Free Will: All souls created equal?


#1

Hi everyone,

Really struggling with this question:

As Catholics, we believe that we have this thing called ‘free will’. I understand why this does not conflict with the fact that God is omniscient. His knowing what we will do is not the same as his causing it. But:

When we take a ‘free’ decision, consider what influences us. Presumably, every decision we take is a result of our nature and nurture. I (person ‘A’) see a laptop on someone’s desk, for example. By nature I am, say, impulsive and reckless (my genes predispose me to this). My genes also predispose me to steal this laptop. But my nurture - for my parents have brought me up well - causes me to resist this temptation.

Another person (‘B’), say, sees this same laptop. He is similarly predisposed to steal, but his ‘social conditioning’ has not caused him to be able to resist this temptation. He steals the laptop.

We may say, I would have thought, that we can guarantee what each of these two people would do when confronted with this situation. Person A will always resist the temptation, and person B will always steal.

How, then, can we hold person B ‘responsible’ for his action? It seems that in order to do this, we have to say that there is some entity which exists outside the influences of his nature and nurture. This, I understand, is what we call ‘the soul’.

But what ‘causes’ the soul to make the right, or the wrong, decision? Are not all souls conceived equally by God?

If two people with identical natures and nurtures (identical twins, say) were both confronted with the same temptation, we must be able to say that each is still ‘free’ to make his decision. Otherwise there is no free will. So why might one resist, and the other not? Are sins predestined for heaven or hell?

This question is causing me serious doubts. I’d be so grateful for anybody who can shed some light on this problem!

Cal


#2

I think Christ answers this question more than once. In the parable of the talents we see an acknowledgement that some people are given “more” and some are given “less”, and they are judged based on what they have done with what they were given. And Jesus also comes out and says from him who is given much, much will be required.

*"And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating.

But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more."*

God knows what we have to work with.


#3

“Noblesse oblige”, it seems :slight_smile:

How, then, can we hold person B ‘responsible’ for his action? It seems that in order to do this, we have to say that there is some entity which exists outside the influences of his nature and nurture. This, I understand, is what we call ‘the soul’.

But what ‘causes’ the soul to make the right, or the wrong, decision? Are not all souls conceived equally by God?

I think you’ve perhaps answered the second question, but certainly not the first (which is more important to me, despite the title of my post :wink: )

Thanks for your help.


#4

Suppose God judged people on baseball instead of faith and moral intent and behavior. God grants everyone the ability to hit exactly .300 in the major leagues and that is the standard for entry to heaven, or reaching the state of heaven.

But some people are born poor. So those unfortunate people lack the ability to hit 300, perhaps most not being good enough to make a major league team. But God takes that into account and judges that had they been better fed and thus healthier they would have worked harder at practice, and He knows they would have hit 300. Then there are others who are blind and can’t play, but God knows that had the had sight that they would have hit 300. Still others grew up in countries that don’t play baseball and have no interest in playing, but God takes that into account and know that had they been born in the U.S. Canada, Korea or Japan, they would have hit 300 in the majors. Others are physically small, or have talents in other sports or areas of interest and never bother practicing baseball. But God takes that into account and knows that they would have hit 300. Yet others have parents that don’t instruct them on baseball enough or not at all. Again, God calculates that they would have hit 300. And if God created someone (or merely allowed it) without the mental/soul ability or potential to hit 300 from the moment of conception, God would take that innate handicap into account. This is not to mention all the minute incidents in life that influence us in complex ways to take a different path through life. But God can sort all that out

In other words, if God takes everything into account, everyone will go to heaven.


#5

Celluloid: Yes, that’s the flaw (as I see it) in VociMike’s argument as it stands.

VociMike is saying, essentially, that we are born with different capacities to resist temptation. And from that I infer that whether or not we go to heaven or hell is dependent upon the extent to which we exercise that capacity.

My question is: what, if not nature and nurture (which God ‘takes into account’, as Celluloid puts it), determines how an individual soul will exercise its capacity to resist temptation, and so ‘be good’?

The Catholic faith rests on the idea that humans have the ‘choice’ to do good or evil. What makes that choice?


#6

We start making free choices at a very young age. Every choice has an effect on our soul - to strengthen our will to resist temptation and do good, or to weaken it. I think when we are judged by God and He shows us our life, we’ll be surprised to see the extent that little choices made at a young age influenced our spiritual capability in bigger things later on, whether for good or evil. God may offer His grace in varying degrees, but He offers it to all; and even little children can choose to reject or ignore it.

By the way, “nature and nurture do not determine how an individual soul will exercise its capacity to resist temptation” for if they did, it would nullify free will and and there would be no culpability for our actions.

Nita


#7

Nita, you’ve really just reinforced the importance of my question - not answered it! I know that if nature and nurture determined how a soul would exercise its capacity to resist temptation then that would nullify free will. The question is, what does determine that capacity?! Please read my previous posts, which are slightly more coherent than this one!

Thanks for your help.


#8

But my nurture - for my parents have brought me up well - causes me to resist this temptation

.

I’ve reread your posts now. The way I understand them, you’re looking for something that does not exist. You’re looking for something that “determines” or “causes” our choices. There is nothing external to our free will that causes and determines our choices (altho externals can certainly exert influence).

Hope that helps. If not, guess I’m still not understanding what you’re after.

Nita


#9

If nothing determines our choices, then it emerges randomly, either from the moment of conception (or early in childhood) as a predisposition for good or evil or at the moment of each decision/choice is made.

The trouble with the former is that it is plainly obvious that we are not ultimately responsible since we didn’t choose with any insight the original state of our own predisposition, while the latter contradicts the notion of character. If the will were free for each decision then everyone would make good or evil choices that would be evenly distributed throughout the population. No Mother Theresas and no Charles Mansons, but every single one of us would be morally lukewarm and without individual moral character. Everyone being slightly but equally eccentric, we’d all be doing things like putting odd sock pairs, or going to work naked on very rare occasions. Rarely, because we’d still be socially and legally coerced.

You say that these early choices affect later character, but you can hardly blame a small child for making bad early choices that lead to further evil later. Why did the child make those bad choices? Because that was part of the child’s evil strategy for life that he devised while still in the womb??? If so, why did the fetus do that? And so on back to conception.

But physical things do determine or at least influence our choices. Example: Beer


#10

I didn’t say “nothing determines our choices”, but rather "nothing external to our free will. Free will is a faculty (or power) of the human soul - the power to freely decide what we will do. It is our free will that is the direct cause, the determiner of our actions.

As I noted, externals (things other than the free will) can influence or attempt to influence our will. These externals are manifold - beginning with our own disordered passions and faulty intellect. Then there are things we see, hear, experience in any way, and on and on and on…
But the best influence for good is God’s grace; and the good teaching and example of others.
All of these things can influence, but they do not determine.

Sorry if my words “young age” gave the impression I was speaking of babies and fetuses. Granted I wasn’t giving a specific age, but I do think we make choices before the age of 7 which is normally considered the age of reason. The age at which our free will (aided by reason) plays a part no doubt varies with the individual.

Regarding the portion of your post that I bolded: I don’t understand the logic that would lead to that conclusion (that good and evil choices would be evenly distributed throughout the population).

Nita


#11

Just what is the will or soul free from, to the extent to which it is free? Is it free from its own nature? Is it free from its history and its original God-instilled qualities? Consider a child who is about to make the first decision that he would be considered morally responsible for at moment t. Up to this point, at moment t – 1, who he is has been determined by things that he is not morally responsible for; his genetics, environment, and his God-given soul. Now what is going to determine how he transitions from t – 1 to t? Presumably, if he is to be held morally responsible, it will be HE who determines how he transitions to a time at which he is morally responsible. But by stipulation he is not responsible for who he is at t -1, so how can he be responsible for his transition to state t, where he is morally responsible? If it is who he is at t that is morally responsible for being who he is at t, then we seem to be blaming him for something that is outside of his control, for at t it is too late for him to prevent himself from being blameworthy at t. If the transition from t – 1 to t can’t be controlled by who he is at t or at t - 1 (in such a way that the controlling person is morally responsible), in what sense can the child in question be said to control that transition and be morally responsible for it’s having take place at all?

I’m a compatibilist myself; I think we ought to blame people for actions that arise from bad characters regardless of how they came to have those characters (though I’m not an advocate of punishment for the sake of retribution as most Christians seem to be). A compatibilist theory of moral responsibility, however, doesn’t allow for the free-will defense against the problem of evil. The only alternative seems to be either postulating a God that simply can’t make sinless beings, or a God who doesn’t want everyone to be saved (The God the Calvinists seem to posit.)


#12

You ask what the free will is free from. It is free from being controlled by anyone other than oneself. I’m not sure what you mean by “Is it free from its own nature”. Without having further clarification on the question, my answer would be - of course not, since being free is an integral part of its nature, a quality that is God given. You ask “Is it free from its history?” Not in the sense that there is no connection, but yes in the sense that it can overcome that history, that it is not controlled or determined by that history

Re underlined portion:
Just brain development that is part of normal growth determines when one transitions from t-1 to t. It doesn’t come about by a decision of the subject for which he is morally responsible.

After the underlined portion, I’m lost; just too many “t’s”. :slight_smile:

Nita


#13

About your person B, if he *truly *cannot resist, then it is not a free decision. It is no decision at all. Also, about person A, if it is a case of good social conditioning, likely it simply doesn’t occur to the guy to steal the laptop. I see laptops all the time and it doesn’t cross my mind to steal them. This is no sign of wonderfulness on my part. It requires no free will to resist. There is again no decision. Either this is how I was raised (yes) or due to years of training myself (no) or that I am preoccupied (no) or whatever.

It is the man who sees the laptop and for whatever reason says to himself, “I could steal that!”, who is in a position to make a decision. Now is the moment, do you believe that man has a choice or not? If you think he does, then the choice he makes determines who he is and what he cares about. It is the choice itself that will determine that, not who he was before he makes the choice. If he chooses to steal it, then he cares more for thrills or more for luxury or whatever it happens to be. If he chooses no, it is because he cares more for safety, law, integrity, or whatever. (I am ignoring the case of the starving man). He is now a different man than before he chose. Maybe not a lot different, but different. This difference is in what he cares about, what matters to him, what kind of person he chooses to be. If he fails to steal it enough times, probably he will find it crosses his mind to steal less often, because he has already made that decision so many times.

If your problem is, how can our free will move itself to make a free decision, well, you can always go with God moves it, but when he moves it, he moves it freely. He is, after all, God. He made the free will to begin with. If he can create a free will and yet have it remain truly free, I have no doubt he can give it the impetus it needs to decide something without damaging its freedom. (I’m not saying he decides for us).


#14

I found this the other day in reading my Bible.

Sirach 15:11: Do not say, “Because of the Lord I left the right way”; for he will not do what he hates.
12: Do not say, “It was he who led me astray”; for he had no need of a sinful man.
13: The Lord hates all abominations, and they are not loved by those who fear him.
14: It was he who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination.
15: If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
16: He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
17: Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.
18: For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything;
19: his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man.
20: He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin

All that discussion that works don’t matter and such just fell apart as I read that. In fact… it’s also a good case for free will, but I guess Calvin must have missed this part of the Word of God.


#15

I’ll try to restate my argument: a child, we’ll call him Joe, has never done anything for which he is morally blameworthy up until and at a moment in time, which we will call A. At the very next moment, B, Joe makes (or has made) some decision or does (has done) something (whatever you think makes a person morally responsible) such that he is blameworthy. To be clear: I am stipulating that at B, Joe IS morally blameworthy, for the first time in his life. Now Joe-at-A is going to become Joe-at-B; he is going to become blameworthy. If he is going to become blameworthy, presumably that is because of a decision he has “freely” made. But who has made the decision? Is it Joe-at-A? Joe-at-A is innocent by stipulation. We can’t blame Joe-at-A for anything at all, so we certainly can’t blame him for his transition to Joe-at-B. But what are we blaming Joe-at-B for? He had no control over Joe-at-A’s transition to Joe-at-B, as he didn’t exist until that transition was complete. It seems to me that for this reason, moral blame can’t rest upon control, for then blameworthiness couldn’t get off the ground. I would say that Joe-at-B is blameworthy because Joe-at-B has (as we all do to varying degrees) a bad character and his actions reveal that character to us and perhaps to himself. Joe has no ultimate responsibility for being the sort of person he is, but we are right to hold him responsible for his actions to the extent to which they reflect who he is. You may reject this account of moral responsibility, but if you want to maintain a control-based account, I’d like to know why Joe-at-B is responsible for being who he is when he had no control over his status. Do you believe in some sort of backwards causality?


#16

you can make the same argument about walking: Joe-at-A is at point P. Joe-at-A then does whatever it is that needs to be done to move to point Q. now Joe-at-A is going to become Joe-at-B - he is going to become the person that is Joe-at-point-Q. but who did the moving from P to Q? it can’t be Joe-at-A because, by definition, he was at point P; by the same token, it can’t be Joe-at-B, since he didn’t actually come into existence until B. so it seems that we can’t have a good account of walking (people just blink out of existence every moment and are replaced by brand new people that blink into existence a moment later).

you’re making some kind of flawed (Zeno-like) assumption about the actual (infinite?) quantization of points of time, perhaps in tandem with a flawed assumption about personhood - i.e. that Joe-at-B is as substantially a different person from Joe-at-A as I am.

but why should anyone believe either of those things? i mean, the person we’re blaming for making the wrong choice is the person who made that choice (just as we identify the person who moved from point P to Q as the person who took the step - that person, there).

[quote=Michael Lewis] It seems to me that for this reason, moral blame can’t rest upon control, for then blameworthiness couldn’t get off the ground. I would say that Joe-at-B is blameworthy because Joe-at-B has (as we all do to varying degrees) a bad character and his actions reveal that character to us and perhaps to himself. Joe has no ultimate responsibility for being the sort of person he is, but we are right to hold him responsible for his actions to the extent to which they reflect who he is. You may reject this account of moral responsibility, but if you want to maintain a control-based account, I’d like to know why Joe-at-B is responsible for being who he is when he had no control over his status.
[/quote]

because Joe-at-B is the same person as the person that made the bad choice. choices don’t create new persons (and destroy old ones) any more than they create entirely new quantum universes. unless, of course, you have a good argument as to why we should think they do…

[quote=Michael Lewis] Do you believe in some sort of backwards causality?
[/quote]

well, that would seem about as plausible as your account of choice and personhood.


#17

My original post:

But what ‘causes’ the soul to make the right, or the wrong, decision?

This discussion of Joe at points P and Q is very interesting, but we don’t seem to be making much ground as regards the original question.

The reason it’s causing me to doubt my faith is due to my understanding of the nature of sin and salvation.

Imagine Joe-at-(time)A. He is confronted with two choices, R and S, one of which is good and the other bad. He makes his choice, and is now at (time)B. Now let’s say we can magically put Joe back at (time)A. (He is the same person he was at time A.) Surely he, being exactly the same person and in the same position, will make the same choice?

This implies causal determinism, and whether or not you’re a compatibilist this has dire implications for the notion of salvation. Why? Because it would seem that every soul, from the moment of conception, is destined for either heaven or hell.

Seeing that laptop, I, being the sum of my nature and nurture, with my character, beliefs and desires, will certainly make decision X. I have no influence on my nature and nurture; nor on my character (a result of nature and nurture), beliefs (ditto) or desires (by definition passive). How then can I be held culpable for my actions?


#18

Now Joe-at-A is going to become Joe-at-B; he is going to become blameworthy. If he is going to become blameworthy, presumably that is because of a decision he has “freely” made. But who has made the decision?

No, he doesn’t arrive at that state of being blameworthy because of a decision he makes. It’s just part of human growth and development - mental development primarily. There’s no way to isolate any one moment for it any more than you can isolate and state exactly when you had your first coherent thought.

(I’m assuming you’re using the term blameworthy in reference to a level of development where one can recognize good and evil to at least some degree and thus is deserving of blame for a bad choice.)

However, if by blameworthy you mean the first time JoeA is deserving of blame for a bad action he chooses to do, then it’s obvious - it’s after he has gone ahead and done it that he becomes blameworthy, becomes JoeB. But blameworthy in this case refers to a particular action done by Joe and not to arriving at a certain level of human development and mental capability. This is not the meaning I would give to blameworthy in the context of this thread.

The human soul isn’t restricted to just the one faculty of the will; there is also the faculty of the intellect. (Also other powers, but these are the two that are unique to humans and not present in animals.) Both develop as we grow. And we very definitely have influence in how they develop;

  1. the intellect by what we “feed” it (read, study, listen to, etc.)
  2. the will by how we exercise/use it.

Exercising the will correctly means making choices according to right reason (role of the intellect). Each time we do this we strengthen our will, especially when it means making a decision that is contrary to something we desire. That’s developing mental muscle!! :slight_smile:

Exercising it incorrectly means making choices as dictated according to our passions and feelings without examining and subjecting them to right reason. We become essentially slaves to our passions, our will becoming so weak we are unable to make and carry out a decisions contrary to them. (eg being unable to resist cravings for foods that are not good for us; not being able to keep from screaming when we get angry, etc.)
We do not become a slave to our passions with just one decision. But the will gets weaker each time we give in.

But with God’s grace we can conquer sinful habits we’ve allowed to develop.

I’ve gone on long enough. I’ll let you ask if there’s something you want clarified.

Nita


#19

Nita, could you respond to what I just posted? Slightly different to what you were replying to…

Thanks for your time!


#20

This (from Wikipedia) makes some interesting points:

Catholic beliefs:

* The present Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the soul as "the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God's image: 'soul' signifies the spiritual principle in man."
* The soul is the center of the human will, intellect (or mind), and imagination (or memory), and **the source of all free human acts**, although good acts are aided by God's grace.
* At the moment of death, the soul goes either to Purgatory, Heaven, or Hell. Purgatory is a place of atonement for sins that one goes through to pay the temporal punishment for post-baptismal sins that have not been atoned for by sufferings during one's earthly life. This is distinct from the atonement for the eternal punishment due to sin which was affected by Christ's suffering and death.

(My emphasis.)


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