Free Will in Ancient Thought
Frede. Chapter Five: "The Emergence of a Notion of Free Will in Stoicism," 46-57
*** These lecture notes are works in progress ***
LECTURE NOTES 5
This chapter picks up the discussion from chapter 3. Here are the main points.
The Main Points in the Chapter
• The Stoics think that only the wise are free and that this freedom consists in the ability to do the things that need to be done, guided and motivated solely by our own understanding of things.
• The late Stoics think that we have a will and that God permits our will to be free.
• To permit our will to be free, God arranges things so that human nature, our individual nature and constitution, and the circumstances into which we are born, neither individually nor together, prevent us from developing so that we make the right choices and thus to do the things that need to be done.
Frede's Lecture (46-57)
1. Stoic views, as we have already noticed, often seem rather
counterintuitive in the sense that they fly in the face of what we commonly
believe to be true and take for granted. The Stoics, of course, are
perfectly aware of this. They take all of us (and they do not exclude
themselves) to be corrupted in our beliefs and attitudes, to be foolish.
This is why we find some of their views counterintuitive. By formulating
pithy sayings, which came to be known as the Paradoxa Stoicorum,
Paradoxa Stoicorum = Stoic Paradoxes
"That only the wise man is free, and that every foolish man is a slave" (Paradox V). the Stoics go out of their way to shake us out of the complacency with which we take our beliefs for granted, however foolish they may be. One such paradox is this: Only the wise person is free, everybody else is a slave. Obviously, they do not mean that we are all slaves in the legal or political sense or that only the wise person is politically free, just as they do not mean that only the wise person is a king in the political sense, when they say that only the wise person is a ruler. So what do they mean, when they say that only the wise man is free?
The Stoics say that the only the wise are free.
What does "free" mean here? And what is it about the "wise" that makes them "free"?
The answers take some time to see.
DL = Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers
Diogenes Laertius (2nd to 3rd century CE)
ἐλευθερία, eleutheria, noun, "freedom, liberty"
ἐξουσία, exousia, noun, "being allowed, in one's power"
αὐτοπραγία, autopragia, noun, "free, independent action"
αὐτοπραγέω, autoprageō, verb
αὐτόπρακτος, autopraktos, adjective
A search of the TLG corpus shows 29 occurrences for αὐτοπραγία, 7 for αὐτοπραγέω, and 5 for αὐτόπρακτος.
TLG = Thesaurus Linguae Graecae There is a Stoic definition of freedom (eleutheria) which may go back to Chrysippus and came to be fairly widespread (DL 7.121). According to this definition, freedom is a matter of having the ability to act on one's own, to act at one's own discretion, to act on one's own account, to act independently. The Greek is exousia autopragias. It is not immediately clear from the mere language precisely what is meant, especially since the word autopragia, like its cognates, autoprageo and autopraktos, is extremely rare. It almost always occurs in the context of this definition and apparently is a Stoic coinage. Perhaps we can get a better sense of what it might mean, at least provisionally, if we look at what it might mean to say that people who are not wise are not free but slaves. Here it is relatively clear what is intended. According to the Stoics, the mark of the foolish person is that he takes a lot of things to be goods and evils which in truth are neither, for instance, life, health, strength, good looks, a good reputation, power, wealth, and their opposites. As a result the foolish person develops an inappropriate attachment to, or revulsion from, these things which he takes to be goods or evils. This attachment or revulsion constitutes an enslavement, because it prevents the foolish person from doing what he would reasonably want to do in pursuit of his own good. It is these presumed goods and evils which become his masters, run and determine his life, in that they now make him compulsively go after them or run away from them, without regard for what he would need to do if he were to follow his own true interest. It is the objects of the person's fears and appetites, and the unrealistic fantasies they give rise to, which determine the person's actions and life, rather than the person himself.
"They [the Stoics] declare that the wise are free and the bad are slaves, where freedom is ἐξουσίαν αὐτοπραγίας ἐξουσίαν αὐτοπραγίας, exousian autopragias and slavery is its privation..." (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.121).
The meaning of ἐξουσίαν αὐτοπραγίας here is not immediately clear.
Frede thinks that "we can get a better sense of what [the words] might mean, at least provisionally, if we look at what it might mean to say that people who are not wise are not free but slaves."
The Stoics divide people into those who are wise and those who are fools. The wise have true beliefs about what is good and what is bad. The fools do not. They think, for example, that "life, health, strength, good looks, a good reputation, power, wealth, and their opposites" are what is good and what is bad.
"As a result the foolish person develops an inappropriate attachment to, or revulsion from, these things which he takes to be goods or evils. This attachment or revulsion constitutes an enslavement, because it prevents the foolish person from doing what he would reasonably want to do in pursuit of his own good."
So "ἐξουσίαν αὐτοπραγίας," it seems, is a way of acting in which only the wise engage.
3. Aristotle had insisted that one is not responsible for what one does, if
one is literally forced to do it or made to do it. And this made good sense,
since something which we are just made to do is not our own action, since it
is not in any way motivated by a desire on our part. This meant construing
force quite narrowly, so that the paradigm would be sheer physical force,
physical compulsion. But Aristotle was willing to extend this notion of being
forced to cases of psychological compulsion to the extent that a psychological
force which no human being could possibly resist counts as exculpating. For,
if one acts under such force, this still does not reveal anything about the
particular sort of person one is, about one's motivation. What we now get with
Stoicism, and in the wake of Stoicism, is an enormous expansion of what counts
as being forced (biazesthai), or compelled, or made to do something,
and correspondingly an
βιάζεσθαι (biazesthai) is an infinitive form of βιάζω
βιάζω, biazō, verb, "constrain" enormous contraction of what counts as an action of one's own, properly speaking, as an action the initiative for which lies in oneself, rather than on the outside in the presumed goods or evils. This shift, at least in the case of the Stoics, does not, however, involve a corresponding shift of the boundary between the responsible and the nonresponsible, especially since the person himself by his own doing has enslaved himself in this way so as to act henceforth under compulsion. So the idea would be this: freedom is the ability to act on one's own initiative, as opposed to being compelled to act the way one does, running after some things and avoiding others, because one has enslaved oneself to them.
These remarks are confusing to work through.
Recall that in lecture 1, we considered a set of remarks (8) in which Frede says that the notion of free will was introduced by the late Stoics to explain the common belief that we are sometimes responsible for what we do.
"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 along."
Aristotle allows that "psychological force which no human being could possibly resist [to count] as exculpating" because we see nothing "about the particular sort of person one is, about one's motivation."
"In some cases there is no praise, but there is a pardon, whenever someone
does a wrong action because of conditions of a sort that overstrain human nature, and
that no one would endure. But presumably there are some things we can not be
compelled to do, and rather than do them we should suffer the most terrible consequences
and accept death"
(Nicomachean Ethics III.1.1110a).
"Suppose someone says that pleasant things and fine things force us, since they are outside of us and compel us. It will follow for him that everything is forced, since everyone in every action aims for at something fine or pleasant. Moreover, if we are forced and unwilling to act (βίᾳ καὶ ἄκοντες), we find it painful; but if something pleasant or fine is its cause, we do it with pleasure. It is ridiculous for him to accuse (αἰτιᾶσθαι) external things and not himself, when he is easily snared by such things; and ridiculous to take credit for fine actions himself, but to accuse pleasant for his shameful actions. What is forced, then, would seem to be what has its origin outside the person forced, who contributes nothing" (Nicomachean Ethics III.1.1110b). The Stoics do not recognize such force as "exculpating." They think that even if the force to assent to an impulsive impression is too great for anyone to resist, this alone does not absolve us of responsibility.
The Stoics can think this because they think that the person is responsible for putting himself in this position. "[T]he person himself by his own doing has enslaved himself in this way so as to act henceforth under compulsion."
4. Not just the term autopragia needs some attention but also the word exousia. It too is not a particularly common word, and, given its uses, it might well mean something a lot stronger than the bland ability I have spoken of so far, such as one's freedom of action as authorized by law or the authority of one's office. This latter is clearly what it does mean in a passage in Origen (Comm. in loan [Commentary on the Gospel of John]. I.4; II.16). Origen tells us that the Stoics claim that only the wise are free, since they have attained the exousia autopragias by divine law. And he adds that they define exousia as lawfully delegated power. So there is divine law, namely, the order which God has imposed on things, the order according to which things happen in the world. It is part of this order that, if you do not sell yourself into slavery, then you are allowed to act on your own initiative. If you do enslave yourself, you are no longer able, given the way God has arranged things, to do so. You are no longer a free citizen in God's world, as it were.
What is "the bland ability [Frede has] spoken of so far"?
I think it is the ability he describes in his remarks in 3. "So the idea would be this: freedom is the ability to act on one's own initiative, as opposed to being compelled to act the way one does, running after some things and avoiding others, because one has enslaved oneself to them."
What is the "lot stronger" possibility for the meaning of ἐξουσία αὐτοπραγίας?
"[I]f you do not sell yourself into slavery, then you are allowed to act on your own initiative. If you do enslave yourself, you are no longer able, given the way God has arranged things, to do so."
Why is this meaning "a lot stronger than the bland ability"?
It makes the ability to act on one's own initiative something God permits.
5. There is a problem here. The wise man is free, because he has liberated
himself from his false beliefs and inappropriate attachments. But what are we
to say about those who are not yet wise but also have not yet enslaved
themselves? Epictetus (1.19.9) considers the case of somebody who is
threatened by a tyrant with the worst threats. If he values his will
προαίρεσις, proairesis, noun, "choice"
"ἐμὲ ὁ Ζεὺς ἐλεύθερον ἀφῆκεν." Epictetus retorts, he will say to the tyrant, “God made me free."
What is the problem?
I am not sure.
Myabe it is that given what Frede says in 15, it is not true that strictly speaking God makes human beings free. He makes them such that they naturally become free if they do not enslave themselves.
Frede says that the "wise man is free, because he has liberated himself from his false beliefs and inappropriate attachments." The implication is that "[t]he wise" were all once fools.
We are born, acquire reason, and become fools. We can subsequently become wise, but almost no one does.
This raises questions. Why do we all become fools when we acquire reason? What does a fool do to become wise?
6. To understand this [what Epictetus means when he says Zeus made me free], we have to go back to the very beginning, to God's creation of the world. God, given his wisdom and goodness, could not but create the best possible world. But there are various ways to understand what it is for a world to be the best possible. One way is to assume that there are, independent of the creator or demiurge, a certain number of goods and a certain number of evils, and that a world is the best possible if it has a minimum of these evils and a maximum of these goods. This, I take it, is not a promising line to take if the creator is God himself, at least if we take God to be a first principle or even the first principle, that is, something in terms of which everything else is to be explained but which itself does not require any explanation. For, if the creator is God, there will be no answer to the question of where the goods and evils which the creator tries to maximize and minimize, respectively, come from and how they acquire their status as goods and evils. They now look as if they were something antecedent to God by which God is bound in his creation. This, though, would violate not only the idea that God is a first principle but also the idea that God is not bound by any external, antecedent constraints in what he is doing. Here, then, is another approach.
Frede distinguishes ways in which we can think that world is a "creation" and whether it is the "best possible."
One way is to think that "independent of the creator or demiurge, a certain number of goods and a certain number of evils, and that a world is the best possible if it has a minimum of these evils and a maximum of these goods."
This way is not what the Stoics think.
7. The creator is called a demiurge, that is to say, we are invited to look at the world as a piece of craftsmanship, like a house or a car. Now we have some idea of what it would mean to build a very good house or a very good car. We can look at a house, at its various details, to see how well the builder has built it, within the limitations and specifications which the person who ordered the house set down in advance. Whichever detail we look at, we try to see whether the builder could have done better. But however hard we think, and however knowledgeable we may be about house building, we may find nothing to criticize. It seems to me that it might be possible to distinguish two senses in which a house or a car might be a good house or a good car. Suppose that, after checking the building, you find that the builder built you a house exactly according to your specifications. It is all very solidly and reliably done. You are perfectly content with what the builder did. He obviously knows his craft. You think it is a good house. But in checking the house you might discover that it was a good house in not just this first sense; you might also come to marvel at the ingenuity, resourcefulness, thoughtfulness, and creativity with which all this has been done. The difference between the first and second assessments is not necessarily that, on the second one, the house comes out to be less expensive, more functional, or better serving the needs for which you wanted the building. This may be true, too. But it is not crucial for my point. What is crucial, rather, is that, especially if you know something about building, you might come to think that the house is a genuinely wonderful building which in all details, as you look at them, constantly surprises you and makes you marvel at the mastery of the art which has gone into it. It is a real joy to look at.
Frede is going to explain the way the Stoics think the world is a "creation" and is the "best possible."
He says that the Stoics "look at the world as a piece of craftsmanship."
Frede's idea is that you might see value in a house not because it contains a combination good things and bad things you value but because you "think that the house is a genuinely wonderful building which in all details, as you look at them, constantly surprises you and makes you marvel at the mastery of the art which has gone into it."
You see the house as an expression of the builder's wisdom in constructing houses.
How are these two ways of thinking different?
I think Frede's idea is that they different with respect to what is said to be good and bad.
In the first, " "independent of the creator or demiurge," there are "a certain number of goods and a certain number of evils, and ... a world is the best possible if it has a minimum of these evils and a maximum of these goods" (6).
In the second, the wisdom of the demiurge is the one and only good thing.
8. The point perhaps becomes clearer if we look at the matter from the builder's point of view. In the first case, we have a builder who sets out to build you a house, according to the rules of the art, which will fit your specifications. This is his job. But look at the second builder in this way: for him building your house is just an occasion, a pretext, as it were, to exercise his mastery of the art. Of course, he can build you a good house in the first sense. This is not the slightest problem for him, and he can be absolutely relied on to do so. But for this very reason, that also holds little interest for him. What he is really interested in does not lie in building a good house in the first sense. He has set his ambition higher. He wants to do what he can do well anyway but with the utmost ingenuity; he wants to exercise his superb mastery of the art. He actually enjoys his mastery of the craft. With this, it seems to me, we have arrived at a much more elevated sense of a good house.
Frede changes the perspective from us to the builder.
It helps if we look forward to 10. "[T]his world would not be much good [would not be arranged wisely] if the living beings in it did not have a sufficient supply of food to keep them going, if they got so easily damaged that they could not function properly for the most part, or if, at the slightest occasion, they dropped dead. It would be a world which would be difficult to maintain. One would constantly have to re-create whole species."
God has no trouble constructing things so that it is not necessary to "constantly have to re-create whole species." In fact, God accomplishes the maintenance of species "with the utmost ingenuity."
The same is true for the builder Frede contemplates. This builder has no trouble constructing a house so that it stands up to the elements and thus does not have to be constantly rebuilt, but he uses "the utmost ingenuity" in doing so and thus "exercise[s] his superb mastery of the art" in constructing the house.
9. We can now go back to the world. We are now supposed to believe that, if we scrutinize the details of the world, however much we think about it in light of what we know about how one could organize a world, we will find nothing to criticize. To the contrary, the longer we look at it, and the better we understand it, we cannot but be overawed by the resourcefulness and creativity of the mind that created it. In fact, we come to believe that it would not be possible to create a world better than this. We come to be so taken with this marvelous arrangement and order of things that we wish we could do something like this but also recognize what our limited place in this order is.
The Stoics think, as I understand Frede, that there is no better way for things to happen because every other way would show less wisdom. This is what makes what God does so attractive.
Because what God does is so attractive, "we wish we could do something like" it.
Frede's thought, it seems, runs along the following lines.
Our goal is to live a good life. To accomplish this, we need to know what is good. After we think about "the world as a piece of craftsmanship," we are "overawed by the resourcefulness and creativity." We are attracted to the wisdom in how things happen, and this attraction is motivating. We wish for this good in our lives.
We think, very roughly, that what God does is extremely cool and that we want to do that in our lives.
Before we proceed with this doxology [words in praise of God], let us take note of a corollary. Obviously, this world
would not be much good if the living beings in it did not have a sufficient
supply of food to keep them going, if they got so easily damaged that they
could not function properly for the most part, or if, at the slightest
occasion, they dropped dead. It would be a world which would be difficult to
maintain. One would constantly have to re-create whole species. We easily see
now why nature privileges supply of food over lack of food, health over
illness, life over death, physical integrity over mutilation, and so on. This
does not mean, though, that these things are goods or evils. Their status is
just a result of the kind of world God created. Given this kind of world with
living beings in it, it would not be a good world if life and health and the
rest were not, other things being equal, systematically favored over their
opposites. Indeed, the Stoics call them “preferred” things
(proēgmena) and their opposites “dispreferred” (aproēgmena).
προηγμένα (proēgmena) is a perfect participle of προάγω
ἀπροηγμένα (aproēgmena) = alpha privative (ἀ) + προηγμένα
προάγω, proagō, verb, "lead forward" But to be a preferred thing is not to be a good thing. After all, these preferred things can be misused and will be of advantage to their owner only if used wisely. So one would be perfectly right to believe that it is a good thing to look after one's health. But there are two ways to believe this. One is to believe, as Plato generally and Aristotle always does, that health is a good and therefore it is a good thing to look after one's health. The other way is to believe that health is a preferred thing and hence to believe that looking after one's health (as distinct from health as such) is a good thing, since it contributes to the way the world is supposed to be. There will be a corresponding difference in the desire of reason, which the belief that it is a good thing to look after one's health constitutes or gives rise to. In the first case, it will be an irrational appetite; in the second case, it will be a reasonable willing.
This can be confusing.
Frede says that "this world would not be much good [would not be arranged wisely] if the living beings in it did not have a sufficient supply of food to keep them going, if they got so easily damaged that they could not function properly for the most part, or if, at the slightest occasion, they dropped dead."
This does not mean that finding food to maintain oneself is good and that its opposite is bad.
The Stoics think that only wisdom is good and that "nature privileges supply of food over lack of food, health over illness, life over death, physical integrity over mutilation, and so on."
Rather than think that finding food to maintain oneself is good, the Stoics think that it is one of the "preferred" (προηγμένα) and that its opposite is one of the "dispreferred" (ἀπροηγμένα).
11. Now, if we look at how God arranged the world, we see that he has created living things in such a way that they largely manage to take care of themselves; they are self-maintaining systems. God does not have to maintain them; he has arranged things in such a way that they maintain themselves. As the complexity of the organism increases, this system of self-maintenance also becomes increasingly complex and sophisticated. Thus, when we come to animals, they are constructed in such a way as to monitor their own state and have an awareness of what they need to get and what they need to avoid to maintain themselves. Hence, when they encounter an object of a relevant kind in their environment, this will produce an agreeable or disagreeable impression in the animal, and this impression in turn will cause the animal to move either towards the object or away from it. So the animal is constructed in such a way that it, by and large, is made to do what it needs to do by the objects which are conducive or detrimental to its maintenance.
God creates living things so that "they are self-maintaining systems."
In the case of animals, he creates them in such a way that in the appropriate circumstances they have impulsive impressions and thus the impulses that cause them to maintain themselves.
12. In the case of human beings, though, the arrangement is even more ingenious. God constructs them in such a way that they can recognize for themselves what they need to do to maintain themselves (as long as they themselves are needed) and hence will maintain themselves of their own choice and understanding. He constructs them in such a way that they develop reason, and with reason an understanding of the good, and thus come to be motivated to do of their own accord what needs to be done. So, instead of constructing them in such a way that they are made to do what they need to do to maintain themselves, he constructs them in such a way that they do this of their own initiative and indeed can do it wisely, showing precisely the kind of wisdom, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and creativity on a small scale, namely, the scale of their life, which God displays on a large scale. In this way, if they are wise, human beings genuinely contribute to the optimal order of the world, and they find their fulfillment in this. This is what the good life for the Stoics amounts to.
Self-maintenance in adults is different than in children and animals. Adults have "reason, and with reason an understanding of the good, and thus come to be motivated to do of their own accord what needs to be done."
Adults can maintain themselves "wisely, showing precisely the kind of wisdom, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and creativity on a small scale, namely, the scale of their life, which God displays on a large scale."
Living wisely in this way is "is what the good life for the Stoics amounts to."
13. If we now look back at freedom as the exousia autopragias, it should be clear that what autopragia here refers to is our ability, unlike other animals', to do the things that need to be done, solely guided and motivated by our own understanding of things, rather than just being made to do things. And exousia indicates that this is a special gift or privilege. For it answers our natural wish, once we come to have some understanding of the world, that it would be wonderful to be able to arrange things as wisely and ingeniously as God does. This wish has been granted in a modest way. We have been given the ability to arrange things within the context of our life wisely and ingeniously, resourcefully and creatively. God has left it to our discretion how we wisely and ingeniously maintain ourselves. But there is the divine law Origen referred to. It is part of the order of things that we have this ability, that we have this freedom, only so long as we proceed wisely, in the way a wise person would do, in maintaining ourselves. It will be wise, if we need some food, to get the food we need. But it will not be wise to have twice or thrice the amount of food we need, to become addicted to food, to enslave oneself to food. For then it will be the food which makes one eat compulsively. One will have lost one's ability of autopragia.
αὐτοπραγία is a way of acting God permits for adult human beings. They can "do the things that need to be done" by their own initiative "rather than just being made to do things."
This kind of independent action is an ἐξουσία.
The word means "power or authority to do something."
The Stoics think that we have the the power to do something as "a special gift or privilege" from God.
What is the something?
"We have been given the ability to arrange things within the context of our life wisely and ingeniously, resourcefully and creatively. God has left it to our discretion how we wisely and ingeniously maintain ourselves."
God permits this, however, "only so long as we proceed wisely, in the way a wise person would do, in maintaining ourselves." If we enslave ourselves, we no longer "do the things that need to be done, solely guided and motivated by our own understanding of things." Instead, we are "just ... made to do things."
14. There is another term which seems to be of Stoic origin and refers to
this ability to act of one's own initiative, namely, to
autexousion. The term is twice found in the
τὸ αὐτεξούσιον (to autexousion) is a nominalization formed from the
article tó and adjective αὐτεξούσιος.
αὐτεξούσιος, autexousios, adjective, "in one's own power"
Gaius Musonius Rufus (30–101 CE), Stoic philosopher. One of the four great Stoics of the Roman Empire. (The other three are Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca.) Musonius was Epicetus's teacher.
Like Socrates, Musonius did not write anything. His Lectures were collected by his student Lucius and preserved by Joannes Stobaeus (5th century CE).
Justin Martyr (100-165 CE), Christian apologist
An ἀπολογία (apologia) is a "verbal defence, speech in defence." Plato's Apology of Socrates is the most famous. fragments of Musonius and then more often in Epictetus. It comes to be used by Platonists and Peripatetics but also from Justin Martyr onwards very frequently by Christian authors. Not surprisingly, the term is often translated as if it meant “having a free will.” But, strictly speaking, it just refers to the ability of a person to do what needs to be done of his own initiative, rather than being made to do it or ordered to do it; it refers to the freedom of the person to act as he sees fit in pursuit of the good.
τὸ αὐτεξούσιον "refers to the freedom of the person to act as he sees fit in pursuit of the good."
God permits this as long as we have true beliefs about what is good and what is bad.
15. Now, we also have to remember that, according to the Stoics, we are not born as rational beings, that we are not born with reason. Hence we are also not free when we are born but function like animals, being made to do things. So, when it is said that we are created free, this must mean that we are created in such a way that we would naturally develop into free agents, as we develop reason. So in this sense all human beings are created free. But it also turns out, at least in standard Stoic doctrine, that, as we develop reason under the influence of society, we immediately espouse false beliefs about the value of things and thus enslave ourselves. So we never actually are free before enslaving ourselves. For freedom requires reason, and, as we are acquiring reason, already in the process of acquiring it we are enslaving ourselves. This is why only the wise man in fact is free.
"[According to the Stoics, t]he transformation of our animal soul into human reason would render us
inactive, if, as a part of reason, we did not also acquire a notion of the
good. It is only because we now judge certain things to be good that we
are motivated to act"
"On the Stoic Conception of the Good," 75.
Topics in Stoic Philosophy,
ed. Katerina Ierodiakonou. Oxford, 1999).
"Children naturally are inclined to behave in such a way as to go for what maintains their life and to avoid what is detrimental to it. As we grow up we learn that it is reasonable and fitting to behave in this way. But we acquire the notion of the good. And we almost invariably make the mistake to rationalise our natural inclinations in such a way as to assume that health and life are goods and illness and death evils, when in fact they are entirely indifferent, though it is reasonable to go for them as to avoid them" (Michael Frede, "The Stoic Conception of Reason," 60. Hellenistic Philosophy, ed. K. Boudouris. Athens, 1993).
"[T]he grownup, the animal soul having disappeared, does not have any instinctive impulses.... The only way for him to be moved is by assent to impulsive impressions. But impulsive impressions presuppose an evaluation of the object of our impulses. And at this point ordinary human beings in ordinary human societies can hardly fail to make the mistake which even philosophers like the Platonists and Peripatetics make. They think that since nature from birth has endowed us with certain natural inclinations and disinclinations the objects of these natural impulses must be goods and evils" (Michael Frede, "The Stoic Doctrine of the Affections of the Soul," 109. The Norms of Nature, ed. Malcolm Schofield and Gisela Striker. Cambridge University Press, 1986).
"[W]hat is good has benefit to us, has to make us unqualifiedly better off. The Stoics agree that only virtue or wisdom meets this condition, since everything else it is true that we may as well be harmed as be helped by its possession, depending on whether we make wise use of it or not. This is supposed to be true even of life, health, bodily integrity, and in general of those items nature, other things being equal, means us to go for. There is another important condition, though, which something has to satisfy to be truly good: it has to be kalon--that is to say, it has to have the kind of attractiveness which makes it an appropriate object of admiration, praise, and the like, and which, as we have seen, is due to the perfection of reason involved. Again, only virtue or wisdom satisified this condition, whereas life, health, bodily integrity, and the like do not. Correspondingly [see Sexus Empiricus, MXI.25] we will call a person 'good' if the person is wise and virtuous; an action will be good if it is borne of such wisdom and virtue, and, finally, a pattern or stretch or behavior or life, the kind of life we aim at, will be called 'good' if it displays such wisdom and virtue" (Michael Frede, "On the Stoic Conception of the Good," 89-90). Given what "freedom" means for the Stoics and that they believe humans are not born with reason, it follows that we are not free when we are born. So when Epictetus says that "God made me free," Frede says that he "must mean that we are created in such a way that we would naturally develop into free agents, as we develop reason."
"[I]t also turns out ... that, as we develop reason under the influence of society, we immediately espouse false beliefs about the value of things and thus enslave ourselves. So we never actually are free before enslaving ourselves."
Why are "we never actually ... free before enslaving ourselves"?
We are free only if we are wise. We are wise only if we know what is good and what is bad. When we acquire reason as we become adults we have the concepts of good and bad, but we misapply these concepts. We think that it is good that we eat when we are hungry, recover from illness when we are sick, and so on.
What is the concept of the good that human beings misapply?
The Stoics think that the good is what benefits us in all circumstances. "[T]he property of good is to benefit" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.1. 103).
How does it happen that we misapply our concept of the good?
We draw a false conclusion from true premises. Frede says (in the quotation in the side note) that we "think that since nature from birth has endowed us with certain natural inclinations and disinclinations[,] the objects of these natural impulses must be goods and evils." We do not immediately know why "nature from birth has endowed us with certain natural inclinations and disinclinations," but instead of correctly working out the answer, we rashly accept the false beliefs in society about what is good and what is bad and thus enslave ourselves.
Why does nature in its providence arrange things so that we all this way misapply our concept of good?
Frede does not say, and I do not know any text that gives the Stoic answer.
Nor do I know any text that explains why the Stoics think that this misapplying our concept of good is an instance of us giving our assent rashly and hence unreasonably.
16. One further point needs at least to be mentioned, though it deserves more detailed consideration. It is clear from the Stoic claim that only the wise are free, that freedom, like wisdom and virtue, does not admit of degrees. If you admit just one inappropriate attachment, you have lost your freedom. Ultimately, the reason for this is that the Stoics think all your beliefs, desires, and attitudes form one system and that the influence which the elements in this system have on you is in part due to the position they have in this system, which is defined by the logical relations between the constituent elements. Thus, if you add a false belief to your system, it undermines all the true beliefs you have which are incompatible with the false belief. And if you add one inappropriate attachment, it undermines all the appropriate attachments incompatible with it. It affects your entire motivational system and thus the force of its constituent elements. So even your best motivational system in a particular case will be tainted by your inappropriate attachment, however large the logical distance, as it were, between the two may be. Your will, in order to be free, has to be absolutely pure.
Freedom for the Stoics does not admit of degrees.
17. With this we can turn to the freedom of the will. For we now have a notion of a will and a notion of freedom, and we need to see how and why the two notions come to be combined in the notion of a free will.
Frede has discussed the Stoic notion of the will in the last chapter. He discussed the Stoic notion of freedom in this chapter. So now he is ready to discuss the Stoic notion free will.
Epicetus (50-135 CE).
He was born in Heirapolis (in what now is southwestern Turkey). He seems to have been a slave by birth. Later, he was acquired by Epaphroditus, an ex-slave influential in the rule of the emperors Nero (54-69 CE) and Domitian (81-96 CE). Epaphroditus allowed Epictetus to study philosophy while he was still a slave (1.9.29), He studied with Musonius Rufus (30–101 CE). After Epaphroditus freed Epictetus, he became a teacher in Rome. In 89, Domitian banished the philosophers. Epictetus set up a school in Nicopolis in Epirus, in eastern Greece. He seems to have remained there until his death.
Like Socrates, Epictetus wrote nothing.
The Discourses and Manual (or Handbook) are records of his teaching preserved by Arrian, one of Epictetus's students.
"The essence of the good is a certain προαίρεσις, and the essence of the bad is a certain προαίρεσις" (Epictetus, Discourses 1.29.1).
"Where then is progress? If any of you turns away from external things to concentrate his efforts on his own προαίρεσιν, to cultivate it and perfect it, so as to bring it into harmony with nature, raising it up and rendering it free..." (Epictetus, Discourses 1.4.18).
"For my part, I’d wish that death may overtake me when I’m attending to nothing other than my προαιρέσεως, to ensure that it may be unperturbed (ἀπαθής), unhindered, unconstrained, and free" (Epictetus, Discourses 3.5.7).
"For someone is free if all that happens to him comes about in accordance with his προαίρεσιν and no one else is able to impede him" (Epictetus, Discourses 1.12.9).
"You can chain my leg, but not even Zeus can overcome my προαίρεσιν [if it is free]" (Epictetus, Discourses 1.1.23).
"Yet if we place the good in right προαιρέσει, the preservation of our relationships itself becomes a good. And besides, he who gives up certain external things achieves the good through that. ‘My father’s depriving me of money.’ But he isn’t causing you any harm. ‘My brother is going to get the greater share of the land.’ Let him have as much as he wishes. He won’t be getting any of your decency, will he, or of your loyalty, or of your brotherly love? For who can disinherit you of possessions such as those? Not even Zeus; nor would he wish to, but rather he has placed all of that in my own power, even as he had it himself, free from hindrance, compulsion, and restraint" (Epictetus, Discourses 3.3.8-10).
ἀπαθής, apathēs, adjective, "without passion."
ἐλεύθερος, adjective, eleutheros, "free."
προαίρεσις, proairesis, noun.
Frede takes προαίρεσις to be Epictetus's term for the will. 18. We have noted how Epictetus admonishes us to concentrate all our efforts on our will, on the way we make choices and decisions. The goodness or quality of people is a matter of the goodness or quality of their will (1.29.1). To be good the will has to be such that it accords with nature, that is to say, it has to be such as it is intended to be by nature or God. But by nature, we are told, the will is intended to be free (1.4.18). Epictetus claims that he wishes it to be his main concern, up to the very last moment of his life, that his will be free (3.5.7). What is it for the will to be free?
Frede turns to the question of what Epictetus thinks it is for our wills to be free.
19. Epictetus explains again and again that this is a matter of the will's not being prevented from making the choices it sees fit to make, of its being impossible to force it to make any choice other than it would want to make (1.12.9; 1.4.18; 3.5.7). There is no force or power in the world which can force your will so long as it is free. The planets cannot force your choice. Even God cannot take away your free will and force your choice (1.1.23). Nor, Epictetus explains (3.3.8–10), would God want to do so. For, after all, he has given you a will of the kind he himself has, a will which, so long as it is free, cannot be forced or hindered in making choices. The situation completely changes once we attach our hearts to things in the world, make ourselves dependent on them, become addicted to them, enslave ourselves to them. Then the world begins to have an enormous power over us, and we begin to act under compulsion. We become dependent on, or the victims of, the course the outside world takes in presenting us with supposed goods and evils.
Epictetus thinks that the wise, because their will is free, cannot be forced to assent to an impulsive impression. Their assent to impulsive impressions is always given of their own initiative.
This is not true for fools. Their assent to impulsive impressions can be forced because they have enslaved themselves "to things in the world" that function as their masters and force them do foolish things.
20. So here we have our first actual notion of a free will. It is a notion of a will such that there is no power or force in the world which could prevent it from making the choices one needs to make to live a good life or force it to make choices which would prevent us from living a good life. But it is a notion such that not all human beings in fact have a free will. They are all meant by nature to have a free will, that is, each human being is capable of having a free will. But human beings become compulsive about things and thus lose their freedom. Hence only the wise person has a free will.
This, then, in Epictetus, according to Frede, is the first notion of a free will. "It is a notion of a will such that there is no power or force in the world which could prevent it from making the choices one needs to make to live a good life or force it to make choices which would prevent us from living a good life."
21. To get clearer about this particular notion of a free will, if we remember our general schema for a notion of a free will, we have to clarify one further detail. We are free to make the choices we need to make to live a good life, unless we enslave ourselves, because the world is not such that there are any forces or powers which can force our choices, so long as we retain the freedom of the will. But, we have to ask, does not God constrain what we can do and at least in this indirect way, if not directly, constrain what we can choose? How can we be free to choose what we could reasonably want to choose or even what we would need to choose to have a good life, if God has predetermined all along what is going to happen and hence also what we are going to do? How can the will be free, if all our actions are predetermined? Only if we pursue this question in some detail will we get at some further massive assumptions which underlie this first notion of the free will.
Frede turns to an objection the Stoics would have faced. "How can we be free to choose ..., if God has predetermined all along what is going to happen and hence also what we are going to do?"
The answer reveals the "further massive assumptions which underlie this first notion of the free will."
22. The Stoics assume that everybody is either wise and free or foolish and enslaved. The case of the foolish person, because his will is not free, as he has enslaved himself, is not a problem. Still, it is worth our while briefly to consider it. The person who is foolish will do foolish things or will do the right things but for foolish reasons. What we have to focus on here is what the fool actually does in the world, what happens in the world. We have to set aside, as a different problem, how it can be part of the best possible world that foolish things get done, for instance, that somebody kills somebody for no good reason and that there are foolish people. But, given that the foolish person does not have a free will, he poses no problem for God's arranging the world as he sees fit, so far as what happens in the world is concerned. Whether it is part of the divine plan that the foolish person does something foolish or whether it is part of the plan that the person does something which is not foolish, God has ways to bring this about, given that the person does not have a free will. God just has to set up the circumstances in such a way that the person will be forced to do what he is meant to do. If it does not fit the divine plan that the foolish person does something, whether it is foolish or not foolish, God has only to set up the circumstances in such a way that either the foolish person in these circumstances has no motivation to do what he is not meant to do or, though he is motivated to do what he is not meant to do, circumstances interfere with his carrying out what he is motivated to do and hence tries to do. The foolish person goes out to do something, but he is run over (let us say) by a car.
Frede explains how the will in the slave is no obstacle to God.
A human being who has enslaved himself "poses no problem for God's arranging the world as he sees fit, so far as what happens in the world is concerned. Whether it is part of the divine plan [in creating the best possible world] that the foolish person does something foolish or whether it is part of the plan that the person does something which is not foolish, God has ways to bring this about, given that the person does not have a free will. God just has to set up the circumstances in such a way that the person will be forced to do what he is meant to do."
23. Now, if we turn to the wise person, the situation is radically different, since his will is free. In his case, to ensure that the world proceeds according to the divine plan so that it will be the best possible world, God cannot simply set up the circumstances in such a way that the person will be forced to act in the desired way. But God does not have to do anything to bring about the wise and free person's compliance. For it is part of the wisdom of that person to know the good thing to do in a given circumstance and to be motivated to do it, given his attachment to the good. And since the good thing to do in a given circumstance is what nature means one to do or what God wills one to do, the wise person will do what, according to the divine plan, he is meant to do, namely, the best possible thing to do in this situation. So God will do nothing to thwart the wise person's action or prevent it from being carried out.
The sage ("the wise person") provides no problem either.
"God does not have to do anything to bring about the wise and free person's compliance."
Because "it is part of the wisdom of that person to know the good thing to do in a given circumstance and to be motivated to do it, given his attachment to the good."
24. Actions like this are the only free actions which ever occur out there in the world, as opposed to things which happen in our minds. But we need to look more closely at how they are explained. They are motivated by an understanding and an attachment to the good, meaning the wise order of the world, and the recognition in a particular situation that, to contribute to and to maintain this order, a certain course of action will be the most appropriate. Such understanding and recognition, at least in this pure form, would not be possible if the will were not free. For one's attachment to things other than the good would blur one's recognition of the best thing to do in a given circumstance. So the wise person is solely motivated by his correct understanding of the good and his attraction to it. What he chooses or decides to do, because it is the best thing to do, is what God wills him to do. However, his action is not motivated by what God wills but by his recognition and understanding that this is the best thing to happen in these circumstances. And, because God himself also sees that this is the best thing to happen in these circumstances, God wills it to happen. So the wise person's will and the divine will coincide. But it is not the case that what motivates a free action is that God wills it.
God wills the sage to do what he does, but what motivates the sage is "his correct understanding of the good and his attraction to it, meaning the wise order of the world." He recognizes "in a particular situation that, to contribute to and to maintain this [wise] order [in the world], a certain course of action will be the most appropriate." This shows why the Stoics think that "predetermined" is consistent with "free will."
25. Things are complicated, however, by the fact that human wisdom is limited. Even the wise person is not omniscient. Even the wise person, though he will have a good understanding of the natural order of things, through no fault of his own is often in a concrete situation where he will not know the best thing to happen and why this would be so. Even the wise person is often limited to conjecture. Thus he might still look after his health, when, according to the divine plan, he is already about to die. But the wise person will recognize from the futility of his best efforts to restore his failing health that he is about to die. He still might not understand why it would be the best thing for him to die soon. In this case, he will assume that it must be the will of God that he die soon, and he will act accordingly. He will want to die, because he recognizes that this is what God wills. But again it is not the sheer recognition of God's will which makes him will to die. It is, rather, his counting on the fact that there are good reasons why God wills him to die, albeit reasons which he himself cannot clearly identify. It is against this background that we have to understand Epictetus's repeated remarks that our willing should accord with God's will, that we should will what God wills.
The sage is not omniscient, but it is rational for him to believe as a "conjecture," to use Frede's word, that the "divine plan" has him remain healthy and hence that he should try to arrange things in his life so that he maintains his health. At the same time, because he is not confused about what is good and what is bad, he does not attribute a value to his health that it does not possess. He is not upset if in a particular circumstance he falls ill and does not recover. He comes to realize, as he sees that he will not recover, that recovering in this circumstance is not part of the "divine plan" and hence that it is not an outcome he has reason to pursue.
26. But let us return to free action. This is accounted for in terms of a free choice of the will. Does this mean that the free choice of the will does not have any explanation? Not at all. The free agent freely gives assent, freely chooses to give assent to the impression that it would be a good thing to act in this way in this situation. And there is an explanation for this choice. It lies in the fact that the agent understands why it would be a good thing to act in this way in this situation and he is utterly attached to the good. Is there an explanation for this understanding and this attachment? Yes, there is an explanation in terms of antecedent causes of how the agent came to have this understanding and attachment. It is a story which goes back to the birth of the person and beyond, as far as we care to trace it. But how, in this case, can the choice of the person be said to be free?
Every "free choice of the will" has an explanation.
27. At this point we again have to step back a little bit. Already, according to Chrysippus, who did not yet have a notion of free will, we are responsible for what we do if our action has its origin in the fact that we give assent to the appropriate impression. The fact that we give assent, rather than refuse to give assent, reflects on us in such a way that we are responsible for what we did. Chrysippus insists that we cannot say that the impression of an object, however tempting it may be, necessitates our assent to it, and hence our choice. For human nature is not such that any human being, just because he is a human being, will give assent to the impression. It is not a law of human nature, as it were, to give assent to this sort of impression. We know this because other human beings may not give assent to such an impression. So, if you give assent, it must be because you are the person you are. Hence it is up to you to give assent or not in the sense that it depends on you, on the kind of person you are, whether you give assent. And the claim that the impression does not necessitate your assent is backed up by a bit of Chrysippean modal logic. Chrysippus defines possibility in such a way that a statement of the form “It is possible that A is F” is true, precisely if the nature of A does not exclude its being F, and if the circumstances in which A finds itself do not prevent A from being F. Hence, in certain circumstances you give assent to this impression, it is also possible for you not to give assent to this impression. For human nature does not exclude your not giving assent to the impression, as we can see because other human beings do not assent to this sort of impression. Nor are the circumstances such as to prevent a human being from not giving assent to this impression. So, in any case, the assent the person gives to an impression is not necessitated, given that, on this notion of possibility, it is possible for the person not to give assent and hence not to act in this way.
In classical Stoicism (the Stoicism of Chrysippus), "the fact that we give assent, rather than refuse to give assent, reflects on us in such a way that we are responsible for what we do. It follows that we cannot say that impression "necessitates our assent to it." Otherwise, we would not be responsible for our assent. Rather, "it is up to you to give assent or not in the sense that it depends on you, on the kind of person you are, whether you give assent."
"[T]hat the impression does not necessitate your assent is backed up by a bit of Chrysippean modal logic."
Chrysippus defines "It is possible that A is F" to be true just in case
(i) "the nature of A does not exclude its being F," and
(ii) "the circumstance in which A finds itself do not prevent A from being F."
This is confusing to understand.
Part of the idea is that if "It is possible that I withhold assent to impression i" is true, then my nature does not require that I assent to impression i. To assent to i is not part of human nature. "[H]uman nature is not such that any human being, just because he is a human being, will give assent to the impression."
"[B]ecause other human beings may not give assent to such an impression."
The case for (ii) is harder to see because it is unclear what "the circumstance in which I find myself" means.
28. But, having moved beyond Chrysippus, we now also, in addition to the notion of necessitation, have the notion of being forced. Given this notion, we shall say that the assent of the person whose will is not free, though it is not necessitated, is nevertheless forced. A person who does not have a free will is forced to assent; if the appropriate object of desire shows up, it provokes the appropriate kind of impression which will make the agent assent to it. Here is a causal sequence with a lawlike regularity. But the case of the free person is entirely different. Any object may show up; it may produce an impression in him, but this impression is not going to force him to give assent. For we have already seen that what makes him give assent is not the impression but his understanding that it would be best to pursue or to avoid the object, and his attachment to the good. But, if this is what makes him give assent, why should we not say that it forces him to give assent, so that the free person's assent is as much forced as the unfree person's?
The assent of those whose will is not free, "though it is not necessitated, is nevertheless forced."
In what way is the assent of those whose will is not free "forced"?
"[I]f the appropriate object of desire shows up, it provokes the appropriate kind of impression which will make the agent assent to it. Here is a causal sequence with a lawlike regularity."
The assent of those whose will is free, by contrast, is not forced. "[T]his impression is not going to force him to give assent. For we have already seen that what makes him give assent is not the impression but his understanding that it would be best to pursue or to avoid the object, and his attachment to the good."
"[W]hy should we not say that [his attachment to the good] forces him to give assent"?
29. To do so would be highly misleading. To begin with, the unfree person's assent is forced by the impression, whereas the free person's assent, if at all forced, is not forced by the impression. It is brought about, rather, by the free person's understanding and insight. The free person could not, given this understanding and insight, choose otherwise, except by sacrificing his rationality, which he is not prepared to do. Somebody who is perfectly rational will simply choose this way. We can, of course, say that somebody who accepts certain premises and sees that a certain conclusion follows from them is forced to accept the conclusion on pain of giving up his rationality. But this sense of forced is entirely different from the sense in which the unfree person's assent is forced. What is more, this sense of forced does not stand in the way of saying that a person who is free has a will which is free to choose what one would reasonably choose, that is to say, is in no way hindered, hampered, or prevented from making the choices which one would reasonably want to make. His understanding and his insight might make the free person choose what he does, but they certainly do not prevent him or hinder him from making the reasonable choice or force him to make a choice which is not reasonable.
Frede's answer is a little confusing. He seems to distinguish senses of the word 'forced' in an effort to show that although we can truly say that sage is "forced" by his attachment to the good, what we are saying is different from what we say when we say that the object of desire "forced" the fool to assent.
It is not obvious, though, what these senses are. When a word has multiple senses, usually they are easy to see. The word 'cape,' for example, can mean "land jutting out to sea" or "article of clothing worn over the shoulders."
Frede gives an example to illustrate the senses of 'forced.'
"We can ... say that somebody who accepts certain premises and sees that a certain conclusion follows from them is forced to accept the conclusion on pain of giving up his rationality. But this sense of forced [in the argument case] is entirely different from the sense [of forced in which we can say that] the unfree person's assent is forced."
30. We can explain the free person's understanding and insight in a similar way, in terms of antecedent causes, for instance, of his coming to have certain true beliefs. These true beliefs were not forced on this person, nor did his having these true beliefs force this understanding on him. Indeed, there is a long story, beginning with the person's birth, which explains how he came to have these true beliefs and how he came to have this understanding. It is, in the ancient understanding, a causal story. But it does not involve reference to any force which would make us question whether the choice of the free person was free, given that it had this chain of antecedent causes.
The "causal story" for the person whose will is free "does not involve reference to any force which would make us question whether the choice of the free person was free."
31. But before we turn to this story, we have to take into account another fact. By the time we come to Epictetus, it is thought that there are three crucial factors involved in one's birth, namely, human nature, one's individual nature and constitution, and the circumstances into which one is born. Now, if the Stoics want to assume that all human beings are free by nature, they must also assume that none of these factors is such that it, separately or in conjunction with the others, will prevent us from developing in such a way as to have the insight and the understanding it takes to make the right choices. This is a substantial assumption about God's creation. God must set things up in such a way that neither human nature nor our individual nature nor the circumstances into which we are born, either separately or jointly, prevent us from becoming wise and free. Indeed, the Stoics not only assume this, they also assume that God sets things up in such a way that we all, in the course of our natural development, could acquire the understanding and the insight to make the right choices. God constructs human beings in such a way that they could naturally acquire true beliefs.
"By the time we come to Epictetus [in late Stoicism], it is thought that there are three crucial factors" that have influence over what we do. They are (i) "human nature," (ii) "one's individual nature and constitution," and (iii) "the circumstances into which one is born." Given that we are free by nature, the Stoics must think "that none of these factors is such that it, separately or in conjunction with the others, will prevent us from developing in such a way as to have the insight and the understanding it takes to make the right choices."
"This is a substantial assumption about God's creation." The Stoics think that "we all, in the course of our natural development, could acquire the understanding and the insight to make the right choices."
32. It is not that God constructs human beings so as to have beliefs, and it just so turns out that some of them are false and some of them are true. Rather, God constructs human beings in such a way that we are highly sensitive to truth and predisposed to form beliefs that are naturally true. Hence our having the true beliefs we have does not require an explanation, though we can specify the mechanisms by means of which we come to have them. What does require explanation is our having false beliefs. They must be due to the fact that something went wrong, interfering with the natural process which would have led to our having just true beliefs. This is in tension with Frede's claim in 25 that "[e]ven the wise person is often limited to conjecture." See also 14 in lecture 3. And the Stoics identify what went wrong with our giving assent to a false impression, when we should give assent only to those true impressions which are recognizably true. Moreover, we are constructed in such a way that, once we have the appropriate true beliefs, we will also naturally come to have sufficient understanding of the world and thereby a sufficient understanding of the good, so as to be attracted by it and make the right choices. Again, what needs an explanation is not how we get there, though one can specify the mechanisms involved. What needs an explanation is why we do not get there, because something has gone wrong. And the answer again is that we ourselves abort this natural development by being rash, careless, or impatient in the way we give assent.
"Roughly speaking, an appropriate action is one in doing which one
does what is the right thing to do--namely, in general, one which one
goes for what is conducive to one's survival and avoids what is detrimental
to it. But a right or virtuous action requires in addition that one does this
with the right motivation, for the right reason; it requires that it be an
action borne of virtue and wisdom...."
On the Stoic Conception of the Good," 79).
"[T]he suggestion [below in the passage in Cicero's On Ends] must be that the person, once he has developed this pattern of behaviour, by reflecting on it, is naturally led to come to think about things in such a way as not only to behave according to nature, but also have the right motivation to do so--that is, to behave this way for the right reason. The question, then, is how this is supposed to come about. Obviously the person, reflecting on the behaviour, is supposed to have some crucial insight which radically changes his way of thinking about what he is already doing, though not yet thinking about it in the right way" (Michael Frede, On the Stoic Conception of the Good," 80).
"An appropriate action (for this is what I call a καθῆκον) is first that one preserve oneself in one's natural state, then that one holds on to those things that are in accordance with nature and reject their opposites; once one has discovered this pattern of selection and also of rejection, there next comes selection according to what is appropriate, then selection invariably follows this pattern, until, finally, it does reliably so and accords with nature. It is first in this sort of selection that that which can be truly called good comes to be present and that one can understand what it consists in. For originally man comes to be attached to those things which are in accordance with nature. But as soon as he has gained this understanding, or rather this notion which they call an ἔννοιαν, and as he comes to see the order and, to put this way, concord of things to be one, he has come to value this concord so much more than all those things he had originally come to hold dear. And thus by insight and reasoning he has come to the conclusion that this highest good of men which is worthy of praise or admiration and desirable for its own sake lies precisely in this. It rests in what the Stoics call ὁμολογιαν, but which we may call agreement, if this is acceptable, the good, that is, in the sense that everything has to be referred to it, including right actions and righteousness itself, which alone is to be counted as a good; though this good emerge later, it alone is desirable in virtue of its own force and dignity, whereas none of the other things which come first by nature is desirable for its own sake" (Cicero, On Ends III.20). God constructs human beings so that can they form the true beliefs they need, but something interferes with the "natural process which would have led to our having just true beliefs."
"We ourselves abort this natural development by being rash, careless, or impatient in the way we give assent."
How does this happen?
When human beings first acquire reason, they become fools because they misapply their concept of good.
How are we "being rash, careless, or impatient in the way we give assent"?
We draw a certain conclusion. From the fact that as children we had natural impulses to go for certain things and to avoid others, we conclude that the objects of these impulses are what is good and what is bad.
These raises lots of questions.
One is why the Stoics think that our assent in this case is "rash." The conclusion of the inference is false from their point of view. So they think, it seems, that it is unreasonable to have false beliefs.
This is not something we think. Sometimes when I form a false belief, I am acting unreasonably. It seems to me, though, that we do not think this is always true. Sometimes we form false beliefs through no fault of our own.
Why do the Stoics think otherwise?
They think that nature in its providence has constructed human beings so that they naturally form true beliefs unless they themselves interfere with the process by giving their assent when they should not.
33. Here, then, we have, for the first time in history, a notion of a free will, a will which is not forced in its choices and decisions and hence is free to make the right choices. It is not an ability to make choices which no sane person would want to make. But we should note that it is deeply embedded in a theory which makes massive assumptions about the world, about ourselves, and about our position in the world. The assumptions about ourselves are mainly embodied in the notion of the will. But there is in addition the assumption that the world down to the smallest detail is governed by a good and provident God and that this God, in creating the world, has made sure that neither human nature nor our individual nature and constitution nor the circumstances into which we are born, nor the conjunction of these three factors, would prevent us from developing in such a way as to be able to make the right choices and decisions in our life. He has also arranged things in such a way that, unless we are going to enslave ourselves, no force or power in the world can force our will not to make the right choices, not even God himself. These are massive and powerful assumptions which one would do well at least to question and which certainly were not shared by everybody in antiquity. This can in no way be an ordinary notion which everybody had had all along.
The notion of free will the Stoics introduce "is deeply embedded in a theory which makes massive assumptions about the world, about ourselves, and about our position in the world."
We can see what Frede means by "deeply embedded" if we think about the difference between the sage and fool without the "massive assumptions." The sage acts on true beliefs about what is good and what bad. The fool acts on false beliefs about what is good and what is bad. This difference does not seem substantial enough to ground a distinction between free and enslaved unless it is placed with the context of the "massive assumptions."
34. How substantial it is we can see from the fact that, considered in hindsight, Aristotle's view is incompatible with the assumption that human beings by nature have a free will or at least this notion of a free will. For, in Aristotle's view, many human beings are barred by their natural constitution and the circumstances into which they are born from ever having a free will. We also immediately see why this was acceptable for Aristotle, and to a lesser extent for later Peripatetics, but would not be acceptable for Stoics. Unlike the Stoics, Aristotle did not believe in a benevolent God whose providence reaches down to the smallest details. For the Stoics the thought that human beings by birth might be excluded from freedom, wisdom, and a good life was intolerable. But for Aristotle this was perfectly acceptable. After all, Aristotle was even willing to justify the social institution of slavery on the ground that many human beings by nature are slaves. While he insists on the goodness of the world and the claim that God is the source of this goodness, Aristotle also seems to think that the good order of the world naturally starts to give out at the point where the details are too trivial to affect its goodness overall.
In accepting these "massive assumptions," the Stoics have an understanding the world and place of human beings in it that is much different from Aristotle's understanding.
35. Once we have isolated the assumptions and concerns which give rise to this first notion of a free will and the questions it was meant to help us answer, we have to ask whether these are the assumptions, concerns, and questions we ourselves have and hence whether we have any need for such a notion. At first sight it might seem that the answer pretty clearly would have to be negative. But on further reflection it seems to me that, even setting aside all assumptions, concerns, and questions which we might think belong to a bygone age, there are two ideas we should not throw out without giving them further thought.
Is the notion of free will (the one the Stoics introduce) still applicable?
The notion brings assumptions about the world and human beings we do not accept, but "there are two ideas we should not throw out without giving them further thought."
"Of all the major ancient philosophers we have come across, only Alexander of Aphrodisias 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. To the contrary, considered from a sufficiently abstract level and disregarding the particular features which reflect their particular historical circumstances, they seem to me to more or less share one feature which I find rather attractive. They all involve the idea that to have a good life one must be able to make the choices one needs to make in order to have such a life. They also involve the idea that what prevents one from making these choices is that one forms false beliefs or irrational attachments and aversions which are in conflict with the choices one would have to make. Given these false beliefs and inappropriate attachments or aversions, one is not free to make the choices one would reasonably want to make. So, to be free, to have a free will, we have to liberate ourselves from these false beliefs and from attachments and aversions which are not grounded in reality. We can do this, moreover, because the world does not systematically force these beliefs, attachments, and aversions on us" (A Free Will, 103). 36. The first idea is this. Clearly, the Stoics think we shall not understand human beings unless we assume not only that they are guided in what they do by what they take to be the truth but also that they are constructed in a way that makes them highly sensitive to the truth. That is to say, they are pretty good at discriminating what is true and in understanding why it is true. Hence the Stoics believe that ideally we would be guided in what we do not just by what we take to be the truth but by our knowledge and understanding of what the world is actually like, by what the truth actually is. What stands in the way of this, according to the Stoics, are the false beliefs and misguided attitudes which we individually have about things. Because of these failings we make choices which are not solely determined by the actual truth about the world but in good part by our false beliefs and our misguided attitudes. It seems fair to say that the Stoic notion of a free will is the notion of an ability to make choices which are responsive to how things are, not distorted by false beliefs and misguided attitudes or by fantasies and wishful thinking. This idea does not seem hopeless.
Here is the first idea "we should not throw out without giving [it] further thought":
"[T]he Stoic notion of a free will is the notion of an ability to make choices which are responsive to how things are, not distorted by false beliefs and misguided attitudes or by fantasies and wishful thinking."
"This idea does not seem hopeless."
Why does Frede give such a weak evaluation of this idea?
"This does not seem to me to be a basically flawed idea at all, but also, without being developed appropriately, it is not much of an idea. Explaining that, however, is not a task for a historian" (A Free Will, 103).
What does Frede mean?
I am not sure, but here is a possibility.
The "notion of an ability to make choices which are responsive to how things are, not distorted by false beliefs and misguided attitudes" is "not much of an idea" because it itself provides no explanation for why this is acting according to one's own initiative as opposed to action you take because the world forces you.
37. The second idea is this. The Stoics believe, just like Aristotle and, I take it, Plato, that there is no closed set of general rules or truths such that, if only you knew them, you could deduce from them the right thing to do in any given situation. What there is consists, in principle, of an open set of general truths, of which you may know any number. In a given situation the number you know will suffice to determine what is the right thing to do. So in this sense the situation will not pose a problem. But, because the set in principle is open, you may often, if you are wise, get into a situation where the relevant truths you know do not suffice to enable you to make a choice which does justice to the situation. Nevertheless the wise person will make the right choice. And he will be able to explain this choice in a way which will satisfy any reasonable person by adding to the set of general truths which guide his behavior some further truth or truths, thus enriching the repertory of relevant considerations. Solving the problem he is facing in this way requires precisely the kind of ingenuity, creativity, thoughtfulness, and insight which the Stoic wise person wants to display in his actions, in imitation of God. And this idea, that a will is free if it can make such choices, does not seem to me to be hopeless, either.
The second idea "we should not throw out without giving [it] further thought" is harder to see.
Frede expresses this second idea as follows.
"[T]here is no closed set of general rules or truths such that, if only you knew them, you could deduce from them the right thing to do in any given situation." Even so, "the wise person will make the right choice" and "will be able to explain this choice in a way which will satisfy any reasonable person by adding to the set of general truths which guide his behavior some further truth or truths, thus enriching the repertory of relevant considerations."
This is confusing to think about.
Part of the idea is that it not the case that there is set of general truths such that for every circumstance, the instantiation of these truths in the circumstances entails what is right in these circumstances.
This seems to rule out theories of what is right such as utilitarianism, where this theory is understood to be that an act is right in some circumstance just in case no alternative in this circumstance has a higher utility.
So when the wise "make the right choice," they have not applied such a theory to the circumstances.
Less clear is what the wise do instead.