P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 67
21st September 2003
I. 'Spinoza's Ethics: Determinism and Freedom' by Alfredo Lucero-Montano
II. 'Free Will' by D.R. Khashaba
III. 'Creating a Thinking Board: Press Release and Call for Papers'
by Rachel Browne
In this issue of 'Philosophy Pathways' we announce the launch of a second
Pathways electronic newsletter, dealing with business ethics. The anticipated
launch date is 2nd November. For more details, see Rachel Browne's Press
If you would like to be included in the address list, or if you are interested
in contributing an article on any philosophical aspect of business practice or
the business world, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look
forward to hearing from you!
Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy these two fine articles on the free will and
determinism by Alfredo Lucero-Montano and D.R. Khashaba.
I. 'SPINOZA'S ETHICS: DETERMINISM AND FREEDOM' BY ALFREDO LUCERO-MONTANO
1. What remains alive of a philosopher's thought are the realities that concern
him, the problems that he addresses, as well as the questions that he poses. The
breath and depth of a philosopher's thought is what continues to excite and
incite today. However, his answers are limited to his time and circumstances,
and these are subject to the historical evolution of thought, yet his principal
commitments are based on the problems and questions with which he is concerned.
And this is what resounds of a philosopher's thought, which we can
theoretically and practically adopt and adapt.
Spinoza is immersed in a time of reforms, and he is a revolutionary and a
reformer himself. The reforming trend in modern philosophy is expressed in an
eminent way by Descartes' philosophy. Descartes, the great restorer of science
and metaphysics, had left unfinished the task of a new foundation of ethics.
Spinoza was thus faced with this enterprise. But he couldn't carry it out
without the conviction of the importance of the ethical problems or that ethics
is involved in a fundamental aspect of existence: the moral destiny of man.
Spinoza's 'Ethics' is based on a theory of man or, more precisely, on an
ontology of man. Ethics is, for him, ontology. He does not approach the
problems of morality -- the nature of good and evil, why and wherefore of human
life -- if it is not on the basis of a conception of man's being-in-itself, to
wit, that the moral existence of man can only be explained by its own
condition. For Spinoza, to work up an ethics is not to elaborate an external
theory of morality, but to go deep into the intrinsic, radical, and essential
constitution of the human condition:
It is impossible for a man not to be part of Nature and not
to undergo changes other than those which can be understood
solely through his own nature and of which he is the
adequate cause (E4p4).
Spinoza's commitment is essential for his search of mankind's reason. His
ethics is an attempt to give reason to the human facts that usually are not
susceptible to a rational explanation, and are condemned to pure irrationality.
Particularly the moral facts -- what Spinoza abridges as "the emotions and
actions of men" -- have been considered as a realm of existence that eludes any
understanding. So the essence of our existence was conceived as an unreachable
and unexplainable twilight zone, in which science and reason cannot have
access. Man can explain everything, know everything and dominate everything,
but himself. His own actions, the essential of his being, were marginalized,
were put outside of his reach. Thus the specifically human would be a universe
determined by a power external to man and alienated from his understanding.
Despite modern rationalism's dubious commitment to rationalize the whole of
existence, it seems certain that Spinoza's project to make intelligible the
moral world, and give it an immanent basis, is a project that grants his
thought a permanent significance.
2. The fundamental aim of Spinoza's 'Ethics' is to naturalize and rationalize
human life, in opposition to the philosophical tradition that looked at the
realm of "the emotions and actions of men" as something extra-natura or
anti-natura, alien or opposite, to a rational understanding. In this sense,
Spinoza writes in a notable passage:
Most of those who have written about the emotions
(affectibus) and human conduct seem to be dealing not with
natural phenomena that follow the common laws of Nature but
with phenomena outside Nature. They appear to go so far to
conceive man in Nature as a kingdom within a kingdom...
They will doubtless find it surprising that I should
attempt to treat of faults and follies of mankind in the
geometric manner, and that I should propose to bring
logical reasoning to bear on what they proclaim is opposed
to reason, and is vain, absurd and horrifying...I shall
[therefore] consider human actions and appetites just as if
it were an investigation into lines, planes, or bodies
Spinoza does not only think, in accordance with his time, that nature is
written in numbers and it has in itself a casual and mathematical rationality,
but that everything can be "demonstrated in geometrical order," including
For Spinoza, and likewise modern rationalism, nature losses its demonic
character, and acquires even a divine status: In his pantheistic conception,
"God is one," there is only one substance, an absolutely infinite being,
consisting of infinite attributes of which only thought (spirituality) and
extension (spatiality, corporeity) are known by man. God is not just thought,
as Descartes believed, but also extension as the Spinozist heretical theology
states. This means that the divine is in the physical nature as it is in
thought itself. Furthermore, nature is divine itself. Everything is God, and
God is everything.
If extension and thought have been unified in this basic premise, if monism
tries to resolve, in an essential unity, the dualism between spirit and matter,
infinite and finite, absolute and relative, eternity and temporality, we must
understand that man, with all his affects, cannot constitute a sui generis
reality outside of nature. If God itself is not extra-natura, even less can man
be: He does not constitute "a kingdom within a kingdom."
But Spinoza's naturalism takes with itself -- together with the possibility of
dealing with the human affects as if they were "lines, planes, or bodies" --
the possibility that freedom could be questioned:
Men are deceived in thinking themselves free (E2p35schol).
In the mind there is no absolute, or free, will. The mind
is determined to this or that volition by a cause, which is
likewise determined by another cause, and this again by
another, and so ad infinitum (E2p48).
Here freedom seems to have no place in an absolute and necessary order, or when
Spinoza writes: "that all things in Nature proceed from an eternal necessity and
with supreme perfection" (E1app).
Certainly there is no freedom, if we understand by it the power of doing an
action without cause or reason, if we conceived free action as the human
possibility to act independently of determining causes. That would be freedom
conceived as self-determination, as causa sui, for instance, as in Kant or
Sartre. Here we must point out that Sartre's idea of freedom certainly takes
place as the exact counterpart of the Spinozist notion: freedom is an absolute
indetermination, a "complete and unconditioned" freedom -- anti-natural,
unjustifiable and absurd. Sartre's existentialism not only asserts the
irreducibility of human condition, but it precisely assumes the extra-natura
character, opposed to reason, of the "vain, absurd and horrifying" absolute
freedom. And far away from the Spinozist notion, Kant's idea of freedom is
outside of nature, outside of natural causality, and nevertheless it is
rational (and it is a non-natural "cause"), because it belongs to the order of
On the other hand, in Spinoza's rationalism takes place the most strict
identity between "cause," "reason" and "nature," in which cause is the same
thing as reason, reason is the same thing as cause, and cause is the same thing
as a necessary causality or determinism: "From a given determinate cause there
necessarily follows an effect" (E1ax3).
In other words, this determinism means that the same causes produce the same
effects through a chain of uniform, determined and necessary items. It
consequently makes freedom incompatible with rationality, and with nature and
its causal realm. Now we can clearly understand that to assert, as Spinoza
does, the rational and natural condition of human life implies the questioning
Can we really explain what man is within a strict monist and deterministic
philosophy? Can we talk about ethics in a universe ruled by necessary causal
laws? Is it not a contradictio in terminis to speak about a "deterministic"
ethics? How can we explain within a perfect order the universal presence of
human imperfection, like man's irrationality, destructiveness and evil? Can it
be an ethics "demonstrated in geometrical order"? Could Spinoza really achieve
his project of a strictly deterministic ethics that eliminated all sense of
Spinoza's 'Ethics' precisely oscillates between these alternatives: if there is
ethics, there is no absolute determinism, or vice versa. If the former, then the
determination is reduced, and it is not anymore incompatible with freedom; the
causality ceases to be absolutely necessary (implied in a consequent
determinism). If the latter, the emphasis put on a strict determinism -- as a
guarantee of rational perfection and absolute truth -- ethics becomes
impossible; it disappears in a straightforward manner to the consolidation of
determinism. These two possibilities seem to be present at the same time in
Spinoza's ethics, creating tensions and contradictions within his system.
Nevertheless, there is an ethics, and this means that there is a mode of
determinism combined with freedom. The Spinozist ethics, explicitly or
implicitly, establishes several meanings of freedom.
3. Certainly, Spinoza writes of "good" and "bad" affects: pleasure, love,
devotion, hope, confidence, etc., are good affects; pain, hatred, mockery,
fear, despair, are bad affects. For Spinoza, affects are rationales as much as
they express man's belonging to nature, that is, his inclusion in an universal
causal order by which he is necessarily affected. However, the affects can
favor or not favor man's being:
I shall understand by pleasure 'the passive transition of
the mind to a state of greater perfection,' and by pain
'the passive transition of the mind to state of less
However, what is fundamental in Spinoza's gaze is that man has an originating
tendency, a kind of elan vital, an effort or essential impulse to persist in
his own being:
The conatus with which each thing endeavors to persist in
its own being is nothing but the actual essence of the
thing itself (E2p7).
Desire is the very essence of man; that is, the conatus
whereby man endeavors to persist in his own being
In contrast with those that might see in the human condition some originating
tendency to destruction or death, like Freud who asserts that "the aim of all
life is death" or Heidegger who understands human existence (Dasein) as a
"being-toward-death," Spinoza holds that death is external or extrinsic: "No
thing can be destroyed except by an external cause" (E3p4).
For Spinoza, the good affects are those that favor the originating conatus of
life, toward its expansion and perfection, that is, to joy and happiness. The
bad affects, on the contrary, disturb the being's impetus:
Pleasure is an emotion whereby the...[man's] power of
activity is increased or assisted. Pain, on the other hand,
is an emotion whereby the...[man's] power of activity is
diminished or checked. Therefore pleasure in itself is
good...[and pain is in itself bad] (E4p41dem).
I shall mean by 'good' that which we certainly know to be
the means for our approaching nearer to the model of human
nature that we set before ourselves, and by 'bad' that
which we certainly know prevents us from reproducing the
said model (E4pref).
Here it is necessary to notice that the existence alone of the "bad" affects
could be a sign of a break in the supposed human perfection; if not, how can
we really understand melancholy, grief, fear, hatred, death, in a realm where
every thing "endeavors to persist in its own being," and in a realm that is
subject to the most necessary and divine rationality?
The fact alone of the existence of a difference, or contrast, between good
and bad affects is a proof -- grounded on freedom -- of the ethical condition
of man. For a strictly deterministic system there is no place for qualitative
distinctions: every thing is indifferent, apathetic, neutral, because
everything is precisely necessary. The difference between good and bad affects
implies the negation of the perfect causal order, or it reveals the existence
of an imperfection, and therefore the possible character of determination. The
diversity implies then the different alternatives of possible, unlike and
opposite, causal links: some favorable to man's essential nature and others
opposite to it, some of life and others of death. It seems that we live in a
world determined by a kind of necessity-in-the-circumstances (relative
necessity), and not one of absolute necessity: what is, but could not be; what
is this way, but could be in another way. And this notion of
necessity-in-the-circumstances is related to freedom.
On the other hand, the difference does not only exist, according to Spinoza,
between good and bad affects, but between emotions in general and actions;
between the passive life which is affected by the exterior, and the active
life which, on the contrary, is a cause itself, and not only an effect. The
"power of activity" that moves human nature "by reason of its essence or by
reason of its cause," and produces its own motion -- from inside to outside,
and not from outside to inside -- means nothing else but the fulfillment of the
Besides the pleasure and desire that are passive emotions,
there are other emotions of pleasure and desire that are
related to us in so far as we are active (E3p58).
Since reason demands nothing contrary to nature, it
therefore demands that every man should love himself,
should seek his own advantage (I mean his real advantage),
should aim at whatever really leads a man towards greater
perfection, and, to sum it all up, that each man, as far as
in him lies, should endeavor to preserve his own being
For that reason, melancholy, hatred, sadness (passive affects), are not actions
(active affects), and for the same reason, the actions agree with the good
So no emotions of pain can be related to the mind in so far
as it is active, but only emotions of pleasure and desire
Certainly, the difference between passive and active affects, between passivity
and activity, shows the "human weakness in the ethical struggle," or in
Spinoza's words, it shows the essential difference between bondage and freedom:
we shall readily see the difference between the man who is
guided only by emotion and belief and the man who is guided
by reason. The former, whether he will or not, performs
actions of which he is completely ignorant. The latter does
no one's will but his own, and does only what he knows to be
of greatest importance in life, which he therefore desires
above all. So I call the former a slave and the latter a
free man (E4p66schol).
A free man thinks of death least of all things, and his
wisdom is a meditation of life, not of death (E4p67).
For Spinoza, real freedom would not consist hence in acting gratuitously,
without cause nor reason, but on the contrary to act according with the
necessary nature of man:
To act from reason is nothing else but to do what follows
from the necessity of our own nature considered solely in
It is in the nature of reason to regard things as
necessary, [to wit, as they are in themselves]
In other words, for Spinoza, freedom means to obey the determined conatus which
man "endeavors to persist in its own being," acting in agreement with "the clear
and distinct ideas" which show the universal rationality, and in conformity with
the necessary and eternal truths of nature. Thus freedom would be nothing but
the fulfillment of the own necessity of being:
The conatus to preserve itself is nothing but the essence
of a thing, which... is conceived as having a force to
persist in existing and to do those things that necessarily
follow from its given nature. But the essence of reason is
nothing other than our mind in so far as it clearly and
distinctly understands (E4p26dem).
In this sense, we might say that the change between the passive life and the
"free" and active life is nothing but the change of one bondage to another one:
to leave acting from external causes (passive affects) and to subject oneself to
internal determinations (active affects) which are absolutely more determining.
Then freedom would be just the outcome of a fixed, determined and immutable
nature, an absolute, necessary nature, and not a possibility itself. Spinoza
does not admit that "free" action can fall on our own nature and transform it,
that is, freedom cannot be creative and produce true changes; therefore it
could not explain the ethical condition of man.
However, in another sense, we cannot think that "active" life and "passive"
life are indifferent, nor that the change of one to another does not, in some
way, imply freedom. It, explicitly or implicitly, shows the condition of the
ethical activity (man's active understanding of himself), even though it is
conceived in a limited way and it fulfills in conformity with a supposed
nature, or a necessary essence.
We could even say that the paradox is double: for it not only expresses that
freedom consists in necessity, but that necessity involves, at the same time,
freedom; man's necessary nature (his rational conatus to persist in his own
being) is not absolutely necessary: it does not inevitably come to fulfilment
in a spontaneous and automatic manner, as a natural instinct. On the contrary,
it is a free acquisition, possible and contingent, borne in the effective man's
activity, through which could it take place or not. Certainly, the conatus is
just "conatus" in the sense as "tendency", possibility or potentiality,
"endeavor," struggle and conquest of freedom. It properly is not a force, or a
spontaneous impetus, which takes place with natural and universal facility.
Spinoza seems to acknowledge this when he writes: "If men were born free, they
would form no conception of good and evil so long as they were free" (E4p68).
Actually, for man, the conatus is a potency, a "desire", an "endeavor," which
requires human "work", to wit, requires art (activity) and artifice (virtue);
it is a cultural outcome and not a natural one; it is moral and free, not
spontaneous nor absolutely determined. However, for Spinoza, the real active
and free life is something very difficult to reach:
If the road I have pointed out as leading to this goal
seems very difficult, yet it can be found. Indeed, what is
so rarely discovered is bound to be hard. For if salvation
were ready to hand and could be discovered without great
toil, how could it be that it is almost universally
neglected? All things excellent are as difficult as they
are rare (E5p42schol).
Beyond this explicit acknowledgment, freedom is present in the Spinozist system
showing, in many ways, the inconsistency of determinism. Man can and must ruled
over his passive affects; he must arise above the vital determinism and produce
an active and rational life:
Therefore the more we endeavor to live by the guidance of
reason, the more we endeavor to be independent of hope, to
free ourselves from fear, and to command fortune as far as
we can, and to direct our actions by the sure counsel of
All the Spinozist actions ("conatus," "desire," "virtue", "power") do not mean
anything else but freedom -- the human power to influence over the causal
chains, and thus transform human nature. It is true that freedom is not
absolute or uncaused, and neither anti-natura nor extra-natura, but it also
means that man's nature is not a closed, immutable, causal realm. That is why
we have history, culture and ethics.
4. Beyond the effort of Spinoza's thought to apprehend the real, beyond his
rationalistic commitment, the facts themselves, with their qualitative
diversity and "motion and rest," overflow the Spinozist system. In effect, the
fluidity of human activity exceeds the rigid and limited margins of Spinoza's
determinist scheme within which he tries to rationalize ethics. It is only
possible in an unnecessary, changing, imperfect order, to wit, in a human not
divine order. Ethics is only possible as the world recovers its human
dimension: imperfect and perfectible, essentially qualitative, always subject
to siege by irrationality and nothingness, always open and in gestation. In a
geometrical order there is no ethics: there are no passive and active affects,
there is no difference, there is neither conflict nor struggle, neither life
Certainly, there is no ethics in pure indetermination, nonsense and
vacuousness. The human world is an ethical world because within it there is
also causality, rationality, differentiation, sense and "conatus to preserve
the nature of the thing itself." Spinoza's actuality is not due to his
determinist rationalism, but to his endeavor to seek the logos of the human
affects, and to understand the paradox of freedom intrinsically, but not
contradictorily, related to determination. It is not due to his monism or
pantheism, but to his recovery of human nature and its own affects. Nor is it
due to his univocal optimism, but to his advocate for vital values. In sum, it
is in his effort to conciliate the passions and actions, that is, the natural
and moral horizons of human life.
On the most extreme antithesis of Hobbes' statement: homo hominis lupus, we can
find the Spinozist deification of nature and man himself. But opposite to
Spinoza's implicit homo hominis deus, contemporary ethics stands on the
fruitful hope that neither lupus nor deus, but homo hominis homo. In this
sense, Spinoza is a fundamental contribution to an ethics based on the human
Finally, there is no ethics without freedom. Even in Spinoza's deterministic
conception there is an "ethics" in the broad sense. Because an indifferent and
apathetic universe (consequent of an absolute determinism) is not a "human
world", therefore, freedom is present. Freedom means the capacity of "option,"
"value" judgment and "decision," because there are, one way or another, open
alternatives and possibilities. The ethical reality is the work of man's
"endeavor" and "action" constantly assumed by "the power of reason" and
"virtue." For Spinoza, the aim of ethics is to show the "necessary" fulfillment
of man's nature.
1. Benedictus de Spinoza, 'Ethics', trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis:
2. References to Spinoza are given by the internal form, for example, 'E'
stands for Ethica (followed by the number of the part), and so the following
terms: p(roposition), dem(onstration), schol(ilum), ax(iom), app(endix),
cor(ollary), pref(ace), etc.
3. Many ideas in the next sections derive from work by Juliana Gonzalez, "El
Proyecto de una Etica Determinista. Spinoza," in 'Etica y Libertad' (Mexico:
UNAM, 1989), 97-110.
4. Just a simple a question: Is not perfection inhuman?
5. For Spinoza, man as part of Nature could be assailed by external causes, and
the passions resulting from them (E4ax, E4p5).
6. See Herman De Dijn, "Spinoza's 'Ethics': From the Sorrows of Reason to
Freedom and Beyond," in 'La Etica de Spinoza. Fundamentos y significado, Actas
del Congreso Internacional': Almagro, 24-26 de octubre, 1990 (Ciudad Real:
Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, 1992), 495.
7. See Fernando Savater, 'Invitacion a la Etica' (Barcelona: Anagrama, 1982),
(c) Alfredo Lucero-Montano 2003
I. 'FREE WILL' BY D. R. KHASHABA
This is an abridged version of Parts I and IV of "Free Will as Creativity",
available on my Web site http://www.Back-to-Socrates.com . I hope that readers
who find that the following pages make sense will consider it worthwhile to
read the fuller account where I develop the position outlined here through
comments on Kant's 'Critique of Practical Reason' and on a number of papers by
some prominent contemporary thinkers.
1. Historical Survey
The so-called free-will problem is a spurious problem. It need not have arisen
but for two unjustified assumptions (or two classes of assumptions). The
ancient Greek philosophers did not raise the problem since they had no reason
to question the reality of the experience of free will. Even the deeply rooted
and widely accepted notion of Fate did not radically contradict the experience
of free will. Fate (or the Fates) could plot a person's fortunes and the
caprice of the gods could bring about the undoing of an individual but they did
not work on the will of that person. Prometheus could maintain his integrity and
his dignity in the face of mighty Zeus.
For Socrates and for Plato the problem was, What sways the decisions of a human
being: reason, or emotion, or desire? But in all cases the final arbiter was the
person herself. To them, that a rational being acts freely was self-evident.
Socrates' examination of akrasia in 'Protagoras', Plato's distinction between
volition and intention in 'The Laws', Aristotle's discussion of intentional and
unintentional acts in the 'Nicomachean Ethics', all relate to the problem of
choice, not to the problem of free will as it was later posed, first by
Christian and Islamic thinkers with reference to the ideas of predestination
and divine foreknowledge, and then by modern philosophers with reference to the
scientific concept of causal determinism. Neither Socrates nor Plato nor
Aristotle finds any reason to question the reality of the freedom of the will.
For them to be free is to act intelligently and not be swayed by desires and
aims unillumined by the light of reason.
The Atomists of classical times (Democritus, Leucippus, Lucretius) apparently
did not pay much attention to any possible repercussions of their theories on
the question of human freedom. Plato at 'Laws' 967a ties the postulate of
physical necessity with atheism, not with any scepticism concerning free will.
In any case Epicurus, who adopted the physics of the Atomists, was confident we
can control our fortunes.
The Stoics believed that all that happens is providentially directed, but they
did not see that as precluding the freedom of a human being to live in harmony
with the divine will.
On the other hand, theism does not merely hold that "God is the cause of the
operation of everything which operates." (Thomas Aquinas.) That would not
preclude autonomy as understood by Spinoza. But theism maintains further that
God has decreed beforehand all action that will ever take place. That clearly
makes human beings sheer automata on a par with the animals of Descartes.
Theists exert themselves to prove that God's foreknowledge does not determine
the deeds of human beings, but they also positively affirm that all we do is
foreordained by God.
From the seventeenth century onwards, the debates about free will and
predestination, originally raised in the theological arena, were given new life
as a result of the mechanical determinism of Hobbes and Descartes and the
metaphysical necessity entailed in Leibniz' pre-established harmony and
Hobbes (1588-1679) was a consistent materialist. Taking his stand on the
naturalistic and materialistic attitude of Francis Bacon (1561-1626), he was
perhaps the first among moderns to give clear expression to the idea of causal
determinism. If all there is in the universe is matter in motion, then free
will can be nothing but an illusion. And Hobbes is still very much with us
today. As long as we find reality in what is given in the phenomenal world,
Hobbes' conclusion is inescapable. Only if we find reality in the mind can we
find room for free will.
Descartes (1596-1650) and Spinoza (1632-77) were mathematicians and carried the
idea of mathematical necessity into metaphysics where it does not belong, just
as Plato was inclined to do at times; but Plato was a far profounder thinker
and had the audacity to be inconsistent when his philosophical insight demanded
it. As mathematicians, Descartes and Spinoza maintained that, given the set-up
of the world at any given moment, the outcome for all time was determined.
Leibniz too was a mathematician, but, like Plato, dared to be inconsistent,
though at times he was inconsistent in the wrong place, motivated not by
insight but by fear of the Church.
Spinoza equates freedom with understanding; he titles the Fifth Part of his
'Ethics' "Concerning the Power of the Intellect or Human Freedom". For him the
important consideration is not whether in behaving we are determined or free,
but whether we are passive or active. For, for him, all that comes to pass is
necessitated. But the more understanding we have of ourselves and of the world,
the more of perfection we have in ourselves, and the more free we are in the
only sense in which a finite being can be free. This is a noble conception of
freedom, and the only one compatible with strict causal determinism. Spinoza
could not go beyond that, fettered as he was by his acquiescence in that
Spinoza accepted without demur the consequences of the causal determinism he
thought incontrovertible. Leibniz (1646-1716), who was by no means less
intelligent or clear-headed than Spinoza, would have done the same. But Leibniz
was not a heroic man; he was not prepared to face the ostracism and drudgery
that were imposed on Spinoza in consequence of his beliefs. So Leibniz juggled
with words to show that there can be predetermination without necessity. As
Bertrand Russell puts it: "Leibniz recognized... that all psychical events have
their causes, just as physical events have, and that prediction is as possible,
theoretically, in the one case as in the other. To this he was committed by his
whole philosophy, and especially by the pre-established harmony. He points out
that the future must be determined É And with this, if he had not been resolved
to rescue free will, he might have been content. The whole doctrine of
contingency might have been dropped with advantage. But that would have led to
a Spinozistic necessity, and have contradicted Christian dogma." (Bertrand
Russell, 'The Philosophy of Leibniz', 1900, Sect. 118.)
It is odd that Hume (1711-76), who was the first to shatter the idea of
causation as a law of nature, should yet be seen by causal determinists as a
champion of their cause. For, ironically, while empiricists proudly announce
themselves descendants of Hume, they choose to forget that he showed all our
pretensions to knowledge to be nothing better than pious dreams. In 'An
Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding', Section VIII, Of Liberty and
Necessity, Part I, Hume argues that there is as much uniformity in human
character and human behaviour as is to be found in nature. He calls this
necessity. Since people -- among them philosophers -- when observing regular
succession in nature suppose that there is a force which necessitates that the
'effect' should follow the 'cause', by the same token, when we observe
regularity in human behaviour, we should regard that as necessity. This is good
as far as it goes, and though it sits uneasily with the rest of Hume's
philosophy, let us concede it to him. Where does it take us? Only to the point
that all human activity is sufficiently 'caused', which does not conflict with
the view that principles and ideals can be effective factors in determining
human activity. By itself, Hume's argument does not entail or support
2. Causal Determinism
The classic statement of the postulate of causal determinism was formulated by
Pierre Laplace (1749-1827) in his 'Philosophical Essay on Probabilities':
"We ought to regard the present state of the universe as
the effect of its antecedent state and as the cause of the
state that is to follow. An intelligence knowing all the
forces acting in nature at a given instant, as well as the
momentary positions of all things in the universe, would be
able to comprehend in one single formula the motions of the
largest bodies as well as the lightest atoms in the world,
provided that its intellect were sufficiently powerful to
subject all data to analysis; to it nothing would be
uncertain, the future as well as the past would be present
to its eyes." (Quoted in Carl Hoefer's important article
"Causal Determinism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of
The sanguine effusion of Laplace was in full tune with his age and time. This
was the logical outcome of the Cartesian version of rationalism. In more recent
times, mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers of science have made it more
difficult to display such exuberant confidence. However, for the purposes of the
present essay, it does not matter whether determinism be taken at this high
pitch or in any toned-down version.
Determinism rests on two postulates:
1.Everything that happens is subject to the 'universal
laws of nature'.
2.Everything that happens is theoretically predictable,
being the outcome of causes which are in turn caused by
Both these assumptions are useful scientific fictions that can never be
anything other than that. They are as certain and as reliable as any human
knowledge can be and no more. Here for once we will find Plato and Hume
speaking with one voice. All the astounding achievements of our civilization
are based on these postulates. But they cannot permit us to make any absolute
judgements. And I strongly contend that they are not relevant to philosophical
positions which are concerned solely with subjective reality. (See my
"Philosophy as Prophecy" and "Excursions into the Dialogues of Plato: II.
Knowledge and Reality".)
Scientists and philosophers of science are hotly debating questions relating to
determinism and causation. My position is that whatever theory be found most
satisfactory in these areas will have relevance only in the domain of
observable objective phenomena. However much power we may possess to control,
influence, or predict the sequences of these phenomena, we do not thereby gain
understanding of what makes things do what they do. Most scientifically
oriented minds are firm in the conviction that once we are master of the steps
that ensure the coming about of a thing, we have understanding of that thing.
That may be what we mean by understanding in common usage. If medical
scientists come to know how to control the development of a malignant growth,
no one will cavil with calling that understanding. But clear thinking would
profit by our using distinct terms for that kind of knowledge on the one hand
and philosophical understanding on the other hand.
To our modern minds, to say that science has no say in any given question is
far worse than blasphemy, because in the modern mind science is equated with
rationality. I contend that that is a serious error leading to serious
consequences. Science deals with phenomena objectively given to the mind, and
regardless of whether or not we acknowledge that those phenomena are to any
extent influenced or modified by the mind, in our scientific proceedings we can
only deal with those phenomena in so far as they are regarded as independent of
the mind. Even when science proposes to deal with subjective experience and
with the activity of the mind, it can only do so by objectifying that
experience and that activity and transforming them into given phenomena.
That scientific procedure is a method that has given humankind power over
nature. I do not have to recount its gifts; every schoolchild can do that. But
it is a power that comes at a price. It is by its very nature excluded from
access to the reality of living experience and of the activity of active
thought. When the mind dives in its own living waters, it exercises a
rationality of a different order.
I will sum up my approach to the problem of causation in a few naive claims
which, I maintain, are meaningful and significant despite their naivete.
There is no instance in nature of A, simply as A, being the cause of B. If A
develops into B or grows into B, then A is a living or a dynamic system
(whole); there is always in system-A something over and above all that any
reductionist inventory of the constituents of an A fictionally congealed in a
moment of time can discover.
To say that a combination of factors A+B+C = X is patently false except where X
is nothing but a token for A+B+C, that is, except where the statement is
strictly tautologous. Where X is in any sense different from A+B+C, we have a
creative development that the sum A+B+C cannot explain. I maintain that this is
so even in the case of 1+1+1 = 3. 3 is not 1+1+1 but a new form, a new idea; in
fact, a creation of the mind that can be found nowhere in the world except
where a living mind confers it on the world.
Thus I see not only all intelligent purposive activity but all becoming as an
original flowering of its antecedents. I find creativity as self-evidently
assured as the reality of freedom in our subjective reality, which is the only
reality we know. And accordingly I can only suppose that creativity is an
original feature of ultimate reality in the same way as I find intelligence and
goodness essential dimensions of ultimate reality. And if that is so, then
causality and determinism must be kept in their place as scientific hypotheses
useful in dealing with the phenomenal world but with no say in the metaphysical
sphere, which is concerned with the world of reality, the only reality we know,
the reality of ideas.
In an important article on Causal Determinism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, Professor Carl Hoefer states that philosophers of science now
"mostly prefer to drop the word 'causal' from their discussions of
determinism." He quotes John Earman to the effect that not to do so is to "seek
to explain a vague concept Ð determinism Ð in terms of a truly obscure one Ð
causation." So it would seem that scientists, philosophers of science, and
professional philosophers who confidently and unqualifiedly proclaim that
determinism has been proved or refuted do not represent the best of science or
the best of philosophy.
3. The Compatibility-Incompatibility Debate
The Compatibility-Incompatibility controversy is fuelled by the acceptance,
common to both parties, of causal determinism as an incontrovertible postulate
of science. Once that is admitted, all the arguments are nothing but tautology
on the one side and evasion on the other side. In a theoretically closed
system, where every happening is causally determined by the previously
obtaining set-up, Incompatibilism regiments and deploys the forces of heaven
and earth to assert that what is determined cannot be undetermined, and
Compatibilism has no resort but to seek clever forms of words and equations
that seemingly do not contradict the 'truth' of causal determinism.
Kant (1724-1804) is the greatest of Compatibilists. In a footnote to a passage
in the Preface to the 'Critique of Practical Reason' Kant writes, "The union of
causality as freedom with causality as rational mechanism, the former
established by the moral law, the latter by the law of nature in the same
subject, namely, man, is impossible, unless we conceive him with reference to
the former as a being in himself, and with reference to the latter as a
phenomenon Ñ the former in pure consciousness, the latter in empirical
consciousness. Otherwise reason contradicts itself." (tr. T. K. Abbott, p.16.)
This establishes a pact of non-belligerence between empirical science and
morality, a policy of live and let live. (The empiricists have never honoured
the pact!) But unless we realize that causal determinism is not and can never
be anything more than a working hypothesis that cannot claim absolute validity,
then the reconciliation between causal determinism and freedom cannot be any
deeper than Kant makes it. Only when we realize that all becoming is creative,
is freedom firmly and securely established. Then all the arguments of
Compatibilism and Incompatibilism are seen to be beside the point.
Many of those who concern themselves with the philosophical problem of free
will see the problem as revolving around the question whether it is true to say
that, in a given situation, a person could do otherwise than s/he does. This, in
my view, is not the crux of the problem of free will. That question is a
psychological Ð not a philosophical Ð one, and the yes or no to it depends on
the level of motivation at which we choose to stop. Discussions are thus
mainly, often exclusively, engrossed in the examination of the intricacies of
the psychology of choice and deliberation. This befuddles the issue.
Choice and deliberation follow from the circumstance that we have the power to
objectify our desires, inclinations, aims, and so on, and to constitute of
ourselves an arbiter over and above the desires, inclinations, and aims. We are
no longer passively moved by those motives but can bring one motive, ideal, or
value, to work on the others. Still this capacity to deliberate and exercise
choice is not the freedom that constitutes our true worth as human beings.
Farah, my granddaughter (2 yrs 5 m.), is crying. She wants to go downstairs to
play with the neighbour's children. "I want to play," she cries. Of course all
the time, except when sleeping or feeding, she does nothing but play. When she
takes up one of her toys or goes to her swing, she does something she wants to
do, but we may regard that as a first-level desire. But now, crying "I want to
play", she has the idea of a possibility that is not at the moment actual. This
we may regard as a second-level desire. Here we have a higher plane of autonomy.
Of course this is still a far cry from moral autonomy. But I think we must
recognize that here we already have an ideal sphere that has a role in moulding
action. I will not say that it affects or influences the act; it does not act
from outside; it is not a separate thing; it, along with other factors, acts
itself out in the act. I call that a plane or stage of autonomy.
One point that I have to make clear and insist on is that although we
habitually think of the will as a faculty that can be distinguished from the
totality of the person, we should never forget that this distinction is a
theoretical fiction. We can and do distinguish the will just as we distinguish
desire, emotion, memory, etc. Such distinctions are the stuff of thought. But
they are fictions. It is the whole person, the person as a whole, that acts,
thinks, deliberates, decides, and so on. Wherever I speak of the will, we might
replace the word will by mind or soul. Where such substitution makes no sense,
there must be something wrong with the original statement.
Let it be said at once that, even within the scope of deliberation and choice,
to say that the will is undetermined is not to say that the act of the will is
uncaused. The act as an actual happening must be sufficiently justified. To say
that the will is undetermined is to say that the will (which here can be equated
with the mind or soul), even when subjected to external pressures, acts in
fulfilment of its own constitution.
Thus free will is not in any sense "the operation of an uncaused cause", and it
would only make for confusion to take that to be the meaning of spontaneity. A
person, with all her/his aptitudes, motives, goals, ideals, is a natural
product of preceding natural processes, including 'spiritual' influences which,
coming from outside the person, are so far objective and natural.
We all know that it is no compliment to any person to be characterized as
unpredictable. A person whose acts are unpredictable is either a shallow thing
driven by every whim and every puff of circumstance, or is a vicious, wily,
scheming rogue. An honest, virtuous person's acts are always consistent with
her/his character and principles.
Equally with the question of choice, I regard the discussion of responsibility
as an intrusion into the metaphysical problem of the free will. The discussion
of responsibility is on one side a psychological question and on the other side
a legal or politico-social question. In both these aspects it is of course a fit
subject for philosophical investigation in a wider sense of the term
philosophical; what I am denying is that it is of any relevance to the strictly
metaphysical problem of the meaning of free will.
A person who, under compulsion, does a wrongful deed, may be legally
exonerable, and yet may be held to be morally responsible, because s/he has
weighed the consequences of doing and of not doing and has chosen to do, when
s/he could have chosen to die, for instance, rather than do the deed. But if
someone bodily much stronger than I am clasps my hand to a gun, points it, and
presses my finger to the trigger, this would not be an act of mine any more
that if I fell from a high building and in falling crushed and killed an
unfortunate person that happened to be standing below. In both these cases, the
event, as far as I am concerned, takes place on the physical plane, not on the
plane of my subjective reality.
I maintain that the Determinism and Free Will 'problem', which many thinkers
have declared intractable, is a pseudo-problem, engendered by raising a
scientific hypothesis -- which (1) is uncertain and unverifiable, and (2) in
any case has no relevance to philosophical inquiry -- to the status of a first
principle. This error is closely linked to the prevailing Empiricist outlook,
which sees 'reality' in the phenomenal world and not in the mind. The
pseudo-problem is further confounded by the identification of freedom with
choice. But above all, the proper understanding of the metaphysical problem of
free will is hindered by the common static conception of reality, which fails
to recognize creativity as an ultimate principle. To me, creativity is the
essence of free will.
The properly philosophical question relating to free will is simply this: What
is free will? And it is answered not by any objective observation or
experimentation; not by any subjective analysis; but, starting from an
acknowledgment of the reality of spontaneous, purposive activity, philosophical
thinking creates notions in the light of which that reality is found to be
Plato spoke of the endless battle between the Gods who find reality in the mind
and the Giants who find reality in the perceptible world ('Sophist', 245e-246e).
Around the seventeenth century Europe had a re-birth, and, with the eyes of a
new-born babe, was all taken up by the surrounding world. Even the
Rationalists, who were all for subjecting everything to reason, were too busy
exploring the outer world with their minds to pay much attention to the inner
reality of those minds. The Empiricists completed the banishment of the mind,
and it was only natural that Dr Johnson should refute Bishop Berkeley with his
foot. Kant came to the rescue and reinstated the reality of God, the soul, and
the free will in the inner citadel of Practical Reason. But the world-oriented
habit of mind was too strong. It was felt that unless those realities could be
objectified and re-discovered in the outer world, their reality would be
compromised. That is the root of the problem. (See my "Must Values Be
Objective?" in 'Philosophy Pathways' Issue 59, 1st June 2003.)
For a solution to the problem we have to go back to the teaching of Plato: What
we find in the mind is the whole of reality; what is outside the mind is a mere
shadow, and all 'knowledge' relating to the shadows of the phenomenal world is,
strictly speaking, opinion and conjecture. Our minds, our will, our purposive
activity are the reality we know directly, immediately, self-evidently. Turning
our eyes away from this reality to the outer world, we are inevitably engrossed
in all the interminable quandaries that have kept and are keeping philosophers
But Plato's articulation of his ideal world leaves something to be desired. We
are liable to be left with too static an impression of the intelligible Forms.
Yet the reality we know in ourselves is not static; it is creative. It is in
creativity that we find freedom. And creativity is a reality we know in
ourselves, as immediately and self-evidently as we know the reality of our
minds. If the hypotheses of our objective sciences find it difficult to
accommodate the idea of creativity, so much the worse for those hypotheses.
That only shows they are too narrow, too shallow: in their defence it has to be
said that they have to be narrow and shallow if they are to serve their purpose.
But that is no reason why we should belie the inner self-evidence of our moral
and creative experience.
Free will is the autonomous affirmation of the reality of intelligent being in
creative activity. An act of love is spontaneous, free, and creative. An act of
artistic creation is spontaneous, free, and creative. The antecedents of the act
are sufficient to the intelligibility of the outcome, but the outcome was not
contained in them; the act brings into the world something new. My creative
intelligence is my reality, my freedom, my dignity, my whole worth. This is not
a proposition that has to be proved: this is a vision that has to be lived, and
when lived shines in the self-evidence of its reality. If we find this
difficult to believe or even to conceive, it is only because we have lost the
innocence of the inward vision.
(c) D.R. Khashaba 2003
Web site: http://www.Back-to-Socrates.com
III. 'CREATING A THINKING BOARD' BY RACHEL BROWNE
Press release and Call for Papers
Research from the Institute of Business Ethics (http://www.ibe.org.uk) shows
that while more large companies are showing an interest in ethics and provide a
code of ethics for their employees, fewer companies are training staff in
business ethics and fewer companies have a process for revision of the code.
The answer is for companies to become thinking companies with the ability to
re-assess values, principles and codes of conduct through dialogue.
The International Society for Philosophers (ISFP) is offering a new business
ethics package to the boards and management of companies which it hopes will
evolve to provide a unique intra and inter-company dialogue and a valuable
Business ethics has recently come into the limelight, especially following the
problems in Enron and WorldCom, and other business scandals. These events
showed that a company can collapse due to bad business ethics.
Companies don't need to see the possibility of imminent disaster before they
recognise the advantage of business ethics. The benefit of becoming a Thinking
Company, and a developing ethical company is higher employee morale and
commitment, as well as heightened performance in the market-place. But the
example must come from the top. A Thinking Board and management is critical in
setting the tone, policies and structures that will allow for an ethical,
committed and loyal workforce.
In the US structures are in place to support whistle-blowing which is an
advantage to the company as it enables the company to deal with problems
internally. But it is not a fully established system. This is evident from the
fact that there is now a web-site for whistle-blowers to report anonymously on
their companies to the outside world. There is thus increased pressure on
companies to develop internal structures for dealing with unethical behaviours.
Research has shown that middle-management feels "more pressure to sacrifice
personal ethical principles for the sake of organizational requirements" than
any other level in the company (J. Keenan, Keenan & Associates, San Francisco).
Dialogue between board and management can correct this.
"Can we learn ethics from one another?" A company's ethical code can be
developed through thinking and communication. Loyalty and commitment to those
close to us is where ethics begins but, equally, understanding of the problems
in the world beyond what is close to home can bring a deepened understanding of
what is wrong on the home-ground. Inter-personal dialogue is a way of achieving
this understanding. So we will provide companies with the facility of engaging
in open dialogue to promote ethical advancement.
"How do you re-assess your code of conduct?" Ethics is essentially
philosophical and the aim of philosophy is to teach the individual to think for
himself and consider issues from all angles. Our unique idea is to develop the
individual so that he can think through issues of corporate responsibility and
increase his awareness of questions that are becoming important today through
the reflection on philosophical ethics, combined with consideration of
practical business problems.
As a first step, the ISFP is offering a newsletter to both board and management
as well as anyone interested in ethical aspects of business practice. This will
be followed by the launching of a research web site where questions will be
answered by a panel experienced in ethics. We will also be offering philosophy
courses to stimulate thought and reflection. We hope that the newsletter will
move from papers on business ethics to a forum for discussion of problems
raised and constitute an effective means of interchange of ideas.
The thoughtful and ethical company becomes a strong business without fears of
reprisal due to bad practice. But, more importantly, research by the Institute
of Business Ethics has shown that "companies with a clear commitment to ethical
conduct outperform those which do not" ("Does Business Ethics Pay":
The ISFP is launching the free Pathways business newsletter on 2 November 2003
and welcomes papers of around 2500 words. Please send papers to the editor
Geoffrey Klempner at email@example.com.
The first issue is scheduled to include:
John Keenan "Recommendations for senior level managers
and their organisations on whistleblowing"
John Sartoris "On the dilemma of conflicting loyalties"
If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, please contact Geoffrey
Klempner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) Rachel Browne 2003
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
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The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
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