The Human Will - And Its Powers



By Fr. Raymond Taouk,



Knowledge is naturally followed by the appetite.  The int. appetite is called appetitus rationalis, the tendency towards a good conceived by the intellect, called the will.


I.  description of the voluntary act


1) to want and to desire


1.    it is often difficult to distinguish the sensible tendencies (desire, passion) from the int. tendencies (will).  We often say ‘I want’ when we should say ‘I desire’, and vice versa.  That is because the imagination provokes an idea, or bec. the idea is accompanied with images.  In fact, they object is strictly speaking the same since we want a good which is real concrete although it is known abstractly.


2.    The difference is manifest when the object is not sensible.  Justice is an idea obtained through the image of the scales (no concept wo some image), but I can love justice without desiring the scales.


3.    The difference is obvious when there is opposition between the will and the desire, one bears on the sensible good (known or imagined) the other on the intelligible good (conceived).  The will then must conquer itself, as it is the case in the conflict between duty and passion.  The will becomes manifest in the effort to conquer the passion.


2) analysis of the voluntary act


            The human act is simple in its production but, analyzed, reveals the 12 steps as indicated in the Summa I II (q.8-17), which show it as an act of the will moved in every voluntary step by the intellect giving it its corresponding object for the end, the means, and the execution.  It also shows the moment of election properly speaking.  Here is the complete diagram given by the DTC article ‘Acte Humain’ by Gardeil.




A) Acts relative to the end (intention)

1. apprehensio simplex (conception): I see goodness.

2. appetitus inefficax boni propositi (complacency or velleity): I love it.

3. judicium de fine (examen de hic et nunc) : I judge rationally that it must be sought after, this object is good for me.

4. intentio efficax : I want to attain it (actus quo voluntas tendit in objectum ut assequibile), it is the intention with implicit desire of the means.

B) Acts relative to the means (election)

5.  deliberatio (consilium) : I seek the means to obtain it.

6. consensus (consent) : I adhere to the means found (hell paved w. good intentions wo consent)

7. judicium practicum (end of deliberation): I judge which is the best means to reach the end.

8. electio (choice, décision): I choose the means[1], and freely (only here there is freedom).

C) Acts relative to the execution (execution)

9.  Imperium (command): nihil est aliud quam actus rationis ordinantis cum quadam motione ad aliquid agendum (I II 17,5)[2].

10.  Usus activus : the will applies the active powers to the action itself.

11. Usus passivus : the execution of acts of diverse faculties moved by the will

12. fruitio : Delight


1.    This quasi chimical purity of the act and of its moments is necessary since, whatever may be the intervention of sensation and of corporeal motion, the human act is human by the int. and will.  And it is very important for the spiritual life to distinguish between indeliberate complacency and intention, and this one with decision.


2.    The parceling made by the analysis does not take away the concrete unity of the act.  This unity is that of a movement and comes from the unity of term of this movement.  The end of the movement unifies each of the steps since it is present intentionally already at the beginning.


3) compementary aspects


Modern psychology gives some rectifications to the previous analysis of the human act :

1.    It speaks of 4 phases: 1) conception of the goal; 2) deliberation or examination of the motives and mobiles; 3) decision, giving the preference to one of the motives; 4) execution.  This is an unfortunate simplification.

2.    In the act, it distinguishes the motives (int., object of the will) and the mobiles (affective, object of desire), which is right if one considers the entire exterior activity of man since our conduct results from our personality, but it is not right when we consider the proper act of the will, in our conscience since the mobiles intervene only if they are converted into motives.

3.    The deliberation seems to halt the spontaneous action, acting as an inhibitive force demanding to not will before it wills, since it takes time to reflect upon one’s act.  Yet it is inhibitive in the case of impulsive temperaments but not of apathetic temprts which have no spontaneity and would remain inert if they would not decide to act.

4.    In the execution of a physical movement, the will has no action as such on the physiological mechanism, which are automatic.



ii. nature of the will


1) errors


1.    The sensualist theory.  Condillac considers to will to be a predominant sensible desire.  We already objected to this position, since the will comes from the concept of some good, regardless of the desire.

2.    The intellectualist theory.  Spinoza pretends that the mind is reduced to the intellect and ideas.  Yet an idea is not a ‘mute painting’.  It is dynamic and tends to come to realization by means of acts.  The truth of this position is that there is no will which is not of an idea, although the will is not moved by any idea, e.g. of a triangle, but only of stg good.   The theory of intellectualism is false because :

·      In the moment of deciding, there is a tension, different from the effort of intellection.

·      The clearest ideas do not always move to action, which divorce would make no sense for Spinoza.


2) The object of the will


1.    It is Something good

·      Thus, evil is not lovable and is never wanted for its own sake.  When we ‘want evil’, it is always some goodness which is wanted, pleasure, emotion, cessation of a greater evil, etc.

·      O/  Can there be room for moral evil and sin, since we want only what is good?  Socrates said no since ‘no one is voluntarily evil’, ‘every sinner is an ignorant’, and since ‘error is not crime’ it seems as if there is no moral fault.

R/  Socrates understood that we never want evil formally, but neglected that we can want an inordinate good with full knowledge of its disorder.  The sinner seeks some good (sensible pleasure or other) ncssly linked with a disorder, so that to wish this good is to wish its ncssy disorder.


2.    it is the good known by the intellect, since the will is the rational appetite.  We do not want what we don’t know : Nihil volitum nisi praecognitum.


3.    The will loves Necessarily (voluntary. ut natura) the pure, perfect and absolute Good, which is its ultimate end.

·      This ultimate end and ideal acts for the will as the first principles for the intellectual affirmation[3].  This voluntas ut natura is opposed to voluntas ut libera which loves freely the part. goods only as means to love the universal good (I II 1,6).

·      In concreto, to precise the reality of this sovereign good is more delicate.  2 ways are possible :

·      the extrinsic and deductive way of nat. theology.  Nat. theology proves that God is Goodness[4], ultimate end of every creature, implicitely loved in everything we love[5] since nothing is good except by participation in the divine Goodness[6].  Many men still ignore God, yet by willing some good, man wants the ultimate Good.

·      the intrinsic and psychological way of the analysis of volition.  We said than man seeks his happiness (absolute goodness)[7].  But this happiness can exist neither in riches, honors, glory, power, concupiscence, nor virtue nor science : it is found in no created good[8].  Thus it must be found only in the infinite good[9].    This analysis is metaphysical, i.e. is based on facts of universal experience that man cannot find his happiness on earth.  Thus this thesis is true absolutely and by right, so that we can affirm that any beatitude based on a finite good is false.  De facto, and leaving room for man’s liberty, man can place his ult. end in anything other than God, cf. ‘Quorum deus venter est’ (Phil iii 19).   In this possible disjunction between voluntas ut natura and voluntas ut libera lies the whole drama of h. destiny.

·      This doctrine of  God as my happiness raises the problem of the motive of this love.  Do I love God only because he is my beatitude?  Is there a desinterested love of things, of God? (see III).


2) The spirituality of the will


1.    Thesis : Since the will is a rational appetite, its object is spiritual since it is conceived by the intellect.  Thus the act of volition and the faculty of volition is spiritual.

2.    Is the will capable of reflection?  S. Augustine says yes (Confession III 1) : “nondum amabam et amare amabam; quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare.”  We want to want, we love to love.  ST explains that ‘ipsum velle est quoddam bonum’, ideo ‘potest velle se velle’, which is implicitely contained in any direct act of love[10].  To the objection that stms rather than love my love, I may hate it, we must answer that, based on which type of love (sensible or spiritual), we can hate spiritually what we love sensibly, but we cannot spiritually hate stg we love spiritually, unless there is both in him stg good I love, and stg evil I hate in him.



iii.  the problem of the pure love.


1.    Historically, the problem of the desinterested or pure love divided Fenelon and Bossuet in the quietist controversy, distinguishing between the ‘pure love’ excluding any ‘love of self’; or the  ‘physical love’ and the ‘extatic love’ (St. Thomas Aquinas Vs. St. Bernard, in Rousselot), or the ‘selfish éros Vs. the ttly unselfish agapè’ (Nygren).


2.    This thesis is a false problem due to its simplicity, because it is based on abstractions by separating the diverse aspects of a concrete and complex reality.  St. Thomas Aquinas gives the coherent doctrine :

·      Notions : the will tends to some good.  The good wanted for its own sake is end which if wanted for stg else is a means, and if not is the ultimate end.  The end is double : finis qui intenditur (the good thing itself), and finis cui bonum intenditur (the subject to whom we wish the good thing).  The finis cui is either selfish (love of concupiscence) or altruist (love of benevolence or of friendship)[11].

·      St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes also love, dilection, charity and friendship[12].  Note that the love of concupiscence (spiritual) is not the concupiscence (sensible), and that the love of friendship (not ncssly mutual) is not friendship (always mutual).  Friendship is thus the synthesis of the 2 movements we can call concupiscence and benevolence, bec. friendship establishes a cert. identity betw. friends unum velle, each being for the other an alter ego (II II 23,1.).


3.    Consequences.

·      Since the will only follows the good, no act of the will can be wo motivation (the theory of agape of Nygren which has for object the absolute generosity is absurd).  Even the creative love is motivated by a good represented as such.

·      From the notion of last end, it follows that if God is the last end, we love Him for Himself and above all else including ourselves.  This is a self evident analytical proposition that God being considered as last end, he cannot be the means to attain stg else (the good for me). This is a natural tendency[13], regardless of the subjective dispositions and fruits of original sin.

·      The love of benevolence is desinterested.  But is it pure?  No, not even when it involves the sacrifice of one’s life.  By love the neighbour, we feel great joy in working for him, which is stg ‘extra’, means, not end.

·      The love of benevolence re. God, to want good for God, is even more complex.  Because, God needs nothing, and the only increase we can give Him is His glory, which consists in having Him known and loved by ourselves and others.  But this effort ends ncssly in the direct vision of God.  Psychologically it is false to pretend to love God wo caring for our own salvation for the 2 aspects are inseparable, the glory of God is our salvation.

·      the love of friendship is so reciprocal, seeing the other as alter ego, that the 2 movements of love of self and of the other are inseparable and confused : friendship transcends these 2 concepts. 

·      But St. Thomas Aquinas considers that the theology. v. of charity is a friendship[14], Our Lord said ‘Vos autem dixi amicos’

·      This is because charity produces the maximum of unity and identity compatible with the infinite distance between man and God, since a) charity is man’s answer to God’s first love; b) it is founded on grace, a share in the div. nature which produces a certain identification of man with God; c) it also tends to the unity of vision ‘cognoscam sicut et cognitus sum’.

·      the love of charity, a specific love of friendhsip, is more a desinterested love of benevolence than of concupiscence.  God alone deserves to be loved for His own sake and above all things, as does charity which goes to God  and remains there[15].


4.    Conclusion :

·      Pascal All men seek their happiness, wo exception’, yes beatitude is necessarily wished.  ‘The will does nothing which is not towards this object, motive of all the actions of all men’ : No!  For beatitude or is not the only motive of our actions, nor the main one.

·      St Thomas Aquinas : every being seeks naturally its own good and perfection ‘Finis uniuscuisque rei est eius perfectio’[16].  Against the appearances, this is not ncssly selfish, since stmes the proper good is not for self but for others, the proper good and perfection of the parents is to work for their children, that of the citizen to be subordinated to the common good, of the creature to refer itself to its Creator[17]


iv.  will and other faculties


1) will and intellect


1.    Pre-eminence

·      Simpliciter (intellect)

·      by the formal object : the object most abstract and simple is more noble and eminent, which is that of the int. (ratio boni, abstract) Vs. that of the will (bonum concretum).[18] 

·      by the proper act.  It is better to have in oneself the form of the object than to be ordained to the object existing outside.  Hence, formal beat. consists in an act of int. not of the will.

·      Per accidens (it depends on the material object) : the int. brings the object to man, ‘quidquid recipitur modo recipientis recipitur’ the will tends to the object outside.

·      It is better to know things material than to love them

·      it is better to love God than to know Him (I 82,3)

·      Is it better to know or to love our similar neighbour? (2d  commdt of the Gospel says ‘love neig’)


2.    Mutual influence: int. moves will p.mod. finis, will moves int. p.modum agentis.  Also good and true are mutually implied : good is a true in so far as seized by the int, true is a good as seized by the will.


2) will and passions


1.    Passions move the will (I II 9,2; 10, 3; 77,1)

·      Sometimes the passions produce acts primo primi, not human, which have no action on the will. 

·      The passions never act directly on the will since they belong to 2 different orders.  They will act :

·      ex parte subjecti, man, their common subject.  Passions modify man’s dispositions and his esteem of the goods and evils for self  ‘talis unusquisque est, talis finis videtur ei’.  Or they distract the mind by absorbing it entirely in one aspect of things.

·      ex parte objecti, presenting an object to the int. by means of the imagination, excited by the passion[19].


2.    The will can move the passions (I 81,3). 

·      It has a political power over them, not a despotic one (Arist.), i.e. w. power of resistance and independence.

·      It can besiege the passions, by drawing the attention away from the seducive object (perceived or only imagined), or by commanding physical actions to get away from it (turn away the eyes,go for a  walk).  If the will perseveres, it will obtain the peace of the passions.  Likewise the same processes can inflame the passions.



 Free Will


            The problem of liberty is one of the most important of philosophy.  According to the answer given to it, the entire human life, part. the moral life, will be changed.



I.  the forms of liberty


Liberty, nor more than life, is not a being, a substance, not a faculty and not even an act.  It is an ‘accident’ of the last degree.  We must distinguish clearly the liberty of action (exterior) and the liberty of the will, which alone is psychological.


1) liberty to act


1.    Def. 

·      libertas a coactione, is the one not necessitated by an exterior agent.

·      On a positive note, this liberty must be natural, and refers to the natural behavior when left to itself (free fall Vs. accelarated fall). 

·      Such liberty extends to the automatic or reflex act, the passional act and the voluntary act. A voluntary act must be naturally free as any free act, yet applied precisely to the nat. inclination of the will.

·      Its opposite is violentum, what is contrary to the inclination of a thing.

2.    Division

·      physical liberty, freedom from a superior force (weight, chains, jail walls)

·      civil liberty , freedom from the city laws (to infringe on them would deprive one of his phys. liberty)

·      political liberty enables one to act on the government of the city (Vs. tyranny where citizens are serving the regime wo power of influence).

·      moral liberty enables one to act wo being retained by a moral law (obligation).  An obligation limits the exterior acts and also the conscience.  Such obligation, like the previous ones, in fact presupposes the physical and psychological liberty.


3.    Conclusions:  the libertas a coactione refers only to the execution of the act, and not to the purely interior acts. 


2) liberty to will


1.    Def libertas arbitrii is exempt from the necessary inclination to make a given choice or decision.

·      Such an act is not undetermined, since every act must always determined under pain of not existing.  But the free act is not predetermined. 

·      The will, firstly  undetermined, determines itself, domina sui actus, is the arbiter of its act, hence the term libertas arbitrii.

2.    Division (I II 10,2). The liberty of choice can be :

·      libertas exercitii : between action and non action.

·      libertas specificationis : between doing this or that (which cannot exist wo the lib. exercitii).



ii.  proofs of the free will


1.    The moral proof (Kant)

·      Kant, who denied that reason can prove or refuse liberty in his first Critique, shows in his Critique of practical reason, that liberty is a postulate of moral life.  Liberty is a ‘Postulate’, i.e. stg given by pure faith wo any reasons for affirming it.  Kant sees clearly that liberty is indeed a condition of morality, so that if we wish to live morally, we must believe in freedom.  “If I have any duties, the first of them is to believe that I am free” (Alain).

·      Critique.  Liberty is a proposition de fide (Dz 815, 1065), but also, like God’s ex. and immortality of the soul, ‘it can be proved certainly by reason’ (Dz 1650).  Thus the Catholic must believe that liberty can be proved rationally.

·      Solution : although ST takes often the same argument, for him, this argt is not sufficient.  The argument of Kant is insufficient bec. it supposes all metaph. to be impossible, that liberty is not a fact of common experience and that the moral life is absolute in itself (prior to liberty): upside down!


2.    Proof by the universal consent


·      Unless man was free, all counsels, exhortations, precepts, prohibitions, rewards and sanctions would be useless, cf. I 83,1.  To this enumeration, we can add the contracts and promises, because “it belongs to the essence of a promise to be apt to be betrayed” (Gabriel).

·      Critique.  Such things make no sense unless man believes he is free.  This is a serious presumption since it is very improbable that all men be deceived.  Yet it is still only a presumption, since number does not make truth, sometimes the common belief is a common error.  The question remains whole: are all men right when they believe in liberty.


3.    Psychological proof

·      Liberty is a fact.  Descartes spoke of indiferrence, Bergson of an interior spontaneity.  We speak of the free will (libertas arbitrii).  But we do believe that there is indeed an experience of the free will.  It consists 1º in being conscious of the undetermination of the will (a positive moment of hesitation between different possibilities); 2º act of auto-determination of the will (mature decision).

·      Critique.  The proof based on individual experience is valid only for those who performed a free act, the case of men having never taken a decision on their own is possible.  But the experience can only  affirm that liberty as a psychological fact, but only metaphysics can show the possibility of the fact and this is necessary to avoid the critique of possible illusion


4.    Metaphysical proof

·      Can we demonstrate the existence of liberty? Some deny it under the pretense that : to demonstrate is to draw a necessary conclusion, but to declare liberty necessarily is to deny it.  Hence liberty can only be affirmed freely.  There is a sophism based on the assumption that liberty is absolute or is not.  In fact, only the will, not reason, is free.  Thus there is nothing contradictory in proving rationally the existence of liberty.  The only thing metaphysics proves is that liberty is possible based on the human faculties of int. and will.  But it does not pretend to demonstrate the existence of any given free act, but only in general that liberty is found in man.

·      St. Thomas Aquinas proves it clearly[20] :


M.  The will follows the intellectual conception of stg good. 

m1.  This good is a) absolutely good, and then the will tends to it ncssly; b) not absolutely good, and thus can be judged as good or not-good.

c1  The not absolutely good will not provoke necessarily the act of the will.

m2.  But no object beside beatitude is the perfect or absolute good.

c2.  Hence, the will is never necessarily determined by any particular good, i.e. if it wants it, it chooses it and freely.

·      Thus the root of liberty consists in the intellect which knows the perfect Good and compare with It the imperfect particular goods.  We can attribute liberty a priori to any intelligent being, since it is able to judge that some good are only particular goods, and choose between them[21].

·      St. Thomas Aquinas deduces also liberty from :

·      the distinction between speculative reason and practical reason or action.  Unlike in the speculative order, reason can never deduce rigorously from first principles the precise action to be performed hic et nunc[22]

·      the intellectual representation which is universal.  Thus no particular object can equate realise all the potentialities of the universal representation, thus the will which tends to the good remains undetermined by a given part. object (the arquitect thinking of building a ‘house’ in genere, needs to decide and choose whether round or square out of bricks or stone etc.)[23].

·      the capacity to reflect and be master of his own judgment.  If man wasn’t master of his judgmts (which can be only by reflectively judging one’s judgt, bec. man knows the end, the means and their mutual relation), he would not be master of his volition.



iii.  limits of liberty


1.    Liberty has limits.

·      an absolute liberty is an idea intrinsically contradictory

·      It would be the total indetermination of the will, and tendency tending towards nothing, the destruction of the tendency itself, and of free acts. 

·      Or it could be defined as the spontaneity of a being wo a definite nature ‘man creates himself through his liberty’, which understood as is, is absurd (one would have to be to ‘create’ and to not be to create ‘himself’).  In fact, Sartre defines man as consciousness (being for self) and finds in him a natural tendency, the ‘fundamental project’, which is the desire to become God.

·      Human liberty presupposes the human nature, i.e. the will tending toward the good, and the intellect as the power of representing and of judging. If any of the two faculties is missing, there is not choice


2.    Limits of the liberty of exercise

·      The universal good in abstracto. Any act which tends towards the universal good is not deliberate, and is loved necessarily.

·      The universal good in concreto.  As long as it is not represented in its concrete reality by an immediate intuition, we can always think of it or not.  This is because the abstract representation of the Good is not the Good, but a particular good : there is nothing more interesting than God seen face to face who will ravish our souls and wills, but in this world, there are 1001 things more interesting than the thought of God[24].

·      Thus while we think of beatitude, we cannot not want it.  But we can think of stg else and not want it in act although we want it implicitely.  Hence St. Thomas Aquinas says that the will is moved necessarily by no object.[25]


3.    Limits of the liberty of specification

·      while thinking of the absolute Good, we love it necessarily. I am not free to wish another last end.

·      we are not free either re. a means seen as necessary to attain the supreme Good[26]

·      There is liberty only in the choice of the non-necessary means.  We necessarily want one means, but freely this means.


iv. nature of liberty


1.    Descartes’ theory of the liberty of indifference

·      thesis.  Liberty diminishes according as the will is drawn by a motive.  Liberty consists in being indifferent to the motives.  The ideal of liberty is a decision based on equal opposite motive which mutually annul themselves, i.e. a decision wo motives.  The choice is done not because one position is better, but only because we want it.

·      Critique.  Although it was considered to be the classic def. of liberty, only able to withstand determinism, in fact liberty cannot be defined as an indifference.  If there is no motive, there is no act of will and no liberty.  In fact, a) liberty supposes deliberation, i.e. the comparison of the motives; b) the hypothesis of the equal motives is chimerical.


2.    Leibniz’s theory of the liberty of spontaneity.


·      Thesis.  There is no voluntary act without  motive (Vs. lib. of indifference) and the strongest motive always wins the will since man is intelligent and chooses always what seems best to him.  Yet, although it follows the strongest motive, the will is free bec. it fulfil the 3 sufficient cdts of liberty.  It is an act contingent (not metaphysically necessary), spontaneous (not contrived by an ext. agent), intelligent.  Liberty is the spontaneitas intelligentis.

·      Leibniz influenced philosophers in the XX c.  Brunschvicg is a kantian idealist (the mind constructs the real), and the mind is pure spontaneity, superior and anterior to all natural laws.  Bergson is a psychologist, anti-rationalist and anti-scientist, but the psych. life is pure duration, and the act is considered free when it expresses our profound personality.

·      Critique.  These doctrine identify liberty with the psychological determinism. 

·      Leibniz says : “the human soul is a kind of spiritual automat”, then there is no liberty!  But spontaneity is not sufficient : a decision is necessary to end the phase of indecision.  No motive, however strong, can force my decision, under pain of determining it, in which case there is neither decision nor liberty.

·      Bergson’s view supresses the role of the int. since his lib. needs not a choice of means...


3.    liberum arbitrium : the will can determine itself to an act.

·      Freedom is autodetermination.  Something is free which is cause of self ‘quod sui causa est’, not of its being (nihil causa sui), but cause of its own action ‘causa sui motus’[27].

·      auto-determination is not stg contradictory.  The will is in act re. the end, in potency re. the means to reach to end.  It is moved by the end and can move itself to take such means[28]

·      Thus, in the will, there is always a part of spontaneity (natural tendency to end wo freedom) and of indifference (freedom of means).  But the liberty of the act comes strictly from the sole indifference (formally speaking Vs. Reed).

·      the act of decision. 

·      A particular good is not the Good and cannot necessitate and determine the will as such. 

·      The decision renders a motive determinant by choosing it, and stopping the deliberation of the int in the practical judgt by rendering it last : “yes this is best”. 

·      The int. moves the will by specifying its act ‘qt ad specificationem actus’, the will moves the int. by setting it in exercise ‘qt ad exercitium actus’[29], which sets the specification in motion.

·      the mysterious act of choice

·      the free act is not wo a cause, since it co-caused by the will and the motive.  But this cslty is not mechanical, and thus, more intelligible per se, it is less intelligible quoad nos.

·      Like life and knowledge, liberty is a mystery.  But, unlike G. Marcel, we recognise it is a mystery only after we have sought to comprehend it, and we deny that it is ‘ourselves as subject’.  Liberty is a mystery bec. it is analogycally ‘creative’, a beginning and first term of a series of causes, the highest participation of the creature to the creative act of God.



v.  liberty and the determinisms


            We need to answer the objections, called generically ‘determinist theories’, which are applied to the 3 great types of h. knowl : scientific, philosophical and theological.  Needless to say, all these objections in fact are essentially philosophical, even if the starting point leads to think it is not.


1) the scientific determinism


1.    universal determinism. 

·      theory.  It is the theory of Laplace (XIX c.) which asserts that ‘nothing would be uncertain to a powerful intellect and both the future and the past would be present before its eyes’.  Physical science could deduce everything and foresee everything from a single formula.

·      Critique.  No bec. this universal determinism is neither a fact, nor a law nor a postulate of science.

·      determinism is not a fact.  Man cannot have a total experience of the universe.  

·      it is not a natural law because a) laws have value only once they have been verified; b) on the contrary, we can demonstrate the impossibility of attaining certitudes about the microcosmos.  The apparently precise laws of the world are in fact statistic or average laws, allowing for a certain ‘liberty’ of the elementary phenomena.

·      it is not a postulate of science, bec. the scientist does not suppose the universal determinism since he would have to study all beings and all events before studying only one : in practice, he supposes only a partial determinism.

2.    The physical determinism

·      Theory.  Human liberty is opposed to the principle of conservation of energy (nothing is lost, nothing is created), since a free act is a creation of energy.

·      This principle is neither a fact nor an axiom :

·      it is a physical theory and generalisation of experiences,

·      it is applicable only in a closed system.  But nothing authorises us to say that the universe is a closed system.

·      it is not verified in the biological domain Wundt states the law of ‘increasing energy’ : the reaction is superior to the excitation due to the spontaneity of the living and accumulated energy.

·      the true answer is this : if the free act is spiritual, it is beyond the circuit of physical forces!  The voluntary movement as such follows the phys. laws, but the will power is beyond this.


3.    The physiological determinism

·      Thesis. Our acts are determined by the state of our organism, temperament, heredity, food and climate.

·      Critique.  If these factors have great influence on our liberty, to the point that they can suppress it, we cannot affirm a priori and absolutely that it suppresses it. It is ncss and it suffices that we can deliberate on our conduct.


4.    The social determinism

·      Thesis.  The social pressure determines all the h. acts, so that human behaviors can be recorded by statistic laws.  The freest of acts, weddings, crimes, suicides, can be almost infallibly foreseen.

·      Critique.  Society has a great influence on the individuals so that, in some case it may suppress it.  But what is the value of statistics?  a) They do not register the interior mechanism of the acts but only the objective result.  But precisely, liberty is found in the intimate conscience which is beyond observation; b) even objectively, these laws set only an average and cannot foresee the individual case, which is what a decision is.


5.    The psychological determinism

·      Thesis.  Psychoanalytics believe that the psychological life can be reduced to laws, the character (even unstable char.) is constant, and our behavior is commanded by instincts, esp. libido and violence.

·      Critique.  The premisses are true, but the conclusion is false bec. it surpasses them by far:

·      a) we need to find out whether the habits and character have been somewhat formed freely;

·      b) the instinct is powerful, but not so precise in man that it can determine always the proper behavior : new situations demand to think over the problems before they be resolved;

·      c) the laws of psychology (not qttv as such) are quantitative only bec. they bear on physical or physiological phenomena, where liberty has no room (logical laws of thought, laws of association of imagination, of transfert for sentiments, etc.);

·      d) to foresee the individual’s behavior can never be more than probable.  We bear judgt not on the future, but on the past (Bergson).  One’s liberty can always undo the surest forecast.


2) the philosophical determinism


1.    The pantheistic metaphysics of Spinoza.

·      Thesis.  There is only one being, the infinite substance which exists ncssly bec. it is a se.  God manifests himself by thought and extension, which develop also into diverse attributes, but always necessarily.  Spinoza says that man is free but this occurs when he understands the necessity of all things when he arrives at the ‘third kind of knowledge’, the intuition of the Subsatnce, whereas he is slave if he receives the world’s action wo understanding them.

·      Critique.  Leaving aside the critique of his pantheism,  we criticize Spinoza for asserting a priori the necessity of all things.  He who for one, must have arrived at the intuition of the Substance, never explains how, de facto, all things unfold ncssly, which is the one thing which could have convinced us.


2.    The logical determinism of Leibniz (based on the principle of sufficient reason and of causality)

·      the notion of an individual being contains all the attributes ever given him (the notion of ‘Adam’ implies the original sin...); a free act would be without  sufficient reason, and against the principle of causality ‘everything which begins to exist has a cause’; and against the principle of legality : ‘the same causes produce the same effects.’

·      Critique. 

·      The principle of sufficient reason is not a self evident principle.  It is an invention of Leibniz and a postulate of rationalism which suppresses liberty and contingency.  The closest principle we accept is that of raison d’être which says that, given a being, it has a raison for being.  But a free act is not absurd, it has a reason for being, man who is responsible of his acts.

·      the principle of cslty does not require that the cause produce necissarily its effect.  It only asserts that the cause has within itself the energy to produce its effect.  Re. the free act, the will is cause of it.

·      Re. the principle of legality, the answer of Bergson seems valuable : the ‘I’ never remains ttly identical to itself.

·      In summary, these principles cannot affirm a priori that the effect can be deduced from the cause, but only that given an effect, we can find out its cause.  And that is what happens with the free act : we can always explain it afterwards : ‘I decided this because ...’  But is was not foreseen before.


3) the theological determinism


1.    Liberty and divine prescience

·      Obj.  God foreknows our future actions, our decisions and choices.  Who could we be still free?

·      In science, determinism = forecast, because he looks at things modo humano.  But such an idea cannot be transfered in the div. knowledge since God is eternal.

·      The solution in the proper notion of the eternity of God.  Instead of saying that ‘God foresees our acts’, we should say more truly that ‘God sees us accomplish our acts’.  His eternity has all moments ever present before Him.  Thus strictly speaking, God does not foreee our act, He sees our whole life, as a contemporaneous witness, unfolded before Him.  That He knows our decisions does not prevent us from taking them freely.


2.    Liberty and divine concourse

·      Obj.  God’s concourse in every action is one aspect of the act of creation.  Specifically, God moves man to will and to decide “Deus est qui operatur in nobis et velle et perficere” (Phil ii 13).  Is there liberty?

·      Reply. 

·      Vs. Malebranche and his theory of occasionalism, we must maintain that creatures have their own activity accordg to their own nature, precisely bec. God gives them being and motion.  God only sustains it, wo taking over man’s act.

·      The case of liberty is no different.  The concourse of God, far from destroying liberty, founds it because ‘sufficentia nostra ex Deo est’ (II Cor iii 5).  As He gives creatures the power to act according to their nature, He gives man the power to to will.  This h. will is necessary re. the end, and free in other cases.  Since liberty belongs to man’s int. nature, God by violating it, would have created man who would not be man, which is absurd.



vi.  nature and liberty


1.    The Existentialists deny the existence of a human nature[30]

·      in moral life, they set liberty as the sole foundation of the ‘values’ : whatever I choose as my good is good because there is no rule to command my choice. 

·      in theology, they change the formulae of the Incarnation and Redemption, which suppose the notions of human nature and mankind (Dz 148, 175, 789). They suppress the supernatural which can be defined only with regards to the h. nature.


2.    Critique.

·      faith forbids the christian philosophier to deny human nature.  But philosophy can prove it rationally.

·      To deny any community of nature between men is a mere joke, because as soon as we speak or write, de facto (in actu exercito) we admit the ex. of other men, as we speak of ‘man’, we admit formally (in actu signato) that the human reality is identical in all men.

·      A problem needs resolving yet, the meaning of nature when applied to man. 

·      Pb.  There is a problem bec. as free, man is not determined to be such or such, “man is only what he becomes” (Amiel’s version of Hegel).  Likewise, the intellect (for Ar. Vs. Kant) is not structured, it can ‘become somewhat anything’ because it is open and plastic, since knowledge consists in becoming the object one knows.

·      Ans/  a) This ‘to be a spirit’ in a body is already a determined nature, distinct from the material nature; b) the h. intellect has a specific nature (it is abstractive and discursive, made to know the truth); c) the h. liberty has more limits (nature, determinations) since the free man makes himself, but can only make himself a man, and it is a tendency to some good, end which is not a matter of liberty bec. liberty feeds on it, and on this conformity to the last end is founded the entire nat. law.[31]



[1]Liberum arbitrium  ‘nominat... eam (voluntatem) non absolute, sed in ordine ad aliquem actum eius, qui est eligere’ (De Ver. 24,7).

[2]Suarez dicit quod imperium (= electio) est essentialiter actus vol., ST dicit imperium esse actus intelelctus (I II 17,1) praesupponens tamen actus vol.  Eadem opositio auctorum habetur re. legem quae est imperium quoddam, q. sec. ST pertinet essentialiter ad int.

[3]I 82, 1, De Veritate 22, 5; I II 10,1.  The last end in the practical order acts like the principles in the speculative order.

[4]I 6,2

[5]I 44,4.

[6]C.G. III 17,21 and 24.

[7]I II 5,8.

[8]I II 2-3; C.G. III 26-40.

[9] “It is impossible that the beatitude of man be found in any created good.  For the beatitude is the perfect good which satiates totally the appetite; otherwise it would not be the ultimate end if there was still stg to wish.  But the object of the will, which is the human appetite, is the universal good.  From this it follows that nothing can satiate the will of man except the universal good, which is not found in anything created but in God alone : for every creature has a participated goodness.  Thus, only God can fulfill the will of man.’ (I II 2,8).

[10]II II 25,2.

[11]I II 26,4; I II 28,3.

[12]I II 26, 3.

[13] ‘Unumquodque suo modo naturaliter diligit Deum plus quam seipsum’ (I 60, 5 ad 1).

[14]II II 23, 1 ‘manifestum est quod charitas amicitia quaedam est homini ad Deum.’

[15] “Fides et spes attingunt Deum sec. quod ex ipso provenit nobis vel cognitio veri vel adeptio boni; sed charitas attingit ipsum Deum ut in ipso sistat, non ut ex eo aliquid nobis proveniat” (II II 23,6).

[16]C.G. III 16.

[17]II II 6, 3 ad 2.  To refer the Creator to the creature would be metaphysically absurd, and morally unjust.

[18]Verneaux objects and says, this is true logically yes; but this is difficult to accept in psychology, our view point here.

[19] “unde vidimus quod homines in aliqua passione existentes, non facile imaginationem avertunt ab his circa quae afficiuntur.  Unde per consequens, iudicium rationis plerumque sequitur passionem appetitus sensitivi, et per consequens motus voluntatis qui natus eset semper sequi iudicium rationis” I II 77,1.

[20]I II 10,2; cf. I 82,2.

[21]I 59,3

[22]I 83,1

[23]De Malo 6,1

[24]I 82,2.

[25]I II 10,2.

[26]De Malo 6,1 ad 9.

[27]I 83, 1 ad 3.

[28]De Malo 6,1.

[29]De Malo 6,1.

[30]Existentialism (1925-1960) is the philosophy of the personal existence of man, synthetised in the free choice of his destiny. (Thonnard p.885).

[31] I 18,3 , nature is the intrinsic principle of activity of a being.  But in every action there are 3 principles, the end (of the action), the form (where it starts), the execution of the action.  And whereas the living plants move spontaneously only as to the execution, and the animals as to the form (by their sensibility) and execution, man has an indeterminate activity according the 3 elements, including the end which he chooses freely, (but not the last end).