Chp1 New Tom Translation (to be revised)

Conscious Human Action
Chapter 1
5/14/2011 AM

Conscious Human Action
Chapter 1

1.0 The Idea of Freedom
[1] Is the human being free in thought and action, or compelled by the unyielding necessity of purely natural law? Few questions have been the focus of so much ingenuity. The idea of freedom of the human will has found both enthusiastic supporters and stubborn opponents in large numbers. Some, in their moral emotionalism, label anyone narrow-minded who denies the obvious fact of freedom. Others who oppose them see it as the height of unscientific thinking for anyone to believe that the uniformity of natural law is broken in the field of human action and thought. One and the same thing is proclaimed to be humanity's most precious possession as often as it is called our worst illusion. Infinite subtlety have been used to explain how human freedom can be compatible with determinism in nature, because the human being is, after all, a part of nature. No less effort has been made to explain how this delusion has come about. That we are dealing here with one of the most important questions of life, religion, conduct and science will be felt by anyone whose most prominent character trait is not superficiality.

1.1 Freedom of Indifferent Choice
It is one of the sad indications of the superficiality of contemporary thinking that a book intending to formulate a ‘new belief’ from the results of recent scientific research contains nothing on this question but these words:

“There is no need to go into the question of freedom of the human will. The alleged freedom of indifferent choice has been recognized as an empty illusion by every reputable philosophy. The determination of moral value in human conduct and character remains untouched by this question.” (Old and New Belief by David Friedrich Strauss)

I quote this passage, not because I consider that the book in which it occurs has any special significance, but because it seems to me to express the only view most contemporary thinkers have been able to reach on this question. Everyone who claims to have outgrown the infancy-stage of science seems to know today that freedom cannot consist in choosing, at one's pleasure, one or the other of two possible courses of action. There is always, so we are told, a quite specific reason available that explains why a person carries out just one particular action from among several possibilities.

1.2 Freedom of Choice
[2] This seems obvious. Yet right to the present day the main attacks of the opponents of freedom are only directed against freedom of choice. Even Herbert Spencer, whose views gain wider acceptance with each day, says:

“That anyone is at liberty to desire or not to desire, as he pleases, which is the real proposition involved in the dogma of free will, is refuted as much by the analysis of consciousness as by the contents of the preceding chapters.” (The Principles of Psychology, 1855)

1.3 Free Necessity of One's Nature
Others also start from the same standpoint in their fight against the concept of free will. The seeds of all the relevant arguments can be found as early as Spinoza. What he presented with clarity and simplicity against the idea of freedom has since been repeated countless times, usually cloaked in such hair-splitting theoretical doctrines that it is difficult to recognize the simple reasoning which is all that matters. Spinoza writes:

“I call a thing free that exists and acts out of the pure necessity of its nature, and I call it compelled if its existence and activity is determined by something else in an exact and fixed way. For example, God is free, although with necessity, because he exists solely out of the necessity of his own nature. In the same way God knows himself and all else freely, because it follows from the necessity of his nature alone that he knows all. So you see that I locate freedom, not in a free decision, but in a free necessity.

[3] “But let us come down to created things, which are all determined by external causes to exist and to act in fixed and exact ways. To see this more clearly, let us imagine a very simple case. A stone, for example, receives a certain momentum from an external cause that makes contact with it so that the stone necessarily continues to move after the impact of the external cause has ceased. The continued motion of the stone is due to compulsion and not to any necessity within the stone’s own nature, because it has to be defined by the impact of an external cause. What is true here for the stone is also true for everything else, no matter how complex and multifaceted it may be. Everything is determined by external causes with a necessity to exist and to act in a fixed and exact way.

[4] “Now please assume that the stone while moving along is thinking, and knows that it is striving as hard as it can to continue in motion. This stone, which is only conscious of its striving and is not at all indifferent as to what it is doing, will believe that it is completely free to continue in motion for no other reason than its own will to continue. Now this is that human freedom which everybody claims to possess, and it consists of nothing other than the fact that people are conscious of their desires, but do not know the causes that determine them.

“Thus the child believes it freely desires milk; the angry boy believes he freely demands revenge; and the coward believes he freely chooses to run away. A drunk believes he says things of his own free will that, when sober again, he will wish he had not said; and since this bias is inborn in everybody, it is difficult to free oneself from it. Even though experience teaches us often enough that people can moderate their own desires least of all, and that when moved by two opposing passions they see the better and pursue the worse; yet they still consider themselves free because they desire some things less intensely, and there are some desires that can be easily inhibited by becoming preoccupied with familiar memories of something else.” (Letter of October or November, 1674)

[5] Because this view is so clearly and definitely expressed, it is easy to detect its fundamental error. Human beings are supposed to carry out an action when driven to it by any reason with the same necessity as a stone that makes a specific movement after an impact. It is only because human beings are conscious of their action that they regard themselves as the free originator of it. But in so doing they overlook the causes driving them, which they must obey unconditionally. The error in this reasoning is soon found. Spinoza and all who think like him overlook the fact that human beings can be conscious, not only of their actions, but also of the causes that guide them.

No one will deny that a child is not free when it desires milk and that a drunk is not free who says things he later regrets. Neither knows anything of the causes working deep within their organism that exercise irresistible control over them. But is it right to group such actions together with those of human beings who are conscious, not only of their actions, but also of the reasons that cause them to act? Are the actions of human beings really all of one kind? Should the actions of a soldier on the battlefield, a research scientist in the laboratory or a diplomat involved in complex negotiations be placed scientifically on the same level as that of the child when it desires milk?

It is no doubt true that it is best to seek the solution to a problem where the conditions are simplest. But the inability to make distinctions has often caused endless confusion. There is certainly a profound difference between knowing and not knowing why I act. At first sight this seems to be an entirely obvious truth. Yet the opponents of freedom never ask whether a motive of action that I recognize and understand compels me in the same sense as the organic process which causes a child to cry for milk.

1.4 Free from External Influences
[6] Eduard von Hartmann asserts in his 'Phenomenology of Moral Consciousness' that human will depends on two main factors: motives and character. If we see people as all alike, or at least having negligible differences, then their will appears to be determined from outside by the circumstances that approach them. But if we take into consideration that different people adopt an idea as a motive of their conduct only if their character is such that this particular idea arouses a desire in them, then the human being appears to be determined from within and not from outside. But because an idea given to us from outside must first be adopted as a motive according to our character, we believe that we are free and independent of external influences. However, according to Eduard von Hartmann the truth is that:

“Even though we must first adopt an idea as a motive ourselves, we do not do so arbitrarily, but rather according to the necessity of our characterological disposition; which means we are anything but free.”

Here again, the difference is completely ignored between motives that I allow to influence me only after I have consciously made them my own, and those that I follow without any clear knowledge of them.

1.5 Knowledge Of The Reason
[7] This leads straight to the standpoint from which the subject will be viewed here. Can the question of the freedom of our will even be asked by itself, in a one-sided way? And if not, with what other question must it necessarily be linked?

[8] If there is a difference between a conscious motive and an unconscious urge, then the conscious motive will result in an action that must be judged differently from one that springs from blind impulse. Our first question will consider this difference. The result of this inquiry will then determine what position we have to take with respect to the actual question of freedom itself.

[9] What does it mean to know the reasons for one's action? Too little attention has been given to this question because unfortunately the inseparable whole that is the human being has always been torn in two. We distinguish between the knower and the doer, while the one who matters most has been overlooked: the knowing doer who acts out of knowledge.

1.6 Free When Controlled by Reason
[10] It is said that human beings are free when they are controlled only by their reason and not by animal passions. In other words, freedom means being able to determine one’s life and actions according to purposeful aims and deliberate decisions.

[11] Nothing is gained by assertions of this kind since this is in fact the question, whether reason, whether purposes and decisions exert a compulsion on a person in the same way as animal passions. If a rational decision emerges in me without any effort on my part and with the same necessity as hunger and thirst then I must obey it and my freedom is an illusion.

1.7 Free to Do as One Wants
[12] Another phrase runs: to be free does not mean being able to determine what one wants, but being able to do what one wants. Poet-philosopher Robert Hamerling has expressed this thought in clearly outlined words:

“The human being can, it is true, do what he wants, but he cannot determine what he wants, because his will is determined by motives! He cannot determine what he wants? Let us look at these words more closely. Have they any intelligible meaning? Does freedom of will then mean being able to want something without having grounds, without motive? But what does wanting mean other than to have grounds for doing or trying to do this rather than that? To want something without grounds, without a motive, would be to want something without wanting it. The concept of wanting is inseparably bound up with the concept of motivation. Without the determining motive the will is an empty capacity; it is the motive that makes it active and real. Therefore, it is entirely true that the human will is not ‘free’ to the extent that its direction is always determined by the strongest of its motives. But, in contrast to this ‘unfreedom', it is absurd to speak of a possible ‘freedom’ of the will that consists in being able to want what one does not want.” (Atomistics of the Will)

[13] Here too, only motives in general are discussed without considering 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 idea of freedom ceases to have any meaning. Why should it matter to me whether I can do something or not if I am forced by the motive to do it? The immediate question is not whether I can or cannot do something when a motive has influenced me, but whether there are only such motives that control me with absolute necessity. If I have to want something, under certain circumstances I may be completely indifferent as to whether I can also do it. If a motive that I think is unreasonable is forced on me by my character, or the circumstances prevailing in my environment, then I would even be glad if I cannot do what I want.

[14] What matters is not whether I can carry out a decision once it is made, but how I come to make the decision.

1.8 Unconditioned Will
[15] What distinguishes human beings from all other organic beings is rational thinking. Activity we have in common with other organisms. Nothing is gained by searching for analogies in the animal kingdom to clarify a concept of freedom that applies to the actions of human beings. Modern natural 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. This view leads to misunderstandings such as this example from Paul Rée, who says the following about freedom:

"It is easy to explain why the movement of a stone seems to us as necessary, while the will of a donkey does not. The causes that move the stone are of course external and visible. But the causes by virtue of which the donkey wills are internal and invisible: between us and the place of their activity is located the skull of the donkey... They do not see the causal dependence and so believe it is not present. The will, they explain, is indeed the cause of the donkey's turning around, but the willing itself is unconditioned; it is an absolute beginning." (The Illusion of Freewill by P. Rée, 1855)

Here too human actions in which there is consciousness of the reasons for the action are simply ignored, for Rée explains that “Between us and the place of their activity is located the skull of the donkey.” These words show that Rée has no inkling that there are actions —not a donkey's actions, to be sure, but certainly of human actions— where a motive that has become conscious lies between us and the action. Rée demonstrates this again a few pages later with these words:

“We do not perceive the causes by which our will is determined, and so we believe it is not causally determined at all.”

[16] But enough of examples proving that many fight against freedom without knowing in the least what freedom is.

1.9 Knowledge Of The Action
[17] It is obvious that an action cannot be free if the doer carries it out without knowing why. But what about the freedom of an action when the reasons are known? This leads us to the question of the origin and significance of thoughts. For without recognition of the thinking activity of the mind, it is impossible to form a concept of what it means to know something, including what it means to know an action. Once we know what thinking in general means, it will be easy to become clear about the role of thinking in human action. Hegel is right when he says, "Only with thinking does the mind, which animals also possess, become spirit." This is why thinking gives human action its distinguishing signature.

1.10 Driving Force Of The Heart
[18] This is not meant to imply that all our actions flow only from the calm deliberations of our reason. I am not suggesting that only those actions that issue from abstract judgments are, in the highest sense “human”. But the moment our conduct rises above the satisfaction of purely animal desires our motives are always permeated by thoughts. Love, compassion, and patriotism are driving forces for action that cannot be reduced to cold rational concepts. It is said that this is where heart-felt sensibility prevails. No doubt. But the heart and its sensibility do not create the motives of action. They are set in advance, and then received into the hearts domain. Compassion appears in my heart when the thought of a person who arouses compassion enters my consciousness. The way to the heart is through the head.

1.11 Idealistic Thoughts
Love is no exception to this. If it is not merely the expression of the raw sexual drive, then it is based on the thoughts we make of the loved one. The more idealistic these thoughts are, the more blissful is our love. Here too, thought is the father of feeling.

1.12 Perception Of Good Qualities
It is said that love makes us blind to the flaws of the loved one. But we can turn this around and say that love opens our eyes to the good qualities of the loved one. Many pass by without noticing these good qualities. One person sees them and just because of this, love awakens within. What has this person done other than make a mental-impression of something that hundreds of others have failed to see? Others do not love because they lack the mental-impression.

[19] From whatever point we approach this subject it only becomes increasingly clear that the question of the origin of thought must come before the question concerning the nature of human action. So I will turn to this question next.