The Concept of Free Will

Related up with the traditional belief in the Soul was the belief in Free Will as one of the soul’s faculties and rejection of the one meant rejection of the other also. Hobbes unhesitatingly takes the step into determinism. “Free will” he classes amongst the meaningless terms “whereby we conceive nothing but the sound”. And there if a man should take to me of ‘a round quadrangle ‘or ‘accidents of bread in cheese ‘ or ‘ immaterial substances ‘ or of a ‘free subject ‘ a ‘free will ‘ or any ‘free’, but free from being hindered by opposition, I should not say he were in an error , but that his words were without meaning , that is to say, absurd.

Hobbes’s account of the Will forms part of his theory of perception: “External objects cause conceptions, and conceptions appetite and fear, which are the first unperceived of our actions”. The motion set up in the organs of perception by the “pressure” of external objects is conveyed to the heart. Here it either helps, or hinders, a new principle which looks suspiciously like a disguised “entity”, but which Hobbes employs with no misgivings – the “vital motion”.

If the vital motion is “corroborated” by this new motion, we have the sensation of “delight”, which implies “appetite” or an impulse to advance towards the pleasing object. If it is thwarted, we experience “aversion”, which implies an impulse to withdraw. In either the “real effect” in the heart is only a form of motion; the feelings of delight or aversion, like the sensations of colour or sound, are but the “appearance” or “sense” (consciousness) of that motion . That which causes “delight” or “appetite” we call Good, and strive to obtain it; that which causes “aversion” we call Evil, and strive to avoid it.

The final outcome, then, of the complicated processes by which we respond to external stimuli is some kind of action, whether it takes the form of choosing some ‘good’ or of avoiding some ‘evil’. It may happen that appetency and aversion conflict with each other, and that the victory hangs for a while uncertain between them. This is the state called ‘deliberation’. But in the end one of them wins and we make our ‘choice’. This final choice, or as Hobbes calls it, ‘last appetite’, is the ‘Will’. Thus the Will itself is not ‘free’ or ‘voluntary’, in the sense of ‘self-originating’.

It seems to be so because we are conscious of the act of choice, but unconscious of the vague processes which held up to it and really determined it. Nevertheless Hobbes finds a sense for ‘voluntary action’ it is action determined by this ‘last appetite ‘only , and not by external compulsion. This result, that man is really an automaton, was of course implicit already in the account of ‘sense’ as being itself a form of motion in matter. It was that classification of ‘mind’ with ‘matter’ which rendered it, along with every other part of the universe, subject to all the rigour of strict causation Body ‘ “The universe ,that is , the whole mass of all things that are , is corporeal (material) , that is to say , body , and hath the dimensions of magnitude, namely length, breadth , and depth, also , every part of body is likewise body, and hath the like dimensions, and consequently every part of the universe is body , and that which is not body is no part of the universe :and because the universe is all , that which is no part of it is nothing and consequently nowhere” . And this is so not merely because in his best known book, the Leviathan, he avowedly mobilizes his ‘philosophy.

It represents what to Hobbes , was Truth: nothing , probably , was felt by him to be truer than this: ‘The universe is corporeal; all that is real is material, and what is not material is not real’. “Fear and reverence nature no longer ; she is no mystery , for she “worketh by motion”, and Geometry , which is the mother of the sciences”. With Hobbes there is but one real world, that in which all is ‘body’: all else belongs to the ‘kingdom of darkness’ inhabited only by fairies, ghosts, and ‘surds’ ; and this is what gives his style its singleness and force

Hobbes belongs to that class of thinkers, usual in periods of rapid scientific advance to whom a ‘ naturalistic’ type of explanation seems completely satisfying . In Hobbes’ age this meant the acceptance of mechanico – materialism as an exhaustive account of reality . Hobbes is a specially significant figure for the purpose of this study , for he illustrates perhaps better than any other seventeenth – century writer the immediate results of the whole – hearted adoption of the new philosophy and its application in every field of inquiry.

A Consideration of some of his views, we may therefore hope, should help us to answer the questions with which we are mainly concerned, namely , what affirmations were involved in the acceptance of mechanical ‘truth’ in our period ? And what, in consequence, had to be rejected as ‘error’? Words are names, and names may be used to signify(I)the bodies that work on the senses, (2) the sense -impressions themselves (imagination), (3) the part of speech (‘names of names’), or (4) the relations between names (e. . the verb ‘to be’).

All other names are but insignificant sounds; ‘and words whereby we conceive nothing but the sound are those we call “absurd”, “insignificant”, and “nonsense”, When we say , he writes, That ” a man is a living body, we mean not that the ‘man’ is one thing, the ‘living body ‘ another, and the ‘is’ or ‘being’ a third; but that ‘man’ and the ‘living body’ is the same thing; because the consequence, ‘if he be a man, he is a living body’, is a true consequence, signified by that word ‘is’. herefore ‘to be body ‘, ‘to walk’, ‘to be speaking’, ‘to live’ , ‘to see’, ‘and the like infinitives’. He has an inward assurance of the materiality of the universe, that is, of all ‘real things’. A ‘material’ or ‘real’ thing , or a ‘body natural’, was one which occupied space, was divisible , movable, and in sum, behaved geometrically . What Hobbes seems to leave unquestioned is that he knows the meaning of ‘matter’ or ‘body’. It is as certain, for him, that ‘body’ means what is real as that ‘entity’ or ‘being’ means nothing.

Hobbes makes the usual complaint , that the scholastic explanations not only explain nothing , but discourage further research . They were the explanations of men who felt that all really important truth was already known, and were therefore not eager to fill in the picture with physical detail. It was enough, to explain a phenomenon, to say , in different words, that it happened because it was its nature so to do. Probably this is the only ultimate explanation that can be given of anything; but the new age Did not want ultimate explanations; it wanted descriptions of intermediate processes.

If you desire to know why some kind of bodies sink naturally downwards towards the earth, and others go naturally from it , the schools will tell you out of Aristotle , that the bodies that sink downwards are ‘heavy’, and that this heaviness is it that causes them to descend . But if you ask what they mean by ‘heaviness’ they will define it to be an endeavour to go to the centre of the earth. So that the cause why things sink downward, is an endeavour to be below ; which is as much as to say, that bodies descend, or ascend, because they do .

Or they will tell you the centre of the earth is the place of rest , and conservation for heavy things; and therefore they endeavour to be there : as if stones and metals had a desire, or could discern the place they would be at, as man does ; or loved rest , as man does not ; or that a piece of glass were less safe in the window than falling into the street. And in many occasions they put for cause of natural events their own ignorance .