Ontology & Free Will
Ontology & Free Will
The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. Is free will an illusion? Some leading scientists think so. For instance, in 2002 the psychologist Daniel Wegner wrote, “It seems we are agents. It seems we cause what we do… It is sobering and ultimately accurate to call all this an illusion.”
Understanding why God hardens Pharaoh's heart. Reprinted with permission from The Torah: A Women's Commentary, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. We Also Recommend Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008). Does One Crime Justify Another?
The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. The Stone is featuring occasional posts by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, that apply critical thinking to information and events that have appeared in the news. Could science prove that we don’t have free will? Science and Free Will
Advances in brain science are calling into question the volition behind many criminal acts. A leading neuroscientist describes how the foundations of our criminal-justice system are beginning to crumble, and proposes a new way forward for law and order. On the steamy first day of August 1966, Charles Whitman took an elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower in Austin. The 25-year-old climbed the stairs to the observation deck, lugging with him a footlocker full of guns and ammunition. At the top, he killed a receptionist with the butt of his rifle.
Divine Providence According to some thinkers, God only watches over people in a general way; according to others, divine providence extends to the minute details of life. The discussion below begins in the Middle Ages and then goes back in time to discuss talmudic ideas. The author does this because the questions surrounding divine providence are more explicit in medieval sources.
Our experiences indicate that we have free will. We Also Recommend When we do a particular action, we have the sense that we have chosen that act from an array of alternatives. However, there are theological, philosophical, and scientific reasons to think that this sense of choice is illusory. Free Will Problem in Judaism
The Bible records several problematic instances of God hardening human hearts, seemingly stripping them of free will. Excerpted and reprinted with permission from "Freedom, Repentance, and Hardening of the Hearts: Albo vs. Maimonides," published in Faith and Philosophy (1997, 14:4). On several occasions in the Bible, God "hardens the heart" of individuals. "Victims" of divine hardenings include the Egyptian king Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17, and arguably 14:5, 18), the Moabite king Sihon (Deuteronomy 2:30), and the army of Canaan in the time of Joshua (Joshua 11:20). Hardened Hearts: Removing Free Will
Medieval commentators suggested justifications for God's hardening Pharaoh's heart. In several places, the Bible reports that God hardened human hearts (most notably, Pharoah's), apparently stripping these agents of free will and manipulating their choices. There are a number of problems with this: 1) Why would God do this? 2) How could God hold a hardened agent responsible for his actions? Hardened Hearts: Some Explanations
Free Will in Judaism 101 If humans do not have free will--the ability to choose--then actions are morally and religiously insignificant: a murderer who kills because she is compelled to do so would be no different than a righteous person who gives charity because she is compelled to do so. Jewish tradition assumes that our actions are significant. According to the Bible, the Jews were given the Torah and commanded to follow its precepts, with reward and retribution to be meted out accordingly.
From the beginning of biblical time, man has struggled to break his binding ties in order to become free, independent, and fully human. Excerpted from You Shall Be As Gods with permission of the publisher (Henry Holt and Company). Man is seen as being created in God's likeness, with a capacity for an evolution of which the limits are not set. We Also Recommend "God," a Hasidic master remarked, "does not say that 'it was good' after creating man; this indicates that while the cattle and everything else were finished after being created, man was not finished." Becoming Free in Judaism
Responding to the Free Will Problem in Judaism If humans are to be held responsible for their actions, they must have free will, the ability to choose right from wrong. However, ideas about God's providence and foreknowledge and scientific notions of biological and psychological determinism create problems for the presumption of human free will. How have Jewish texts and thinkers responded to these problems? The Bible does not engage this issue in a philosophical manner. It asserts God's active role in the world as well as the possibility of human choice, without reconciling the two.
Modern thinkers have addressed the free will problem by questioning the authority of science, acknowledging the limits of freedom, and asserting the transcendent importance of choice. Medieval Jewish thinkers were concerned with reconciling the contradictions between human free will and divine providence and foreknowledge. Modern Jewish thinkers, on the other hand, have been primarily concerned with the challenges to free will posed by the natural and social sciences. The Free Will Problem: Modern Solutions
Psychological Determinism and Free Will Can we choose our way? The idea that our actions are, to a large degree, determined by our psychological make-up may be viewed as a threat to traditional notions of free will. We Also Recommend In what follows, Solomon Schimmel creates a hypothetical dialogue between psychologists, particularly Freud, and two traditional religious thinkers, the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides and his near-contemporary, the Christian Thomas Aquinas. Excerpted and reprinted with permission from The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian, and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology.
In the Middle Ages, Jewish thinkers struggled to reconcile God's knowledge of the future with human choice. Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press. A problem that exercised the minds of the medieval Jewish philosophers was that of reconciling God's foreknowledge with human free will. We Also Recommend This problem, called the problem of "knowledge versus free will," can be baldly stated. If God knows, as presumably He does, long before a man is born how he will behave throughout his life, how can that man be blamed and punished for his sinful acts and praised and rewarded for his virtuous acts? The Free Will Problem: Medieval Solutions
According to some Hasidic thinkers, human free will is an illusion; God causes all human actions. According to medieval mystic Isaac Luria, God needed to contract before creating the world. We Also Recommend The Denial of Free Will in Hasidic Thought
The Free Will Problem: Early Solutions
Argument from Free Will