Saturday, 24 August 2013

If free will really cannot be coerced, ever, by anybody or anything...


...then things begin to make sense.


Since the idea of genuine, radical, incoercible free will began to sink in; things begin to make sense that never did - about the way things work, about history, about our relation to God and Satan.

If we regard everything as an enticement of our choice, in a situation where choice cannot be compelled by anybody or anything (not even God) - then this fits with what happens in the Bible, with knowledge, with experience, with intuition.


The fact that so many people for so many reasons (mostly bad, but some mistaken but well motivated) deny that free will really is free, necessarily free, inviolably free - the fact that this fact is so often denied, is a matter of great and pervasive significance; it gives a false understanding of the whole nature and set-up of human existence.

And it leads to endemic and insoluble confusion, alienation, and especially evil; since the consequence is that we become creatures who use our free will to deny free will, we choose to deny our capacity for choice, we are centres of consciousness and agency which self-represent that we are merely contingent clusters of passive consequences.


The situation, once understood thus, is bizarre in the extreme! - yet mainstream, not just in the secular world but in most religions, including most of Christianity.

Perhaps this is the most destructive way to mess with somebody's head; to entice them to deny that of what every spontaneous instinct and perspective convinces them naturally and with total certainty: that they are ultimately free, autonomous, an un-caused cause.


JP said...

How do we understand what seems, on the face of it, to be coercion then?

For example, when the NKVD tortured Soviet citizens into publicly confessing to the most absurd, false charges during the 1930s purge trials, was their free will not violated? Sometimes the victim would retract their confession, and would be taken back to the Lubyanka for another round of beatings until they retracted their retraction.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - I interpret this as free will choosing to (try to) enable the body and mind to escape agony.

I think the point is that either free will is radically total, an uncaused cause; or there is no free will.

That there is no free will makes no sense to assert, and that there is free will is a certainty of Christian revelation.

Since free will is real, it must be radically free - at least, I cannot conceive of a truly free will which ceases to be free at some point as a consequence of some particular degree of coercion.

Donald said...

@GBC Are you familiar with molinism/middle knowledge as an explanation of free will and providence?

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

If free will really cannot be coerced, ever, by anybody or anything...

Exodus 9.12: But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

This is very well said.

Uncaused cause...: There is no other reason for falling into, or resisting any temptation at all: either we act as godlike creatures capable of freely choosing the Good, True and Beautiful, or we want to be God unto ourselves and do as we please without reference to objective goodness, truth or beauty.

However, coercion absolutely cannot, by definition, elicit any free act by itself, only by accident. If someone coerced produces a free act, it is despite, not because of the coercion. Any act made against the prompting of the conscience in order to obtain a reward or avoid a punishment is not a free-willed act. Motives and circumstances solely affect the merit or imputability, though, and only the objective value of the act qualify it as good or evil.

Bedarz Iliaci said...

Free will is incoercible by definition.

Suppose, I choose something. Now, there may be some non-free elements in my making this choice. Perhaps, I had a bad upbringing, say in a Russian Gulag or some American porn-saturated culture that instilled some bad habits in me.

The free will is that component of my choice that takes account of these environmental (so to speak) factors.
When we say that only God sees the heart, this is what I meant--only God knows how much freely I choose to do this or that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BI - Everything you say about free will makes it sound like it is a matter of degree "how much freely I choose to do this or that" - but I am saying that free will is the outcome of our autonomous agency.

Bedarz Iliaci said...

As we are not angels but embodied beings, our apparent agency involves factors beyond our conscious control: we have no free will over them.
CS Lewis in Mere Christianity gave the example of a Nazi soldier that showed some mercy to a prisoner.

For a Nazi soldier to go against his training and culture was a greater thing than many apparently greater acts of mercy from people that were trained and en-cultured to behave mercifully.
He also gives an example of a small bravery shown by a habitual coward.

Thus, the free will is what is left after we take account of the coerced elements in a human action. Only God can do it perfectly and thus it is said that only God sees a man's heart.

Arakawa said...

Bruce's insistence on free will has led me to think about it in a somewhat strange direction:

Since there are obvious weaknesses in that post, I'd be happy to be corrected. (Another context for this post was attempting to try to figure out what things can and can't be said about Heaven, in the sense of this kind of question:

I may have to abandon my attempt, however, if it keeps throwing out such consistently wild speculations.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - I cannot get what is the main point of your post - but it looks like the theological 'problems' you are discussing are exactly the ones that (in my opinion) Mormon theology has answered.

Of course, these answers - or rather the assumptions which underlie them - lead to other problems.

For example your point - which resonated strongly with me:

" the question of why God did not simply create already-saved human beings in an already-perfect Heaven, but rather permitted the whole rigmarole of Paradise => the Fall => life in an imperfect Earth => Redemption => a new Heaven and new Earth."

This is indeed one the THE primary theological problems with mainstream Christian theology - and to be honest I have never seen a remotely convincing answer based on Classical Philosophy.

But the Mormon conceptualization of God leads to the obvious answer - because that rigmarole (perfect word!) was the only way that was possible and did the job (or, perhaps more precisely, the easiest or most effective of the ways which worked - it would not need to be an unique solution).

This is just one of the ways in which Classical Philosophy and the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God-outside-Time leads to difficulties with Christianity that are - I believe - insuperable.

They do not stop people being Christians, indeed great Christians, but they do stop Christianity making common-sense.

Luckily, that kind of omni God is not in the Bible - so there is no reason we have to believe in him - except for the authority (but not actual practice) of existing denominations.

I personally find that the fact Joseph Smith solved these problems, with simple bold strokes - to make a Christianity which 'works' - is the most convincing evidence that he was (as he claimed) a divinely inspired prophet who truly 'restored' the basis of Christianity - this was a truly stunning achievement.

As you know, I am not a member of the LDS. In fact I would not be acceptable to the LDS because I could not promise to live in ways which I 'know' I cannot live. This may seem inconsistent, but it isn't - because Mormon theology does not require church membership for salvation, but 'only' as the best or fastest way to the highest level of exaltation - and even then there are unbounded possibilities of exaltation after death.

So there is nothing inconsistent about being 'merely' a theoretical Mormon. This makes sense in the way that being a theoretical Catholic does not.

And this fits another of your points -that different people, different 'personalities' are at different levels, and suited to different levels of exaltation in Heaven.

I personally am pretty sure that I am unsuited to a high level such as rulership, and in a sense do not want a high level of exaltation in Heaven.

These personality differences probably go back forever - each person is unique from the beginning, just as gender goes back forever (see, it fits together!)