7 May 2012

The Jungle of Free Will and Necessity

Alexander Bain (1818-1903), Practical Essays (London: Longmans, Green: 1884), pp. 30-31
The Stoics are commonly said to have started the free-will difficulty. This needs an explanation. A leading tenet of theirs was the distinction between things in our power and things not in our power; and they greatly overstrained the limits of what is in our power. Looking at the sentiment about death, where the idea is everything, and at many of our desires and aversions, also purely sentimental, that is, made and unmade by our education (as, for example, pride of birth), they considered that pains in general, even physical pains and grief for the loss of friends, could be got over by a mental discipline, by intellectually holding them not to be pains. They extolled and magnified the power of the will that could command such a transcendent discipline, and infused an emotion of pride into the consciousness of this greatness of will. In subsequent ages, poets, moralists, and theologians followed up the theme; and the appeal to the pride of will may be said to be a standing engine of moral suasion. This originating of a point of honour or dignity in connection with our Will has been the main lure in bringing us into the jungle of Free-will and Necessity.