Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action

 

    [1] Is man
        in his thinking
           and acting
              a spiritually free being,
      or is
         he compelled
            by the iron necessity
               of purely natural law?

    There are
          few questions
             upon which
          so much sagacity
              has been brought to bear.

    The idea
        of the freedom
            of the human
               will
                  has found
       enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents
          in plenty.

    There are those
         who,
            in their moral fervor,
       label anyone
          a man
         of limited intelligence
             who can deny so patent
                a fact
                   as freedom.

    Opposed
        to them
           are
       others
          who regard it
             as the acme
                of unscientific thinking
                   for anyone
                      to believe
          that
      the uniformity of natural law
         is broken
        in the sphere
            of human action
               and thinking.

    One
         and the same thing
            is thus proclaimed,
       now
          as the most precious possession
             of humanity,
       now
          as its most fatal illusion.

    Infinite subtlety
        has been employed
           to explain how
              human freedom
                 can be consistent
           with the laws
              working
                 in nature,
               of which man,
                  after all,
       is a part.

    No less is the trouble
         to which
             others
            have gone
               to explain how
                  such
                 a delusion
                    as this could have arisen.

    That
         we are dealing here
            with one
               of the most important questions
                   for life,
                      religion,
                   conduct,
                      science,
       must be felt
           by anyone
              who includes any degree
                 of thoroughness
                    at
                   all in his make-up.

 

    It is
          one
             of the sad signs
                of the superficiality
               of present-day
                  thought
             that a book
                which
                   attempts
                  to develop
                      a new faith
                   out of the results
                      of recent scientific research,
       has nothing more
          to say
             on this question
          than
             these words:

 

    "With
         the question
            of the freedom
               of the human
                  will
             we are not concerned.

    The alleged freedom
        of indifferent
       choice
         has been recognized
        as an empty illusion
            by every philosophy worthy
                of the name.

    The moral valuation
        of human action
            and
          character
             remains
         untouched
            by this problem.."

 

    It is not
          because
             I
                consider that the book
         in which
            it occurs
               has
             any special importance that
                 I
          quote this passage,
       but
          because
             it seems
                to me
              to express
                  the view
         to which
             the thinking
                of most
               of our contemporaries
            manages
               to rise
                  in this matter.

    Everyone
         who claims
            to have grown
           beyond the kindergarten stage
               of science
        appears
           to know nowadays
          that freedom
             cannot consist
           in choosing,
              at one's pleasure,
           one or other
              of two possible courses
                 of action.

    There is always,
       so
          we are told,
       a perfectly definite reason
          why,
       out of several possible actions,
          we carry
             out just one
                and no other.

    [2] This
        seems obvious.

    Nevertheless,
       down to the present day,
          the main attacks
             of the opponents
                of freedom
          are directed only
             against freedom
                of choice.

    Even
         Herbert Spencer,
       whose doctrines
          are gaining
             ground daily,
                says,
        "That everyone
            is
           at liberty
               to desire or not
                   to desire,
           which
              is the real proposition involved
           in the dogma
               of free will,
           is negated
               as much
                   by the analysis
                       of consciousness,
           as
               by the contents
                   of the preceding chapter.."

 

    Others, too,
       start
          from the same point of view
             in combating
                the concept of free will.

    The germs of all
         the relevant arguments
        are
           to be found
              as early
           as Spinoza.

    All that
         he brought
              forward
           in clear and
              simple language
                 against the idea
                    of freedom
                       has
         since
            been repeated
               times
                  without number,
       but
          as a rule enveloped
             in the most hair-splitting
                theoretical
               doctrines,
       so that it
          is difficult
             to recognize
                the straightforward train of thought
                   which is all that matters.

    Spinoza
        writes
           in a letter
               of October
                   or November, 1674,
        "I call
           a thing free which exists
              and acts
                 from the pure necessity
                    of its nature,
           and
              I call
          that unfree,
             of which
                the being
                   and action are precisely
               and
                  fixedly determined
               by something else.

    Thus,
       for example,
          God,
       though necessary,
          is free
             because
                he exists only through
               the necessity
           of his own nature.

    Similarly,
       God cognizes himself
           and all else freely,
       because
          it follows solely
             from the necessity
                of his nature
          that
             he cognizes all.

    You see,
       therefore,
          that
             for me
                freedom consists not
           in free decision,
       but
          in free necessity..

 

    [3]
        "But let us
              come down
           to created
              things
             which
                are all determined
               by external causes
              to exist
                   and
              to act
                 in a fixed
                    and definite manner.

    To perceive
        this more clearly,
       let us
          imagine a perfectly simple case.

    A stone,
       for example,
          receives
             from an external cause
            acting
           upon it
               a certain quantity
                   of motion,
       by reason
          of which
             it necessarily continues to move,
       after the impact
           of the external cause
              has ceased.

    The continued motion
        of the stone
           is due to compulsion,
       not to the necessity
           of its own nature,
       because
          it requires
             to be defined
           by the thrust
               of an external cause.

    What is
         true here for the stone
            is true
           also for every other
               particular thing,
       however
          complicated
             and
         many-sided it
            may be,
               namely,
                  that everything
        is necessarily determined
           by external causes
          to exist
               and
          to act
             in a fixed
                and definite manner.

 

    [4]
        "Now,
           please,
              suppose
          that
             this stone during its motion
                thinks and knows
                   that it
                      is striving
                         to the best
                            of its ability
                          to continue in motion.

    This stone,
       which is conscious
           only of its
              striving and
            is by no
                means
          indifferent,
       will believe
          that it
             is
          absolutely free,
       and
          that it
             continues in motion for no
                other
                   reason
              than its own
        will
           to continue.

    But this
        is just
           the human freedom that everybody
        claims to possess
           and
         which
            consists
           in nothing
         but this,
       that men
          are conscious
             of their desires,
       but ignorant
           of the causes
         by which
             they are determined.

    Thus
         the child
            believes that
               he desires
        milk
           of his own free will,
       the angry boy
          regards his desire
             for vengeance
                as free,
       and the coward
           his desire
               for flight.

    Again,
       the drunken man
          believes
             that he
                says
               of his own free
                  will what,
                     sober again,
                   he would
          fain have left unsaid,
                   and
                      as this prejudice is innate
           in all men,
       it is difficult
           to free oneself
               from it.

    For,
       although
          experience
        teaches us often enough
           that man least
              of all can temper his desires,
           and that,
              moved
                 by conflicting passions,
           he sees
              the better
        and pursues
           the worse,
              yet
         he considers himself free
            because there are some things
               which
                  he desires less strongly,
       and some desires
          which
             he can easily inhibit
                through the recollection
                   of something
             else which it
                is often possible
               to recall.

 

    [5] Because this view
          is so clearly
             and definitely expressed
          it is easy
             to detect
                the fundamental error
               that it contains.

    The same necessity
         by which
            a stone makes
           a definite movement
              as the result
                 of an impact,
       is said to compel
           a man to carry
              out an action
         when impelled thereto
            by any reason.

    It is only
         because man
            is conscious
               of his action
              that he
                  thinks himself
                     to be its originator.

    But
         in doing so
            he overlooks the fact
               that he
                  is driven by a cause
         which
             he cannot help obeying.

    The error
        in this train
            of thought
               is soon discovered.

    Spinoza,
       and
          all
             who think like
                him,
       overlook the fact
          that man
             not only is conscious
           of his action,
       but also may become conscious
           of the causes
         which guide him.

    Nobody
        will deny
           that the child is unfree
         when
             he desires milk,
       or the drunken man
          when
             he says things
                which
             he later regrets.

    Neither knows anything
        of the causes,
       working
           in the depths
               of their organisms,
       which exercise irresistible
           control over them.

    But is it justifiable
          to lump
             together actions
                of this kind
                   with those
         in which
             a man
                is conscious
               not
                   only of his actions
                       but also of the reasons
             which cause him to act?

    Are the actions
        of men really all of one
            kind?

    Should the act
        of a soldier
            on the field of battle,
               of the scientific researcher
                  in his laboratory,
                     of the statesman
                        in the most complicated
            diplomatic negotiations,
      be placed scientifically
          on the same level
              with
        that of the child
           when
              it desires milk:
      It is
         no doubt true
        that it
           is
              best
             to seek
                 the solution
          of a problem
        where the conditions
           are simplest.

    But inability to discriminate
         has
            before now caused
           endless confusion.

    There is,
       after all,
          a profound difference
             between knowing
         why
             I am acting
                and not knowing
          it.

    At first sight
          this seems
             a self-evident truth.

    And yet
         the opponents of freedom
              never ask themselves
         whether a motive
            of action
               which
                  I recognize and
              see through,
       is to be regarded
           as compulsory
              for me
                 in the same sense
                    as the organic process
         which causes
            the child
          to cry for milk.

    [6]
         Eduard von Hartmann asserts
             that the human will
        depends
           on two chief factors,
       the motives
           and the character.

    If one regards men
        as all alike,
       or at any
          rate the differences between them
         as negligible,
       then
          their will appears
             as determined from without,
           that is to say,
              by the circumstances
         which
              come
          to meet them.

    But
         if
             one bears in mind
                 that a man
                      adopts an idea,
                         or mental picture,
                            as the motive
                               of his action
          only
         if
             his character
                is
         such that
            this mental picture arouses
           a desire in him,
       then
          he appears
             as determined from
                within and
                   not from
                       without.

    Now because,
       in accordance
           with his character,
       he must first adopt
           as a motive
         a mental picture given
            to him from
           without,
         a man
            believes
         he is free,
       that is, independent
           of external impulses.

    The truth,
       however,
          according to Eduard von Hartmann,
       is that,
          "even though
             we ourselves first
                adopt a mental picture
                   as a motive,
           we do
          so not arbitrarily,
             but
         according to
            the necessity
               of our characterological disposition,
           that is,
              we are anything
             but free."

 

    Here
         again the difference
            between motives
         which
             I allow
                to influence me only
               after I
           have permeated them
              with my consciousness,
       and those
          which
             I follow
           without any clear knowledge
               of them,
       is absolutely ignored.

 

    [7] This
        leads us straight
           to the standpoint
               from which
              the subject
                  will be considered here.

    Have
         we any right
            to consider
               the question
                  of the freedom
                     of the will
                   by itself
               at all?

    And if not,
       with what
          other
              question
            must
          it necessarily be connected?

 

    [8] If there is a difference
        between a conscious motive
            of action
                and an unconscious urge,
      then the conscious motive
         will result in an action
        which
           must be judged differently
          from one
        that springs
           from blind impulse.

    Hence our first question
          will concern this difference,
       and
          on the result
             of this enquiry
            will depend
         what
             attitude
                 we shall have
                    to take towards
                   the question
           of freedom proper.

 

    [9] What
        does
           it mean
              to have
                  knowledge
                     of the reasons
                   for one's action?

    Too little attention
          has been paid
             to this question
         because,
            unfortunately,
           we have torn
              into two
         what is really
            an inseparable whole:
       Man.

    We have distinguished
        between the knower
            and the doer and
               have left
             out of account precisely
                the one
                   who matters most
            of all
      -- the knowing doer.

 

    [10] It is said
          that man
             is free
                 when he
                    is controlled only
                   by his reason
                       and not by his animal passions.

    Or again,
       that to be
          free means
             to be
                able
           to determine one's life
               and action
                  by purposes
                     and deliberate decisions.

 

    [11] Nothing
        is gained
           by assertions
               of this sort.

    For the question
        is just
           whether reason,
              purposes,
           and decisions
          exercise the same kind
             of compulsion
                over a man
               as his animal passions.

    If without my co-operation,
       a rational decision
          emerges
             in me
                with the same necessity
         with which
            hunger and thirst arise,
       then
          I must needs obey it,
       and my freedom
          is an illusion.

 

    [12] Another form of expression runs:
       to be free
          does not mean
             to be
                able
              to want as one
         wills,
       but
          to be
         able
            to do as one
         wills.

    This thought
        has been expressed
           with great clearness
               by the poet-philosopher
                   Robert Hamerling.

    "Man can certainly do
        as he wills,
       but he
          cannot want as he wills,
       because
          his wanting
             is determined by motives.

    He cannot want
        as he wills?

    Let us
          consider these phrases more closely.

    Have
         they any intelligible meaning:
       Freedom
           of will would
         then mean
            being able
               to want
                  without ground,
       without motive.

    But
         what does wanting mean
             if not
                to have grounds
               for doing,
       or trying to do,
          this
         rather than that:
       To want something
           without ground
               or motive
            would be to want
               something
                  without wanting
          it.

    The concept
        of wanting
           cannot be divorced
        from the concept
            of motive.

    Without a determining motive
        the will
       is an empty faculty;
      only through the motive
         does it become active
            and real.

    It is,
       therefore,
          quite true
         that the human
            will is not "free"
               inasmuch as
                  its direction
              is always determined
                 by the strongest motive.

    But
         on the other hand
             it must be admitted
         that it
            is absurd,
       in contrast
           with this "unfreedom",
       to speak
           of a conceivable freedom
               of the will
         which
            would consist
           in being able
          to want
         what
             one does not want.

 

    [13] Here again,
       only motives
           in general
              are mentioned,
       without taking
           into account
               the difference
                   between unconscious and conscious motives.

    If
         a motive
            affects me,
       and
          I am compelled to act
             on it
         because
             it proves to be
                the "strongest"
           of its kind,
       then the thought of freedom
          ceases to have any meaning.

    How should
          it matter
             to me
         whether
             I can do
                a thing
               or not,
       if I
          am forced
             by the motive
           to do it?

    The primary question
        is not
           whether
              I can do
                 a thing
               or
                   not
                      when a motive
                         has worked upon me,
       but
          whether
             there are
          any motives
             except such as
                impel me with absolute necessity.

    If
         I am compelled
            to want something,
       then
          I may well
             be absolutely indifferent
         as to
             whether
                 I can also do it.

    And if,
       through my character,
          or through circumstances
        prevailing
           in my environment,
       a motive
          is forced
             on me
         which
            to my thinking
               is unreasonable,
       then
          I should even have
             to be
                glad
         if
             I could not do
         what I want.

 

    [14] The question
        is not
           whether
              I can carry
           out a decision once made,
       but
          how
             the decision comes about
           within me.

    [15] What
        distinguishes man
           from all other organic beings
              arises
                 from his rational thinking.

    Activity
          he has
             in common
                with other organisms.

    Nothing
        is gained
           by seeking analogies
               in the animal world
              to clarify
                  the concept
               of freedom
                   as applied
                      to the actions
                         of human beings.

    Modern science
        loves
           such analogies.

    When scientists
          have succeeded
             in finding
           among animals
               something similar
                  to human behavior,
       they believe
          they
         have touched
            on the most important question
               of the science
                  of man.

    To what
        misunderstandings
           this view leads is seen,
              for example,
            in the book The Illusion
               of Freewill,
            by P. Rée,
      where
         the following remark on freedom
            appears:
       "It is easy
          to explain
             why
                the movement of a stone
                   seems
                  to us necessary,
          while
             the volition of a donkey
                does not.

    The causes
         which
              set
             the stone in motion
                are external and visible,
       while the causes
          which
              determine
          the donkey's volition
             are internal
           and invisible.

    Between
          us
             and the place
                of their activity
                   there is the skull
                      of the ass....

    The determining
        causes
           are not visible
              and
        therefore thought
           to be
              non-existent.

    The volition,
       it is explained,
          is, indeed,
             the cause
                of the donkey's turning round,
       but is itself unconditioned;
           it is
          an absolute beginning.

    Here again human actions
         in which
            there is
          a consciousness
             of the motives
            are simply ignored,
       for Rée
          declares
             that
        "between us
           and
              the place of their activity
                 there is the skull
                    of the ass."

    To judge
        from these words,
       it has not dawned
           on Rée
              that there are actions,
       not
          indeed of the ass,
             but
                of human beings,
       in which
           between us and
          the action lies
             the motive
                 that has become conscious.

    Rée demonstrates
        his blindness
       once again,
      a few pages
          further on,
             when
        he says,
       "We do not perceive
          the causes
             by which
                our will
                   is determined,
          hence
        we think it is not
           causally
              determined at all."

 

    [16] But enough
        of examples
       which
           prove
       that many
           argue
        against freedom
            without knowing
               in the least
      what freedom is.

 

    [17] That an action,
       of which
          the agent
        does not know
           why he performs it,
              cannot be free,
           goes
              without saying.

    But
         what
            about an action
               for which
                  the reasons
                     are known?

    This leads us
        to the question
            of the origin
               and meaning
                  of thinking.

    For
         without the recognition
            of the thinking activity
               of the soul,
       it is impossible
          to form
              a concept
           of knowledge
               about anything,
       and
          therefore of knowledge
             about an action.

    When
         we know
            what thinking
           in general means,
       it will be easy
          to get
         clear
            about the role
           that thinking plays
               in human action.

    As Hegel
        rightly says,
           "It is thinking
              that turns the soul,
           which
              the animals
                  also possess,
           into spirit.

    Therefore
         it
            will also be thinking
               that gives
           to human action
               its characteristic stamp.

 

    [18] On no account
          should it
        be said
           that all our action
              springs only
                 from the sober deliberations
                    of our reason.

    I am very far
        from calling human
           in the highest
         sense only
            those actions that proceed
               from abstract judgment.

    But as soon
        as our conduct
           rises above
              the sphere
                 of the satisfaction
                of purely animal desires,
      our motives
         are always permeated
            by thoughts.

    Love,
       pity,
          and
         patriotism
            are driving
        forces
           for actions
          which
             cannot be analyzed away
           into cold concepts
               of the intellect.

    It is said
        that here the heart,
       the mood
           of the soul,
       hold sway.

    No doubt.

    But the heart
        and the mood
           of the soul
       do not create the motives.

    They presuppose
        them
           and let them enter.

 

    Pity
        enters
           my heart
         when
             the mental picture
                of a person
                   who arouses pity
            appears
               in my consciousness.

    The way to the heart
          is through the head,
       Love
          is
             no exception.

    Whenever it
        is not merely the expression
           of bare sexual instinct,
       it depends
           on the mental picture
          we form
             of the loved one.

    And the more idealistic
        these mental pictures are,
       just so much
          the more blessed
              is our love.

    Here too,
       thought is the father
           of feeling.

 

    It is said
          that love
             makes us
                  blind
           to the failings
               of the loved one.

    But
         this can be expressed
            the other way round,
           namely,
              that it
          is just
             for the good qualities
          that love
              opens the eyes.

    Many pass
        by these good qualities
            without noticing them.

    One,
       however,
          perceives them,
       and just
          because he does,
       love awakens
           in his soul.

    What else
        has
           he done but made
              a mental picture
           of what hundreds
              have failed to see?

    Love
        is not theirs,
       because
          they
             lack the mental picture.

 

    [19] However
         we
            approach the matter,
       it becomes
          more and more clear
         that the question
            of the nature
               of human action presupposes
             that
                of the origin
                   of thinking.

    I shall,
       therefore,
          turn next
             to this question.