Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The problem of the freedom of the will, like many of the traditional issues, remains a problem for many philosophers because of the manner of its formulation. Even determining the appropriate question is difficult. Is it whether the will is free? Or is it how the will is free? Or is it a question as to what the will is? Or freedom? Does it even make sense to talk about the will as free? A person can be free, but what is the sense of saying that the will—whatever that is—can be free? Or is the question whether the will is free or determined?

Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan philosopher of the eighteenth century, taking his cue from John Locke, whose An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) he admired, recognized the difficulties involved in the formulation of the problem. Consequently, his careful study of the problem begins with explanations of the terms involved in discourse concerning freedom of the will; he begins with “will” and proceeds to “determination,” “necessity,” “liberty,” and other terms whose ambiguity and vagueness have made the problem a particularly troublesome one for philosophers. Also unlike many philosophers, Edwards did not use the occasion of definition as an opportunity for framing the problem to suit his own purposes. With analytic acumen, he hit on the meanings relative to common use, and he clarified those meanings without neglecting consideration of the function of terms in conventional discourse. Thus, in considering...

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