FREE WILL


FREE WILL
FREE WILL, a philosophic and theological notion referring initially to the observation that man is able to choose between a number of possible courses of action, becoming, through his choice, the cause of the action which he selects. Among philosophers some accepted this observation as the true account of how men act, while others held that though man appears to be free to choose, his actions are, in fact, compelled, either by God or by laws of nature. While there were some Jewish philosophers who inclined toward a deterministic position, the majority affirmed that man, through choice, is the author of his own actions. Jewish philosophers generally considered a doctrine of free will as indispensable for accounting for man's moral responsibility for his own actions, and they considered it necessary for explaining God's justice in punishing evil-doers. Closely related to the notion of free will are those of divine providence and divine omniscience. -In Jewish Philosophy PHILO The question of the freedom of man's will is discussed in a number of places in the writings of philo , but his position on this matter is not sufficiently defined. On the one hand, he clearly posits the freedom of man's will, i.e., the ability to choose between good and evil out of a knowledge of the difference between the two. On the other hand, he expresses the notion that man's choosing between good and evil is predetermined by the struggle between his inclinations and by the influence of external forces. Thus it cannot be said that Philo rejected determinism, since he did assume that all the occurrences in the world are a result of a necessary chain of causes and effects. Again, Philo in a number of places points to the similarity between man's free choice, which was granted to him by God, and the free will of God himself. It is evident that this refers to voluntary action, which is independent of the previously mentioned causal chain. Moreover, Philo's notion of man's free will contains a certain innovation in contrast to traditional Greek philosophy, since Aristotelians, for example, tended to view man's free choice as a defect and deficiency, contingent on his material being. On this point too, however, Philo is not consistent, for he also expresses the opinion that all the activities of created beings, including man, are actually caused by God. Philo's attempts to bridge this contradiction are artificial. In some places in his writings Philo expresses the opinion that it is impossible to attribute to God's will those sins   which are committed intentionally, while sins against fellow-men which are committed unintentionally sometimes result from natural order, and sometimes are instruments of divine punishment for the sins of the victim. In performing his good deeds, man needs God's help and divine grace, and he cannot ascribe his virtues to himself. SAADIAH GAON It appears that according to Philo, there is almost no connection between the notion of man's free will and the problem of divine justice. In contrast, saadiah , who was heavily influenced by Mu'tazilite philosophy (see Kalām ), maintains that the idea of God's justice necessarily implies the freedom of man's will. According to Saadiah, it is impossible to think that God could compel a man to do something for which he would later punish him. Furthermore, if man has no freedom of choice, both the righteous and the wicked should be rewarded equally since they would be equally fulfilling God's will. Saadiah brings another proof for free will: man feels that he can speak or be silent, that he can take something or leave it. Similarly, he feels that there is no one to deter him from doing as he wishes (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, ch. 4). Therefore, Saadiah states, in accordance with Mu'tazilite teachings, that every activity is preceded in time by the ability to carry it out or to refrain from doing so. This ability can be viewed as having a real existence, and its being prior to every action is what underlies free choice. Refraining from performing a certain action is also to be counted as an action in this respect. Since the notion of man's free will as held by Saadiah results, wholly or in part, from his need to justify God's actions, it necessarily rests on the assumption that man's primary conceptions of good and evil are fundamentally identical with those of God. God, too, acts and is bound to act in accordance with these conceptions and, contrary to the Aristotelians, Saadiah maintains that it is one of the major functions of the human intellect to apprehend these conceptions directly (without any intermediary aid). Thus it follows that the human intellect is permitted to question God's actions, especially with regard to sins which serve as punishment, such as Absalom's rebellion against David. On the one hand, Absalom sinned in rebelling against his father, and this sin originated in his free will. On the other hand, Absalom's attempted seizure of his father's throne served as punishment for David's sins. In contrast to the more extreme Mu'tazilites, Saadiah does not see any contradiction between man's freedom of activity and God's prior knowledge of what man will choose to do. This foreknowledge, according to Saadiah, does not limit man's freedom, since it does not cause his actions. BAHYA IBN PAQUDA Baḥya ibn Paquda (Ḥovot ha-Levavot, ch. 3) briefly presents the ideas of those who believe that all of man's actions are predetermined by God, as well as opposing views, which maintain that man's will is free. He reaches the conclusion that whoever delves into this question must necessarily fall into error. Therefore, man must both conduct himself like one who believes that his actions are in his own hands (i.e., that he has freedom of choice), and at the same time trust in God like one who is certain that all his actions are predetermined. This view, which rejects a theoretical solution to the problem, stems from a desire to reconcile Saadiah's theodicy with total devotion to God (including the renunciation of one's freedom of action), which is characteristic of the Muslim sufis by whom Baḥya was influenced. JUDAH HALEVI Like Saadiah, judah halevi accepts the notion of the freedom of man's will, which he supports by means of various proofs, some of which are similar to Saadiah's. One such proof is that a man feels that he can speak or be silent, act or refrain from acting. A proof of the existence of free will is found by Judah Halevi in the fact that only those actions which proceed from free choice are considered to be praiseworthy or culpable. Unlike Saadiah, however, he develops, in his discussion of free will, a classification of causes, in which he is strongly influenced by the Aristotelian school of thought. The first cause of everything, according to Judah Halevi, is God, who produces the intermediary causes, according to which all actions and occurrences are either natural (i.e., resulting from natural order), accidental, or voluntary (resulting from human choice). Even the first two classes are not entirely brought about by necessity, but only free choice belongs completely to the realm of the possible; before the actual deed there is no necessity that it should be done. Like Saadiah, Judah Halevi also maintains that there is no contradiction between the notion of free choice and the view that God knows in advance what will happen. Like Saadiah, he also maintains that God's foreknowledge cannot be regarded as a cause which brings about the event. Nevertheless, Judah Halevi states that his definition of free will as an intermediary cause, which is produced by the first cause, makes it necessary to see the voluntary acts as being under the influence of divine decree. Man must conduct himself to the best of his ability. Exaggerated dependence on God may bring him into danger, thus, the warning; "Do not try the Lord." Sometimes, however, God acts without recourse to the intermediary causes, thereby bringing about miracles, such as Moses' being saved from starvation during the 40 days he was on Mount Sinai, or the defeat of Sennacherib. ABRAHAM IBN DAUD abraham ibn daud stated that he wrote his book Ha-Emunah ha-Ramah for the sole purpose of discussing the question of free will. Nonetheless, only a small section of the book (second treatise, 6:2, ed. by S. Weil, 93ff.) is devoted to this problem. Ibn Daud's position with regard to free will is similar to that of Judah Halevi. He classifies causes into divine, natural, accidental, and voluntary. There are some people, he says, in whom good or evil habits are so deeply ingrained that they are actually never required to exercise their free choice; but the majority of people are between these two extremes, and must therefore choose between good and evil. When they choose the good they become worthy of   divine providence, while he who chooses evil is abandoned to his own resources. Ibn Daud is convinced that the existence of the possible in the world – and thus the non-existence of absolute determinism – is a defect. However, it should be pointed out, in this respect Ibn Daud departs from the teachings of his master, avicenna , whom he usually follows, since Avicenna believed that everything, including voluntary acts, is predetermined. MAIMONIDES In his Guide of the Perplexed maimonides deals with the question of free will in connection with providence (3:17). He distinguishes between five doctrines of providence, the last of which, that of the Torah, states that man can do everything according to his free choice. The question is whether Maimonides was convinced that man's choice and will are determined by prior causes, as was held by Muslim philosophers such as Avicenna, or whether he viewed the choice and voluntary activity of man as being uninfluenced by absolute determinism. There are various passages in the Guide which attest to his having followed the second opinion. God's knowledge, which is only homonymous with human knowledge, controls each and every event, for God knows, "according to the view of our Torah," which of the possible outcomes will ultimately be actualized. This knowledge does not remove the things which are known, including human actions, from the realm of the possible. In his Mishneh Torah, which unlike the Guide, was intended for a popular audience, Maimonides takes a clearer position with regard to free will: every person may choose to be good or evil. God does not determine in advance whether a particular man will be righteous or wicked. A man can carry out any action, be it good or bad. If this were not so, the entire Torah would be purposeless; the wicked person could not be punished for his sins, nor the righteous be rewarded for his good deeds. In the same way that God instituted order in the universe, so it is His will that man be responsible for his own actions, by which he will be judged. Against the argument that God knows in advance whether a person will be righteous or wicked, Maimonides states that God's knowledge, being so unlike man's, cannot be apprehended by the human intellect. What is known beyond a shadow of a doubt is that man is responsible for his own deeds, and that God neither influences nor decrees that he should act in a certain manner. This is proven not only by religious tradition, but by clear arguments of reason (Yad, Teshuvah ch. 5). Here, as in Saadiah, there is a clear connection between free will and the notion of God's justice. Unlike Saadiah and Judah Halevi, however, Maimonides does not avoid the difficulty involved in reconciling the idea of free will with the notion of God's omniscience. Contrary to some of his successors, he does not attempt to solve this difficulty, since he believes that its solution lies outside the scope of human understanding. LEVI BEN GERSHOM The post-Maimonidean Aristotelians placed great emphasis on the contradiction between God's all-inclusive foreknowledge and the idea of free will. levi b. gershom accepts the notion of free will (Milḥamot Adonai 3:6), but offers his own solution to the difficulty by his interpretation of God's knowledge. According to him, God knows not only his own essence, but also (as does the active intellect) the general categories, i.e., the order of the universe, which is determined by the position of the stars. It is not necessary, however, that all events actually occurring in the world should correspond to his general order. By virtue of his free will man may act in contradiction to what has been predestined for him by the position of the stars. Thus, the knowledge of God and of the active intellect does not encompass those events which actually come into being, but they know only what should occur. Thus in his notion of free will Gersonides is following both the tradition of Jewish philosophy and Aristotelian Greek philosophy, which did not see absolute determinism as operating in the sublunar world. HASDAI CRESCAS A similar determinism underlies the idea of free will of Hasdai crescas (Or Adonai 2:5), which in someways reverts to the Muslim philosophical tradition which held, following Avicenna, that man's choice is absolutely predetermined by a chain of prior causes: internal causes, based in man's character, and external causes, which are the factors influencing him. As Y. Baer has shown (in Tarbiz, 11 (1940), 188–206), Crescas was strongly influenced in this notion by abner of burgos . Crescas' notion, which is similar to that of Avicenna, is that voluntary actions are possible in themselves, but are necessary in terms of their causes. Crescas regards these actions as being necessary since they are known to God before their execution. He thinks, however, that this idea should not be made known to the masses who might use it as a justification for doing evil, since they will think that the punishment follows the sin in a causal chain of events. Despite this view, however, Crescas distinguishes between voluntary actions and acts carried out under compulsion. It is only proper, according to him, that only the former type should be subject to reward and punishment, and only in relation to this type of action can the commandments and prohibitions of the Torah act as a deterrent. Nevertheless, in this capacity, the commandments and prohibitions do not limit the activity of absolute determinism. On the other hand, man's beliefs and opinions do not depend on his own will and he should therefore not be rewarded or punished for them. (Shlomo Pines) -In Talmud and Midrash The doctrine of free will, expressed in the idea that man is free to choose between good and evil, was at the core of the Pharisaic outlook. Josephus indeed characterizes the differences between the Pharisees and their Sadducean and Essene opponents as between those who accepted both the freedom of man and divine providence (the Pharisees), those who ascribed everything to chance, denying providential guidance (the Sadducees), and those who denied human freedom,   maintaining a doctrine of predestination (the Essenes; Wars 2:162ff; Ant. 13:171; 18:12f.). Though some doubt has been cast on Josephus' account because of his tendency to explain matters in terms of Greek philosophical schools (see G.F. Moore , Judaism vol. 3 p. 139), there seems no grounds for rejecting the main outlines of his characterization (Urbach, Ḥazal: Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969), 227). Though both the doctrine of man's freedom and that of divine providence were adhered to by the rabbis as central to their faith, they do not seem to have been integrated in any systematic way in the talmudic texts which deal with the subject. On the one hand, one finds constant reference to the notion that nothing happens in this world which is not in some way determined from on high: "No man can touch that which has been prepared in advance for his friend" (Yoma 38b); "No man injures his finger here below unless it has been decreed for him on high" (Ḥul. 7b); "Never does a snake bite … or a lion tear (its prey) … or a government interfere in men's lives unless incited to do so from on high" (Eccles. R. 10:11); "Everything is in the hands (i.e., control) of heaven except cold and heat" (Ket. 30a); "Forty days before a child is formed a heavenly voice decrees so-and-so's daughter shall marry so-and-so" (Sot. 2a). On the other hand the whole rabbinic theological structure of reward and punishment turns on the idea that man is free to do evil or good (see Deut. 30:15–19; and Sif. Deut. 53–54). As Josephus mentions, the rabbis wished to maintain both doctrines despite the tension between them, though they were aware of this tension. Before conception the angel appointed over conception takes a seminal drop and asks God: "What is to become of this drop? Is it to develop into a person strong or weak, wise or foolish, rich or poor?" (Nid. 16b). But no mention is made of its becoming wicked or righteous, because "Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven" (ibid.). The combination of these two doctrines within rabbinic theology may be understood, not so much from the philosophical point of view, but rather from the practical point of view which underlies all rabbinic thinking. On the one hand it is necessary to think of the world as under the complete surveillance and control of heaven, a thought which adds to the confidence and trust of the Jew in God, and on the other the individual needs to make his choices and decisions on the assumption that evil and good are both within his grasp. The conceptual integration of these two ideas did not enter rabbinic thought forms. The philosophical problems surrounding God's foreknowledge and man's free will are dealt with in an equally cursory way in the texts. The most striking is the saying of Akiva, "Everything is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given" (Avot 3:15). This has been taken by some commentators – Maimonides, for example – to be a statement of the position that though God has foreknowledge of all our acts, still this does not limit our freedom (Maimonides, commentary to the Mishnah, Avot 3:15). Though such a doctrine – that God's foreknowledge is such as not to be philosophically irreconcilable with human freedom – may have been held in some inchoate form by the rabbis, the saying of Akiva has been interpreted as an assertion that God sees all man's acts, even those performed in the privacy of his room (see rashi on Avot 3:15; Urbach, op. cit., 229–30). -In Modern Jewish Thought For hermann cohen , freedom of the will – in the sense of being unaffected by mechanical causes – does not exist. However, while he relates causation to the individual man, Cohen holds that freedom of the will does exist in the ethical realm when applied to the goal of mankind. We must assume an independent ethical realm of being in which man can make his own decisions in accord with the rules of that realm. The freedom of the individual depends on how far the individual acts in accord with the goal of mankind. Real freedom will exist only in the future – in the ideal society which is mankind's goal; as of now, freedom is not given but a task to be worked at (Juedische Schriften, 1 (1924), 28). For martin buber free will is given even though in the realm I–It, causality rules. But in the realm of relation, I–Thou – real decision can, indeed must, take place: "if there were a devil it would not be one who decided against God, but one who, in eternity, came to no decision" (I and Thou (1958), 52, cf. 51f.). For Buber the main problem is not whether there is choice (in the realm of I–Thou), but the quality of the choices made – for good or evil. Since man is free to choose evil he is also free to overcome evil. Modern man because of prevalent ideologies based on scientific materialism or its counterparts (e. g., dialectical materialism) is even more of a believer in blind fate than pagan man. However, according to Buber, man is really free in his depths, and his destiny is not decreed by fate but is his true fulfillment when met in free will: "… the free man has no purpose here and means there, which he fetches for his purpose: he has only the one thing, his repeated decision to approach his destiny" (I and Thou, 60). Free man is not without influences from outside himself, but only he can really respond to outside events and perceive the unique in each event. External events are preconditioned for his action, not determining factors in his character. The free man responds where others react. Man's freedom lies not in the absence of external limitations but in the ability, despite them, to enter into dialogue, i.e., I–Thou relation. A.J. Heschel makes a distinction in external happenings, dividing them into what he calls "process," a regular pattern, and "event," an extraordinary, or unique thing. The essence of man's freedom is his ability to surpass himself. To a certain extent man is enslaved by his environment, society, and character, but man can think, will, and take decisions beyond these limitations. If men are treated as "processes" freedom is destroyed. Man is free at rare moments; freedom is an "event." Everyone has the potentiality for freedom, but only rarely achieves it. Free will, the ability to choose between two alternatives, is not the same as freedom, for though the latter includes choice, its achievement lies in the fact that one goes beyond oneself, and disregards the self as its own end. Thus   man must choose, although he can choose even to ignore freedom – which would be to choose evil (see God in Search of Man (1955), 409–13; Man is not Alone (1951), 142, 146). mordecai kaplan believes that the idea of free will as it was formulated in the past is out of step with the spirit of the present which looks for causality in everything. He therefore interprets the doctrine of free will as the expression of the idea that there can be no responsibility without freedom. The problem of freedom therefore becomes a spiritual one having to do with the significance of individuality and selfhood on the one hand, and liberation of personality from self-worship and desire for power, on the other (see Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (1937), 270–296). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: H.A. Wolfson, Philo, 2 vols. (1947), index; idem, in: paajr, 11 (1941), 105–63; Husik, Philosophy, index, S.V. Freedom of the Will; Guttmann, Philosophies, index, S.V. Will, freedom of the; idem, in: Jewish Studies in Memory of G.A. Kohut (1935), 325–49; J. Guttmann, Die Religionsphilosophie des Abraham Ibn Daud (1879); idem, Die Religionsphilosophie des Saadia (1882); S. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, 285; J.B. Agus, Modern Philosophers of Judaism (1941), 73–74, 81–82; M. Friedman, Martin Buber (1960), 65–68, 198–9; F. Rothschild, Between God and Man (1959), 18–20, 26–30, 148–51.

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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