
See also Discourses III.5.7-8.
Philo of Alexander (end of the 1st century BCE and the middle of the 1st century CE), sometimes called Philo Judaeus. He was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria. The city of Alexandria was founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. It became a major center of Hellenistic civilization and became the capital of Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy (a Greek general and companion of Alexander the Great) and his family (who ruled until the Roman conquest in 30 BCE). A significant Jewish community existed in Alexandria. This term provides us with some guidance as to how the notion of freedom we are interested in is to be understood. As the very term indicates, it must be a notion formed by analogy to the political notion of freedom. According to the political notion, one is free if one is a citizen rather than a slave and living in a free political community rather than in a community governed, for instance, by a tyrant. This political notion of freedom is two-sided. It is characterized, on the one side, by the laws which the citizens of the community have imposed on themselves and, on the other side, by there being no further external constraints on a free citizen which would systematically prevent him from doing what he could reasonably want to do in pursuit of his own good, in particular from living the kind of life he could reasonably want to live. It is crucial that this freedom, to put the matter in a grossly simplified form, almost invariably seems to be understood as a freedom from external constraints which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living in a political community and which would systematically prevent one from doing what it takes to have a good life. Living under a tyrant and being a slave are regarded as involving such constraints, as the tyrant and the slave master, by definition, impose constraints on what one can do which systematically prevent one from having a good life, at least given a certain traditional understanding of what a good life amounts to.
Free in "free will" is roughly what free is in political freedom.
The political notion of freedom is "freedom from external constraints which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living in a political community and which would systematically prevent one from doing what it takes to have a good life."
Is the notion of political freedom one we had all along?
19. The notion of freedom we are interested in is formed by analogy to this political notion, but its precise relation to the political is never definitively settled, in good part for political and social reasons; being formed by analogy to the political notion, it also inherits its double-sided character. Thus the ability of a free person to have a good life is understood more precisely as the ability to live a good life in what we, not very helpfully, might be tempted to call a moral sense. The lack of clarity about the relation between the political notion and this personal notion of freedom in part is due to a lack of clarity about the relation between the good life one is able to have when one is politically free and the good life one can live if one has personal freedom. The tendency among ancient philosophers, needless to say, is to claim that one can live a good life even under a tyrant or as a slave.
How does the notion of freedom in free will come from the political notion of freedom?
The first step, it seems, is to the "personal notion of freedom."
What is the "personal" notion?
Frede does not spell it out, but his suggestion seems to be that the we have this freedom if we are free "from external constraints [not just those imposed by the political system in which one lives] which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living and which would systematically prevent one from doing what it takes to have a good life."
Next, given the notion of the will, we might think that we have this personal freedom just in case our will is free and that our will is free just in case that nothing can prevent it from developing in such a way that our choices are the ones we need to make to live a good life.
20. What, then, are the external constraints which this personal notion of
freedom envisages which could systematically prevent us from doing what we
need to do in order to live a good life, assuming that the constraints a
tyrant or a slave master could impose on us do not count as such? The
answer, in a nutshell and again very grossly simplified, is that at the time
when the notion of a free will arises, there are any number of views, some
of them widespread, according to which the world we live in, or at least
part of the world we live in, is run by a tyrant or a slave master or a
whole group of them. We should not forget that even Christians
Saint Augustine, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
John of Damascus (7th to 8th Century CE) like Augustine or John of Damascus had no difficulty in thinking that the right way to characterize our relationship to God is to say that we are slaves of God. Now the Christian God is a benevolent agent who provides for his slaves in such a way as to enable them to live a good life. Even on this view there is an obvious tension between our being free and our being slaves, one may even say at least an apparent contradiction. But there were lots of other views, according to which those who rule the world, or our sublunary part of it, are far from benevolent, far from concerned about our well-being.
To have the notion of personal freedom, we must have in mind some possible external constraints that are or are not inconsistent with living the good life.
"[W]hen the notion of a free will arises," the "external constraints" inconsistent with the freedom necessary to live a good life are not ones that first occur to us now.
This is important for understanding Frede's argument.
21. There are, for instance, the so-called archontes,
ἄρχοντες, archontes, noun, "rulers"
The "sublunary world" is part of the Aristotelian conception of the universe, which was dominant until Copernicus (1473-1543). The earth, at the center, was surrounded by the heavens. The moon was the closest part of the heavens. the rulers or planetary gods who rule the sublunary world and determine what happens in it, including our lives, so as to fit their designs and ideas and to serve their interests as they perceive them. They do not care about what this does to our lives or to our ability to have or to live a good life. Indeed, they might try to do what they can to make it impossible for us to live a good life.
Aristotle thought there are "planetary gods," but he did not think of them as a threat.
Who first thought of them as a threat?
This can be confusing to think about.
Traditionally the ancient Greeks pretty much all believed that the sun and moon, for example, are gods. The inquirers into nature were the first exceptions.
"Do I not even believe that the sun or yet the moon are gods,
as the rest of mankind do?
No, by Zeus, judges, since he says that the sun is a stone and the moon earth.
Do you think you are accusing Anaxagoras, my dear Meletus, and do you so despise these gentlemen and think they are so unversed in letters as not to know, that the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian are full of such utterances" (Apology 26d).
There was, though, a less "scientific" tradition that we see in reflected in Hesiod (8th to 7th century BCE). According to this tradition, there are "δαίμονες dwelling on the earth ..., clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds...."
"Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care. ... But for those who practice violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment. ... The deathless gods are near among men; and mark all those who oppress their fellows with crooked judgements.... You princes, mark well this punishment, you also, for upon the bounteous earth Zeus has thrice ten thousand spirits (ἀθάνατοι), watchers of mortal men, and these keep watch on judgements and deeds of wrong as they roam, clothed in mist, all over the earth. ... For the son of Cronos has ordained this law for men, that fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for right is not in them; but to mankind he gave right (δίκην) which proves far the best. For whoever knows the right and is ready to speak it, far-seeing Zeus gives him prosperity" (Works and Days 230). "First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronos when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods. But after the earth had covered this generation—they are called pure spirits (δαίμονες) dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth; for this royal right also they received" (Works and Days 110).
These δαίμονες are not a threat to the freedom necessary to live a good life, but this conception shows that the ancients were open to beliefs about the world that can be surprising to us.
22. There is also a wide spread view, which we find among groups (following
some early Christian authors like Irenaeus)
Irenaeus, 2nd century CE, Bishop of Lugdunum (a Roman military colony founded
in 43 CE, now Lyon in the Rhone Valley in Southern France).
In his Against Heresies, he describes Gnosticism and contrasts it with his conception of orthodox Christianity. Knowledge of Gnosticism depends on Irenaeus because the Gnostic writings themselves have largely been lost.
Irenaeus is a heresiologist. Someone who tries to define the Christian orthodoxy, as he understands it, by writing about previous mistaken views. Others include
Clement of Alexandria (150-215)
Hippolytus of Rome (170-236)
Origen of Alexandria (185-254)
"[I]t is ... the Gnostics who are in disagreement about the Father of Jewish scripture who created the world we live in. According to them, he cannot be good and just and hence cannot be God" (Frede, A Free Will, 72).
"My claim is that Christianity's interest in freedom and a free will was motivated by a concern with various forms of Gnosticism and astral determinism, that a basically Stoic view on a free will admirably served the purpose of combating these unorthodox views, and that we therefore have no particular reason to expect a radically new notion of a free will's emerging from Christianity" (Frede, A Free Will, 74).
What is astral determinism?
The answer comes in part from the Stoic theory of divination. We know about this theory primarily from Cicero (106-43 CE). In his On Divination, in which his point of view is as an Academic in the New Academy, he sets out the Stoic view to refute it. He distinguishes knowledge that, which is obtained through signs, from knowledge of causes. Knowledge of causes would allow complete knowledge of the future, but it is only available to the gods. Human beings have to rely on signs (On Divination I.127).
In discussions of signs in astrology, one question was whether the predictive value was based on the causal influences on human beings and their affairs by heavenly bodies or was merely a matter of empirical correlations.
The Stoics conceived of divination as the power to grasp and interpret the signs sent by gods to human beings (Cicero, On Interpretation 2.130).
See also Sextus Empiricus, Against the Physicists (M.IX) I.132.
The also thought that nature in its providence arranges things down to the last detail and that this extends to the provision of signs for us to read (On Divination I.118). we have come to call “Gnostics,” according to which the agent who created the visible world we live in, the demiurge or creator, is a being which pursues its own interests without regard for what this does to us, a being lacking in wisdom and goodness, as one can see from the fact that it deludes itself into thinking that it is God and demanding worship. This view, if held by Gnostics, as a rule seems to be combined with the view that this God is the God of Jewish scripture, who created this world which in all sorts of ways reflects his lack of wisdom and goodness, for instance, in that it puts at least many, if not all of us, into a position in which it is impossible to live a good life.
The "demiurge" in early Christianity was a "wide spread view." It would be rejected as heresy.
23. It is against the background of a large number of such views that the notion of freedom we are interested in emerges. To say that human beings are free is to say that the world does not put such constraints on us from the outside as to make it impossible for us to live a good life. These views will strike most of us as extremely fanciful. But we should keep in mind that late antiquity was full of such views, which exercised an enormous attraction. And we should also keep in mind that there were other views which, though much less fanciful, were also perceived to put at least into question whether we are free.
According to Frede, the "notion of freedom we are interested in emerges." This notion that "emerges" is what, in 19, he calls the "personal notion of freedom."
What does this mean?
It means that the personal notion of freedom requires the thought there are or are not external constraints and that this thought is not one we had all along.
So the notion of free will cannot predate the idea that "the world ... put[s] such constraints on us from the outside as to make it impossible for us to live a good life."
This can be confusing.
Pretty much all the ancient Greeks in the time of Homer thought the gods sometimes threaten and act against the interest of human beings, but they did not think that these gods are a constraint put "on us from the outside as to make it impossible for us to live a good life."
The gods do not systematically attempt to make the good life impossible for all human beings.
Frede makes this a little clearer in the following.
24. The views [about the world] in question assume some kind of physical determinism, according to which everything which happens, including our actions, is determined by antecedent physical causes and is thus predetermined.
The ancient threats to freedom "assume some kind of physical determinism." The ancient Greeks in Homer's time were not physical determinists.
The "some kind of physical determinism" Frede has mind is the view that "everything which happens, including our actions, is determined by antecedent physical causes and is thus predetermined." It turns out, as Frede will explain, that this ancient notion of "physical determinism" is not all that much like the modern notion of physical determinism.
Why is Frede making this point?
The answer, it seems, is that he wants to distinguish the ancient threats to freedom from more modern ones. Many introduction to philosophy courses introduce the so-called "problem of free will" as a question about whether "free will" is compatible with "determinism."
Here, for example, is the opening paragraph of the entry "Compatibilism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem, which concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed as a thesis about the compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism."
25. The nearest we ever get in antiquity to the kind of physical determinism
we are now
Democritus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Epicurus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Democritus (5th to 4th century BCE), founder (with Leucippus) of atomism, younger contemporary of Socrates.
Epicurus (4th to 3rd century BCE), atomist, founder of Epicureanism. thinking of, when we talk about determinism, is in Epicurus, if only for Epicurus to reject it without much of an argument. Epicurus is concerned that the kind of atomism introduced by Democritus, and espoused by himself, might be misunderstood as entailing a view according to which everything which happens, including what we do, is predetermined by an endless chain of antecedent causes. If this were true, nothing that we do would in any substantial sense depend on us. For the conditions from which it would ineluctably follow that one day you would exist, that you would be this sort of person with those beliefs and those desires, and that in a certain situation you would respond to this situation in this way, would already be there all along. These conditions would have come about without any thought of you, without any regard to you or your life, and you certainly would have had no active part in bringing them about. So your action would just be a part of how the world ineluctably unfolds from antecedent conditions which have predetermined you action long before you existed.
We might think that "physical determinism" is part of Democritus' atomism, that this atomism was thought to be a threat to freedom, and that therefore the notion of free will arises against an understanding of the world that is not all that different from ours.
"Epicurus and his followers had a more mechanistic conception of bodily action
than the Stoics. They held that all things (human soul included) are constituted by
atoms, whose law-governed behavior fixes the behavior of everything made of such atoms.
But they rejected determinism by supposing that atoms, though law-governed, are
susceptible to slight ‘swerves’ or departures from the usual paths"
(SEP, "Free Will. 1. Major Historical Contributions 1.1 Ancient and Medieval Period").
What are "Epicurus and followers" said to think?
The view, it seems, is that although there are laws of nature that govern everything, these laws are indeterministic. 26. It is almost impossible for us not to understand Democritus in the way Epicurus rejects. Democritus assumes that all there is are atoms moving in a void. They collide and rebound, form transient compounds, among them compounds which are relatively stable, owing to the configuration of their constituent atoms. What we call “objects,” including plants, animals, and human beings, are such compounds. These entities, owing to the particular configurations of their constituent atoms, display a certain regularity in their behavior. We can hardly resist the temptation to assume wrongly that Democritus must have thought that the atoms move, collide, or rebound according to fixed laws of nature, such that everything which happens ultimately is governed by these laws. But it is perfectly clear that Democritus has no idea of such laws. He is concerned, rather, to resist the idea that the apparent regularity in the behavior of objects be understood as the result of their being designed to behave in this fashion; for in Greek thought regularity of behavior as a rule is associated with design by an intellect. The planets are taken to be supremely intelligent, if not wise, because they move with an extreme degree of regularity. If an object is not intelligent but displays regularity in behavior, it is readily thought to do so by design of an intelligent agent. Democritus's point is that the apparent regularity in the world is not a work of design, say, by an Anaxagorean cosmic intellect but a surface phenomenon produced by the aimless, random motion of the atoms. Thus apparent regularity is supposed to be explained in terms of randomness. But already in Epicurus's day there was the temptation to think of the motion of the atoms as itself regular. Hence Epicurus, to avoid this misinterpretation of his own atomism, tries to insist on the irregularity of the motion of the atoms by claiming that they swerve from their paths without cause.
Democritus, however, does not understand "physical determinism" to be part of his atomism. Further, when Epicurus insists on the "swerve," he aligns himself with Democritus.
The history of philosophy here is interesting.
The Milesian inquirers into nature (Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes) tried to move away from the explanations of events in the world that unfold in a regular way in terms of Zeus and the pantheon of traditional gods. (Zeus, for example, is traditionally responsible for the coming and going of the rains with the seasons.) Democritus and Leucippus (the Presocratic atomists) are part of this tradition that stems from the Milesians. On Frede's interpretation, they try to explain this sort of regularity in the world as how the random motion in the atoms appears to us.
27. Epicurus's doctrine of the swerve, it seems to me, has been widely misunderstood as a doctrine which is meant to explain human freedom, as if a postulated swerve of atoms in the mind could explain such a thing. Epicurus's point is, rather, that, since the world is not deterministic in this way, it does not constitute a threat to the idea that some of the things we do are genuinely our own actions, rather than something which happens to us or something we are made to do. But here is at least an envisaged possible view, which is not fanciful at all but is rather close to what we call physical determinism. According to that, the world puts constraints on what we can do, which are such that we cannot but do whatever it is that we are doing, and hence might systematically prevent us from doing what we would need to do to live a good life.
Epicurus is a Hellenistic philosopher.
The Hellenistic philosophers take their name because of the time in which they lived, the Hellenistic Age. This is the period in history from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE to the end of the Roman Republic in 27 BCE.
The Hellenistic Age is a period in history, not philosophy, but the philosophers in this period have something philosophical in common that makes it reasonable to think of them as a group within the ancient philosophical tradition. They are united by their critical reaction to what they thought were the excesses of the prior classical tradition, the tradition of Plato and Aristotle.
This critical reaction began to disintegrate around 100 BCE as non-skeptical forms of Platonism underwent a resurgence and eventually gave rise to Christianity. This disintegration marks the end of the Period of Schools.
The Period of Schools is the second of the three periods into which ancient philosophy is traditionally divided. This is the time of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic philosophers (Epicurus and the Epicureans, the Academics, and Zeno of Citium and the early Stoics). The need for Epicurus to make clear that his atomism aligns with the atomism of Democritus shows that it was beginning to become possible to think "the world puts constraints on what we can do, which are such that we cannot but do whatever it is that we are doing, and hence might systematically prevent us from doing what we would need to do to live a good life."
So we need to know how in antiquity it was first thought that the "world" might do this.
28. The doctrine which in antiquity comes nearest to physical determinism in our sense, and was actually espoused, is the Stoic doctrine of fate. According to the Stoics, everything which happens has antecedent physical causes which form a chain reaching back as far as we care to trace it. But even this form of universal physical determinism differs radically from its modern counterpart in three crucial respects. First, Stoic fate is the work of an agent, namely, God,whose plan dictates the way the world evolves and changes, including what we ourselves do,down to the smallest detail. Modern determinists, in contrast, do not normally believe in a cosmic agent who determines things. Second, this plan is providential precisely in the sense that the Stoic God predetermines things in part with regard to us, taking into consideration what his determination does to us and to our life. Modern determinists, however, will find it natural to think not only that everything we do is predetermined but also that our choices and decisions are predetermined entirely without regard to us. Third, in a curious twist to the Stoic position (and with nothing comparable in the case of modern determinism), the divine plan itself seems to be contingent on our choices and decisions, in such a way that God anticipates them in determining the way the world evolves.
The "Stoic doctrine of fate" is a kind of "physical determinism."
How is it different from modern instances of physical determinism?
"Modern determinists ... do not normally believe in a cosmic agent who determines things."
"Fixing just upon this conception of agency [that an agent’s control seems to consist in her playing a crucial role in the production of her actions], how might determinism pose a threat to free will? If determinism is true, then what happened in the distant past, when combined with the laws of nature, is causally sufficient for the production of every human action. But if this is so, then, while it might be true that an agent herself is crucially involved in the production of her action, that action actually has its source in causal antecedents that originate outside of her. Hence, she, as an agent, is not the ultimate source of her actions" ("Compatibilism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Modern determinists "think not only that everything we do is predetermined but also that our choices and decisions are predetermined entirely without regard to us."
Modern determinists do not think that "God [the cosmic agent who determines things] anticipates [our choices and decisions] in determining the way the world evolves."
The last point ("that God anticipates [our choices and decisions] in determining the way the world evolves") is crucial for understanding the Stoic notion of free will.
29. God in his providence sets the world up in such a way that there are no constraints imposed on us from the outside which would systematically make it impossible for us to do what we need to do to live a good life. So here we do have a form of causal determinism, but it was a matter of dispute whether it posed a threat to freedom or not. Tellingly, those who argued that it did, like Alexander of Aphrodisias, conveniently Alexander of Aphrodisias, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy disregarded the idea that, on this theory, our choices are not just the product of fate but themselves to some extent determine fate.
It is part of the "Stoic doctrine of fate" that "God in his providence sets the world up in such a way that there are no constraints imposed on us from the outside which would systematically make it impossible for us to do what we need to do to live a good life."
In this way, the "Stoic doctrine of fate" allows for the possibility of free will. The doctrine alone, however, according to Frede, does not immediately prompt the Stoics to introduce the notion of a free will. Frede thinks that it is the late Stoics who introduce the notion.
What changed between early and late Stoicism so it would seem important to the late Stoics, but not to the early Stoics, to insist that the will is free unless one enslaves oneself?
One change concerns the will. The early Stoics, according to Frede, did not have this notion.
This, though, still leaves the fundamental question. What changed so that the late Stoics are motivated to introduce the notion of the will and to talk about the freedom of the will?
Frede's view, as I understand it, is that the late Stoics introduce the notion of free will to respond to a matter that did not exist in the time of the early Stoics.
What is this matter?
Here is Frede's answer from 23:
"These views will strike most of us as extremely fanciful. But we should keep in mind that late antiquity was full of such views, which exercised an enormous attraction. And we should also keep in mind that there were other views which, though much less fanciful, were also perceived to put at least into question whether we are free."
We will need to understand this.
There seem to be two views that play a role in the introduction of free will: the ones that "strike most of us as extremely fanciful" and the ones that are "much less fanciful."
What are these views?
30. Universal causal determinism, though, was not a view which had many adherents in antiquity. This was not because the ancients believed for the most part that things happen without a cause or an explanation. For the most part they came to believe that things do have a natural cause or explanation. But they had a very different conception from ours of what constitutes a cause or explanation. Perhaps the most crucial difference is that nobody in antiquity had the notion of laws of nature, meaning a body of laws which govern and explain the behavior of all objects, irrespective of their kind. For the most part, at least, philosophers believed (and this is true, though in different ways, of Aristotelians, Platonists, Stoics, and Epicureans alike) that the most important factor for one's understanding of the way things behave is the nature of an object. If you wish, you can think of the nature of an object as something which could be explained by a set of principles and laws which govern and explain the behavior of objects with this nature, for instance, plants or stars. But they are principles and laws governing a specific set of items. The nature of an object puts certain internal constraints on what objects of this kind or nature can do. Human beings, for instance, cannot do everything; just because they are human beings, they cannot fly, even if they wanted to. But there are also lots of things the nature of an object enables it to do. For instance, the nature of a sunflower enables it to turn in the direction of the sun. In fact, it makes the flower turn towards the sun, when the sun is visible. Quite generally, the nature of an object is such that, given certain specifiable conditions, it cannot but behave in a certain identifiable way.
What is "[u]niversal causal determinism"? Is it what Frede thinks of as modern determinism?
"[N]obody in antiquity had the notion of laws of nature, meaning a body of laws which govern and explain the behavior of all objects, irrespective of their kind."
This is important. Frede explains that the ancients thought "the most important factor for one's understanding of the way things behave is the nature of an object."
What, according to the ancient philosophers, is the "nature of an object"?
The answer is long. Frede only gives part of the idea.
31. It is only when we come to more complex animals and, of course, to human beings that the behavior is not entirely determined by the nature of the object and the circumstances or conditions the object finds itself in. Animals can learn, be trained, or even be taught to do certain things. Different animals of the same kind might behave quite differently in the same circumstances. Their behavior is not entirely fixed by their nature or the laws of their nature. And, notoriously, human beings have to be trained and taught and educated. They have to learn a lot before they are able to act in a truly human and mature way. What is more, and what is crucially important, human beings have to actively involve themselves in acquiring the competence it takes to lead a truly human life. It is certainly not by their nature that human beings act virtuously.
According to the ancient understanding, "behavior is not entirely determined by the nature of the object and the circumstances or conditions the object finds itself in."
What else determines behavior?
To see the answer, it helps to keep in mind that the "nature of the object" is the cause of specific behavior, behavior that belongs to the object because it is a member of a natural kind.
32. Given a view of the world in which what happens is largely accounted for in terms of the nature of things, there may be nothing which does not have a natural cause and explanation, but, given the kinds of causes and explanations appealed to, the world might remain in our sense causally under determined, leaving enough space for us to live our life as we see fit.
The ancient understanding of what determines behavior leaves open the possibility that "the world might remain in our sense causally under determined."
What is "our sense"? Is this the "sense" given in "universal causal determinism"?
33. But, as we come to late antiquity, there is a growing sense that at least the physical world may be determined. Yet by then, of course, there is also the view, which rapidly spreads, that the mind is not physical. In any case, the notion of freedom gets its point only from the fact that there are available at the time numerous views about the world, according to which we are under such constraints as to possibly, if not necessarily, be unable to do what we need to do to live a good life.
Here, it seems, is the beginning of Frede's answer to the question I pose at the end of 29.
There is motivation to introduce a notion of free will once there are views that entail "we are under such constraints as to possibly, if not necessarily, be unable to do what we need to do to live a good life." Freedom is incompatible with the truth of these views.
The Stoic doctrine of fate itself is not what provides the motivation.
34. With this we come to the combination of the two notions of the will, on the one hand, and of freedom, on the other hand, in the notion of a free will. Given the view that our actions are caused by a choice or a decision of the will, our freedom to do the things we need to do in order to live a good life must involve the freedom to make the choices which need to be made in order to produce the actions which need to be taken. This, however, is a trivial connection between the will and freedom. It would hardly explain the great emphasis on the freedom of the will.
What is Frede's point here?
He rejects one possible explanation for "the great emphasis on the freedom of the will."
What is going on here?
I am not sure. Maybe it is this.
To make the right choices and thus live good lives, the will must be free. This itself, however, does not explain the insistence that the will is free and that we can make these choices. To explain the insistence, something needs to call the possibility of choice into question.
35. A less trivial connection is this. We might act under such constraints that the choices we have are so limited that they might not produce a good life. Just think of a cosmic tyrant who again and again confronts you with a choice like this: having your children killed or betraying your friends; or killing your child or being condemned for not obeying the order to kill your child. This too, though, would hardly suffice to explain the emphasis on freedom of the will.
We are still making "choices." The alternatives from which we choose are all terrible, but there is no reason to think that the choices we make are not our choices.
"The fact that we find some of the theoretical developments in Stoicism dating to this
period not particularly congenial to our philosophical interests should not make us
overlook the fact that such developments took place. ...
There is an extended interest in magic, demons, and various forms of divination,
including astrology, based on the theory of cosmic sympathy, represented, e.g., by
Chaeremon, and subsequently in Platonism. So Stoicism in the first century AD, far from
having degenerated into more or less popular sermonizing, was still a driving force in
philosophical theory. In particular it seems that Stoicism remained vital because
it addressed problems of ever growing importance within the culture of the early Empire,
questions concerning God and divine providence, the gods, the soul, its fate, the
ineluctability of its fate. It is these questions which, according to Seneca, are
central to Stoic physics. This is not the impression we get when we study Chrysippus.
If we ask ourselves how this shift in emphasis came about, it again seems that we are
led back to Posidonius and the end of the second century BC. It seems to have
been mainly Posidonius who reoriented Stoicism in such a way that it could respond to new
interests and needs"
(Michael Frede, "Epilogue," 781. The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy 771-797).
Chaeremon, 1st century CE, Egyptian priest and Stoic philosopher. Teacher to Nero (Roman emperor from 54-68 CE), sometime before Seneca became his teacher in 49 CE. 36. A still more promising connection is this. As soon as we think of a world run by a cosmic tyrant—or by planetary intellects and their daemonic minions who have access to our mind, perhaps can manipulate it, and perhaps can systematically try to prevent us from gaining the knowledge we would need to live a good life—we can see that there is a special point in emphasizing the freedom of the will. No cosmic power has such a force over our minds as to prevent the will from making the choices it needs to make.
What would explain the interest in free will is the presence of the thought that there are beings "who have access to our mind, perhaps can manipulate it, and perhaps can systematically try to prevent us from gaining the knowledge we would need to live a good life."
Because they would be forcing us to act the way we do by taking away our choice.
Who thinks that the "world [is] run by a cosmic tyrant—or by planetary intellects and their daemonic minions who have access to our mind"?
This view does not seem to be part of early Stoicism, the Stoicism of Chrysippus.
So what does Frede have in mind?
The answer, it seems, is that Frede takes free will to be a development within Stoicism that occurs in response to popular views outside of Stoicism. (Philosophy is driven by internal demands and external demands.) The threat to choice is expressed in these outside views. Stoicism responds that these views are false. We are free because our will is free.
So here we have an instance of philosophy trying to solve a real world problem.
It would be nice to know more about the source or sources of these outside views.
"On account of the reality
of the powers
in the spirit of the father of truth, the great apostle [Paul]--referring
to the powers of the darkness--told us that our
contest is not against flesh and blood; rather, the powers of the world
and the spirits of wickedness [Cf. Ephesians 6:12]. I have sent you this
because you inquire about the reality of the powers. But their great one is blind..."
(The Hypostasis of the Archons, 86.20).
This work is part of what is called the Nag Hammadi codices (a thirteen volume library of Gnostic texts) discovered in 1945. The codices were manufactured in 350 CE. They are Coptic translations of earlier Greek works. How these codices came to be buried in a pot in Egypt is not known, but it seems likely they were buried to abandon or hide them in the face the increasing orthodoxy of Christianity.
The view in the thirteen texts seems to be a product of the encounter of the Jewish and Christian tradition with Greek and Roman ideas about the world. In On the Creation of the World, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (30 BCE - 45 CE) tried to show that Plato's Timaeus said the same thing as the first chapters of Genesis. Hellenistic Judaism flourished in Alexandra in Egypt and in Antioch in Syria (both founded in the 4th century BCE conquests of Alexander the Greek).
Philo Judaeus of Alexandria is Philo of Alexandrai. We can get some idea from the The Hypostasis of the Archons
This work seems to be intended as an esoteric work for Christian Gnostics. The author sets out a mythological world view in which the archons exist and pose a problem that the Christian Gnostic must guard against. The problem, it seems, is that they are powerful and sadistic and have the ability to manipulate our minds and thus to make us act as they want.
Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, written in about 180 CE, provides the earliest surviving reference to the Gnostics, but the way of thinking may have begun late in the previous century. It is the product of Christian theologian trying incorporate the creation myth in Plato's Timaeus.
This way of thinking seems to have spread among ordinary people. There was an increasing interest in the fate of the soul, and the Gnostics had answers that many found appealing.
37. We may decide to cross the street but be run over as we try to do so. We
may decide to raise our arm, but the arm does not rise. The doctrine of a
free will is certainly not a doctrine to explain how we manage to raise our
arm or cross the street. It is, rather, a doctrine of how we are responsible
for raising our arm, if we do raise our arm, irrespective of the fact that
the world out there is populated by agents of various kinds who might thwart
our endeavor. At least for Stoics, Christians, and, to a lesser degree,
Platonists, there is also divine providence, which already has settled
ab initio = "from the beginning"
The details of the Gnostic view are hard to grasp. In the beginning, it seems, there is some sort of divine first principle. It somehow emits a second being and other beings that constitute the spiritual world. The demiurge, Ialdabaoth, emits the archons. Ialdabaoth makes and administers the material world with the archons. They love the first principle, but they express this love inappropriately. It takes the form of a desire to possess the divine. This desire for possession extends to the attempt to dominate and enslave human beings through the manipulation of sexual lusts and the other emotions that accompany vice. whether what we decide to do fits into its plan for the best possible world and hence will be allowed to come to fruition.
The notion of free will is introduced to explain the fact (why it is true) that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way" despite "the fact that the world out there is populated by agents of various kinds who might thwart our endeavor" and that according to some traditions "there is also divine providence."
So there are two ideas pushing the introduction of the notion of free will: "agents who might thwart our endeavors" and "divine providence." It is important to keep in mind that "divine providence" only becomes a motive in a certain context. The early Stoics thought there is "divine providence," but this did not prompt them to introduce the notion of free will.
38. This, then, is the general schema for a notion of a free will. Our next major step will be to see how the notion of a specific and actual will first emerged in Stoicism. But before we can turn to this, we have to take a look at Aristotle.
Frede gives the most detailed consideration to Aristotle, but he will also touch on Socrates and Plato. On what happens in the mind when someone acts, Frede will argue that the Stoics return to the sort of view Socrates held but that Plato and Aristotle rejected.