Free Will in Ancient Thought
Frede. Chapter One: "Introduction," 12-20
*** These lectures notes are works in progress ***
LECTURE NOTES 1
These lecture notes are a series of comments on what Frede writes in A Free Will. Each comment begins with a quotation (in bold typeface) from the book. My comment (in plain (roman) typeface) follows.
The following are the main points we need to grasp to begin to understand Frede's argument.
The Main Points in the Chapter
• The term "free will" does not now have a very clear meaning. Sometimes it is used as nothing more than a shorthand for the proposition that sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we do.
• This use of the term "free will" is not the one that interests Frede.
• Frede is interested in a use of "free will" in which the term is used as part of an explanation for why it is true that sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we do.
• Frede argues that the late Stoics were the first to give such an explanation. In this late Stoic explanation, as Frede understands it, the term "will" refers to a power in the soul that belongs to reason.
• Frede argues that no one had a notion of the will before the late Stoics.
• To know whether Frede is right about the first notion of the will, we need to determine whether the prior philosophers had a notion of the will. To do that, we need to know what we are looking for in these philosophers.
• To help with this problem, Frede gives us what he calls a "schema" for the will.
• An Ancient philosopher has a notion of the will just in case he believes the "instance" of the schema. The instance is the concrete form the "schema" takes in the context of philosopher's theory of the soul.
Frede's Lecture (12-20)
notio, Latin noun, "idea, conception, notion." 1. The notion of a free will is a notion we have inherited from antiquity. It was first in antiquity that one came to think of human beings as having a free will.
What is it to have a "notion" of free will?
One possibility is that it is to have the ability to think that human beings are a certain way, that they have or can have "free will," and that this means such-and-such about human beings.
Notice that in thinking this, we are thinking about what it is to be human.
Notice too that in thinking this, we might be thinking something false. We might be thinking that humans are a certain way when in fact they are not. We might be thinking they have free will when in fact they do not.
It can seem surprising to hear that we "inherited" the notion of free will from antiquity. One might believe instead that human beings had the notion had all along. Frede thinks that this is a mistake.
2. But, as with so many other notions we have inherited from antiquity, for instance, the notion of an essence or the notion of a teleological cause, we have to ask ourselves whether the notion of a free will has not outlived its usefulness, has not become a burden rather than of any real help in understanding ourselves and what we do. ... In this situation it may be of some help to retrace our steps and see what purpose the notion of a free will originally was supposed to serve, how it was supposed to help our understanding, and whether it was flawed right from its beginnings, as we might now see in hindsight.
Not all notions "we have inherited from antiquity" are still useful. Frede gives examples, but we will not look into them. He suggests that the same might true for the notion of free will.
How do we tell if the notion of free will is still useful?
Frede proposes to identify the "purpose ... [the notion of free will] was supposed to serve."
The suggestion is that if we still have the need the notion was supposed to serve, the next step would be to determine whether we can still use the notion to serve this need.
What is it to have a need for the notion of free will?
The answer, it seems, is that we need the notion if something else we think is true about human beings or the world requires that human beings have or can have free will.
"Alexander of Aphrodisias [Peripatetic, late second and early third century CE] lets himself be driven into accepting a conception of a free will which is very close to the kind of conception criticized nowadays by philosophers. All the other authors we have considered seem to me to have notions of a free will which, perhaps for good reasons, we might not want to accept but which do not seem to be basically flawed in the way a notion like Alexander's is" (A Free Will, 103.) What it is for the notion to be "flawed from its beginnings"?
One possibility is that the notion is incoherent. If so, we cannot need it for anything.
It might be, though, that the notion of free will is not incoherent but still is not something we need because it essentially includes assumptions about human beings or the world that we no longer accept.
In this case, the notion would have no application for us.
3. In these lectures ... I want to pursue the question “When in antiquity did one first think of human beings as having a free will, why did one come to think so, and what notion of a free will was involved when one came to think of human beings in this way?”
When did someone first "think" that we have free will?
Frede will argue that it happened in late Stoicism and that we see this in the work of Epictetus.
To evaluate Frede's argument, we need to understand Stoicism.
This will take time. Stoicism has an early, middle, and late period.
We need to understand parts of Plato and Aristotle too.
Frede discusses Plato and Aristotle to show that they do not have a notion of the free will because they do not have a notion of the will. He also discusses them because he thinks that subsequent Platonists and Aristotelians incorporated a notion of will into their thinking, and he wants to explain the changes this required.
This means that to understand and evaluate Frede's argument, it is necessary for us to consider a series of discussions about the soul that extends through almost the entire history of Ancient philosophy.
4. To raise this question ["When in antiquity did..."], though, is to make a substantial assumption about the very nature of the notion of a free will. I assume, and I will try to show, that this notion in its origins is a technical, philosophical notion which already presupposes quite definite and far from trivial assumptions about ourselves and the world.
τέχνη, technē, noun, "art, skill" A "technical" notion is one that has been crafted and is a product of theorizing. It first emerges as part of a theory. The contrast is with "ordinary" notions. These are notions we have before we theorize.
So, if Frede is right, the notion of free will arose as part of a theory to understand an ordinary notion. The ordinary notion is responsibility. We hold people responsible in certain situations.
This raises a question.
Before the advent of the theory, the philosophers did not understand responsibility in terms of free will.
How did these philosophers understand responsibility?
We need to look for answers in Frede's discussion of the philosophers he thinks did not have a notion of free will.
5. [T]his is not the view scholars took until fairly recently. They went on the assumption that the notion of a free will is an ordinary notion, part of the repertory of notions in terms of which the ordinary person thinks about things and in terms of which the ancient Greeks must have already been thinking all along. And on this assumption, of course, there is no place for the question of when the ancients first came to think of human beings as having a free will.
As evidence for this, as we will see, Frede cites some remarks by W. D. Ross.
6. The assumption that the Greeks all along must have been thinking of human beings as having a free will seems truly astounding nowadays. For, if we look at Greek literature from Homer onwards, down to long after Aristotle, we do not find any trace of a reference to, let alone a mention of, a free will. This is all the more remarkable, as Plato and in particular Aristotle had plenty of occasion to refer to a free will. But there is no sign of such a reference in their works.
In Plato and Aristotle, "we do not find any trace of a reference to, let alone a mention of, a free will."
What does this mean?
Plato and Aristotle do not use terms that translate as "free will." Nor do they use other terms to talk about free will.
7. Scholars did indeed notice this with a certain amount of puzzlement. But it
did not occur to them to draw what would seem to be the obvious inference,
namely, that Plato and Aristotle did not yet have a notion of a free will and
that it was for
William David Ross, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
William David Ross (1877–1971) was an academic who did and was recognized for important work in Ancient philosophy. this reason that they did not talk of a free will. As eminent a scholar as W. D. Ross again could note that Plato and Aristotle do not refer to a will, let alone a free will. But even Ross concludes that we must assume that Aristotle, as Ross puts it, “shared the plain man's belief in free will.”
Why did these scholars think this?
8. But why should we assume in the first place that Aristotle believed in a
free will? To understand the assumption Ross and earlier scholars make, we
have to take into account the following. Let us assume that it is a fact
that, at least sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what
we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we
our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way. Let us also
assume, as is reasonable enough, that this is what the Greeks believed all
Socrates, 469-399 BCE
Plato, 429-347 BCE
Aristotle, 384-322 BCE
Socrates, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Plato, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Aristotle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Zeno of Citium, late 4th to middle 3rd century BCE.
Founded the school in about 300 BCE.
Cleanthes, late 4th to late 3rd century BCE.
He succeeded Zeno as head of the school.
Chrysippus, early 3rd to late 3rd century BCE.
He was the third and most influential head of the Stoic school.
Panaetius of Rhodes, late 2nd to early 2nd century BCE.
He succeeded Antipater of Tarsus in about 129 BCE to become the seventh head of the Stoic school in Athens.
Posidonius of Apameia, early 2nd to middle 1st century BCE.
Seneca, late 1st century BCE to middle 1st century CE.
Epictetus, middle 1st to early 2nd century CE.
Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 CE. Roman Emperor from 161-180 CE. It certainly is something Aristotle took to be a fact. The notion of a free will was originally introduced within the context of a particular theory, namely, a late Stoic theory, in a way specific to this theory, to account for this presumed fact. But once this notion had been introduced into Stoicism, rival theories, either Peripatetic or Platonist, developed their own version of a notion of a free will,which fitted in with their overall theory. In fact, it was a notion which was eagerly taken up by Christians, too. And, largely due to the influence of mainstream Christianity, it came to be a notion which, in one version or another, gained almost universal acceptance. People quite generally, whether followers of Stoicism, Platonism, or mainstream Christianity, felt committed to a belief in a free will. Even if they themselves were not able to give a theoretical account of what a free will is, they relied on such an account's being available. This had the effect that the mere assumption that sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, since we do it not because we are forced to but because we ourselves want to, came to be regarded as tantamount to a belief in a free will. From here it was just a short step to the assumption that the mere notion of a free will was an ordinary notion, with philosophical theory coming in only to give a theoretical account of what it is to have a free will. This is why Ross could assume that Aristotle shared the plain man's belief in a free will but failed to give a theoretical account of that.
In these remarks, Frede tries to explain why scholars thought that Plato and Aristotle had a notion of free will despite the fact that they did not "did not talk of a free will" in their discussions about the soul.
Here is Frede's explanation as I understand it.
There is something "the Greeks believed all along": that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way." This is an ordinary belief. It contains ordinary notions.
The technical notion of free will became identified with this ordinary belief about responsibility.
What does "identified" mean here?
Frede gives the following as his answer:
"[T]he mere assumption that sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, since we do it not because we are forced to but because we ourselves want to, came to be regarded as tantamount to a belief in a free will."
How did this happen?
In their 2022 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article,
O'Connor and Franklin dismiss Frede's inquiry into the origin of the notion of free will.
They write that "[t]he term 'free will' has emerged over the past two millennia as the canonical designator for a significant kind of control over one’s actions" and that "[q]uestions concerning the nature and existence of this kind of control ... have been taken up in every period of Western philosophy and by many of the most important philosophical figures, such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Free Will").
"One finds scholarly debate on the 'origin' of the notion of free will in Western philosophy. (See, e.g., Dihle (1982) and, in response Frede (2011), with Dihle finding it in St. Augustine (354–430 CE) and Frede in the Stoic Epictetus (c. 55–c. 135 CE)). But this debate presupposes a fairly particular and highly conceptualized concept of free will, with Dihle’s later 'origin' reflecting his having a yet more particular concept in view than Frede. If, instead, we look more generally for philosophical reflection on choice-directed control over one's own actions, then we find significant discussion in Plato and Aristotle" ("Free Will. 1. Major Historical Contributions. 1.1 Ancient and Medieval Period").
I am not sure I understand what O'Connor and Franklin are saying, but here is a possibility. Philosophers from Plato on have talked about "a significant kind of control" we sometimes exercise over our actions. They used different "designator[s]" for this control in their discussions, but eventually two things happened. Some philosopher used the term free will to designate the kind of control he took himself and the philosophers before him to be talking about, and the term free will soon became the "canonical" way to designate the "significant kind of control" philosophers have been talking about from the time of Plato.
Frede's view is different. It is that there was an interest in explaining why it is true that we are sometimes responsible for what we do, and it was the late Stoics who first did this by saying that adult human beings have a will and that this will is free by nature. Some Christians adapted the Stoic idea to settle a dispute within Christianity. With the spread of Christianity, it became common to say that we have free will to mean that sometimes we are responsible for what we do. The philosophical problem was transformed into an attempt to give an account of this fact about responsibility and thus to explain what having free will is.
Frede thinks, as I understand him, that the explanation has to do with Christianity. Because Christianity became widespread and posits that we have free will, ordinary people came to think of the term free will not as part of an explanation but as a way of expressing the belief that sometimes we are responsible for what we do. "From here," Frede says, "it was just a short step to the assumption that the mere notion of a free will was an ordinary notion, with philosophical theory coming in only to give a theoretical account of what it is to have a free will."
9. [W]e should carefully distinguish between the belief in a free will and the ordinary belief that at least sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, because we are not forced or made to behave in this way but really want or even choose or decide to act in this way. This belief in a free will is involved in some theoretical accounts of what we ordinarily believe. But it is not to be identified with this ordinary belief. And it seems to me that Aristotle is a good example of a philosopher who is committed to the ordinary belief but does not resort to the notion of a free will to account for this belief. Hence, since even Aristotle does not yet talk of a free will, we should assume that he did not yet have a notion of a free will.
Frede thinks that we should distinguish between free will and the ordinary belief.
This is necessary to understand the history of philosophy. Aristotle, for example, has the common belief about responsibility, but Frede argues that Aristotle does not have a notion of free will.
10. This [that free will is not the ordinary belief] indeed is what scholars nowadays are generally agreed on. The change of scholarly opinion is largely due to the fact that philosophical discussions, of the kind we find, for instance, in Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind [published in 1949], have persuaded scholars that the notion of a free will is at best a highly controversial notion. In light of this, Aristotle's failure to refer to a free will is no longer regarded as a cause for puzzlement but by many is registered with outright relief.
Frede says that philosophers now recognize the difference between the ordinary belief and technical notion of free will. Frede cites the influence of Gilbert Ryle for the change. In chapter III ("The Will") of Ryle's Concept of Mind, he seems to say that free will is a technical concept like the concept of "phlogiston" in 18th century chemistry (49).
Gilbert Ryle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
"Most of the mental-conduct concepts whose logical behaviour we examine in this book, are familiar and everyday concepts. We all know how to apply them and we understand other people when they apply them. What is in dispute is not how to apply them, but how to classify them, or in what categories to put them.
The concept of volition is in a different case. We do not know in daily life how to use it, for we do not use it in daily life and do not, consequently, learn by practice how to apply it, and how not to misapply it. It is an artificial concept. We have to study certain specialist theories in order to find out how it is to be manipulated. It does not, of course, follow from its being a technical concept that it is an illegitimate or useless concept. ‘Ionisation’ and ‘off-side’ are technical concepts, but both are legitimate and useful. 'Phlogiston' and ‘animal spirits’ were technical concepts, though they have now no utility.
I hope to show that the concept of volition belongs to the latter tribe.
It has for a long time been taken for an indisputable axiom that the Mind is in some important sense tripartite, that is, that there are just three ultimate classes of mental processes. The Mind or Soul, we are often told, has three parts, namely, Thought, Feeling and Will; or, more solemnly, the Mind or Soul functions in three irreducibly different modes, the Cognitive mode, the Emotional mode and the Conative mode. This traditional dogma is not only not self-evident, it is such a welter of confusions and false inferences that it is best to give up any attempt to re-fashion it. It should be treated as one of the curios of theory.
The main object of this chapter is not, however, to discuss the whole trinitarian theory of mind but to discuss, and discuss destructively, one of its ingredients. I hope to refute the doctrine that there exists a Faculty, immaterial Organ, or Ministry, corresponding to the theory’s description of the ‘Will’ and, accordingly, that there occur processes, or operations, corresponding to what it describes as 'volitions.' I must however make it clear from the start that this refutation will not invalidate the distinctions which we all quite properly draw between voluntary and involuntary actions and between strong-willed and weak-willed persons" (Gilbert Ryle, "III. The Will," The Concept of Mind, 49-50).
"The fact that Plato and Aristotle never mentioned them ["volitions"] in their frequent and elaborate discussions of the nature of the soul and the springs of conduct is due not to any perverse neglect by them of notorious ingredients of daily life but to the historical circumstance that they were not acquainted with a special hypothesis the acceptance of which rests not on the discovery, but on the postulation, of these ghostly thrusts" (Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind, 52). Ryle (1900-1976) supervised G.E.L Owen's BPhil thesis at Oxford. Owen (1922-1982) was an influential figure in Ancient philosophy. Frede attended Owen's seminars in Oxford in 1962.
I quote the relevant passages in the side notes. I find them a little hard to understand.
11. Once one finally comes to see that it is not the case that the Greeks all along had a notion of a free will and that we do not yet find this notion even in Aristotle, the question naturally poses itself: When did the notion of a free will arise?
When, then, "did the notion of a free will arise?"
Frede gave his answer in 8: "[t]he notion of a free will was originally introduced within the context of a particular theory, namely, a late Stoic theory."
12. I regard my inquiry as purely historical. ... I am interested, as I said at the outset, in trying to find out when and why a notion of a free will arose in the first place and what notion this was. I will then try to trace the history of this notion to see whether and how it changed in the course of the discussions to which it gave rise in antiquity. In this way, I hope, we shall also be able to identify ... the ancestors of any later notion of a free will. It is in this sense that I plan to talk about the origins of the notion of a free will.
Frede, as a historian, is interested in the late Stoic notion and in the ways subsequent Platonists and Aristotelians incorporated a notion of the will into their versions of the tripartite theory of the soul (a theory the Stoics rejected). He is also interested in why philosophers before the late Stoics did not have a notion of the will.
Frede's historical interest is our interest in this course.
13. Now, though I do not presuppose a specific notion of a free will, let alone want to endorse or advocate some specific notion of it, I do rely on something like a general idea of a free will, something like a schema which any specific notion of a free will or any particular version of the notion of a free will, at least in antiquity, will fit into. I do not arrive at this general idea or schema on the basis of some philosophical view as to what any notion of a free will has to look like but rather with the benefit of historical hindsight. That is to say, I have looked at the relevant ancient texts and have abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will. In having such a schema, we shall at least have a general idea of what we are looking for when we investigate the origins of the notion of a free will but without having to commit ourselves to any particular view, ancient or modern, as to what a free will really is.
Frede does not simply assert that a notion the Stoics introduced is the first notion of free will. He argues for this view by looking at the history of philosophy prior to the late Stoics.
For this procedure to work, we need to know what notion to look for in these philosophers.
To this end, Frede sets out a "schema" of the notion free will.
What does this mean?
Frede says that he has "looked at the relevant ancient texts and abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will."
What does "abstracted" mean here?
The point, as I understand it, is that the notion of free will is different in different philosophers because of what else they believe. Frede's schema separates the notion from these contexts.
What are texts from which Frede abstracts his schema?
He does not identify these texts, at least not explicitly.
Given the schema, Frede looks at the philosophers to see who first says something that fits into the schema.
14. It should be clear that in order to have any such notion, one must first of all have a notion of a will. As a matter of historical fact, it turns out that a notion of a will is not necessarily a notion of a will which is free. In any case, in order to have a notion of a free will, one must, in addition to the notion of a will, also have a notion of freedom. These notions of a will and of freedom must be such that it makes sense to say that we have a will which is free.
A notion of the will is necessary for a notion of free will.
Frede thinks that the late Stoics were the first to introduce the notion of the will.
15. In order to get any notion of a will at all, one must assume the following. Unless one is literally forced or made to do something in such a manner that what one is doing is in no way one's own action (as when one is pushing something over because one is pushed oneself), one does what one does because something happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does. Moreover, one has to assume that what happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does is that one chooses or decides to act in this way. Or at least one has to assume that there is something going on in the mind which can be construed as a choice or decision. We need not worry for the moment about this qualification or its significance. Thus, for instance, if one feels hungry or feels like having something to eat, one might or might not choose or decide to have something to eat. If one then does have something to eat, it is because one has chosen or decided to have something to eat, since one feels hungry.
This is more than a little confusing.
We need some understanding of when an event involving someone is something the person does.
Frede relies on the ordinary idea that something “is in no way one’s action” when nothing in the person’s mind is part of the explanation for why the event happens. In this light, we can understand his example. When “one is pushing something over because one is pushed oneself,” the explanation for why “one is pushing something” does not involve anything in the person’s mind and consequently “what one is doing is in no way one's own action.”
Against this background, Frede gives us ("Moroever, one has to assume...") a schema for what someone who believes in the will thinks goes on in the mind when someone does something.
What is this schema?
Initially, there seem to be two possibilities that differ in the scope of the existential quantifier.
A. (for every human being h) (there is an x that happens in the mind of h) (for every action y in which h is the agent): x is or can be construed as a choice h makes to do y.
B. (for every human being h) (for every action y in which h is the agent) (there is an x that happens in the mind of h): x is or can be construed as a choice h makes to do y.
Which does Frede intend as his schema?
We need more information to settle this.
Frede gives us some of the more information we need in 16. So we put off the question for the moment.
In addition to the problem about the order of the quantifiers, we have the problem of knowing what Frede means when he says "[o]r at least one has to assume ... construed as a choice or decision." He goes on to say that "[w]e need not worry for the moment about this qualification or its significance," but as far as I can tell, he never comes back to this point to provide the explanation he postpones. So for now we need to put off this question too.
Despite these two unanswered questions, we have made progress.
We can see the general form Frede's arguments are going to take. Where the blank in (1) is a placeholder for the instance the schema for the philosopher, these arguments are all going to all look like this:
1. If philosopher, x, has a notion of the will, then x believes that ____.
(*) Philosopher, x, does not have a notion of the will.
Note that what goes in the blank is the instance, not the schema itself for the will. The notion of will is different in different philosophers because of what else they believe. The schema abstracts away from this.
Once we figure out exactly what Frede's schema is, we still need to know whether he is right. He says (in 13) that he has "looked at the relevant ancient texts and have abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will." He does not, though, provide citations to the texts and the specific places in these texts that the words occur. So this is another problem we need to put off for now.
16. But the notion of the will, at least in antiquity, involves a notion of the mind such that the mere fact that one feels hungry will not yet explain why one is having something to eat. This is supposed to be so, because, even if one does feel hungry or does feel like having something to eat, one might choose or decide not to have anything to eat because one thinks that it would not be a good thing to have something to eat now. One might also decide to have something to eat, though one does not feel hungry at all, because one thinks that it would be a good thing to have something to eat. But, in any case, for there to be an action that is one's own action, there is supposed to be an event in one's mind, a mental act, a choice or decision which brings about the action. The notion of a will, then, is the notion of our ability to make such choices or decisions which make us act in the way we do. It is crucial for the notion of the will that this ability differs greatly from person to person, as different people not only have different thoughts about what is or is not a good thing to do but also have quite different feelings about different things. This is why different people in the same situation will make very different choices and hence will act quite differently. It is also crucial for the notion of the will that it is an ability which needs to be developed, cultivated, and perfected. One can get better and better at making choices, just as one can get worse and worse. One can choose or decide to improve one's will, one's ability to make choices.
What is going on here?
I am not sure about all of it, but we can focus on two points.
"[F]or there to be an action that is one's own action, there is supposed to be an event in one's mind, a mental act, a choice or decision which brings about the action. The notion of a will, then, is the notion of our ability to make such choices or decisions which make us act in the way we do."
These remarks are interesting for what they suggest about Frede's schema. What happens in the mind is that there is an ability or power that issues in choices. So instead of A or B, this suggests the schema is:
C. (for every human being h) (in the mind of h, there is an "ability" or power x) (for every action y in which h is the agent): x issues in what is or can be construed as a choice h makes to do y.
The order of the quantifiers in C is the order in A. Unlike in A, though, the existential quantifier is not over something that happens in the mind. It is over an "ability." This ability is the will. It is a power to make choices.
Notice too that A is probably could not have been what Frede intended as the schema because it is so implausible. Contrary to A, it is natural to think that different actions go back to different things that happen in the mind. This is what B says is true, but B does not trace back all actions to something in the mind that can be the will.
C solves both problems, the problem with A and the problem with B.
Frede also says that this power to make choices can vary "from person to person" because the ability to choose can be "developed, cultivated, and perfected" differently by different people.
What does this mean?
The will issues in different choices in different people.
Different people can have "different thoughts about what is or is not a good thing to do."
So the will works against the background of beliefs about what is good and what is bad.
προαίρεσις, proairesis, noun, "choice"
βούλησις, boulēsis, noun, "willing."
From the verb βούλομαι, boulomai, "wish."
θέλησις, thelēsis, noun, "will"
voluntas, noun, "will." From the verb volo, "wish." 17. The standard Greek term for the will is prohairesis, literally, “choice” or “disposition to choose.” Later boulêsis and, in particular, thelêsis will also be used in this sense, especially in Byzantine times. The standard Latin term, of course, is voluntas.
In this course, we do not need to think too much about the Greek and Latin terms. They are interesting, though, so I provide links (in the notes on the right) to their dictionary meanings.
Frede talks about Greek words in terms of their transliterations. So, for example, he uses prohairesis for προαίρεσις. This makes it easier for those who do not know the language to pronounce the words.
18. The Greek term for the relevant notion of freedom is eleutheria.
ἐλευθερία, eleutheria, noun, "freedom"
ἐλεύθερος, eleutheros, adjective, "free"
The earliest occurrences of ἐλεύθερος and προαίρεσις together are in Philo of Alexander (On the Unchangeableness of God 114-115) and Epictetus (Discourses II.15). Philo and Epictetus are rough contemporaries.
In Discourses II.15, Epictetus says that "the will is free by nature and unconstrained (ἡ μὲν προαίρεσις ἐλεύθερον φύσει καὶ ἀνανάγκαστον)." See also Discourses III.5.7-8.
Epictetus is a late Stoic.
Philo of Alexander (end of the 1st century BCE and the middle of the 1st century CE) is sometimes called Philo Judaeus. He was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria.
The city of Alexandria was founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. It became a major center of Hellenistic civilization and became the capital of Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy (a Greek general and companion of Alexander the Great) and his family (who ruled until the Roman conquest in 30 BCE). A significant Jewish community existed in Alexandria. This term provides us with some guidance as to how the notion of freedom we are interested in is to be understood. As the very term indicates, it must be a notion formed by analogy to the political notion of freedom. According to the political notion, one is free if one is a citizen rather than a slave and living in a free political community rather than in a community governed, for instance, by a tyrant. This political notion of freedom is two-sided. It is characterized, on the one side, by the laws which the citizens of the community have imposed on themselves and, on the other side, by there being no further external constraints on a free citizen which would systematically prevent him from doing what he could reasonably want to do in pursuit of his own good, in particular from living the kind of life he could reasonably want to live. It is crucial that this freedom, to put the matter in a grossly simplified form, almost invariably seems to be understood as a freedom from external constraints which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living in a political community and which would systematically prevent one from doing what it takes to have a good life. Living under a tyrant and being a slave are regarded as involving such constraints, as the tyrant and the slave master, by definition, impose constraints on what one can do which systematically prevent one from having a good life, at least given a certain traditional understanding of what a good life amounts to.
Now Frede is moving on to what "free" means in "free will."
We do not need to understand this to understand Frede's argument that neither Plato not Aristotle have a notion of free will. They do not have a notion of free will because, according to Frede, they do not have a notion of the will.
Frede says that the Greek term ἐλευθερία ("freedom") "provides us with some guidance as to how the notion of freedom [in free will] we are interested in is to be understood."
"As the very term indicates, it must be a notion formed by analogy to the political notion of freedom."
The point is that the Greek term ἐλευθερία was first introduced as a political notion.
What is this notion?
The political notion of freedom is "freedom from external constraints which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living in a political community and which would systematically prevent one from doing what it takes to live a good life." This notion presumably first arose with life in a "city" or πόλις.
The Greek noun πόλις is typically translated as "city" (or sometimes as "city-state"). It is an ancient political system consisting of a ruling center and surrounding territory.
19. The notion of freedom we are interested in is formed by analogy to this political notion, but its precise relation to the political is never definitively settled, in good part for political and social reasons; being formed by analogy to the political notion, it also inherits its double-sided character. Thus the ability of a free person to have a good life is understood more precisely as the ability to live a good life in what we, not very helpfully, might be tempted to call a moral sense. The lack of clarity about the relation between the political notion and this personal notion of freedom in part is due to a lack of clarity about the relation between the good life one is able to have when one is politically free and the good life one can live if one has personal freedom. The tendency among ancient philosophers, needless to say, is to claim that one can live a good life even under a tyrant or as a slave.
What is the "personal notion of freedom"?
The suggestion seems to be that it is a generalization of the political notion and that we have personal freedom if we are free from any external constraints which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living and which would systematically prevent us from doing what it takes to live a good life.
20. What, then, are the external constraints which this personal notion of
freedom envisages which could systematically prevent us from doing what we
need to do in order to live a good life, assuming that the constraints a
tyrant or a slave master could impose on us do not count as such? The
answer, in a nutshell and again very grossly simplified, is that at the time
when the notion of a free will arises, there are any number of views, some
of them widespread, according to which the world we live in, or at least
part of the world we live in, is run by a tyrant or a slave master or a
whole group of them. We should not forget that even Christians
Saint Augustine, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
John of Damascus (7th to 8th Century CE) like Augustine or John of Damascus had no difficulty in thinking that the right way to characterize our relationship to God is to say that we are slaves of God. Now the Christian God is a benevolent agent who provides for his slaves in such a way as to enable them to live a good life. Even on this view there is an obvious tension between our being free and our being slaves, one may even say at least an apparent contradiction. But there were lots of other views, according to which those who rule the world, or our sublunary part of it, are far from benevolent, far from concerned about our well-being.
To have the notion of personal freedom, we must have in mind some possible external constraints.
"[W]hen the notion of a free will arises" [in the time of late Stoicism] the "external constraints" inconsistent with the freedom necessary to live a good life are not ones that first occur to us now.
This is a confusing part of Frede's argument. His remarks in his concluding chapter help show what he is thinking.
"[T]there was a widespread but vague fear... fed by the belief that one lived in a world full of forces and powers, many, if not most, of them hidden from us, which seemed to leave little or no room for the free pursuit of our own interests. These were either blind forces or forces which pursued their own interests without regard to us or downright hostile and malicious forces, out to tyrannize, enslave, or seduce us. The Stoics themselves had greatly contributed to giving some respectability to such fears by developing a theory that everything which happens in the world, including our actions, happens according to a divine providential plan. So it seemed particularly incumbent upon the Stoics to explain how such a seamless divine providential order was compatible with human choices. They tried to do this with their doctrine of freedom and a free will" (102).
Frede's thought seems to be that there was a pressure outside philosophy. This was the "fear" that we might not be responsible for our actions. The early Stoics give some "respectability" to this fear with their doctrine of fate. So it was "incumbent" on them to show that this fear was not justified. They did this with their "doctrine of freedom." This, though, did not put the fear to rest. So the late Stoics responded again to this pressure from outside Stoicism. They introduced the doctrine of "a free will" to show that we are sometimes responsible for our actions.
We need to understand what the "doctrine of freedom" is and how it is different from the doctrine of a "free will."
21. There are, for instance, the so-called archontes,
ἄρχοντες, archontes, noun, "rulers"
The "sublunary world" is part of the Aristotelian conception of the universe, which was dominant until Copernicus (1473-1543). The earth, at the center, was surrounded by the heavens. The moon was the closest part of the heavens. the rulers or planetary gods who rule the sublunary world and determine what happens in it, including our lives, so as to fit their designs and ideas and to serve their interests as they perceive them. They do not care about what this does to our lives or to our ability to have or to live a good life. Indeed, they might try to do what they can to make it impossible for us to live a good life.
Here we are pretty far from the modern, scientific point of view.
Some history helps us see the ancient point of view.
Aristotle thought there were "planetary gods," but he did not think of them as a threat.
The belief in planetary gods was common. Traditionally the ancient Greeks pretty much all believed that the sun and moon, for example, are gods. The inquirers into nature were rate exceptions.
"Do I not even believe that the sun or yet the moon are gods,
as the rest of mankind do?
No, by Zeus, judges, since he says that the sun is a stone and the moon earth.
Do you think you are accusing Anaxagoras, my dear Meletus, and do you so despise these gentlemen and think they are so unversed in letters as not to know, that the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian are full of such utterances" (Apology 26d).
Plato and Aristotle made the planetary gods part of their theory of the cosmos, but there was also a less "scientific" tradition that we see in reflected in Hesiod (8th to 7th century BCE).
"Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care. ... But for those who practice violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment. ... The deathless gods are near among men; and mark all those who oppress their fellows with crooked judgements.... You princes, mark well this punishment, you also, for upon the bounteous earth Zeus has thrice ten thousand deathless gods, watchers of mortal men, and these keep watch on judgements and deeds of wrong as they roam, clothed in mist, all over the earth. ... For the son of Cronos has ordained this law for men, that fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for right is not in them; but to mankind he gave right (δίκην) which proves far the best. For whoever knows the right and is ready to speak it, far-seeing Zeus gives him prosperity" (Works and Days 230). "First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronos when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods. But after the earth had covered this generation—they are called pure spirits dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth; for this royal right also they received" (Works and Days 110).
These δαίμονες or "spirits" in Hesiod's Works and Days are not a threat to the freedom necessary to live a good life, at least given that a good life is not the life of doing whatever one wants, but it is easy enough to imagine how a belief in things like the δαίμονες could develop into something much more threatening.
22. There is also a wide spread view, which we find among groups (following
some early Christian authors like Irenaeus)
Irenaeus, 2nd century CE, Bishop of Lugdunum.
Lugdunum was a Roman military colony founded in 43 CE in what is now Lyon in the Rhone Valley in Southern France.
In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus contrasts Gnosticism with his conception of orthodox Christianity. Our knowledge of Gnosticism depends on Irenaeus because the Gnostic writings themselves have largely been lost.
Irenaeus is a heresiologist. He tries to define the Christian orthodoxy by writing about previous mistaken views.
Other heresiologists include Clement of Alexandria (150-215), Hippolytus of Rome (170-236), and Origen of Alexandria (185-254).
Frede highlights the main point of disagreement. "[I]t is ... the Gnostics who are in disagreement about the Father of Jewish scripture who created the world we live in. According to them, he cannot be good and just and hence cannot be God" (A Free Will, 72).
"My claim is that Christianity's interest in freedom and a free will was motivated by a concern with various forms of Gnosticism and astral determinism, that a basically Stoic view on a free will admirably served the purpose of combating these unorthodox views, and that we therefore have no particular reason to expect a radically new notion of a free will's emerging from Christianity" (A Free Will, 74).
What is astral determinism?
The answer comes in part from the Stoic theory of divination. We know about this theory primarily from Cicero (106-43 CE) and his On Divination). In Book I, Quintus (Cicero’s brother) sets out divination from the Stoic point of view. In Book II, Cicero criticizes this position from the point of view of Academic skepticism.
One question in astrology was why the heavens have predictive value. Did the heavenly bodies have a causal influences on human beings and their affairs by heavenly bodies? Or was there a merely empirical correlation between the heavenly bodies and human affairs?
Astral determinism takes the predictive value of the heavens to have its basis in the causal connection between the heavenly bodies and human affairs. Our characters and our lives are casually determined by the movements of the stars and other heavenly bodies. we have come to call “Gnostics,” according to which the agent who created the visible world we live in, the demiurge or creator, is a being which pursues its own interests without regard for what this does to us, a being lacking in wisdom and goodness, as one can see from the fact that it deludes itself into thinking that it is God and demanding worship. This view, if held by Gnostics, as a rule seems to be combined with the view that this God is the God of Jewish scripture, who created this world which in all sorts of ways reflects his lack of wisdom and goodness, for instance, in that it puts at least many, if not all of us, into a position in which it is impossible to live a good life.
It is important to keep straight the line of thought Frede is following. It runs from Plato and Aristotle to the Stoics (first to the early Stoics and then to the late Stoics) and then to the early Christians.
It is important too to understand the development of Christianity. It comes out of an earlier Jewish tradition. This Jewish tradition first developed in relative isolation from Greek philosophy, but it increasingly became aware of Greek philosophy. This seems to culminate in the first half of the 1st century BCE. It is about this time that Christianity begins to emerge, but it be would a long time before it would take its present form.
The Gnostics are a sect of early Christians. They have a view "according to which the world we live in, or at least part of the world we live in, is run by a tyrant or a slave master or a whole group of them" (20).
23. It is against the background of a large number of such views that the notion of freedom we are interested in emerges. To say that human beings are free is to say that the world does not put such constraints on us from the outside as to make it impossible for us to live a good life. These views will strike most of us as extremely fanciful. But we should keep in mind that late antiquity was full of such views, which exercised an enormous attraction. And we should also keep in mind that there were other views which, though much less fanciful, were also perceived to put at least into question whether we are free.
According to Frede, the "notion of freedom we are interested in emerges" at some point in time.
It cannot "emerge" before there is the idea that "the world ... put[s] such constraints on us from the outside as to make it impossible for us to live a good life." So we need to know when this idea emerges.
24. The [much less fanciful] views in question assume some kind of physical determinism, according to which everything which happens, including our actions, is determined by antecedent physical causes and is thus predetermined.
Many introduction to philosophy courses introduce the so-called "problem of free will" as a question about whether "free will" is compatible with "determinism."
Here is the opening sentence from the entry "Compatibilism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
"Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem, which concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed as a thesis about the compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism."
What does "free will" mean here? The authors are not using the term free will as an ordinary notion.
What does "moral responsibility" mean here? The author's idea, as I understand it, is that "moral responsibility" is the responsibility that makes us a subject of praise and blame.
25. The nearest we ever get in antiquity to the kind of physical determinism
we are now
Democritus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Epicurus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Democritus (5th to 4th century BCE), founder (with Leucippus) of atomism, younger contemporary of Socrates.
Epicurus (4th to 3rd century BCE), atomist, founder of Epicureanism. thinking of, when we talk about determinism, is in Epicurus, if only for Epicurus to reject it without much of an argument. Epicurus is concerned that the kind of atomism introduced by Democritus, and espoused by himself, might be misunderstood as entailing a view according to which everything which happens, including what we do, is predetermined by an endless chain of antecedent causes. If this were true, nothing that we do would in any substantial sense depend on us. For the conditions from which it would ineluctably follow that one day you would exist, that you would be this sort of person with those beliefs and those desires, and that in a certain situation you would respond to this situation in this way, would already be there all along. These conditions would have come about without any thought of you, without any regard to you or your life, and you certainly would have had no active part in bringing them about. So your action would just be a part of how the world ineluctably unfolds from antecedent conditions which have predetermined you action long before you existed.
We might think that "physical determinism" is part of Democritus' atomism, that this atomism was thought to be a threat to freedom, and that therefore the notion of free will arises against an understanding of the world that is not all that different from ours. This, however, according to Frede, would be a mistake.
Epicurus is a Hellenistic philosopher.
The Hellenistic philosophers take their name from the time they lived, the Hellenistic Age. This is the period from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE to the end of the Roman Republic in 27 BCE.
The Hellenistic Age is a period in history, not philosophy, but the philosophers in this period have something philosophical in common that makes it reasonable to think of them as a group within the Ancient philosophical tradition. The Hellenistic philosophers are united by their critical reaction to what they thought were the excesses of the prior classical tradition, the tradition of Plato and Aristotle.
This critical reaction began to disintegrate around 100 BCE as non-skeptical forms of Platonism underwent a resurgence and eventually gave rise to Christianity. This marks the end of the Period of Schools.
The Period of Schools is the second of the three periods into which ancient philosophy is traditionally divided. This is the time of Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic philosophers (Epicurus and the Epicureans, the Academics, and Zeno of Citium and the early Stoics).
"Epicurus and his followers had a more mechanistic conception of bodily action than the Stoics. They held that all things (human soul included) are constituted by atoms, whose law-governed behavior fixes the behavior of everything made of such atoms. But they rejected determinism by supposing that atoms, though law-governed, are susceptible to slight ‘swerves’ or departures from the usual paths" (Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy, "Free Will. 1. Major Historical Contributions 1.1 Ancient and Medieval Period").
What are "Epicurus and followers" said here to think?
The view, it seems, is that although there are laws of nature that govern everything, these laws are indeterministic.
I myself doubt that this view is correct.
"Whom, after all, do you consider superior to the man who ... would deride the fate which some introduce as overlord of everything, but sees that some things are necessitated, others are due to fortune, and others through ourselves, since necessity is accountable to no one, and fortune is an unstable thing to watch, while our actions, with which culpability and its opposite are naturally associated, are without an overlord? For it would be better to follow the mythology about gods than be a slave to the fate of the natural philosophers: the former at least hints at the hope of begging the gods off by means of worship, whereas the latter involves an inexorable necessity" (Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus X.133).
"Moreover, if all movements are invariably linked, if new movement arises from old in unalterable succession, if there is no atomic swerve to initiate movement that can annul the decrees of destiny and prevent the existence of an endless chain of causation, what is the source of this freedom (libera) possessed by living creatures all over the earth? What, I ask, is the course of this volition (voluntas) wrested from destiny, which enables us to advance where pleasure leads us, and to alter our movements not at a fixed time or place, but at the direction of our minds? For undoubtedly in each case it is the individual volition that gives the initial impulse to such actions and channels movements though the limbs" (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura II.251).
De Rerum Natura = On the Nature of Things 26. It is almost impossible for us not to understand Democritus in the way Epicurus rejects. Democritus assumes that all there is are atoms moving in a void. They collide and rebound, form transient compounds, among them compounds which are relatively stable, owing to the configuration of their constituent atoms. What we call “objects,” including plants, animals, and human beings, are such compounds. These entities, owing to the particular configurations of their constituent atoms, display a certain regularity in their behavior. We can hardly resist the temptation to assume wrongly that Democritus must have thought that the atoms move, collide, or rebound according to fixed laws of nature, such that everything which happens ultimately is governed by these laws. But it is perfectly clear that Democritus has no idea of such laws. He is concerned, rather, to resist the idea that the apparent regularity in the behavior of objects be understood as the result of their being designed to behave in this fashion; for in Greek thought regularity of behavior as a rule is associated with design by an intellect. The planets are taken to be supremely intelligent, if not wise, because they move with an extreme degree of regularity. If an object is not intelligent but displays regularity in behavior, it is readily thought to do so by design of an intelligent agent. Democritus's point is that the apparent regularity in the world is not a work of design, say, by an Anaxagorean cosmic intellect but a surface phenomenon produced by the aimless, random motion of the atoms. Thus apparent regularity is supposed to be explained in terms of randomness. But already in Epicurus's day there was the temptation to think of the motion of the atoms as itself regular. Hence Epicurus, to avoid this misinterpretation of his own atomism, tries to insist on the irregularity of the motion of the atoms by claiming that they swerve from their paths without cause.
The history of philosophy here is interesting.
The Milesian inquirers into nature tried to move away from the explanations of events in the world that unfold in a regular way in terms of Zeus and the pantheon of traditional gods. Democritus and Leucippus are part of this tradition. They explain this sort of regularity as how the random motions of the atoms appears to us.
27. Epicurus's doctrine of the swerve, it seems to me, has been widely misunderstood as a doctrine which is meant to explain human freedom, as if a postulated swerve of atoms in the mind could explain such a thing. Epicurus's point is, rather, that, since the world is not deterministic in this way, it does not constitute a threat to the idea that some of the things we do are genuinely our own actions, rather than something which happens to us or something we are made to do. But here is at least an envisaged possible view, which is not fanciful at all but is rather close to what we call physical determinism. According to that, the world puts constraints on what we can do, which are such that we cannot but do whatever it is that we are doing, and hence might systematically prevent us from doing what we would need to do to live a good life.
Epicurus's discussion shows that it was beginning to become possible to think "the world puts constraints on what we can do, which are such that we cannot but do whatever it is that we are doing, and hence might systematically prevent us from doing what we would need to do to live a good life."
Who had the thought Epicurus was rejecting?
Frede does not say, but maybe he is thinking of those who took the general idea of fate from the Stoics but did not pay attention to the details of this Stoic doctrine. This seems to the suggestion of remarks Frede makes later:
"But the Stoics' opponents completely disregarded the distinctive features of Stoic determinism, treating it as if it were the kind of determinism Epicurus had rejected. ... Presumably, the opponents disregarded these particular features of Stoic determinism, because they all rejected universal determinism as such, and so the particular form in which it came did not seem to matter much" (A Free Will, 58-59).
28. The doctrine which in antiquity comes nearest to physical determinism in our sense, and was actually espoused, is the Stoic doctrine of fate. According to the Stoics, everything which happens has antecedent physical causes which form a chain reaching back as far as we care to trace it. But even this form of universal physical determinism differs radically from its modern counterpart in three crucial respects. First, Stoic fate is the work of an agent, namely, God, whose plan dictates the way the world evolves and changes, including what we ourselves do,down to the smallest detail. Modern determinists, in contrast, do not normally believe in a cosmic agent who determines things. Second, this plan is providential precisely in the sense that the Stoic God predetermines things in part with regard to us, taking into consideration what his determination does to us and to our life. Modern determinists, however, will find it natural to think not only that everything we do is predetermined but also that our choices and decisions are predetermined entirely without regard to us. Third, in a curious twist to the Stoic position (and with nothing comparable in the case of modern determinism), the divine plan itself seems to be contingent on our choices and decisions, in such a way that God anticipates them in determining the way the world evolves.
"The doctrine which in antiquity comes nearest to physical determinism in our sense, and was actually espoused, is the Stoic doctrine of fate."
"Fixing just upon this conception of agency [that an agent’s control seems to consist
in her playing a crucial role in the production of her actions],
how might determinism pose a threat to
free will? If determinism is true, then what happened in the distant past, when combined
with the laws of nature, is causally sufficient for the production of every human action.
But if this is so, then, while it might be true that an agent herself is crucially involved
in the production of her action, that action actually has its source in causal antecedents
that originate outside of her. Hence, she, as an agent, is not
the ultimate source of her actions"
("Compatibilism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
What does "source" mean here? How is this "doctrine" different from modern instances of physical determinism?
"Modern determinists ... do not normally believe in a cosmic agent who determines things."
Modern determinists "think not only that everything we do is predetermined but also that our choices and decisions are predetermined entirely without regard to us."
Modern determinists do not think that "God [the cosmic agent who determines things] anticipates [our choices and decisions] in determining the way the world evolves."
Theis makes the Stoic doctrine of fate, or εἱμαϱμένη, an unusual kind of determinism from our point of view.
29. God in his providence sets the world up in such a way that there are no constraints imposed on us from the outside which would systematically make it impossible for us to do what we need to do to live a good life. So here we do have a form of causal determinism, but it was a matter of dispute whether it posed a threat to freedom or not. Tellingly, those who argued that it did, like Alexander of Aphrodisias, conveniently Alexander of Aphrodisias, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy disregarded the idea that, on this theory, our choices are not just the product of fate but themselves to some extent determine fate.
It is part of the "Stoic doctrine of fate" that "God in his providence sets the world up in such a way that there are no constraints imposed on us from the outside which would systematically make it impossible for us to do what we need to do to live a good life." In this way, Stoicism is compatible with personal freedom.
This compatibility is the Stoic "doctrine of freedom" in 20. This doctrine is part of early Stoicism.
If Frede is right, the early Stoics had the "doctrine of freedom" but not the "doctrine of free will."
They did not have the "doctrine of free will" because the Stoics did not yet have a notion of the will.
30. Universal causal determinism, though, was not a view which had many adherents in antiquity. This was not because the ancients believed for the most part that things happen without a cause or an explanation. For the most part they came to believe that things do have a natural cause or explanation. But they had a very different conception from ours of what constitutes a cause or explanation. Perhaps the most crucial difference is that nobody in antiquity had the notion of laws of nature, meaning a body of laws which govern and explain the behavior of all objects, irrespective of their kind. For the most part, at least, philosophers believed (and this is true, though in different ways, of Aristotelians, Platonists, Stoics, and Epicureans alike) that the most important factor for one's understanding of the way things behave is the nature of an object. If you wish, you can think of the nature of an object as something which could be explained by a set of principles and laws which govern and explain the behavior of objects with this nature, for instance, plants or stars. But they are principles and laws governing a specific set of items. The nature of an object puts certain internal constraints on what objects of this kind or nature can do. Human beings, for instance, cannot do everything; just because they are human beings, they cannot fly, even if they wanted to. But there are also lots of things the nature of an object enables it to do. For instance, the nature of a sunflower enables it to turn in the direction of the sun. In fact, it makes the flower turn towards the sun, when the sun is visible. Quite generally, the nature of an object is such that, given certain specifiable conditions, it cannot but behave in a certain identifiable way.
"[N]obody in antiquity had the notion of laws of nature, meaning a body of laws which govern and explain the behavior of all objects, irrespective of their kind."
This is interesting. For one thing, it means that the notion of a law of nature is a technical notion.
Frede explains that instead of laws nature, the Ancient philosophers thought that "the most important factor for one's understanding of the way things behave is the nature of an object."
What, according to the Ancient philosophers, is the "nature of an object"?
The answer is long. Frede only gives part of the idea.
31. It is only when we come to more complex animals and, of course, to human beings that the behavior is not entirely determined by the nature of the object and the circumstances or conditions the object finds itself in. Animals can learn, be trained, or even be taught to do certain things. Different animals of the same kind might behave quite differently in the same circumstances. Their behavior is not entirely fixed by their nature or the laws of their nature. And, notoriously, human beings have to be trained and taught and educated. They have to learn a lot before they are able to act in a truly human and mature way. What is more, and what is crucially important, human beings have to actively involve themselves in acquiring the competence it takes to lead a truly human life. It is certainly not by their nature that human beings act virtuously.
According to the understanding in the Ancient philosophers, "behavior is not entirely determined by the nature of the object and the circumstances or conditions the object finds itself in."
32. Given a view of the world in which what happens is largely accounted for in terms of the nature of things, there may be nothing which does not have a natural cause and explanation, but, given the kinds of causes and explanations appealed to, the world might remain in our sense causally under determined, leaving enough space for us to live our life as we see fit.
The understanding in the Ancient philosophers of what determines behavior leaves open the possibility that "the world might remain in our [modern] sense causally under determined."
33. But, as we come to late antiquity, there is a growing sense that at least the physical world may be determined. Yet by then, of course, there is also the view, which rapidly spreads, that the mind is not physical. In any case, the notion of freedom gets its point only from the fact that there are available at the time numerous views about the world, according to which we are under such constraints as to possibly, if not necessarily, be unable to do what we need to do to live a good life.
Frede repeats an earlier point.
"[T]he notion of freedom gets its point only from the fact that there are available at the time numerous views about the world, according to which we are under such constraints as to possibly, if not necessarily, be unable to do what we need to do to live a good life."
34. With this we come to the combination of the two notions of the will, on the one hand, and of freedom, on the other hand, in the notion of a free will. Given the view that our actions are caused by a choice or a decision of the will, our freedom to do the things we need to do in order to live a good life must involve the freedom to make the choices which need to be made in order to produce the actions which need to be taken. This, however, is a trivial connection between the will and freedom. It would hardly explain the great emphasis on the freedom of the will.
What is Frede's point here?
I am not sure.
35. A less trivial connection is this. We might act under such constraints that the choices we have are so limited that they might not produce a good life. Just think of a cosmic tyrant who again and again confronts you with a choice like this: having your children killed or betraying your friends; or killing your child or being condemned for not obeying the order to kill your child. This too, though, would hardly suffice to explain the emphasis on freedom of the will.
What is Frede's point?
Again, I am not sure.
36. A still more promising connection is this. As soon as we think of a world run by a cosmic tyrant—or by planetary intellects and their daemonic minions who have access to our mind, perhaps can manipulate it, and perhaps can systematically try to prevent us from gaining the knowledge we would need to live a good life—we can see that there is a special point in emphasizing the freedom of the will. No cosmic power has such a force over our minds as to prevent the will from making the choices it needs to make.
What would explain the "great emphasis on the freedom of the will" (34) in late antiquity in Christian literature is the presence of the thought that there are beings "who have access to our mind, perhaps can manipulate it, and perhaps can systematically try to prevent us from gaining the knowledge we would need to live a good life."
The Hypostasis of the Archon is part of the Nag Hammadi codices (a thirteen volume library of
discovered in 1945. The codices were manufactured in 350 CE. They are Coptic translations of
earlier Greek works. How these codices came to be buried in a pot in Egypt is not known, but it
is likely they were buried to hide them in the face the increasing orthodoxy of Christianity.
The details of the Gnostic view are hard to grasp. There is some sort of divine starting-point or first principle. It somehow emits a second being and other beings that constitute the spiritual world. The demiurge, Yaldabaoth, emits the archons. Yaldabaoth makes and administers the material world with the archons. They love the first principle, but they express this love inappropriately. Their love takes the form of a desire to possess the divine. This desire for possession extends to the attempt to dominate and enslave human beings through the manipulation of sexual lusts and the other emotions that accompany vice.
"On account of the reality (ὑπόστασις) of the powers, in the spirit of the father of truth, the great apostle [Paul]--referring to the powers of the darkness--told us that our contest is not against flesh and blood; rather, the powers of the world and the spirits of wickedness. I have sent you this because you inquire about the reality of the powers. But their great one is blind..." (The Hypostasis of the Archons, 86.20).
"We do not fight against flesh and blood, but against the rulers" (New Testament of the Christian Bible. Ephesians 6:12).
The Nag Hammadi codices seems to be a product of the encounter of the Jewish and Christian tradition with Greek ideas about the world.
In On the Creation of the World, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (30 BCE - 45 CE) tried to show that Plato's Timaeus said the same thing as the first chapters of Genesis.
Philo Judaeus of Alexandria is Philo of Alexandria.
Hellenistic Judaism flourished in Alexandra in Egypt and in Antioch in Syria. Both cities were founded in the 4th century BCE conquests of Alexander the Great (356 -323 BCE). We can get some idea of this "thought" from the The Hypostasis of the Archons.
This is an esoteric (for insiders) Christian Gnostic text. The author sets out a mythological world view in which the archons exist and pose a threat that the Christian Gnostic must guard against. The archons are powerful and sadistic and have the ability to manipulate our minds and thus to make us act as they want.
Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies (about 180 CE), provides the earliest surviving reference to the Gnostics.
37. We may decide to cross the street but be run over as we try to do so. We may decide to raise our arm, but the arm does not rise. The doctrine of a free will is certainly not a doctrine to explain how we manage to raise our arm or cross the street. It is, rather, a doctrine of how we are responsible for raising our arm, if we do raise our arm, irrespective of the fact that the world out there is populated by agents of various kinds who might thwart our endeavor. At least for Stoics, Christians, and, to a lesser degree, Platonists, there is also divine providence, which already has settled ab initio [from the beginning] whether what we decide to do fits into its plan for the best possible world and hence will be allowed to come to fruition.
In antiquity, the doctrine of free will (the claim that we have a will and that it is or can be free) is part of an explanation for why it is true sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we do.
38. This, then, is the general schema for a notion of a free will. Our next major step will be to see how the notion of a specific and actual will first emerged in Stoicism. But before we can turn to this, we have to take a look at Aristotle.
Frede thinks he has given and explained his schema for free will.
To see who first had a notion of free will, we need to see who first had a notion of the will.
Frede thinks that the late Stoics are the first to have this notion.
Before he turns to Stoics, he takes up Aristotle to show that he did not have a notion of the will.