The Freedom of the Will
The doctrine of will and free choice is central to Aquinas’ ethics and one of its most important and original parts. Two principal questions arise in considering the problem of free will: (a) Do human beings have freedom of choice? (b) Exactly what does it mean to say that we have (or do not have) such freedom? It is clear that (a) cannot be answered until we have answered (b). St. Thomas’ answer is complex and subtle, more so indeed than any analysis of the concept offered by classical philosophers before or since his day. But his answer to (a) is brusque and, at first sight, dogmatic. ‘Some people have maintained’, he says, that the will of man is moved by necessity to choose something. … However, this opinion is heretical; for it removes the basis of merit and demerit in human acts. For to act by necessity and in such a way that one cannot avoid the act does not seem to be meritorious or blameworthy. This view must be reckoned as irrelevant to philosophy; for it is not only contrary to faith but it overturns all the principles of moral philosophy.’ We shall consider later what meaning the phrase by necessity’ has in this context. It is clear, however, that St. Thomas intends to reject any obvious version of determinism.
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