Power and Systems

Witnesses from Schopenhauer to Frances Perkins agree that a sense of responsibility accompanies choices made by force of will, whether in the life of an individual or a nation. If I or we choose, then I am or we are accountable.

Yet on occasion something happens that looks very much like choosing, and it seems impossible to assign accountability. Nobody takes responsibility. Continue reading “Power and Systems”


Is Free Will an Illusion? Not by These 5 Rules

“Is free will an illusion?” Four of 6 philosophers surveyed by the online Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012 agreed that free will is an illusion. One said no, and one gave an in-between answer.

The majority answer derives from an arbitrary assumption of objectivity. That assumption, even when recognized as arbitrary, remains difficult to discard.

Not only in 2012, but from the earliest time I can remember thinking about GSOT, the question of free will and its arbitrary answer has provoked in me the long search described in these blogs. Continue reading “Is Free Will an Illusion? Not by These 5 Rules”

The Will from Schopenhauer to Tolstoy

Lev Nikolayevitch Tolstoy wrote only 3 full novels, but many consider him to be the greatest of all novelists. Devotees debate whether War and Peace or Anna Karenina is his best work. Each required years of drafting and revising.

Sofya Andreyevna (Behrs) Tolstaya, or Sonya, wife of Leo Tolstoy, has received too little credit for her part in his writing career. She copied and discussed his manuscripts, read widely herself, protected him from distractions, took charge of household affairs, and most of this while pregnant as they had 13 children.

How does Tolstoy capture the interest of his readers? Like all great writers, he aptly presents just those details of scene, dialogue, and action on which the consciousness of each character in turn can focus, so that the reader transfers mentally into living moments of time. His prose evokes emotions, leads the reader to feel what the character feels. In narrative voice Tolstoy sometimes steps back and comments on how the character may once or repeatedly miss the mark, making crucial mistakes that lead to a growing dilemma. Yet the same character reveals within his or her own thoughts, presented to the reader, how actions are justified in a mind shaped by personal temperament, history, and goals. Continue reading “The Will from Schopenhauer to Tolstoy”

Schopenhauer. 5. An Atheist Seeks Immortality

In Arthur Schopenhauer we meet the paradox of an atheist who believed in immortality.

A quick reflex would be to declare Schopenhauer hopelessly confused and dismiss him out of hand. That’s difficult for me, however, because he developed the concept of will so decisively.

I believe that the concept of will marks a path, an intellectual path at least, that makes belief in God reasonable. Let me try to explain. Continue reading “Schopenhauer. 5. An Atheist Seeks Immortality”

Schopenhauer. 3. The Will

What do you think might exist “outside of all time” and yet constitute “the inner being of man-in-himself”? Would you guess that it might have something to do with freedom? If you can come up with a persuasive answer, then you might just understand Arthur Schopenhauer. Continue reading “Schopenhauer. 3. The Will”

Who Let the Wild Ass Run Free? – Book of Job

Freedom exposes us to suffering. Humans grow up in the wild, apart from the presence of God and ignorant of God’s plans. To gain freedom, that’s how it has to be, because the world gives birth to freedom only in the absence of God’s dominant will.

Therefore, God created an uncaring world, behind which God hides, so that humans can gain freedom in a world that also brings suffering. This is the message I find in the biblical Book of Job. Continue reading “Who Let the Wild Ass Run Free? – Book of Job”

Evil Is Choosing the Lesser Good – Augustine

Augustine, Roman philosopher and Catholic saint, wrote the first extensive analysis of free will. His greatest lesson for us may come from his interpretation of good and evil, the outcomes of willful choosing. Augustine made an early critical judgment that evil is not the counterpart or opposite of goodness. Evil is instead the diminishment of goodness, understood as foolishly giving priority to lesser goods over greater goods.

Born in the latter years of the Roman Empire, Augustine grew up in a small town in a farming area some 200 miles south of the Mediterranean coast of what is now Algeria in North Africa.

Hammam N’Bails district near the birthplace of Augustine

His mother Monica was a deeply religious Christian; her name indicates descent from the Berbers, a nomadic tribe. Monica remained close to her son into his adult years and exerted a profound influence upon him.

Augustine’s father Patricius may have had Latin and Phoenician forbears and apparently had a Roman kind of civic faith, which directed attention mostly toward community, order, and public good rather than toward the gods. Patricius took pride in his intellectually promising son and made extra efforts to provide him with the best education a townsman could afford. Continue reading “Evil Is Choosing the Lesser Good – Augustine”