The Truths of Reasonby Leibniz
- The physical co-operation of God and of creatures with the will contributes also to the difficulties existing in regard to freedom.
I think that our will is exempt not only from constraint but also from necessity.
Aristotle observed that freedom has 2 things:
Therein lies our mastery over our actions.
When we act freely we are not being forced, as would happen if we were pushed on to a precipice and thrown from top to bottom; and we are not prevented from having the mind free when we deliberate, as would happen if we were given a draught to deprive us of discernment.
There is contingency in a thousand actions of Nature; but when there is no judgement in him who acts there is no freedom.
If we had judgement not accompanied by any inclination to act, our soul would be an understanding without will.
- It is not to be imagined, however, that our freedom consists in an indetermination or an indifference of equipoise, as if one must needs be inclined equally to the side of yes and of no and in the direction of different courses, when there are several of them to take.
This equipoise in all directions is impossible: for if we were equally inclined towards the courses A, B and C, we could not be equally inclined towards A and towards not A.
This equipoise is also absolutely contrary to experience, and in scrutinizing oneself one will find that there has always been some cause or reason inclining us towards the course taken, although very often we be not aware of that which prompts us: just in the same way one is hardly aware why, on issuing from a door, one has placed the right foot before the left or the left before the right.
- Philosophers agree today that the truth of contingent futurities is determinate, that is to say that contingent futurities are future, or that they will be, that they will happen: for it is as sure that the future will be, as it is sure that the past has been.
It was true 100 years ago that I should write today, as it will be true after a hundred years that I have written. Thus the contingent is not, because it is future, any the less contingent; and determination, which would be called certainty if it were known, is not incompatible with contingency.
Often the certain and the determinate are taken as one thing, because a determinate truth is capable of being known: thus it may be said that determination is an objective certainty.
This determination comes from the very nature of truth, and cannot injure freedom: but there are other determinations taken from elsewhere, and in the first place from the foreknowledge of God, which many have held to be contrary to freedom. They say that what is foreseen cannot fail to exist, and they say so truly; but it follows not that what is foreseen is necessary, for necessary truth is that whereof the contrary is impossible or implies contradiction. Now this truth which states that I shall write tomorrow is not of that nature, it is not necessary. Yet supposing that God foresees it, it is necessary that it come to pass; that is, the consequence is necessary, namely, that it exist, since it has been foreseen; for God is infallible. This is what is termed a hypothetical necessity. But our concern is not this necessity: it is an absolute necessity that is required, to be able to say that an action is necessary, that it is not contingent, that it is not the effect of a free choice. Besides it is very easily seen that foreknowledge in itself adds nothing to the determination of the truth of contingent futurities, save that this determination is known: and this does not augment the determination or the ‘futurition’ (as it is termed) of these events, that whereon we agreed at the outset.
This answer is doubtless very correct. It is agreed that foreknowledge in itself does not make truth more determinate; truth is foreseen because it is determinate, because it is true; but it is not true because it is foreseen: and therein the knowledge of the future has nothing that is not also in the knowledge of the past or of the present. But here is what an opponent will be able to say: I grant you that foreknowledge in itself does not make truth more determinate, but it is the cause of the foreknowledge that makes it so. For it needs must be that the foreknowledge of God have its foundation in the nature of things, and this foundation, making the truth predeterminate, will prevent it from being contingent and free.
It is this difficulty that has caused two parties to spring up, one of the predeterminators, the other of the supporters of mediate knowledge. The Dominicans and the Augustinians are for predetermination, the Franciscans and the modern Jesuits on the other hand are for mediate knowledge. These two parties appeared towards the middle of the sixteenth century and a little later. Molina himself, who is perhaps one of the first, with Fonseca, to have systematized this point, and from whom the others derived their name of Molinists, says in the book that he wrote on the reconciliation of freewill with grace, about the year 1570, that the Spanish doctors (he means principally the Thomists), who had been writing then for twenty years, finding no other way to explain how God could have a certain knowledge of contingent futurities, had introduced predetermination as being necessary to free actions.
As for himself, he thought to have found another way. He considers that there are three objects of divine knowledge, the possibles, the actual events and the conditional events that would happen in consequence of a certain condition if it were translated into action. The knowledge of possibilities is what is called the ‘knowledge of mere intelligence’; that of events occurring actually in the progress of the universe is called the ‘knowledge of intuition’. And as there is a kind of mean between the merely possible and the pure and absolute event, to wit, the conditional event, it can be said also, according to Molina, that there is a mediate knowledge between that of intuition and that of intelligence. Instance is given of the famous example of David asking the divine oracle whether the inhabitants of the town of Keilah, where he designed to shut himself in, would deliver him to Saul, supposing that Saul should besiege the town. God answered yes; whereupon David took a different course. Now some advocates of this mediate knowledge are of opinion that God, foreseeing what men would do of their own accord, supposing they were placed in such and such circumstances, and knowing that they would make ill use of their free will, decrees to refuse them grace and favourable circumstances. And he may justly so decree, since in any case these circumstances and these aids would not have served them aught. But Molina contents himself with finding therein generally a reason for the decrees of God, founded on what the free creature would do in such and such circumstances.
I will not enter into all the detail of this controversy; it will suffice for me to give one instance. Certain older writers, not acceptable to St. Augustine and his first disciples, appear to have had ideas somewhat approaching those of Molina. The Thomists and those who call themselves disciples of St. Augustine (but whom their opponents call Jansenists) combat this doctrine on philosophical and theological grounds. Some maintain that mediate knowledge must be included in the knowledge of mere intelligence. But the principal objection is aimed at the foundation of this knowledge. For what foundation can God have for seeing what the people of Keilah would do? A simple contingent and free act has nothing in itself to yield a principle of certainty, unless one look upon it as predetermined by the decrees of God, and by the causes that are dependent upon them. Consequently the difficulty existing in actual free actions will exist also in conditional free actions, that is to say, God will know them only under the condition of their causes and of his decrees, which are the first causes of things: and it will not be possible to separate such actions from those causes so as to know a contingent event in a way that is independent of the knowledge of its causes. Therefore all must of necessity be traced back to the predetermination of God’s decrees, and this mediate knowledge (so it will be said) will offer no remedy. The theologians who profess to be adherents of St. Augustine claim also that the system of the Molinists would discover the source of God’s grace in the good qualities of man, and this they deem an infringement of God’s honour and contrary to St. Paul’s teaching.
It would be long and wearisome to enter here into the replies and rejoinders coming from one side and the other, and it will suffice for me to explain how I conceive that there is truth on both sides. For this result I resort to my principle of an infinitude of possible worlds, represented in the region of eternal verities, that is, in the object of the divine intelligence, where all conditional futurities must be comprised. For the case of the siege of Keilah forms part of a possible world, which differs from ours only in all that is connected with this hypothesis, and the idea of this possible world represents that which would happen in this case. Thus we have a principle for the certain knowledge of contingent futurities, whether they happen actually or must happen in a certain case. For in the region of the possibles they are represented as they are, namely, as free contingencies. Therefore neither the foreknowledge of contingent futurities nor the foundation for the certainty of this foreknowledge should cause us perplexity or seem to prejudice freedom. And though it were true and possible that contingent futurities consisting in free actions of reasonable creatures were entirely independent of the decrees of God and of external causes, there would still be means of foreseeing them; for God would see them as they are in the region of the possibles, before he decrees to admit them into existence.
But if the foreknowledge of God has nothing to do with the dependence or independence of our free actions, it is not so with the foreordinance of God, his decrees, and the sequence of causes which, as I believe, always contribute to the determination of the will. And if I am for the Molinists in the first point, I am for the predeterminators in the second, provided always that predetermination be taken as not necessitating. In a word, I am of opinion that the will is always more inclined towards the course it adopts, but that it is never bound by the necessity to adopt it. That it will adopt this course is certain, but it is not necessary. The case corresponds to that of the famous saying, Astra inclinant, non necessitant, although here the similarity is not complete. For the event towards which the stars tend (to speak with the common herd, as if there were some foundation for astrology) does not always come to pass, whereas the course towards which the will is more inclined never fails to be adopted. Moreover the stars would form only a part of the inclinations that co-operate in the event, but when one speaks of the greater inclination of the will, one speaks of the result of all the inclinations. It is almost as we have spoken above of the consequent will in God, which results from all the antecedent wills.
Nevertheless, objective certainty or determination does not bring about the necessity of the determinate truth. All philosophers acknowledge this, asserting that the truth of contingent futurities is determinate, and that nevertheless they remain contingent. The thing indeed would imply no contradiction in itself if the effect did not follow; and therein lies contingency. The better to understand this point, we must take into account that there are two great principles of our arguments. The one is the principle of contradiction, stating that of two contradictory propositions the one is true, the other false; the other principle is that of the determinant reason: it states that nothing ever comes to pass without there being a cause or at least a reason determining it, that is, something to give an a priori reason why it is existent rather than non-existent, and in this wise rather than in any other. This great principle holds for all events, and a contrary instance will never be supplied: and although more often than not we are insufficiently acquainted with these determinant reasons, we perceive nevertheless that there are such. Were it not for this great principle we could never prove the existence of God, and we should lose an infinitude of very just and very profitable arguments whereof it is the foundation; moreover, it suffers no exception, for otherwise its force would be weakened. Besides, nothing is so weak as those systems where all is unsteady and full of exceptions. That fault cannot be laid to the charge of the system I approve, where everything happens in accordance with general rules that at most are mutually restrictive.
We must therefore not imagine with some Schoolmen, whose ideas tend towards the chimerical, that free contingent futurities have the privilege of exemption from this general rule of the nature of things. There is always a prevailing reason which prompts the will to its choice, and for the maintenance of freedom for the will it suffices that this reason should incline without necessitating. That is also the opinion of all the ancients, of Plato, of Aristotle, of St. Augustine. The will is never prompted to action save by the representation of the good, which prevails over the opposite representations. This is admitted even in relation to God, the good angels and the souls in bliss: and it is acknowledged that they are none the less free in consequence of that. God fails not to choose the best, but he is not constrained so to do: nay, more, there is no necessity in the object of God’s choice, for another sequence of things is equally possible. For that very reason the choice is free and independent of necessity, because it is made between several possibles, and the will is determined only by the preponderating goodness of the object. This is therefore not a defect where God and the saints are concerned: on the contrary, it would be a great defect, or rather a manifest absurdity, were it otherwise, even in men here on earth, and if they were capable of acting without any inclining reason. Of such absurdity no example will ever be found; and even supposing one takes a certain course out of caprice, to demonstrate one’s freedom, the pleasure or advantage one thinks to find in this conceit is one of the reasons tending towards it.
There is therefore a freedom of contingency or, in a way, of indifference, provided that by ‘indifference’ is understood that nothing necessitates us to one course or the other; but there is never any indifference of equipoise, that is, where all is completely even on both sides, without any inclination towards either. Innumerable great and small movements, internal and external, co-operate with us, for the most part unperceived by us. And I have already said that when one leaves a room there are such and such reasons determining us to put the one foot first, without pausing to reflect. For there is not everywhere a slave, as in Trimalchio’s house in Petronius, to cry to us: the right foot first. All that we have just said agrees entirely also with the maxims of the philosophers, who teach that a cause cannot act without having a disposition towards action. It is this disposition which contains a predetermination, whether the doer have received it from without, or have had it in consequence of his own antecedent character.
Thus we have no need to resort, in company with some new Thomists, to a new immediate predetermination by God, such as may cause the free creature to abandon his indifference, and to a decree of God for predetermining the creature, making it possible for God to know what the creature will do: for it suffices that the creature be predetermined by its preceding state, which inclines it to one course more than to the other. Moreover, all these connexions of the actions of the creature and of all creatures were represented in the divine understanding, and known to God through the knowledge of mere intelligence, before he had decreed to give them existence. Thus we see that, in order to account for the foreknowledge of God, one may dispense with both the mediate knowledge of the Molinists and the predetermination which a Bañez or an Alvarez (writers otherwise of great profundity) have taught.
By this false idea of an indifference of equipoise the Molinists were much embarrassed. They were asked not only how it was possible to know in what direction a cause absolutely indeterminate would be determined, but also how it was possible that there should finally result therefrom a determination for which there is no source: to say with Molina that it is the privilege of the free cause is to say nothing, but simply to grant that cause the privilege of being chimerical. It is pleasing to see their harassed efforts to emerge from a labyrinth whence there is absolutely no means of egress. Some teach that the will, before it is determined formally, must be determined virtually, in order to emerge from its state of equipoise; and Father Louis of Dole, in his book on the Co-operation of God, quotes Molinists who attempt to take refuge in this expedient: for they are compelled to acknowledge that the cause must needs be disposed to act. But they gain nothing, they only defer the difficulty: for they will still be asked how the free cause comes to be determined virtually. They will therefore never extricate themselves without acknowledging that there is a predetermination in the preceding state of the free creature, which inclines it to be determined.
In consequence of this, the case also of Buridan’s ass between two meadows, impelled equally towards both of them, is a fiction that cannot occur in the universe, in the order of Nature, although M. Bayle be of another opinion. It is true that, if the case were possible, one must say that the ass would starve himself to death: but fundamentally the question deals in the impossible, unless it be that God bring the thing about expressly. For the universe cannot be halved by a plane drawn through the middle of the ass, which is cut vertically through its length, so that all is equal and alike on both sides, in the manner wherein an ellipse, and every plane figure of the number of those I term ‘ambidexter’, can be thus halved, by any straight line passing through its centre. Neither the parts of the universe nor the viscera of the animal are alike nor are they evenly placed on both sides of this vertical plane. There will therefore always be many things in the ass and outside the ass, although they be not apparent to us, which will determine him to go on one side rather than the other. And although man is free, and the ass is not, nevertheless for the same reason it must be true that in man likewise the case of a perfect equipoise between two courses is impossible. Furthermore it is true that an angel, or God certainly, could always account for the course man has adopted, by assigning a cause or a predisposing reason which has actually induced him to adopt it: yet this reason would often be complex and incomprehensible to ourselves, because the concatenation of causes linked together is very long.
Hence, Descartes’ assertion that our free actions are independent is wrong.
We cannot be sensible of our independence*. We are not aware always of the causes, often imperceptible, whereon our resolution depends.
*Superphysics note: Leibniz says this because he has never had samadhi, whereas Descartes has
It is as though the magnetic needle took pleasure in turning towards the north: for it would think that it was turning independently of any other cause, not being aware of the imperceptible movements of the magnetic matter.
Nevertheless, we shall see later in what sense it is quite true that the human soul is altogether its own natural principle in relation to its actions, dependent upon itself and independent of all other creatures.
- As for volition itself, to say that it is an object of free will is incorrect. We will to act, strictly speaking, and we do not will to will; else we could still say that we will to have the will to will, and that would go on to infinity. Besides, we do not always follow the latest judgement of practical understanding when we resolve to will; but we always follow, in our willing, the result of all the inclinations that come from the direction both of reasons and passions, and this often happens without an express judgement of the understanding.