Free will

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If man were not free, then he could not conceive of causality at all, and could not form any concept of it. Insight into lawfulness is already freedom from it. ~ Otto Weininger

Free will is the disputed concept that human beings have the ability to make our own choices, as opposed to our choices being predestined for us by our Creator, or some other determinative force.

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  • Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity.
  • The people who walk angelically according to their free will and practice discipline in the life of the angels remove themselves completely from the desires of the flesh, beloved brothers; they die daily in the life that belongs to earth, but they live in the life of the angels, just as they share in the life of the Lord.


  • There is a way to escape the inference of superluminal speeds and spooky action at a distance. But it involves absolute determinism in the universe, the complete absence of free will. Suppose the world is super-deterministic, with not just inanimate nature running on behind-the-scenes clockwork, but with our behavior, including our belief that we are free to choose to do one experiment rather than another, absolutely predetermined, including the ‘decision’ by the experimenter to carry out one set of measurements rather than another, the difficulty disappears. There is no need for a faster-than-light signal to tell particle A what measurement has been carried out on particle B, because the universe, including particle A, already ‘knows’ what that measurement, and its outcome, will be.
    • John Stewart Bell as quoted in The Ghost in the Atom: A Discussion of the Mysteries of Quantum Physics, by Paul C. W. Davies and Julian R. Brown, 1986/1993, pp. 45-46


  • Endowed with a spiritual soul, with intellect and with free will, the human person is from his very conception ordered to God and destined for eternal beatitude.
  • Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self preservation?


  • Both narrow-minded science and narrow-minded theology stand opposed to free will. ...The philosophical problem of chance and free will are closely related. The Socinian theology deals with both together. Free will is the coupling of a human mind to otherwise random processes inside the brain. God's will is the coupling of a universal mind to otherwise random processes in the world at large.


  • We must not think of the problem in terms of a choice between being determined and being free. We must look at it dialectically, and say that man is indeed determined, but that it is open to him to overcome necessity, and that this act is freedom. Freedom is not static but dynamic; not a vested interest, but a prize continually to be won. The moment man stops and resigns himself, he becomes subject to determinism. He is most enslaved when he thinks he is comfortably settled in freedom.


  • The current worldview has it that everything is made of matter, and everything can be reduced to the elementary particles of matter, the basic constituents — building blocks — of matter.' And cause arises from the interactions of these basic building blocks or elementary particles; elementary particles make atoms, atoms make molecules, molecules make cells, and cells make brain. But all the way, the ultimate cause is always the interactions between the elementary particles. This is the belief — all cause moves from the elementary particles. This is what we call "upward causation." So in this view, what human beings — you and I think of as our free will does not really exist. It is only an epiphenomenon or secondary phenomenon, secondary to the causal power of matter. And any causal power that we seem to be able to exert on matter is just an illusion. This is the current paradigm.

    Now, the opposite view is that everything starts with consciousness. That is, consciousness is the ground of all being. In this view, consciousness imposes "downward causation." In other words, our free will is real. When we act in the world we really are acting with causal power. This view does not deny that matter also has causal potency — it does not deny that there is causal power from elementary particles upward, so there is upward causation — but in addition it insists that there is also downward causation. It shows up in our creativity and acts of free will, or when we make moral decisions. In those occasions we are actually witnessing downward causation by consciousness.


  • The illusion of free itself an illusion. There is no illusion of free will. Thoughts and intentions simply arise. What else could they do? Now, some of you might think this sounds depressing, but it's actually incredibly freeing to see life this way. It does take something away from life: what it takes away from life is an egocentric view of life. We're not truly separate: we are linked to one another, we are linked to the world, we are linked to our past, and to history. And what we do actually matters because of that linkage, because of the permeability, because of the fact that we can't be the true locus of responsibility. That's what makes it all matter.

    So you can't take credit for your talents, but it really matters if you use them. You can't really be blamed for your weaknesses and your failings, but it matters if you correct them. Pride and shame don't make a lot of sense in the final analyses. But they were no fun anyway. These are isolating emotions. What does make sense are things like compassion and love: caring about well-being makes sense; trying to maximize your well-being and the well-being of others makes sense. There is still a difference between suffering and happiness, and love consists in wanting those we love to be happy. All of that still makes sense without free will.

    And, of course, nothing that I've said makes social and political freedom any less valuable: having a gun to your head is still a problem worth rectifying, wherever intentions come from. So the freedom to do what one wants is still precious. But the idea that we as conscious beings are deeply responsible for what we want I think needs to be revised: it just can't be mapped onto reality, neither objective nor subjective. And if we're going to be guided by reality, rather than by the fantasy lives of our antecessors, I think our view of ourselves needs to change.

  • The ultimate objective test of free will would seem to be: Can one predict the behavior of the organism? If one can, then it clearly doesn't have free will but is predetermined. On the other hand, if one cannot predict the behavior, one could take that as an operational definition that the organism has free will … The real reason why we cannot predict human behavior is that it is just too difficult. We already know the basic physical laws that govern the activity of the brain, and they are comparatively simple. But it is just too hard to solve the equations when there are more than a few particles involved … So although we know the fundamental equations that govern the brain, we are quite unable to use them to predict human behavior. This situation arises in science whenever we deal with the macroscopic system, because the number of particles is always too large for there to be any chance of solving the fundamental equations. What we do instead is use effective theories. These are approximations in which the very large number of particles are replaced by a few quantities. An example is fluid mechanics … I want to suggest that the concept of free will and moral responsibility for our actions are really an effective theory in the sense of fluid mechanics. It may be that everything we do is determined by some grand unified theory. If that theory has determined that we shall die by hanging, then we shall not drown. But you would have to be awfully sure that you were destined for the gallows to put to sea in a small boat during a storm. I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road. … One cannot base one's conduct on the idea that everything is determined, because one does not know what has been determined. Instead, one has to adopt the effective theory that one has free will and that one is responsible for one's actions. This theory is not very good at predicting human behavior, but we adopt it because there is no chance of solving the equations arising from the fundamental laws. There is also a Darwinian reason that we believe in free will: A society in which the individual feels responsible for his or her actions is more likely to work together and survive to spread its values.


  • Dieser yrthum von freyen willen ist eyn eygen Artickel des Endchrist.
    • This error of free will is a special doctrine of the Antichrist.
    • This error about the free will is a peculiar teaching of Antichrist.
    • Martin Luther Grund und Ursach aller Artikel D. Martin Luthers so durch römische Bulle unrechtlich verdammt sind (Defense and Explanation of all the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther which were Unjustly Condemned by the Roman Bull; An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull), Article 36, March 1521. Weimar, 7:451 [1] [2][3][4]
  • Throughout your treatment you forget that you said that 'free-will' can do nothing without grace, and you prove that 'free-will' can do all things without grace! Your inferences and analogies "For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?"
  • Let all the 'free-will' in the world do all it can with all its strength; it will never give rise to a single instance of ability to avoid being hardened if God does not give the Spirit, or of meriting mercy if it is left to its own strength.
  • Omnipotence and foreknowledge of God, I repeat, utterly destroy the doctrine of 'free-will'...doubtless it gives the greatest possible offense to common sense or natural reason, that God, Who is proclaimed as being full of mercy and goodness, and so on, should of His own mere will abandon, harden and damn men, as though He delighted in the sins and great eternal torments of such poor wretches. It seems an iniquitous, cruel, intolerable thought to think of God; and it is this that has been such a stumbling block to so many great men down through the ages. And who would not stumble at it? I have stumbled at it myself more than once, down to the deepest pit of despair, so that I wished I had never been made a man. (That was before I knew how health-giving that despair was, and how close to grace
  • Martin Luther On the Bondage of the Will (1525) Pg. 217
  • All the passages in the Holy Scriptures that mention assistance are they that do away with "free-will", and these are countless...For grace is needed, and the help of grace is given, because "free-will" can do nothing.
  • Martin Luther On the Bondage of the Will (1525) Pg. 270
  • I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want "free-will" to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground ; but because even were there no dangers. I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success. But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God.


  • I said: “Then in reality I had little choice.”
    “Let us say that your character has already determined your choice.”


  • We must now take precautions to prevent you from being embarrassed by something in which the ignorant majority is at fault for lack of proper consideration, and so from supposing with them, that man has not been created truly good simply because he is able to do evil. ... If you reconsider this matter carefully and force your mind to apply a more acute understanding to it, it will be revealed to you that man's status is better and higher for the very reason for which it is thought to be inferior: it is on this choice between two ways, on this freedom to choose either alternative, that the glory of the rational mind is based, it is in this that the whole honor of our nature consists, it is from this that its dignity is derived.
    • Pelagius, Letter to Demetrias, B. Rees, trans., Readings in World Christian History (2013), p. 207


  • You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that's clear-
I will choose Free Will.
  • Rush, Permanent Waves, "Freewill"


  • I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!


  • If man were not free, then he could not conceive of causality at all, and could not form any concept of it. Insight into lawfulness is already freedom from it.
    • Otto Weininger, Collected Aphorisms, as translated by M. Dudaniec and K. Solway

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