Free will is a complex concept.
Do human beings have free will or is everything determined? Two prominent Jewish philosophers: Gersonides, a french philosopher born in 1288, and Hasdai Crescas a Spanish philosopher born in 1340 both fabricated new ideas to the issue regarding free will. Gersonides takes a better publicly perceived standpoint and claims that humans do have free will. In contrast, Hasdai Crescas believes that we do have choice but everything is still determined. While both philosophers offer great rationale and insight to this philosophical conundrum, Hasdai Crescas’ proposition makes people ponder the purpose of life through his ingenious, effective and unique perspective.
Free will is defined as the ability to choose and then act freely. Gersonides views that humans do possess free will and God does not know what we will choose. God is aware and all knowing but he does not know which choice we will choose and he knows all possible options of our choices. To illustrate his argument, imagine that there are a two distinct alternatives to choose from, to kill or not to kill.
Gersonides would say that regardless of what we choose God knows what will occur if one would decide to murder or not to murder. One might question Gersonides premise and say: how is it possible for God to not know something, God is all powerful and all knowing? Nevertheless, this does not detract from God’s knowledge, as his theory rests upon the fact that (according to him) God is incapable of knowing which path you will choose. This is not a limit on God’s omnipotence but rather, because of the laws of nature God created, it is impossible for God to know what one will choose. While Gersonides philosophy is appealing, it has too many inconsistencies and the main basis of the argument is flawed.
Gersonides argues that God is unable to be conscious of what will happen but that is not correct. If God is out of time (non time bound) then of course he can know the future and which option one may choose. Because God is not time bound, his argument becomes disassembled to a nice idealistic, unrealistic lie. Hasdai Crescas, the leader of the Jewish community in Aragon, had an eminent, esteemed and renowned philosophical approach to the question of free will and determinism. He explores the deterministic approach that outlines the concept of God being the first cause and all knowing and any preceding cause is already known.
People may feel that they are in control of their decisions however Crescas alleges that people can choose between different options but the influences that internal or external causes (it could be any cause) persuades ones choice, essentially determining the choice. He believes that we can always boil a person’s choice down to a source of their underlying cause to why one chooses one option over the other. Crescas brilliantly compares human beings to bronze, he says that bronze can be shaped into all kinds of objects but someone molds the bronze into the form of their choice which determines the shape of the bronze. Crescas uses this analogy to display how God is similar to the shaper of the bronze and determines how the bronze will be used for the rest of eternity. Consequently, there is no choice because all has been predetermined by God himself. Hasdai Crescas intelligently integrates the secular approach of natural cause and effect with God’s ability to know all that there is to be known. He professes that the Torah and the natural threat of punishment and reward of doing a good deed are influences created by God which determine the choices one makes. Humans do not have free will no matter how much we believe we do.
The natural order of cause and effect, set out by God in the universe, is too powerful. Hasdai Crescas and I see eye to eye on this topic, we both view the deterministic approach as the correct one. I, along with Hasdai Crescas, think that every decision we make is determined by previous influences or causes. For example, if I were to decide to study for a test a week early I didn’t have the free will to do that, the difficulty of the course requires a lot of studying and another influence in my decision is that I would like to get accepted into university. This example beautifully illustrates that I never had free choice in my opinion and had to study a week early because the preceding causes led me to do so. After all, God set out the world to run through cause and effect and that is how all biological beings have been since the beginning of time. Why do we as humans believe we are different than every other biological beings and possess free will? The main problem with Gersonides’ view is that the universal laws that God set out are too powerful and these laws prevent us from having free will. Hasdai Crescas proposes that of the many influences into someones determined decision, the main ones are the natural threat of punishment.
He says, even without the Torah, humans will have a natural consequence, whether good or bad, for their actions. This consequence prevents people from choosing voluntarily as they are persuaded, perhaps subconsciously, to do a specific action. Therefore, the main weakness in the argument of Gersonides is that we are always persuaded to choose something over the other. We do not have free will ever because of external causes. All in all, Gersonides and Hasdai Crescas both present astonishing, intellectual ideas regarding the convoluted argument of Free Will vs Determinism. Gersonides communicates the intricate argument of the irrational, unscientific approach which concludes that humans do have free will. Contrary to Gersonides, Hasdai Crescas illustrates the complex premise of the deterministic approach and deduces that humans do not have free will and all choices are determined because of the natural laws of cause and effect in which God set out from the beginning of time. Both opinions offer valid points but the premise of Gersonides is flawed due to the fact that God is not time bound, so he is capable of knowing the choices humans make in the future which then limits the free will of humans because God is all knowing.
If God is all knowing, how can humans have free will? The only logical answer, eloquently portrayed by Hasdai Crescas, is that everything is determined.