Aristotle's remarks on free will suggest, not so much an argument for the
existence of free will, as an account of its nature. This account depends on his
making no hard distinction between what we call 'free action' and 'voluntary
action'. For him, these would be interchangeable terms. The Aristotelian can,
then, point out that, if we give up our belief in free will, we must give up many
other natural beliefs too. In particular, we must stop believing in voluntary action.
There are, in Aristotelian terms, three conditions (not two, as Aristotle
himself evidently supposed), which any behaviour must satisfy to count as free/
voluntary action. The behaviour (i) must not be compelled, but must be
performed by the agent's own power and desire; (ii) must not be done in
ignorance, but must be action on relevant knowledge; and (iii) must not be
irrational, but must result from the combination of the agent's own power and
desire with the agent's relevant knowledge. (i) leads me to discuss Aristotle's
account of what he calls kineseis; (ii) leads me into epistemology; (iii) into an
account of Aristotle's theory of proairesis and practical reasoning as the cause of
by akrasia, deliberate choice of what I sincerely believe I should not
choose. This seems to be voluntary action which is not caused as Aristotle says
voluntary action should be. But the three conditions of voluntary action which I
say Aristotle should be committed to can be used to show that the existing forms
of akrasia make no counter example to Aristotle's theory, but rather an
interesting adjunct to it.
My study of Augustine's theory of freedom begins with a survey of a crucial
text, the de Libero Arbitrio (Ch.5). I then apply an analogous schema to that
found in Aristotle. Augustine too depends on the idea that to analyse free action
is to analyse voluntary action; he also equates these two types with responsible
action. He too believes (i) that ignorance usually makes for involuntariness, and
(ii) that there can be no voluntary action which is compelled or which the agent
could not have done otherwise. In his later works, these doctrines are often
obscured by his interest in original sin and predestination (neither of which topics,
be it noted, are focuses of this thesis). But they remain his doctrines.
Does Augustine have (iii) any doctrine that voluntary action must be rational?
While he does not develop any theory of practical reasoning like Aristotle's, he
does develop a theory of practical wisdom. It is an essential feature of all human
desire, and hence of all voluntary action, that it aims at happiness, which
properly understood is identical with possession of The Good, i.e. of God. From
this Augustine draws the conclusion that, to explain any behaviour as a voluntary
action or choice, it is necessary and sufficient to specify some good at which it is
to be understood as aiming.
This sets up for Augustine a problem analogous to Aristotle's problem about
akrasia. How is a voluntary choice of evil explicable? Augustine's reply is that
human desires have been disordered by the Fall, and so we often choose, not
evils per se, but lesser goods than we ought. But this prompts the question: How
is a first voluntary choice of evil explicable? Augustine's reply is simply that it is
not. Since a voluntary action or choice must be explained by reference to some
good at which it aims, a voluntary choice of evil per se cannot be explained at
all. This does not mean that there was no voluntary choice of evil; but it does
mean that, in principle, that choice is inexplicable- a mystery. Thus Augustine,
unlike Aristotle, in this one exceptional case (but in no others) affirms that there
can be genuinely voluntary action which is not, in the relevant sense, rational.