Freedom of Will

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Treatise by Jonathan Edwards, published in 1754. The full title is A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions, of that Freedom of Will which is supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Vertue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame. Written to uphold the doctrine of necessity against Arminianism, the work was frequently translated and reprinted, became a primary document in Calvinistic theology, and won Edwards eminence among American philosophers.

Defining the will as “that by which the mind chooses anything,” and freedom or liberty as “the power, opportunity, or advantage, that any one has to do as he pleases, or conducting in any respect, according to his pleasure,” the author bases his case for predestined necessity on the postulate that every event must have a cause. “That whatsoever begins to be which before was not, must have a Cause why it then begins to exist, seems to be the first dictate of the common and natural sense which God hath implanted in the minds of all mankind ….” Since volitions are events, they must have causes: “It is that motive, which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the Will.” Human motives impel us in the direction of what seems most agreeable, and this direction is determined entirely without independent activity on the part of the individual will. There is, then, no liberty of choice; liberty consists in the ability to act as one chooses. Having established this fundamental position, the author proceeds to refute the fallacies of “the Arminian notion of Liberty of Will,” to answer possible objections, and to assert that his necessitarian position is the basis of Calvinistic doctrine.

Subjects: Literature.

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