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A Free Will

A Free Will: Origins of the Notion in Ancient Thought

Michael Frede
Edited by A. A. Long
with a Foreword by David Sedley
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    A Free Will
    Book Description:

    Where does the notion of free will come from? How and when did it develop, and what did that development involve? In Michael Frede's radically new account of the history of this idea, the notion of a free will emerged from powerful assumptions about the relation between divine providence, correctness of individual choice, and self-enslavement due to incorrect choice. Anchoring his discussion in Stoicism, Frede begins with Aristotle--who, he argues, had no notion of a free will--and ends with Augustine. Frede shows that Augustine, far from originating the idea (as is often claimed), derived most of his thinking about it from the Stoicism developed by Epictetus.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94837-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    David Sedley

    Michael Frede’s untimely death in 2007 marked off a forty-year era in the study of ancient philosophy upon which he has left his unique mark. This imprint owed much to his intellectual persona. At Göttingen (1966–71), Berkeley (1971–76), Princeton (1976–91), Oxford (1991–2005), and, in his final years, Athens (2005–2007), he was a magnet to younger scholars, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in the field. For them and others he set an inspiring example by his dialectical practice of live discussion, which, provided that it was accompanied by sufficient coffee and cigarettes,...

    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    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. 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. Contemporary philosophers for the most part dispense...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Aristotle on Choice without a Will
    (pp. 19-30)

    There are at least three reasons why we should begin our detailed study with Aristotle. First, the Stoics can only develop a notion of a will, because they have a certain notion of the mind. But they have developed this notion of the mind in opposition to Plato’s and Aristotle’s notion of the mind, or rather of the soul. Second, we should reassure ourselves that we have understood not only that Aristotle does not have a notion of a free will but also why he does not have a notion of a free will. Third, there will come a time...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Emergence of a Notion of Will in Stoicism
    (pp. 31-48)

    As we have seen, for Aristotle to have had a notion of the will, he would have had to have the appropriate notion of a choice. Although he did have a notion of a choice, he did not have the kind of notion which would allow him to say that whenever we do something of our own accord(hekontes), we do so because we choose or decide to act in this way. Aristotle did not have such a notion of choice since he assumed that we sometimes just act on a nonrational desire (i.e., a desire which has its origin...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Later Platonist and Peripatetic Contributions
    (pp. 49-65)

    By the second century A.D. Aristotelianism and Platonism had begun to eclipse Stoicism, and by the end of the third century Stoicism no longer had any followers. All philosophers now opted for some form of Platonism, as a rule a Platonism which tried to integrate large amounts of Aristotelian doctrine, including Aristotle’s ethical principles. Hence the notion of the will might have easily disappeared from the history of philosophy if Platonists and Peripatetics had not developed their own such notion. This involved retaining the idea that the soul is bi- or tripartite but also taking the crucial step, not envisioned...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Emergence of a Notion of a Free Will in Stoicism
    (pp. 66-88)

    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 theParadoxa Stoicorum,the Stoics go out of their way to shake us out of the complacency...

  10. CHAPTER S IX Platonist and Peripatetic Criticisms and Responses
    (pp. 89-101)

    If we now look at how the Stoic notion of a free will was received by the Stoics’ contemporaries, we might think that, given the massive assumptions involved, it would not have much chance to be accepted at all. But it turns out that Christians just after the time of Epictetus were beginning to articulate their beliefs in what they themselves often thought of, and called, a new philosophy. For the most part they found these assumptions highly congenial. Almost immediately, with some modifications they adopted the Stoic notion of a free will. There is no doubt that the belief...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN An Early Christian View on a Free Will: Origen
    (pp. 102-124)

    It is quite striking that, once we move beyond the age of the New Testament and the apostolic fathers, Christian literature soon begins to abound in references to freedom and to a free will. The references are not quite as abundant as a look at translations and commentaries on early Christian literature might make us believe. They often rely on a vague and supposedly ordinary notion of a free will, and they also translate or paraphrase expressions like “what is up to us” in terms of “free will,” a phenomenon we have already noticed in the case of how pagan...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Reactions to the Stoic Notion of a Free Will: Plotinus
    (pp. 125-152)

    It is often supposed that traditional versions of the notion of the will were made historically possible only by the Judaeo-Christian conception of God with its emphasis on God’s will and its absolute, unconditioned character.¹ This Judaeo-Christian conception is supposed to differ radically from the Greek conception of God, in particular the conception Greek philosophers had of God. Whereas Greek philosophers, it is said, conceived of God as a wise and good being, which in its wisdom and goodness could not but create the best possible world, the emphasis in Judaeo-Christian thought is not on God’s wisdom and understanding but...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Augustine: A Radically New Notion of a Free Will?
    (pp. 153-174)

    A generation or two ago Augustine appeared in a very different light from what he would, or should, appear in nowadays. If fifty or even thirty years ago one knew something about ancient philosophy, one had for the most part studied the pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle and had enjoyed reading authors like Lucretius, Cicero, and Plutarch. If one then went further down the canonical list of outstanding philosophers living after Aristotle and turned, as one likely would, to Augustine, one could not fail to be struck by his radical difference of outlook in almost every detail. It was tempting to...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Conclusion
    (pp. 175-178)

    We set out to inquire, first, when people started to think of human beings as having a free will; second, what was involved in thinking of human beings in this way; and, third, why one found this way of thinking about human beings helpful. But we also raised a fourth question, whether this notion of a free will, however helpful one may have found it in late antiquity, was basically flawed right from the beginning. We have tried to give an answer to the first three questions.

    The notion of a free will first arises in late Stoicism in the...

    (pp. 179-180)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 181-198)
    (pp. 199-202)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 203-206)