PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 67 21st September 2003
I. 'Spinoza's Ethics: Determinism and Freedom' by Alfredo Lucero-Montano
II. 'Free Will' by D.R. Khashaba
III. 'Creating a Thinking Board: Press Release and Call for Papers'
by Rachel Browne
In this issue of 'Philosophy Pathways' we announce the launch of a second Pathways electronic newsletter, dealing with business ethics. The anticipated launch date is 2nd November. For more details, see Rachel Browne's Press Release.
If you would like to be included in the address list, or if you are interested in contributing an article on any philosophical aspect of business practice or the business world, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy these two fine articles on the free will and determinism by Alfredo Lucero-Montano and D.R. Khashaba.
I. 'SPINOZA'S ETHICS: DETERMINISM AND FREEDOM' BY ALFREDO LUCERO-MONTANO
1. What remains alive of a philosopher's thought are the realities that concern him, the problems that he addresses, as well as the questions that he poses. The breath and depth of a philosopher's thought is what continues to excite and incite today. However, his answers are limited to his time and circumstances, and these are subject to the historical evolution of thought, yet his principal commitments are based on the problems and questions with which he is concerned. And this is what resounds of a philosopher's thought, which we can theoretically and practically adopt and adapt.
Spinoza is immersed in a time of reforms, and he is a revolutionary and a reformer himself. The reforming trend in modern philosophy is expressed in an eminent way by Descartes' philosophy. Descartes, the great restorer of science and metaphysics, had left unfinished the task of a new foundation of ethics. Spinoza was thus faced with this enterprise. But he couldn't carry it out without the conviction of the importance of the ethical problems or that ethics is involved in a fundamental aspect of existence: the moral destiny of man.
Spinoza's 'Ethics' is based on a theory of man or, more precisely, on an ontology of man. Ethics is, for him, ontology. He does not approach the problems of morality -- the nature of good and evil, why and wherefore of human life -- if it is not on the basis of a conception of man's being-in-itself, to wit, that the moral existence of man can only be explained by its own condition. For Spinoza, to work up an ethics is not to elaborate an external theory of morality, but to go deep into the intrinsic, radical, and essential constitution of the human condition:
It is impossible for a man not to be part of Nature and not
to undergo changes other than those which can be understood
solely through his own nature and of which he is the
adequate cause (E4p4).
Spinoza's commitment is essential for his search of mankind's reason. His ethics is an attempt to give reason to the human facts that usually are not susceptible to a rational explanation, and are condemned to pure irrationality. Particularly the moral facts -- what Spinoza abridges as "the emotions and actions of men" -- have been considered as a realm of existence that eludes any understanding. So the essence of our existence was conceived as an unreachable and unexplainable twilight zone, in which science and reason cannot have access. Man can explain everything, know everything and dominate everything, but himself. His own actions, the essential of his being, were marginalized, were put outside of his reach. Thus the specifically human would be a universe determined by a power external to man and alienated from his understanding.
Despite modern rationalism's dubious commitment to rationalize the whole of existence, it seems certain that Spinoza's project to make intelligible the moral world, and give it an immanent basis, is a project that grants his thought a permanent significance.
2. The fundamental aim of Spinoza's 'Ethics' is to naturalize and rationalize human life, in opposition to the philosophical tradition that looked at the realm of "the emotions and actions of men" as something extra-natura or anti-natura, alien or opposite, to a rational understanding. In this sense, Spinoza writes in a notable passage:
Most of those who have written about the emotions
(affectibus) and human conduct seem to be dealing not with
natural phenomena that follow the common laws of Nature but
with phenomena outside Nature. They appear to go so far to
conceive man in Nature as a kingdom within a kingdom...
They will doubtless find it surprising that I should
attempt to treat of faults and follies of mankind in the
geometric manner, and that I should propose to bring
logical reasoning to bear on what they proclaim is opposed
to reason, and is vain, absurd and horrifying...I shall
[therefore] consider human actions and appetites just as if
it were an investigation into lines, planes, or bodies
Spinoza does not only think, in accordance with his time, that nature is written in numbers and it has in itself a casual and mathematical rationality, but that everything can be "demonstrated in geometrical order," including ethics itself.
For Spinoza, and likewise modern rationalism, nature losses its demonic character, and acquires even a divine status: In his pantheistic conception, "God is one," there is only one substance, an absolutely infinite being, consisting of infinite attributes of which only thought (spirituality) and extension (spatiality, corporeity) are known by man. God is not just thought, as Descartes believed, but also extension as the Spinozist heretical theology states. This means that the divine is in the physical nature as it is in thought itself. Furthermore, nature is divine itself. Everything is God, and God is everything.
If extension and thought have been unified in this basic premise, if monism tries to resolve, in an essential unity, the dualism between spirit and matter, infinite and finite, absolute and relative, eternity and temporality, we must understand that man, with all his affects, cannot constitute a sui generis reality outside of nature. If God itself is not extra-natura, even less can man be: He does not constitute "a kingdom within a kingdom."
But Spinoza's naturalism takes with itself -- together with the possibility of dealing with the human affects as if they were "lines, planes, or bodies" -- the possibility that freedom could be questioned:
Men are deceived in thinking themselves free (E2p35schol).
In the mind there is no absolute, or free, will. The mind
is determined to this or that volition by a cause, which is
likewise determined by another cause, and this again by
another, and so ad infinitum (E2p48).
Here freedom seems to have no place in an absolute and necessary order, or when Spinoza writes: "that all things in Nature proceed from an eternal necessity and with supreme perfection" (E1app).
Certainly there is no freedom, if we understand by it the power of doing an action without cause or reason, if we conceived free action as the human possibility to act independently of determining causes. That would be freedom conceived as self-determination, as causa sui, for instance, as in Kant or Sartre. Here we must point out that Sartre's idea of freedom certainly takes place as the exact counterpart of the Spinozist notion: freedom is an absolute indetermination, a "complete and unconditioned" freedom -- anti-natural, unjustifiable and absurd. Sartre's existentialism not only asserts the irreducibility of human condition, but it precisely assumes the extra-natura character, opposed to reason, of the "vain, absurd and horrifying" absolute freedom. And far away from the Spinozist notion, Kant's idea of freedom is outside of nature, outside of natural causality, and nevertheless it is rational (and it is a non-natural "cause"), because it belongs to the order of practical reason.
On the other hand, in Spinoza's rationalism takes place the most strict identity between "cause," "reason" and "nature," in which cause is the same thing as reason, reason is the same thing as cause, and cause is the same thing as a necessary causality or determinism: "From a given determinate cause there necessarily follows an effect" (E1ax3).
In other words, this determinism means that the same causes produce the same effects through a chain of uniform, determined and necessary items. It consequently makes freedom incompatible with rationality, and with nature and its causal realm. Now we can clearly understand that to assert, as Spinoza does, the rational and natural condition of human life implies the questioning of freedom.
Can we really explain what man is within a strict monist and deterministic philosophy? Can we talk about ethics in a universe ruled by necessary causal laws? Is it not a contradictio in terminis to speak about a "deterministic" ethics? How can we explain within a perfect order the universal presence of human imperfection, like man's irrationality, destructiveness and evil? Can it be an ethics "demonstrated in geometrical order"? Could Spinoza really achieve his project of a strictly deterministic ethics that eliminated all sense of freedom?
Spinoza's 'Ethics' precisely oscillates between these alternatives: if there is ethics, there is no absolute determinism, or vice versa. If the former, then the determination is reduced, and it is not anymore incompatible with freedom; the causality ceases to be absolutely necessary (implied in a consequent determinism). If the latter, the emphasis put on a strict determinism -- as a guarantee of rational perfection and absolute truth -- ethics becomes impossible; it disappears in a straightforward manner to the consolidation of determinism. These two possibilities seem to be present at the same time in Spinoza's ethics, creating tensions and contradictions within his system. Nevertheless, there is an ethics, and this means that there is a mode of determinism combined with freedom. The Spinozist ethics, explicitly or implicitly, establishes several meanings of freedom.
3. Certainly, Spinoza writes of "good" and "bad" affects: pleasure, love, devotion, hope, confidence, etc., are good affects; pain, hatred, mockery, fear, despair, are bad affects. For Spinoza, affects are rationales as much as they express man's belonging to nature, that is, his inclusion in an universal causal order by which he is necessarily affected. However, the affects can favor or not favor man's being:
I shall understand by pleasure 'the passive transition of
the mind to a state of greater perfection,' and by pain
'the passive transition of the mind to state of less
However, what is fundamental in Spinoza's gaze is that man has an originating tendency, a kind of elan vital, an effort or essential impulse to persist in his own being:
The conatus with which each thing endeavors to persist in
its own being is nothing but the actual essence of the
thing itself (E2p7).
Desire is the very essence of man; that is, the conatus
whereby man endeavors to persist in his own being
In contrast with those that might see in the human condition some originating tendency to destruction or death, like Freud who asserts that "the aim of all life is death" or Heidegger who understands human existence (Dasein) as a "being-toward-death," Spinoza holds that death is external or extrinsic: "No thing can be destroyed except by an external cause" (E3p4).
For Spinoza, the good affects are those that favor the originating conatus of life, toward its expansion and perfection, that is, to joy and happiness. The bad affects, on the contrary, disturb the being's impetus:
Pleasure is an emotion whereby the...[man's] power of
activity is increased or assisted. Pain, on the other hand,
is an emotion whereby the...[man's] power of activity is
diminished or checked. Therefore pleasure in itself is
good...[and pain is in itself bad] (E4p41dem).
I shall mean by 'good' that which we certainly know to be
the means for our approaching nearer to the model of human
nature that we set before ourselves, and by 'bad' that
which we certainly know prevents us from reproducing the
said model (E4pref).
Here it is necessary to notice that the existence alone of the "bad" affects could be a sign of a break in the supposed human perfection; if not, how can we really understand melancholy, grief, fear, hatred, death, in a realm where every thing "endeavors to persist in its own being," and in a realm that is subject to the most necessary and divine rationality?
The fact alone of the existence of a difference, or contrast, between good and bad affects is a proof -- grounded on freedom -- of the ethical condition of man. For a strictly deterministic system there is no place for qualitative distinctions: every thing is indifferent, apathetic, neutral, because everything is precisely necessary. The difference between good and bad affects implies the negation of the perfect causal order, or it reveals the existence of an imperfection, and therefore the possible character of determination. The diversity implies then the different alternatives of possible, unlike and opposite, causal links: some favorable to man's essential nature and others opposite to it, some of life and others of death. It seems that we live in a world determined by a kind of necessity-in-the-circumstances (relative necessity), and not one of absolute necessity: what is, but could not be; what is this way, but could be in another way. And this notion of necessity-in-the-circumstances is related to freedom.
On the other hand, the difference does not only exist, according to Spinoza, between good and bad affects, but between emotions in general and actions; between the passive life which is affected by the exterior, and the active life which, on the contrary, is a cause itself, and not only an effect. The "power of activity" that moves human nature "by reason of its essence or by reason of its cause," and produces its own motion -- from inside to outside, and not from outside to inside -- means nothing else but the fulfillment of the conatus itself:
Besides the pleasure and desire that are passive emotions,
there are other emotions of pleasure and desire that are
related to us in so far as we are active (E3p58).
Since reason demands nothing contrary to nature, it
therefore demands that every man should love himself,
should seek his own advantage (I mean his real advantage),
should aim at whatever really leads a man towards greater
perfection, and, to sum it all up, that each man, as far as
in him lies, should endeavor to preserve his own being
For that reason, melancholy, hatred, sadness (passive affects), are not actions (active affects), and for the same reason, the actions agree with the good affects:
So no emotions of pain can be related to the mind in so far
as it is active, but only emotions of pleasure and desire
Certainly, the difference between passive and active affects, between passivity and activity, shows the "human weakness in the ethical struggle," or in Spinoza's words, it shows the essential difference between bondage and freedom:
we shall readily see the difference between the man who is
guided only by emotion and belief and the man who is guided
by reason. The former, whether he will or not, performs
actions of which he is completely ignorant. The latter does
no one's will but his own, and does only what he knows to be
of greatest importance in life, which he therefore desires
above all. So I call the former a slave and the latter a
free man (E4p66schol).
A free man thinks of death least of all things, and his
wisdom is a meditation of life, not of death (E4p67).
For Spinoza, real freedom would not consist hence in acting gratuitously, without cause nor reason, but on the contrary to act according with the necessary nature of man:
To act from reason is nothing else but to do what follows
from the necessity of our own nature considered solely in
It is in the nature of reason to regard things as
necessary, [to wit, as they are in themselves]
In other words, for Spinoza, freedom means to obey the determined conatus which man "endeavors to persist in its own being," acting in agreement with "the clear and distinct ideas" which show the universal rationality, and in conformity with the necessary and eternal truths of nature. Thus freedom would be nothing but the fulfillment of the own necessity of being:
The conatus to preserve itself is nothing but the essence
of a thing, which... is conceived as having a force to
persist in existing and to do those things that necessarily
follow from its given nature. But the essence of reason is
nothing other than our mind in so far as it clearly and
distinctly understands (E4p26dem).
In this sense, we might say that the change between the passive life and the "free" and active life is nothing but the change of one bondage to another one: to leave acting from external causes (passive affects) and to subject oneself to internal determinations (active affects) which are absolutely more determining. Then freedom would be just the outcome of a fixed, determined and immutable nature, an absolute, necessary nature, and not a possibility itself. Spinoza does not admit that "free" action can fall on our own nature and transform it, that is, freedom cannot be creative and produce true changes; therefore it could not explain the ethical condition of man.
However, in another sense, we cannot think that "active" life and "passive" life are indifferent, nor that the change of one to another does not, in some way, imply freedom. It, explicitly or implicitly, shows the condition of the ethical activity (man's active understanding of himself), even though it is conceived in a limited way and it fulfills in conformity with a supposed nature, or a necessary essence.
We could even say that the paradox is double: for it not only expresses that freedom consists in necessity, but that necessity involves, at the same time, freedom; man's necessary nature (his rational conatus to persist in his own being) is not absolutely necessary: it does not inevitably come to fulfilment in a spontaneous and automatic manner, as a natural instinct. On the contrary, it is a free acquisition, possible and contingent, borne in the effective man's activity, through which could it take place or not. Certainly, the conatus is just "conatus" in the sense as "tendency", possibility or potentiality, "endeavor," struggle and conquest of freedom. It properly is not a force, or a spontaneous impetus, which takes place with natural and universal facility. Spinoza seems to acknowledge this when he writes: "If men were born free, they would form no conception of good and evil so long as they were free" (E4p68).
Actually, for man, the conatus is a potency, a "desire", an "endeavor," which requires human "work", to wit, requires art (activity) and artifice (virtue); it is a cultural outcome and not a natural one; it is moral and free, not spontaneous nor absolutely determined. However, for Spinoza, the real active and free life is something very difficult to reach:
If the road I have pointed out as leading to this goal
seems very difficult, yet it can be found. Indeed, what is
so rarely discovered is bound to be hard. For if salvation
were ready to hand and could be discovered without great
toil, how could it be that it is almost universally
neglected? All things excellent are as difficult as they
are rare (E5p42schol).
Beyond this explicit acknowledgment, freedom is present in the Spinozist system showing, in many ways, the inconsistency of determinism. Man can and must ruled over his passive affects; he must arise above the vital determinism and produce an active and rational life:
Therefore the more we endeavor to live by the guidance of
reason, the more we endeavor to be independent of hope, to
free ourselves from fear, and to command fortune as far as
we can, and to direct our actions by the sure counsel of
All the Spinozist actions ("conatus," "desire," "virtue", "power") do not mean anything else but freedom -- the human power to influence over the causal chains, and thus transform human nature. It is true that freedom is not absolute or uncaused, and neither anti-natura nor extra-natura, but it also means that man's nature is not a closed, immutable, causal realm. That is why we have history, culture and ethics.
4. Beyond the effort of Spinoza's thought to apprehend the real, beyond his rationalistic commitment, the facts themselves, with their qualitative diversity and "motion and rest," overflow the Spinozist system. In effect, the fluidity of human activity exceeds the rigid and limited margins of Spinoza's determinist scheme within which he tries to rationalize ethics. It is only possible in an unnecessary, changing, imperfect order, to wit, in a human not divine order. Ethics is only possible as the world recovers its human dimension: imperfect and perfectible, essentially qualitative, always subject to siege by irrationality and nothingness, always open and in gestation. In a geometrical order there is no ethics: there are no passive and active affects, there is no difference, there is neither conflict nor struggle, neither life nor possibility.
Certainly, there is no ethics in pure indetermination, nonsense and vacuousness. The human world is an ethical world because within it there is also causality, rationality, differentiation, sense and "conatus to preserve the nature of the thing itself." Spinoza's actuality is not due to his determinist rationalism, but to his endeavor to seek the logos of the human affects, and to understand the paradox of freedom intrinsically, but not contradictorily, related to determination. It is not due to his monism or pantheism, but to his recovery of human nature and its own affects. Nor is it due to his univocal optimism, but to his advocate for vital values. In sum, it is in his effort to conciliate the passions and actions, that is, the natural and moral horizons of human life.
On the most extreme antithesis of Hobbes' statement: homo hominis lupus, we can find the Spinozist deification of nature and man himself. But opposite to Spinoza's implicit homo hominis deus, contemporary ethics stands on the fruitful hope that neither lupus nor deus, but homo hominis homo. In this sense, Spinoza is a fundamental contribution to an ethics based on the human condition itself.
Finally, there is no ethics without freedom. Even in Spinoza's deterministic conception there is an "ethics" in the broad sense. Because an indifferent and apathetic universe (consequent of an absolute determinism) is not a "human world", therefore, freedom is present. Freedom means the capacity of "option," "value" judgment and "decision," because there are, one way or another, open alternatives and possibilities. The ethical reality is the work of man's "endeavor" and "action" constantly assumed by "the power of reason" and "virtue." For Spinoza, the aim of ethics is to show the "necessary" fulfillment of man's nature.
1. Benedictus de Spinoza, 'Ethics', trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991).
2. References to Spinoza are given by the internal form, for example, 'E' stands for Ethica (followed by the number of the part), and so the following terms: p(roposition), dem(onstration), schol(ilum), ax(iom), app(endix), cor(ollary), pref(ace), etc.
3. Many ideas in the next sections derive from work by Juliana Gonzalez, "El Proyecto de una Etica Determinista. Spinoza," in 'Etica y Libertad' (Mexico: UNAM, 1989), 97-110.
4. Just a simple a question: Is not perfection inhuman?
5. For Spinoza, man as part of Nature could be assailed by external causes, and the passions resulting from them (E4ax, E4p5).
6. See Herman De Dijn, "Spinoza's 'Ethics': From the Sorrows of Reason to Freedom and Beyond," in 'La Etica de Spinoza. Fundamentos y significado, Actas del Congreso Internacional': Almagro, 24-26 de octubre, 1990 (Ciudad Real: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, 1992), 495.
7. See Fernando Savater, 'Invitacion a la Etica' (Barcelona: Anagrama, 1982), 38.
(c) Alfredo Lucero-Montano 2003
I. 'FREE WILL' BY D. R. KHASHABA
This is an abridged version of Parts I and IV of "Free Will as Creativity", available on my Web site http:--- . I hope that readers who find that the following pages make sense will consider it worthwhile to read the fuller account where I develop the position outlined here through comments on Kant's 'Critique of Practical Reason' and on a number of papers by some prominent contemporary thinkers.
1. Historical Survey
The so-called free-will problem is a spurious problem. It need not have arisen but for two unjustified assumptions (or two classes of assumptions). The ancient Greek philosophers did not raise the problem since they had no reason to question the reality of the experience of free will. Even the deeply rooted and widely accepted notion of Fate did not radically contradict the experience of free will. Fate (or the Fates) could plot a person's fortunes and the caprice of the gods could bring about the undoing of an individual but they did not work on the will of that person. Prometheus could maintain his integrity and his dignity in the face of mighty Zeus.
For Socrates and for Plato the problem was, What sways the decisions of a human being: reason, or emotion, or desire? But in all cases the final arbiter was the person herself. To them, that a rational being acts freely was self-evident. Socrates' examination of akrasia in 'Protagoras', Plato's distinction between volition and intention in 'The Laws', Aristotle's discussion of intentional and unintentional acts in the 'Nicomachean Ethics', all relate to the problem of choice, not to the problem of free will as it was later posed, first by Christian and Islamic thinkers with reference to the ideas of predestination and divine foreknowledge, and then by modern philosophers with reference to the scientific concept of causal determinism. Neither Socrates nor Plato nor Aristotle finds any reason to question the reality of the freedom of the will. For them to be free is to act intelligently and not be swayed by desires and aims unillumined by the light of reason.
The Atomists of classical times (Democritus, Leucippus, Lucretius) apparently did not pay much attention to any possible repercussions of their theories on the question of human freedom. Plato at 'Laws' 967a ties the postulate of physical necessity with atheism, not with any scepticism concerning free will. In any case Epicurus, who adopted the physics of the Atomists, was confident we can control our fortunes.
The Stoics believed that all that happens is providentially directed, but they did not see that as precluding the freedom of a human being to live in harmony with the divine will.
On the other hand, theism does not merely hold that "God is the cause of the operation of everything which operates." (Thomas Aquinas.) That would not preclude autonomy as understood by Spinoza. But theism maintains further that God has decreed beforehand all action that will ever take place. That clearly makes human beings sheer automata on a par with the animals of Descartes. Theists exert themselves to prove that God's foreknowledge does not determine the deeds of human beings, but they also positively affirm that all we do is foreordained by God.
From the seventeenth century onwards, the debates about free will and predestination, originally raised in the theological arena, were given new life as a result of the mechanical determinism of Hobbes and Descartes and the metaphysical necessity entailed in Leibniz' pre-established harmony and Spinoza's pantheism.
Hobbes (1588-1679) was a consistent materialist. Taking his stand on the naturalistic and materialistic attitude of Francis Bacon (1561-1626), he was perhaps the first among moderns to give clear expression to the idea of causal determinism. If all there is in the universe is matter in motion, then free will can be nothing but an illusion. And Hobbes is still very much with us today. As long as we find reality in what is given in the phenomenal world, Hobbes' conclusion is inescapable. Only if we find reality in the mind can we find room for free will.
Descartes (1596-1650) and Spinoza (1632-77) were mathematicians and carried the idea of mathematical necessity into metaphysics where it does not belong, just as Plato was inclined to do at times; but Plato was a far profounder thinker and had the audacity to be inconsistent when his philosophical insight demanded it. As mathematicians, Descartes and Spinoza maintained that, given the set-up of the world at any given moment, the outcome for all time was determined. Leibniz too was a mathematician, but, like Plato, dared to be inconsistent, though at times he was inconsistent in the wrong place, motivated not by insight but by fear of the Church.
Spinoza equates freedom with understanding; he titles the Fifth Part of his 'Ethics' "Concerning the Power of the Intellect or Human Freedom". For him the important consideration is not whether in behaving we are determined or free, but whether we are passive or active. For, for him, all that comes to pass is necessitated. But the more understanding we have of ourselves and of the world, the more of perfection we have in ourselves, and the more free we are in the only sense in which a finite being can be free. This is a noble conception of freedom, and the only one compatible with strict causal determinism. Spinoza could not go beyond that, fettered as he was by his acquiescence in that postulate.
Spinoza accepted without demur the consequences of the causal determinism he thought incontrovertible. Leibniz (1646-1716), who was by no means less intelligent or clear-headed than Spinoza, would have done the same. But Leibniz was not a heroic man; he was not prepared to face the ostracism and drudgery that were imposed on Spinoza in consequence of his beliefs. So Leibniz juggled with words to show that there can be predetermination without necessity. As Bertrand Russell puts it: "Leibniz recognized... that all psychical events have their causes, just as physical events have, and that prediction is as possible, theoretically, in the one case as in the other. To this he was committed by his whole philosophy, and especially by the pre-established harmony. He points out that the future must be determined É And with this, if he had not been resolved to rescue free will, he might have been content. The whole doctrine of contingency might have been dropped with advantage. But that would have led to a Spinozistic necessity, and have contradicted Christian dogma." (Bertrand Russell, 'The Philosophy of Leibniz', 1900, Sect. 118.)
It is odd that Hume (1711-76), who was the first to shatter the idea of causation as a law of nature, should yet be seen by causal determinists as a champion of their cause. For, ironically, while empiricists proudly announce themselves descendants of Hume, they choose to forget that he showed all our pretensions to knowledge to be nothing better than pious dreams. In 'An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding', Section VIII, Of Liberty and Necessity, Part I, Hume argues that there is as much uniformity in human character and human behaviour as is to be found in nature. He calls this necessity. Since people -- among them philosophers -- when observing regular succession in nature suppose that there is a force which necessitates that the 'effect' should follow the 'cause', by the same token, when we observe regularity in human behaviour, we should regard that as necessity. This is good as far as it goes, and though it sits uneasily with the rest of Hume's philosophy, let us concede it to him. Where does it take us? Only to the point that all human activity is sufficiently 'caused', which does not conflict with the view that principles and ideals can be effective factors in determining human activity. By itself, Hume's argument does not entail or support predetermination.
2. Causal Determinism
The classic statement of the postulate of causal determinism was formulated by Pierre Laplace (1749-1827) in his 'Philosophical Essay on Probabilities':
"We ought to regard the present state of the universe as
the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the
state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing all the
forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the
momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be
able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the
largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world,
provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to
subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be
uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present
to its eyes." (Quoted in Carl Hoefer's important article
"Causal Determinism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of
The sanguine effusion of Laplace was in full tune with his age and time. This was the logical outcome of the Cartesian version of rationalism. In more recent times, mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers of science have made it more difficult to display such exuberant confidence. However, for the purposes of the present essay, it does not matter whether determinism be taken at this high pitch or in any toned-down version.
Determinism rests on two postulates:
1.Everything that happens is subject to the 'universal
laws of nature'.
2.Everything that happens is theoretically predictable,
being the outcome of causes which are in turn caused by
Both these assumptions are useful scientific fictions that can never be anything other than that. They are as certain and as reliable as any human knowledge can be and no more. Here for once we will find Plato and Hume speaking with one voice. All the astounding achievements of our civilization are based on these postulates. But they cannot permit us to make any absolute judgements. And I strongly contend that they are not relevant to philosophical positions which are concerned solely with subjective reality. (See my "Philosophy as Prophecy" and "Excursions into the Dialogues of Plato: II. Knowledge and Reality".)
Scientists and philosophers of science are hotly debating questions relating to determinism and causation. My position is that whatever theory be found most satisfactory in these areas will have relevance only in the domain of observable objective phenomena. However much power we may possess to control, influence, or predict the sequences of these phenomena, we do not thereby gain understanding of what makes things do what they do. Most scientifically oriented minds are firm in the conviction that once we are master of the steps that ensure the coming about of a thing, we have understanding of that thing. That may be what we mean by understanding in common usage. If medical scientists come to know how to control the development of a malignant growth, no one will cavil with calling that understanding. But clear thinking would profit by our using distinct terms for that kind of knowledge on the one hand and philosophical understanding on the other hand.
To our modern minds, to say that science has no say in any given question is far worse than blasphemy, because in the modern mind science is equated with rationality. I contend that that is a serious error leading to serious consequences. Science deals with phenomena objectively given to the mind, and regardless of whether or not we acknowledge that those phenomena are to any extent influenced or modified by the mind, in our scientific proceedings we can only deal with those phenomena in so far as they are regarded as independent of the mind. Even when science proposes to deal with subjective experience and with the activity of the mind, it can only do so by objectifying that experience and that activity and transforming them into given phenomena.
That scientific procedure is a method that has given humankind power over nature. I do not have to recount its gifts; every schoolchild can do that. But it is a power that comes at a price. It is by its very nature excluded from access to the reality of living experience and of the activity of active thought. When the mind dives in its own living waters, it exercises a rationality of a different order.
I will sum up my approach to the problem of causation in a few naive claims which, I maintain, are meaningful and significant despite their naivete.
There is no instance in nature of A, simply as A, being the cause of B. If A develops into B or grows into B, then A is a living or a dynamic system (whole); there is always in system-A something over and above all that any reductionist inventory of the constituents of an A fictionally congealed in a moment of time can discover.
To say that a combination of factors A+B+C = X is patently false except where X is nothing but a token for A+B+C, that is, except where the statement is strictly tautologous. Where X is in any sense different from A+B+C, we have a creative development that the sum A+B+C cannot explain. I maintain that this is so even in the case of 1+1+1 = 3. 3 is not 1+1+1 but a new form, a new idea; in fact, a creation of the mind that can be found nowhere in the world except where a living mind confers it on the world.
Thus I see not only all intelligent purposive activity but all becoming as an original flowering of its antecedents. I find creativity as self-evidently assured as the reality of freedom in our subjective reality, which is the only reality we know. And accordingly I can only suppose that creativity is an original feature of ultimate reality in the same way as I find intelligence and goodness essential dimensions of ultimate reality. And if that is so, then causality and determinism must be kept in their place as scientific hypotheses useful in dealing with the phenomenal world but with no say in the metaphysical sphere, which is concerned with the world of reality, the only reality we know, the reality of ideas.
In an important article on Causal Determinism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Professor Carl Hoefer states that philosophers of science now "mostly prefer to drop the word 'causal' from their discussions of determinism." He quotes John Earman to the effect that not to do so is to "seek to explain a vague concept Ð determinism Ð in terms of a truly obscure one Ð causation." So it would seem that scientists, philosophers of science, and professional philosophers who confidently and unqualifiedly proclaim that determinism has been proved or refuted do not represent the best of science or the best of philosophy.
3. The Compatibility-Incompatibility Debate
The Compatibility-Incompatibility controversy is fuelled by the acceptance, common to both parties, of causal determinism as an incontrovertible postulate of science. Once that is admitted, all the arguments are nothing but tautology on the one side and evasion on the other side. In a theoretically closed system, where every happening is causally determined by the previously obtaining set-up, Incompatibilism regiments and deploys the forces of heaven and earth to assert that what is determined cannot be undetermined, and Compatibilism has no resort but to seek clever forms of words and equations that seemingly do not contradict the 'truth' of causal determinism.
Kant (1724-1804) is the greatest of Compatibilists. In a footnote to a passage in the Preface to the 'Critique of Practical Reason' Kant writes, "The union of causality as freedom with causality as rational mechanism, the former established by the moral law, the latter by the law of nature in the same subject, namely, man, is impossible, unless we conceive him with reference to the former as a being in himself, and with reference to the latter as a phenomenon Ñ the former in pure consciousness, the latter in empirical consciousness. Otherwise reason contradicts itself." (tr. T. K. Abbott, p.16.) This establishes a pact of non-belligerence between empirical science and morality, a policy of live and let live. (The empiricists have never honoured the pact!) But unless we realize that causal determinism is not and can never be anything more than a working hypothesis that cannot claim absolute validity, then the reconciliation between causal determinism and freedom cannot be any deeper than Kant makes it. Only when we realize that all becoming is creative, is freedom firmly and securely established. Then all the arguments of Compatibilism and Incompatibilism are seen to be beside the point.
Many of those who concern themselves with the philosophical problem of free will see the problem as revolving around the question whether it is true to say that, in a given situation, a person could do otherwise than s/he does. This, in my view, is not the crux of the problem of free will. That question is a psychological Ð not a philosophical Ð one, and the yes or no to it depends on the level of motivation at which we choose to stop. Discussions are thus mainly, often exclusively, engrossed in the examination of the intricacies of the psychology of choice and deliberation. This befuddles the issue.
Choice and deliberation follow from the circumstance that we have the power to objectify our desires, inclinations, aims, and so on, and to constitute of ourselves an arbiter over and above the desires, inclinations, and aims. We are no longer passively moved by those motives but can bring one motive, ideal, or value, to work on the others. Still this capacity to deliberate and exercise choice is not the freedom that constitutes our true worth as human beings.
Farah, my granddaughter (2 yrs 5 m.), is crying. She wants to go downstairs to play with the neighbour's children. "I want to play," she cries. Of course all the time, except when sleeping or feeding, she does nothing but play. When she takes up one of her toys or goes to her swing, she does something she wants to do, but we may regard that as a first-level desire. But now, crying "I want to play", she has the idea of a possibility that is not at the moment actual. This we may regard as a second-level desire. Here we have a higher plane of autonomy. Of course this is still a far cry from moral autonomy. But I think we must recognize that here we already have an ideal sphere that has a role in moulding action. I will not say that it affects or influences the act; it does not act from outside; it is not a separate thing; it, along with other factors, acts itself out in the act. I call that a plane or stage of autonomy.
One point that I have to make clear and insist on is that although we habitually think of the will as a faculty that can be distinguished from the totality of the person, we should never forget that this distinction is a theoretical fiction. We can and do distinguish the will just as we distinguish desire, emotion, memory, etc. Such distinctions are the stuff of thought. But they are fictions. It is the whole person, the person as a whole, that acts, thinks, deliberates, decides, and so on. Wherever I speak of the will, we might replace the word will by mind or soul. Where such substitution makes no sense, there must be something wrong with the original statement.
Let it be said at once that, even within the scope of deliberation and choice, to say that the will is undetermined is not to say that the act of the will is uncaused. The act as an actual happening must be sufficiently justified. To say that the will is undetermined is to say that the will (which here can be equated with the mind or soul), even when subjected to external pressures, acts in fulfilment of its own constitution.
Thus free will is not in any sense "the operation of an uncaused cause", and it would only make for confusion to take that to be the meaning of spontaneity. A person, with all her/his aptitudes, motives, goals, ideals, is a natural product of preceding natural processes, including 'spiritual' influences which, coming from outside the person, are so far objective and natural.
We all know that it is no compliment to any person to be characterized as unpredictable. A person whose acts are unpredictable is either a shallow thing driven by every whim and every puff of circumstance, or is a vicious, wily, scheming rogue. An honest, virtuous person's acts are always consistent with her/his character and principles.
Equally with the question of choice, I regard the discussion of responsibility as an intrusion into the metaphysical problem of the free will. The discussion of responsibility is on one side a psychological question and on the other side a legal or politico-social question. In both these aspects it is of course a fit subject for philosophical investigation in a wider sense of the term philosophical; what I am denying is that it is of any relevance to the strictly metaphysical problem of the meaning of free will.
A person who, under compulsion, does a wrongful deed, may be legally exonerable, and yet may be held to be morally responsible, because s/he has weighed the consequences of doing and of not doing and has chosen to do, when s/he could have chosen to die, for instance, rather than do the deed. But if someone bodily much stronger than I am clasps my hand to a gun, points it, and presses my finger to the trigger, this would not be an act of mine any more that if I fell from a high building and in falling crushed and killed an unfortunate person that happened to be standing below. In both these cases, the event, as far as I am concerned, takes place on the physical plane, not on the plane of my subjective reality.
I maintain that the Determinism and Free Will 'problem', which many thinkers have declared intractable, is a pseudo-problem, engendered by raising a scientific hypothesis -- which (1) is uncertain and unverifiable, and (2) in any case has no relevance to philosophical inquiry -- to the status of a first principle. This error is closely linked to the prevailing Empiricist outlook, which sees 'reality' in the phenomenal world and not in the mind. The pseudo-problem is further confounded by the identification of freedom with choice. But above all, the proper understanding of the metaphysical problem of free will is hindered by the common static conception of reality, which fails to recognize creativity as an ultimate principle. To me, creativity is the essence of free will.
The properly philosophical question relating to free will is simply this: What is free will? And it is answered not by any objective observation or experimentation; not by any subjective analysis; but, starting from an acknowledgment of the reality of spontaneous, purposive activity, philosophical thinking creates notions in the light of which that reality is found to be intelligible.
Plato spoke of the endless battle between the Gods who find reality in the mind and the Giants who find reality in the perceptible world ('Sophist', 245e-246e). Around the seventeenth century Europe had a re-birth, and, with the eyes of a new-born babe, was all taken up by the surrounding world. Even the Rationalists, who were all for subjecting everything to reason, were too busy exploring the outer world with their minds to pay much attention to the inner reality of those minds. The Empiricists completed the banishment of the mind, and it was only natural that Dr Johnson should refute Bishop Berkeley with his foot. Kant came to the rescue and reinstated the reality of God, the soul, and the free will in the inner citadel of Practical Reason. But the world-oriented habit of mind was too strong. It was felt that unless those realities could be objectified and re-discovered in the outer world, their reality would be compromised. That is the root of the problem. (See my "Must Values Be Objective?" in 'Philosophy Pathways' Issue 59, 1st June 2003.)
For a solution to the problem we have to go back to the teaching of Plato: What we find in the mind is the whole of reality; what is outside the mind is a mere shadow, and all 'knowledge' relating to the shadows of the phenomenal world is, strictly speaking, opinion and conjecture. Our minds, our will, our purposive activity are the reality we know directly, immediately, self-evidently. Turning our eyes away from this reality to the outer world, we are inevitably engrossed in all the interminable quandaries that have kept and are keeping philosophers busy.
But Plato's articulation of his ideal world leaves something to be desired. We are liable to be left with too static an impression of the intelligible Forms. Yet the reality we know in ourselves is not static; it is creative. It is in creativity that we find freedom. And creativity is a reality we know in ourselves, as immediately and self-evidently as we know the reality of our minds. If the hypotheses of our objective sciences find it difficult to accommodate the idea of creativity, so much the worse for those hypotheses. That only shows they are too narrow, too shallow: in their defence it has to be said that they have to be narrow and shallow if they are to serve their purpose. But that is no reason why we should belie the inner self-evidence of our moral and creative experience.
Free will is the autonomous affirmation of the reality of intelligent being in creative activity. An act of love is spontaneous, free, and creative. An act of artistic creation is spontaneous, free, and creative. The antecedents of the act are sufficient to the intelligibility of the outcome, but the outcome was not contained in them; the act brings into the world something new. My creative intelligence is my reality, my freedom, my dignity, my whole worth. This is not a proposition that has to be proved: this is a vision that has to be lived, and when lived shines in the self-evidence of its reality. If we find this difficult to believe or even to conceive, it is only because we have lost the innocence of the inward vision.
(c) D.R. Khashaba 2003
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III. 'CREATING A THINKING BOARD' BY RACHEL BROWNE
Press release and Call for Papers
Research from the Institute of Business Ethics (http:---) shows that while more large companies are showing an interest in ethics and provide a code of ethics for their employees, fewer companies are training staff in business ethics and fewer companies have a process for revision of the code.
The answer is for companies to become thinking companies with the ability to re-assess values, principles and codes of conduct through dialogue.
The International Society for Philosophers (ISFP) is offering a new business ethics package to the boards and management of companies which it hopes will evolve to provide a unique intra and inter-company dialogue and a valuable corporate resource.
Business ethics has recently come into the limelight, especially following the problems in Enron and WorldCom, and other business scandals. These events showed that a company can collapse due to bad business ethics.
Companies don't need to see the possibility of imminent disaster before they recognise the advantage of business ethics. The benefit of becoming a Thinking Company, and a developing ethical company is higher employee morale and commitment, as well as heightened performance in the market-place. But the example must come from the top. A Thinking Board and management is critical in setting the tone, policies and structures that will allow for an ethical, committed and loyal workforce.
In the US structures are in place to support whistle-blowing which is an advantage to the company as it enables the company to deal with problems internally. But it is not a fully established system. This is evident from the fact that there is now a web-site for whistle-blowers to report anonymously on their companies to the outside world. There is thus increased pressure on companies to develop internal structures for dealing with unethical behaviours.
Research has shown that middle-management feels "more pressure to sacrifice personal ethical principles for the sake of organizational requirements" than any other level in the company (J. Keenan, Keenan & Associates, San Francisco). Dialogue between board and management can correct this.
"Can we learn ethics from one another?" A company's ethical code can be developed through thinking and communication. Loyalty and commitment to those close to us is where ethics begins but, equally, understanding of the problems in the world beyond what is close to home can bring a deepened understanding of what is wrong on the home-ground. Inter-personal dialogue is a way of achieving this understanding. So we will provide companies with the facility of engaging in open dialogue to promote ethical advancement.
"How do you re-assess your code of conduct?" Ethics is essentially philosophical and the aim of philosophy is to teach the individual to think for himself and consider issues from all angles. Our unique idea is to develop the individual so that he can think through issues of corporate responsibility and increase his awareness of questions that are becoming important today through the reflection on philosophical ethics, combined with consideration of practical business problems.
As a first step, the ISFP is offering a newsletter to both board and management as well as anyone interested in ethical aspects of business practice. This will be followed by the launching of a research web site where questions will be answered by a panel experienced in ethics. We will also be offering philosophy courses to stimulate thought and reflection. We hope that the newsletter will move from papers on business ethics to a forum for discussion of problems raised and constitute an effective means of interchange of ideas.
The thoughtful and ethical company becomes a strong business without fears of reprisal due to bad practice. But, more importantly, research by the Institute of Business Ethics has shown that "companies with a clear commitment to ethical conduct outperform those which do not" ("Does Business Ethics Pay": http:---).
The ISFP is launching the free Pathways business newsletter on 2 November 2003 and welcomes papers of around 2500 words. Please send papers to the editor Geoffrey Klempner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first issue is scheduled to include:
John Keenan "Recommendations for senior level managers
and their organisations on whistleblowing"
John Sartoris "On the dilemma of conflicting loyalties"
If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, please contact Geoffrey Klempner at email@example.com.
(c) Rachel Browne 2003