Friday, 9 September 2011

The function of free will

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A comment from WmJas stimulated what seems the clarifying insight that the 'solution' to perplexity over free will is to understand the function of free will.

It is what free will does that is vital - not trying to understand what it is, or how it works.

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The essence of free will is that - although it is a natural, spontaneous and common-sensical understanding - free will is a theological concept.

Therefore, if we do not accept common sense, and try to elucidate the nature of free will in an atheist, non-transcendental, secular context - then confusion and error are inevitable.

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Because if we do not know, or deny, the function of free will - we cannot ever grasp what it is.

(How could we understand the eye if we did not know it was for seeing? - or rather, if we denied that vision was a possibility.)

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Aquinas (apparently) said that free will was given to Man by God; free will is not something found in most of the universe but was specifically given by God to Man (plus or minus other creatures, such as angels): free will is a defining feature of what it is to be human. 

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Implicitly, free will was made a property of humans in order that Man *may* become the kind of creature God intends. A creature that may, but is not compelled to, choose salvation.

The fact that the rest of the perceived universe seems to be either determined or random is irrelevant: free will is a divine gift, God makes it work in whatever way it does work.

And however free will does work, it is not the same way that other things work that we we come across in the world.

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But how free will works is not necessary to know - what we need to know is that we have it, and we use it to make choices: but to make the choices rightly we must accept that free will exists and that its use matters.

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The reason we have free will is made clear in any true account of Christian salvation: humans have free will so that we may choose rightly. The right choice must be chosen.

These choices can be dramatic, or they can be (and necessarily are) mundane.

Most people make these choices very frequently and unavoidably: they are the core business of human life - the choices that (could be said to) move us either towards heaven or towards hell, salvation or damnation, The Good or the Anti-Good, truth or lies, beauty or ugliness, virtue or sin. 

These choices are happening: it is a further matter of choice whether we acknowledge the fact. 

Furthermore the choices are obfuscated by all manner of things: our own original sin, our accumulations of previous bad choices, the malign or confused influence of others, denial of the reality of choices, transcendental purposive evil at work in the world...

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In such an account, free will should be, must be, regarded as non-problematic and essential. It is what we do with free will that matters; not definitions, nor descriptions, nor explanations of mechanisms.

But if (as modern man has done) we try to understand free will after subtracting (assuming the falseness or irrelevance) of God, creation, transcendental Goods, purposive evil etc - then it is not surprising that free will seems incoherent.

Instead of making right choices, we obsess over whether choices are real or how the choice mechanism works: a sure-fire recipe for ruin.

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Thus a society in which we obfuscate the central human activity of choice (moral choice of course, but also choices relating to truth and beauty; and to the unity of virtue, truth and beauty) - this would be and is a society intrinsically damned.

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NOTE: I accidentally changed the background colour of the text, and don't yet know how to revert it - sorry!

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