Is Hobbes correct in saying that the will is not free?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The problem with debates about the nature of free will is that they can be answered fully neither in the positive nor the negative. Free will is not an absolute. From one perspective, all actions we do are conditioned by external circumstances and our own natures. For example, when I choose to take an umbrella with me when I leave the house, my decision is affected by the natural environment (rain), my culture (one in which umbrellas exist, one in which showing up to work with wet clothes is considered inappropriate), and personal preferences (although biologically I may be hard-wired to dislike getting damp and chilled). Even if a future scientist could predict with absolute certainty my choices about when to carry umbrellas, from my own perspective, I would still be freely making the choice. Thus we could say that I simultaneously have complete free will and no free will. In early modern terms, one would phrase it that God's complete foreknowledge does not eliminate my free will or ability to make moral choices or morally significant acts. Hobbes emphasizes one perspective here but that does not invalidate the other, but his emphasis on our being conditioned by drives and external circumstance does not invalidate the possibility of our having free will.


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