Monday, September 12, 2016

Aquinas On Free Will

The metaphysical foundation of the traditional Catholic worldview is self refuting. It both requires and denies libertarian free will. This inconsistency becomes much more apparent to those who've came to see that libertarian free will itself is an inconsistent idea. However, most Catholics, or philosophical Thomists deny this charge, and the most prominent philosopher in the Catholic tradition, Thomas Aquinas, addressed this.

Article 1. Whether man has free-will?
Objection 3. Further, what is "free is cause of itself," as the Philosopher says (Metaph. i, 2). Therefore what is moved by another is not free. But God moves the will, for it is written (Proverbs 21:1): "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; whithersoever He will He shall turn it" and (Philippians 2:13): "It is God Who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish." Therefore man has not free-will.
Reply to Objection 3. Free-will is the cause of its own movement, because by his free-will man moves himself to act. But it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither for one thing to be cause of another need it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, Who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature.[1]

A Catholic mentioned this to me as an argument to show it demonstrates Thomism is compatible with libertarian free will. I'm going to argue now that this in no way demonstrates that.

The 50 year old virgin
First, the problem is obvious: If god is the first cause of everything because he sustains everything in the universe at all times, then he is ultimately the cause of your will, and therefore you have no free will.

Aquinas' objection states that man's will moves him to act. This is technically in fact wrong. The will doesn't move a person to act, that is actually done by a physical process, which determines the will. So it's technically the other way around. He also states that what is free shouldn't be the first cause itself. I disagree. "Free" in this sense would have to be uncaused. Then he just states that man's voluntary actions aren't involuntary just because god really caused them. That makes no sense. It's like saying a puppet being controlled by a ventriloquist is still free, even though the puppet's every action is caused by the puppeteer. Saying god operates each thing according to its own nature doesn't negate this. The nature is caused by god and controlled by god, as everything else is. Basically, if the causal chain terminates in god, and each and every step in the chain is caused by god, at no point does libertarian free will enter the picture, which logically requires the will be uncaused. The Aristotelian principle, that "Whatever is changed is changed by another" negates the metaphysical possibility of a first cause that isn't god, which of course negates libertarian free will itself.

So, Aquinas hasn't made a logical case for libertarian free will being compatible from within the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysic.

[1] Source: Summa Theologica (Prima Part, Q83) (Emphasis mine)

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