Can Change the World Again.
A SYSTEM OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. 1882.
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
The will has already been defined, as that faculty of the mind to which all mental determinations are to be referred,determinations such as intentions, purposes, resolutions, volitions, and choices. No additional considerations need be presented to prove, that this faculty stands at an equal remove from the intelligence, on the one hand, and the sensibility, on the other. No philosopher of any distinction now questions the threefold division of the mental faculties, adopted in this treatise. While the will is to be regarded, as a separate, it is, by no means, to be considered as an independent, faculty. All its acts of every kind, are put forth in view of some object or end apprehended by the intelligence, and in connection with some movement of the sensibility. Each of these faculties, also, is influenced by the action of each of the others. Each, however, has its own peculiar sphere, and in that sphere, is governed by laws equally special and peculiar.
POINTS OF AGREEMENT AND DISAGREEMENT AMONG PHILOSOPHERS.
There are certain questions in the department of mental science, in which all philosophers of any note now agree. They generally agree, as stated above, in the validity of the threefold division of the mental faculties presented in this treatise, the intellect, sensibility, and will. They also perfectly harmonize in the doctrine, that the two faculties first named, are, in fact, governed, in all their activities, by one fixed and immutable law, that of necessity. They differ, some of them fundamentally, in regard to the question, whether the will is also subject to this law, or to that of liberty as opposed to necessity. This is one of the leading issues in the sphere of mental science. What I now propose to do, is to enable the inquirer after truth to settle this issue satisfactorily to himself.
THE TERMS LIBERTY AND NECESSITY DEFINED.
To accomplish this object, we must, first of all, most clearly and specifically define the two apposite ideas represented by the terms liberty and necessity, when they stand opposed, the one to the other. The term liberty is sometimes used in opposition to the term servitude. The idea which it then represents is wholly diverse from that which it represents when it stands opposed to the term necessity. What are the distinct and opposite ideas represented by these terms, when they stand opposed the one to the other?
These terms, I answer, when thus opposed to each other, represent two distinct and opposite relations which may be supposed to exist between a given antecedent and its consequent. The first relation is this: the antecedent being given, but one consequent can arise, and that must arise. This is the exclusive relation represented by the term, necessity. The second relation referred to is this: the antecedent being given, and in connection with the same identical antecedent, either of two or more consequences may arise, and neither, in distinction from the other must arise. It is self-evident, that every antecedent and its consequent must fall under one or the other of these relations. All acts of will are, as we have seen, preceded by certain intellectual, and sensitive, and emotive states, tending to influence its determinations. These states (motives) are the antecedents to said acts, and the acts are the consequents. All such acts,the consequents,must sustain to the states or motives referred to,the antecedents,the relation of liberty or necessity, as these terms have been above defined. If a given act is free or necessary, it is, and must be, absolutely so.
A FREE AND NECESSARY AGENT DEFINED.
Man, then, is a free went, if, in the identical circumstances in which he does put forth given acts of will, he might put forth different and opposite acts from those which he does put forth. He is a necessary agent, if in the identical circumstances in which he does put forth given acts of choice, he could not put forth different and opposite ones. The same holds absolutely true of all other agents, and this is the fixed and immutable definition of a free agent, on the one hand, and of a necessary agent, on the other. So far, then, as free agency is to be affirmed of any being, necessary agency is to be absolutely denied of him, and vice versa. Is man, then, a free or necessary agent?
HOW THIS QUESTION MUST BE ANSWERED.
There are but two sources of ultimate appeal in answering such a question,the affirmations of our own interior consciousness,and the testimony of the author of mind, testimony given in his own word; and these sources of appeal originating as they do from the same infallible author, must be in harmony, as far as they relate to the same facts. In a former part of this treatise, we have seen, that in all positive mental states, we have an absolute consciousness, not only of the states themselves, but also of ourselves, as the subjects of them. Now if, in this state of consciousness, we do, or do not, have absolute knowledge of the actual relations of ourselves to the states referred to, we either can, or cannot, by any appeal to consciousness, determine the question, whether we are free, or necessary agents. If, also, the Scriptures, by express teaching, or undeniable implication, do or do not affirm one or the other of these hypotheses, in opposition to the other, to be true, then we either can or cannot, by such an appeal, determine where the truth lies. If both these sources of appeal, should affirm the truth of either, and deny that of the other, then, we have absolute proof of the one thus affirmed. Let us now turn our thoughts to each source of proof in succession, and see if we can, or cannot, find the truth after which we are inquiring.
TESTIMONY OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
Let us suppose ourselves in the presence of some object of choice, an object in respect to which one of two or more distinct and opposite determinations must be put forth. What is the state of our consciousness in regard to these diverse determinations? But one answer can, in truth, be given to this question. We are just as conscious of absolute power to put forth either, in distinction from the other, as we are that we exist at all. When we put forth one determination, we do it with the absolute consciousness that we might, in the same circumstances, have put forth either of the others. When in subsequent times, we remember that act of choice, that remembrance is always accompanied with the consciousness equally absolute, that we might have put forth different acts of choice from what we did originate. This absolute consciousness of absolute free agency accompanies all our acts of choice. The conclusion is undeniable. We are free, and not necessary, agents, or the universal consciousness is an absolute lie. Whatever our theory in regard to the doctrine of the will may be, this is the absolute testimony upon the subject which we all receive in the interior of our own consciousness. To deny the validity of the testimony which we here receive, is, in fact, to impeach the integrity of the Author of the power of consciousness itself.
We all have the consciousness, also, that we are not only free, but moral agents. When the right and the wrong are before us, as objects of choice, we recognize our obligations as absolute to choose the one, and eschew the other. When the act of choice has been put forth, we approve or condemn the act, and affirm ourselves as deserving of good or ill, in absolute accordance with the relations of our acts of choice to the law of duty.
Upon one immutable condition can we affirm our personal responsibility for acts of choice; to wit, that we are in fact free and not necessary agents. An individual, we will suppose is, by no fault of his, but by the will of Providence, placed in circumstances in which none but a prohibited act of choice is possible to him, and that act he must put forth. We can no more conceive him to be blameworthy for any such act, than we can conceive of the annihilation of space; and God himself, has thus constituted our intelligence. The immutable characteristic of all so called wrong acts, rests upon the supposition, that we are free agents. God himself, in the fundamental laws and constitution of the universal consciousness and general intelligence, has thus made Himself responsible for the validity of the doctrine of the free agency of man.
EVIDENCE FROM INSPIRATION.
The Scriptures give us no direct and immediate revelations pertaining to the science of mind. Man stands therein revealed, and known as the subject of moral government, and by consequence, as possessed of all the powers of moral agency. He is everywhere addressed by commands and prohibitions, requiring him, under sanctions of infinite weight, to reject the evil and choose the good. For wrong doing under all circumstances, he is affirmed to be wholly without excuse.
All such teachings undeniably imply in man absolute free agency, the power, when he does right or wrong to choose the opposite. On no other conditions is it even conceivable, as we have seen, that he should be responsible for his acts of choice. God, we will suppose, and this is just what he does do, if the doctrine of necessity is true, God we will suppose, places a creature in circumstances in which he cannot but sin, that is, choose the wrong. Is it conceivable, that he should be blameworthy for doing that which it is impossible, and God has rendered it impossible, for him not to do? Upon one condition exclusively, and that from the nature of universal mind, as God himself has constituted it, can the judgments of the Most High stand revealed to the eye of the rational creation, "as true and righteous altogether;" namely, that good and evil are equally, and at all times, and under all circumstances, possible to all whom God treats as moral agents.
God does, in fact, let me add, place creatures, and that without their choice, in circumstances in which they do sin. He then expresses the deepest regret, and even wonder and astonishment, and calls upon heaven and earth to be astonished with him at the fact, that, under those identical circumstances, they do sin. If the doctrine of necessity is true, God entertains the deepest regret, and calls upon the universe to unite with him in wonder and astonishment, that that should occur the non-occurrence of which he himself has rendered absolutely impossible. Man, then, is a free, and not a necessary agent, or the human intelligence is a lie, and inspiration, a mass of contradictions and absurdities.
Against the doctrine above elucidated, many and grave objections may be urged, and have been urged, objections lying within the sphere of theology, on the one hand, and of philosophy, on the other. These objections, however, are all comprehended under the following forms.
THE DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE.
It is a revealed fact, it is urged, in the first place, that our acts of choice are foreknown to God, a fact which could not be real, were the will free, and not subject to the law of necessity. This objection, I reply, rests upon the assumption that the divine foreknowledge is based upon the same conditions that ours is. We can foreknow none but necessary events. How do we know, that the divine foreknowledge is subject to the same limitations? As an absolutely conscious, and also, as a revealed, fact we know that we are, not necessary, but free, agents. On the authority of inspiration, we believe, that our free acts are foreknown to God. These two facts we hold as real, because we have valid evidence for thus holding them. Their compatibility with each other, we do not profess to explain, for the all-adequate reason, that we do not understand the conditions, limitations, or quo modo, of the divine foreknowledge.
THE WILL AS THE STRONGEST MOTIVE.
It is further urged against the doctrine of free will, that all our acts of choice are in fixed accordance with the strongest motive, which would not be the case, were we free, and not necessary, agents. When the objector is asked to fix definitely the meaning which he attaches to the words, strongest motive, his invariable reply is this; that is the strongest motive which the will does, in fact, follow: Let the argument on which this objection rests, be put in a logical form, and its absurdity will become self-evident. It then stands thus. If the will always follows the motive which it does follow, it is subject to the law of necessity; it does, in fact, invariably follow the motive which it does follow; therefore, it is, in all its acts, subject to this one law. Whether God has, or has not, "left free the human will," this truth still remains, that this faculty, in all its acts, does follow some motive, and that motive is the one which it does follow.
If the words, strongest motive, be defined, as they should be, to mean the strongest desire, or what the intelligence affirms to be best, it will then stand revealed, as an absolute truth, that in neither of these senses, is the will always as the strongest motive. In acts of moral wrong, the will follows the strongest feeling in opposition to the dictates of the intelligence. In doing right it not unfrequently holds in subjection the strongest feeling, while it yields obedience to the behests of conscience.
WE ARE CONSCIOUS OF CHOOSING, BUT NOT OF LIBERTY IN CHOOSING.
In reply to the appeal made to consciousness in favor of the doctrine of free will, it is affirmed, that we are conscious of our acts of choice, as mere facts, and not at all of the power of free choice. This objection, I remark, is based wholly upon a total misinterpretation of the knowledge which is derived from consciousness. In respect to all mental states in common, we are, as we have seen, not only conscious of the same as facts, but of ourselves as subjects of, and of our relations to, said states. In our intellectual and sensitive states, we are not only conscious of the same, but of ourselves in them, as subject to the law of necessity. In all acts of choice, we are not only conscious of said acts, but of ourselves in them as exercising the responsible functions of free, in opposition to necessary, agency. No other exposition correctly interprets real knowledge by consciousness.
RELATIONS OF THE WILL TO MOTIVES.
All acts of will, as has been before shown, are put forth in view of motives of some kind. In the absence of all motives, it is self-evident, that no such acts of any kind are possible. In one respect pertaining to this subject, there is now coming to be a general agreement among philosophers; to wit, that while the motive is the occasion, it is not the cause proper of acts of will. In the presence of motive, the question what specific act shall be put forth does not depend upon the motive, but upon the power of free choice in the will itself.
In one respect, however, the motive is the cause proper of acts of will. In the presence of a given motive, the will must act in some direction. So far motives sustain to such acts the relations of real causes. In the presence of motives for the right and the wrong, for example, the will is not free to do the one or the other, or not to act at all. It must do the right, or the wrong. So far, it is not free at all. In respect to the question, which it shall do, here its freedom is absolute. The same holds true, in respect to all motives of every kind.
UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLE IN REGARD TO THE LIBERTY OF THE WILL.
In regard to the will, this principle with strict universality obtains. So far forth as its activity is free at all, so far is its power of free choice absolute; and so far it, or any other power, is subject to the law of necessity, it is, in no Sense, free.
INTENTIONS, CHOICES, VOLITIONS, PREFERENCES, ETC.
Acts of will are classed, as intentions, choices, volitions, etc. Intentions are those controlling acts to which others are subordinate. Choices are those acts in which a selection is made between different objects presented to the mind's election. Preferences are acts of choice which accord with the strongest desire. Volitions are executive acts by which intentions are, or are attempted to be, realized. A man's intention, we will suppose, is to take a journey. All those subordinate executive acts by which that intention is sought to be carried out are called volitions.
In intentions and choices we are, and in preferences and volitions we are not, free. In the two former, we are conscious of absolute freedom. By definition, we cannot put forth an act of preference but when choice accords with the strongest feeling. Volitions being subordinate executive acts, must from the nature of the case, be as the intentions to which they are subordinate, and the former being given, the latter must be.
Intentions take rank, as subordinate, and ultimate. The former are those controlling acts to which volitions of a certain class are, or may be, subordinate. The latter are those acts of will to which intentions and volitions of certain classes may be subordinate, but which are themselves subordinate to no other acts. The term motive is sometimes employed as synonymous with intention.
As intentions control all other acts of will, the moral character of the latter always is as that of the former. This statement accords with teachings, not only of inspiration, but with those of philosophers and theologians universally, as well as with the intuitive convictions of the race.
POINTS OF GENERAL AGREEMENT IN RESPECT TO
THE DOCTRINE OF THE WILL.
In concluding this last department of our present inquiries, I would specify the points of agreement which have now generally obtained in the spheres of both philosophy and theology, in regard to the doctrine of the will. They are, among others, the following:
1. The validity of the doctrine of a triunity of the mental powers denominated the intellect, the sensibility, and the will.
2. That man is free, if free at all, only in respect to the action of the will.
3. That he is directly and immediately responsible but for acts of will, and that the moral characters of all such acts are as those of our ultimate intentions.
4. That for our other mental states: viz., those of the intelligence and sensibility, we are accountable so far forth only, as their existence and character depend upon the action of the will.
5. That in all complex mental states of which moral character can be predicated, the voluntary and moral elements are identical.
THE IDEA OF LIBERTY As OPPOSED TO THAT OF SERVITUDE.
The term liberty sometimes represents, not only an idea opposed to that represented by the term, necessity, but one opposed to that represented by the term, servitude. In the latter sense, we are free when, and only when, all our voluntary activity is in harmony with the conscience and the law of duty, and all the impulsions of the propensities are held in strict subordination to the law of conscience and duty. We are in a state of moral servitude, when the propensities control the will in opposition to the behests of conscience and duty. The form of servitude thus resulting, and the degradation implied, depend upon the character of the controlling propensity, the lowest and most degrading of all being that in which the animal in man obtains the ascendency. The term liberty, or freedom is employed to designate the former state, because, that, in it, in the exercise of the high prerogative of self-control, the mind always does that which it approves and delights in. The latter state, on the other hand, is represented by the term servitude, because that, in a state of conscious enslavement to the lower propensities, it does that which it necessarily reprobates and abhors.
THE WILL AS SUBJECT TO THE LAW OF HABIT.
It is a fixed law of all the mental faculties in common, that action in any given form, generates a tendency to continued action in the same form, a tendency which is increased by each repetition of the same act. Under thus law the will is constantly acting. In doing the right or the wrong, we are not only incurring the desert of praise or blame, but we are constantly forming fixed habits which tend to perpetuate action, in all future time, in the same direction. These habits,for the formation of which we are responsible, at length become so fixed, that all prospect of change totally disappears.