Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

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Will, Free

  • Risto SaarinenEmail author
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_212-2


Renaissance philosophy receives the patristic traditions of Augustine and Bernhard of Clairvaux as well as the scholastic teachings of Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus. In the fourteenth century, the moderate voluntarism of John Buridan and the consistent voluntarism of William Ockham become dominant new currents. Along with these, Thomas Aquinas’s view of human action continues to exercise a great influence in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Many Renaissance authors develop an interest to the issues of fate and fortune, teaching that human free will is an exception to the general rule of fate and providence. Fatalist and determinist views of John Wycliff and Lorenzo Valla are normally rejected. Erasmus of Rotterdam argues that free will can be defended on both moral and biblical grounds.

Martin Luther and John Calvin want to downplay the significance of free will in religious matters. After Philip Melanchthon, early Lutheranism nevertheless affirms free will in nonreligious life. While Calvinism teaches predestination, it also wants to affirm human moral responsibility, sometimes approaching Neo-Stoicism. The Council of Trent affirms the existence of free will (liberum arbitrium). Luis de Molina’s doctrine of “middle knowledge” (scientia media) aims at proving that God’s foreknowledge does not rule out human free will. Francesco Suarez and René Descartes affirm similar positions. At the same time, early modern natural science underlines determinist causality. In Renaissance literature, authors like Marsilio Ficino and William Shakespeare, portray a many-sided will that establishes flexible individual identities.


Moral Responsibility Free Decision Practical Syllogism Aristotelian Virtue Ethic Middle Knowledge 
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Impact and Legacy

Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux continue to be philosophical and theological authorities through the Renaissance and Reformation period. In his De libero arbitrio (e.g., 1, 11, 21), Augustine teaches that human free decision or choice (liberum arbitrium) integrally belongs to the will (voluntas) so that the will is in some sense free (Augustine 1865). While decision and will are thus conceptually distinguished from one another, free decision is predominantly considered to be an act of the will in the Augustinian tradition. The vocabulary of free will is, however, complex for many reasons. Sometimes voluntas means for Augustine simply a power or desire. In his late anti-Pelagian writings, he restricts the freedom of the will because sinful concupiscence prevents people from doing good. Finally, in his Retractationes (1, 9, 3–6) Augustine considers that his De libero arbitrio remains compatible with his later anti-Pelagian stance.

Among the many different expressions that Augustine uses to depict the free decision of the will, “consent” (consentire, consensio) often means a free and responsible act. He states, for instance, that we do not sin in feeling the evil desire but in consenting to it (ex prop. Rm 12, 8). The dichotomy between inevitable desires and free consent is a recurring feature of later Augustinan traditions.

In his De gratia et libero arbitrio Bernard teaches that the human will inevitably contains an aspect of freedom: “Where the will is, there is freedom” (ubi voluntas, ibi libertas) (Bernard 1993, 1–4). This is so because the person who laments his lack of good will already experiences some freedom from necessity. While all rational creatures possess this kind of freedom, its higher degrees, freedom from sin and misery, need divine help in order to emerge. For such reasons, Paul’s lament in Romans 7 does not falsify free will but rather proves that the speaker is free from necessity. Divine help is, however, needed in order to accomplish the good.

The Aristotelian scholasticism of the thirteenth century introduces a theory of human action in which rational deliberation is made responsible for intentional action. Thomas Aquinas and many others adopt the so-called practical syllogism, a calculative model of human action. Within this framework, the place of free will becomes again an issue of debate. The so-called Parisian articles of 1277, promulgated by the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, aim at preserving Augustine and Bernard’s notion of free will within new Aristotelian paradigms of action. The articles condemn various views according to which reason determines the human will so that it cannot act contrary to reason or exercise a freedom of its own. Even sixteenth-century authors like John Mair still feel the need to state their conformity to the Parisian articles (Saarinen 2011, 27–35, 83–95).

Late-medieval Franciscan thought refined the idea of free will. In many ways, John Duns Scotus and William Ockham constructed that philosophical concept of free will which is familiar to us in modern discussions. Scholars have paid attention to the terminological point that until 1270 writers discussed liberum arbitrium. After that date, the expressions voluntas libera and libertas voluntatis also came into use. Franciscan authors often defended an idea of the will as the ruler of the soul; in this view, reason acts as the will’s adviser (Kent 1995, 98–99).

John Duns Scotus takes over from Anselm of Canterbury the distinction between two affections of the will, affectio commodi and iustitiae. While the first affection seeks one’s own advantage and happiness, the second seeks universal justice. Because the will is free and also possesses the affection that transcends the quest for one’s own happiness, free will can prefer justice over happiness. This idea gives voluntarism and free will a broader scope than in earlier Augustinian and Aristotelian traditions. For Scotus, the will no longer needs to serve the drive for self-realization and advantage, but it can freely will what is morally right (Kent 1995, 193–198).

William Ockham’s voluntarism can be considered as the apex of late medieval ideas of free will. For Ockham, freedom basically means the possibility to choose between opposite alternatives. While volition requires some sort of cognition in order to be connected with objects, such cognition and belief are not the cause of volition. At most, cognition may guide or facilitate volition, but the willing agent freely performs the acts of free will. The possibility to opt for opposite choices means, among other things, that the free agent must always be able to act against what he takes to be the right or good (Panaccio 2012, 90–91). In this manner, the positions of Duns Scotus and Ockham enable the conceptual analysis of situations in which the will freely and consciously chooses against one’s own interests and contrary to what is right.

The standard teaching on free will in the fourteenth century is contained in the third book of John Buridan’s Questions on Aristotle’s Ethics (1968). This work continued to be printed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and its influence is visible in many early modern sources. Most importantly, it represents a sort of via media that connects the Aristotelian theory of Thomas Aquinas with emerging late medieval voluntarism. Buridan also pays detailed attention to the Parisian articles and the older tradition of Augustine and Bernard.

Buridan starts his discussion by stating that we need to believe in a so-called freedom of opposition (libertas oppositionis) as a doctrine of faith and moral responsibility. While this statement resembles the position of Ockham, it may, historically speaking, simply relate to the necessity, for a philosophy teacher, to express his agreement with the Parisian articles. For Buridan, the freedom of opposition means that “it is possible for the will, everything else being equally disposed, to choose sometimes one of the opposites and sometimes the other.” Buridan interprets this view to mean that in the state of not-willing (non velle) there can be at least two mutually exclusive options open to the agent (Buridan 1968, 36rb-37va).

This option of not-willing is affirmed by the Parisian articles as a sufficient condition for the will’s freedom. Buridan (1968, 36vb) quotes the Parisian view stating that it must be possible for the will not to will when other natural conditions for its movement are present. Such freedom of non velle also plays a role in John Duns Scotus (Kent 1995, 193). In order to explain what this freedom means, Buridan (1968, 41va) asks “whether the act of volition or nolition is preceded in the will by some other act or any other mediating disposition through which the act of volition comes into being in the same will.”

Buridan undertakes an important distinction between the first and the second acts of the will. In its first act, the will judges something under the aspect of goodness or badness and develops a liking or disliking of its object. This happens inevitably and does not necessarily lead to an action. In its second act, the will accepts or refuses the object thus presented. This second act prompts the action. The agent is morally responsible for this second act. In order for the second act to emerge, the first act must have occurred. At the same time, the will can postpone its second act to inquire further about the alternatives. This is the freedom of not-willing (Buridan 1968, 42rb-44vb).

The will can choose something that is only judged to be good “in some sense.” In other words, the will is free to choose in situations of uncertainty and ambiguity. The option of postponement is not unlimited: at some point, it would obviously be irrational to delay decision-making (1968, 44vb). This means that Buridan can have a via media position between intellectualist Thomism and voluntarist Franciscan thinking. On the one hand, the will always follows the rational judgment. On the other, however, the will is free to postpone its action to an extent; the will is also free to choose one of several options when each one of them appears under some aspect of goodness but none of them is compelling. For instance, weakness of will can occur in situations of uncertainty, but not when the case is clear (for this, see the entry “Will, Weakness of”). The freedom of opposition pertains to situations in which the agent can at least for a while stick to the option of not-willing.

Buridan’s distinction between first and second acts of the will resembles the Augustinian distinction between inevitable desires and free consent. At the same time, Buridan develops the distinction towards a Scotist view: both acts are acts of the will, and the second act has the capacity to consider universal reasons that reach beyond one’s own advantage. In addition to these features, Buridan’s view has a certain affinity to Thomism: the will acts rationally, the decision-making leading to action is performed through practical syllogism, and some ignorance inevitably belongs to wrong choices – though they cannot be excused on such grounds.

Martin Luther’s teacher Bartholomaeus Arnoldi de Usingen adopts Buridan’s view of human action and considers that the “freedom of opposition” is the Catholic way to speak of free will or decision: “According to both moral philosophy and the Catholic way of speaking the sinful act proceeds from free decision insofar as the agent can consider other alternatives. And according to Augustine, sin is thus free; and if it does not come about freely, it cannot be sin” (Usingen 1499, 63v). One fascinating aspect of this view is its similarity to economic models of decision-making: after the introduction of a variety of available options in the first act of the will, reason can still calculate their different relative benefits in its intermediate state of non velle. When the agent freely chooses the best option in the second act of the will, this rational choice normally represents the optimal amount of what is considered advantageous and/or right (Saarinen 2013).

Recent research on Renaissance philosophy has shown that the new commentaries on Aristotle often continue to promote late medieval scholastic views, though in more elegant Latin. From 1300 to 1650, the views of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas on human action continue to be widespread and are often regarded as the standard position in academic teaching (Lines 2002; Lines and Ebbersmeyer 2013). This basic fact should be remembered as the background from which new and innovative discussions emerge.

Some Renaissance authors develop an interest towards the issues of fate and necessity. In his De remediis, Petrarch takes a critical stance towards wishful thinking in general and astrology in particular. He criticizes fortune-tellers (Petrarch 1991, ch. 112) and then remarks to those who hope for better times that “happiness or sadness depends not on the times but on you yourself. As soon as you realize this you will know how to hope for happy things, and how to cope with sad ones” (1991, ch. 115). In Petrarch’s Secretum (1989), this voluntaristic stance is investigated more closely.

In his On Fate and Fortune, Coluccio Salutati defends a view according to which natural things happen necessarily (Salutati 1985). Will, however, is an exception to the general course of nature:

Will alone, the potential of rational creatures, is bestowed with freedom of decision, so that it were not at all if it were deprived of freedom (which is impossible), freedom, that is, in choosing to will or nill, which appertains to us so naturally that it were not wrong to state that, if God would take it away, it would not be will anymore. (modified from Blum 2010, 57)

In spite of this voluntarism, Salutati teaches that free will is embedded in God’s providence. Fate is the totality of cooperation taking place in the acts of God and humans (Blum 2010, 59–60).

In his treatise De libero arbitrio, Lorenzo Valla teaches, on the one hand, that God’s foreknowledge does not entail necessity (Valla 1934). On the other hand, the work also contains an antiintellectualist defense of a religious view according to which God hardens some hearts but not others. Salutati and Valla do not aim at reaching a philosophical solution to the problems of free will; they rather elucidate the issues from various angles (cf. Copenhaver and Schmitt 1992, 212–213; Blum 2010, 55–94). Some late scholastic thinkers, for instance, John Wycliffe, present a stronger doctrine of predestination than Salutati and Valla. The later reputation of Wycliffe and Valla shows that their views of fate and predestination were generally rejected in the Catholic Church. In this sense, free will was considered to be the standard Catholic doctrine.

In later Renaissance philosophy, the compatibility of fate and free will could nevertheless also be defended. In his De fato, de libero arbitrio et de predestinatione, Pietro Pomponazzi (1957) considers that contingent natural events in reality follow the laws of nature, being deterministic in this sense. In an analogical fashion, the human will does not initiate its own freedom but is rather determined by the intellect as Aristotle has shown. Like Buridan, Pomponazzi thinks that the freedom of the will is not found in any positive exercise of choice but rather in the will’s capacity of not-willing. While Pomponazzi leans towards a Stoic conception of fate, he considers that the free will can be made compatible with this conception when it is understood as the power to suspend its own act (Poppi 1988, 659). Deterministic features of human action were also sometimes supported with the authority of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas on the grounds that they do not ascribe the capacity of self-determination to the will.

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1969) undertakes an extensive defense of free will in his treatise De libero arbitrio. Erasmus was writing against the early Lutheran Reformation, which was critical of the scholastic view of free will (for this, see the entry “Will, Bondage of”). Like his Renaissance predecessors, Erasmus does not want to present an overall philosophical solution, but elucidates the issue from various angles. He first says that the problem of free will is a profoundly mysterious labyrinth (1969, Ia1). The ancient authors give a variety of different opinions in this matter. While Erasmus is somewhat uncertain of his own position, he believes that human free decision is effective in some sense (Ia5).

Erasmus considers that most Church Fathers have affirmed free decision. Among those who have rejected it, he counts Mani, Wycliffe, Valla and Luther (Ib2). Erasmus considers that Pelagius gave too much credit to free decision and Scotus also ascribed a high value to it; compared to these, his own position emphasizes grace but nevertheless leaves some room for free decision (IV16). Erasmus grants that we do not know the depths of God’s providential rule and thus cannot falsify the doctrine of predestination. In practice, however, it is prudent to teach free decision, since this doctrine motivates sinful people to improve their lives (Ia8-10). The philosophical grounds of free will are thus moral rather than metaphysical or theological.

Erasmus devotes many pages of his treatise to discussing biblical verses that speak in favor of free will. Such verses include, for instance, Matthew 19:17, 19:21, and 23:37. In these verses, Jesus makes an appeal to people’s will. If humans have no free will, such an appeal makes no sense (IIb1). Erasmus underlines his anti-Pelagian stance by concluding that God’s grace gives human will its effective power. If someone opposes him by saying that such a weak concept of free will is useless, Erasmus responds that the ideas of humanity and free will distinguish the divine-human cooperation from the mere production of artifacts (IV16). Eramus’ concept of free will thus remains modest and moderate when compared to the voluntarism of Duns Scotus and Ockham.

Luther’s closest colleague Philip Melanchthon sides with his mentor in the controversy with Erasmus. At the same time, the Melanchthonian wing of the Reformation accepts many Erasmian teachings. The basic interest of the early Lutherans is concerned with the “noneconomic” mode of understanding human action in salvation: our works do not merit anything, and we are justified by grace alone. A free will that aims for an “economic” gain is thus rejected; however, it is obvious that theories of human person and action also have other aims. Melanchthon is clearly aware of them and develops a differentiated view of free will (Saarinen 2011, 2013).

In his last doctrinal treatise, Responses to the Articles of the Bavarian Inquisition, Melanchthon (1955) lays out this differentiated view. He repudiates the Stoic and Manichean views of fate and predestination. At the same time, he rejects the Pelagian view of free will. Melanchthon affirms a nontheological free will: “In human beings who are not reborn there is some freedom of the will which is able to perform external works. Achilles was able to control his hands, so that they would strike Agamemnon, and he could compel them not to strike him” (quoted from Kolb 2005, 98). Philosophically, Melanchthon opts for a kind of fideistic compatibilism: “There is contingency, and the source of contingency in our actions is the freedom of the will. … Both propositions must be believed: there is divine determination, and there is contingency, and not every point of contradiction between the two can be explained” (quoted from Kolb 2005, 99).

For the history of philosophy, it is important to see that Erasmus and Melanchton were tremendously influential as authors of basic university textbooks in the sixteenth century. While they remained on opposite sides of Protestantism as it was then emerging, they both represent a via media on the issue of free will, claiming that it is free will that allows humans to be considered something more than mere artifacts. In addition, free will makes it possible to reject fatalism and teach human responsibility. At the same time, these leading humanists do not teach voluntarism or human decision-making in terms of economic rationality. Rather, they grant that we do not really know the basic motives of human action and that free will is, therefore, something that needs to be believed rather than demonstrated.

The official Roman Catholic teaching on free will, as defined by the Council of Trent, is fairly similar to the view of Erasmus. As the early modern Catholic authors needed, at least in theory, to formulate views that were compatible with the Church, it is instructive to quote the essence of this official teaching:

If anyone says that a person’s free will (liberum arbitrium) when moved and roused by God, gives no co-operation by responding to God’s summons and invitation to dispose and prepare itself to obtain the grace of justification; and that it cannot, if it so wishes, dissent but, like something inanimate, can do nothing at all and remains merely passive; let him be anathema.

If anyone says that, after the sin of Adam, human free will was lost and blotted out, or that its existence is purely nominal, a name without substance, indeed a fiction introduced into the church by Satan: let him be anathema. (Council of Trent 1990, canons 4–5 concerning justification)

Philosophically, these statements commit a Catholic author to affirm free will. Remarkably, the normative Protestant doctrine does not deviate much from this, at least when considered in terms of philosophy. Lutherans normally affirmed a concept of “civil righteousness,” according to which human beings can operate with free will in their nonreligious behavior. Calvinists, on the other hand, tended to evolve towards philosophical compatibilism: while they affirm predestination and human bondage under sin, they also teach that actions can be co-assigned to humans. Therefore, when the will is moved by God, it also moves itself (see the entry “Will, Bondage of the”).

Perhaps the most sophisticated innovation of the sixteenth century regarding free will is formulated by Luis de Molina in his Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis. In this work Molina (1876), a Catholic author, introduces his doctrine of “middle knowledge” (scientia media), that is, God’s knowledge of future conditionals of the type “If A were in situation S, A would freely do X.” This knowledge is “middle” in the sense of existing between necessary truths and all particular possibilities. To grant A free will, God does not predetermine all particular possibilities through divine foreknowledge. However, through middle knowledge, God knows all conditionals that relate to possible situations.

To put the doctrine as simply as possible: because of this knowledge of future conditionals, God knows in advance what everybody would do, but humans nevertheless choose freely to do it. Molina argues that such middle knowledge does not extinguish free will. On the one hand, God’s foreknowledge is not directly applied to particular possibilities and thus does not predetermine them. On the other, God knows everything in advance, since the conditional sentences of middle knowledge allow God to know what A would freely do in every situation that A encounters.

Molina’s position was extensively discussed in both Catholic and Protestant circles of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The primary relevance of these discussions does not concern free will, but themes like theodicy and the semantics of possible worlds. While Calvinists rejected Molinism for the most part, they also became aware of the need for compatibilist solutions that preserve both God’s foreknowledge and human responsibility. Molina’s views found support in Arminian and Socinian wings of Protestantism, that is, in movements that wanted to preserve human free will and therefore distinguished themselves from orthodox Calvinism (Muller 2003, 411–432).

Among Catholics, Francesco Suarez adopts a modified version of Molina’s middle knowledge. Suarez considers that the freedom of the will is not an aspect of the will’s rationality; rather, the will moves itself and can choose among a variety of different options in this fashion (Ramelow 2004, 776). René Descartes defends free will and compatibilism in ways that bear a certain resemblance to Molina and Suarez. Descartes writes: “That there is freedom in our will is so evident that it must be counted among the first and most common notions that are innate in us … we have such a close awareness of the freedom … which is in us, that there is nothing we can grasp more evidently or more perfectly” (Descartes 1644, I, 39, 41, quoted from Sleigh et al. 1998, 1206).

The new mechanistic and geometric ideals of early modern science tend to promote determinism or at least postulate a radical gap between human free action and mechanistic course of nature. Renaissance discussions of fate and fortune, discussed above, anticipate these early modern solutions to some extent. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, Neo-Stoic authors support similar views.

In his De constantia (1586), Justus Lipsius summarizes many basic views of Neo-Stoicism. Lipsius considers that fate and providence steer the world and that many natural events therefore follow their necessary course. People should show steadfastness and endurance against the rule of fate. These virtues emerge through active work; at the same time, the free will displayed in such behavior is not limitless freedom of choice but rather the capacity of mastering oneself within the limits of natural necessities. The Neo-Stoic views regarding fate, fortune, and necessity often focused on the interactions between seemingly free human will and the deterministic course of nature.

Another typical and distinctive theme in the Renaissance philosophy of free will concerns the inner struggle. This discussion has its roots in ancient and medieval philosophy. At least three kinds of inner conflict can be observed in this earlier discussion, namely (i) oscillation, a state in which the mind repeatedly changes its decision, (ii) vacillation, a state in which the mind cannot establish a fixed decision, and (iii) lack of self-control, a state in which the mind fails to maintain autonomy (Price 1994, 3–5). All these variants continue to be discussed during the Renaissance and the Reformation. They are also influenced by the Neo-Stoic ways of dealing with harmful emotions (Saarinen 2011).

In addition, two other variants may be observed, namely (iv) an inner struggle with powers that do not represent the mind or the self, and (v) a struggle in which the old self becomes replaced with a new self. These two variants are connected with religious doctrines, as the struggle against sin or the conversion event, but they are also distinctly philosophical views that elucidate the powers of the will. Neo-Stoic steadfastness in facing destiny, for instance, can be understood as an instance of (iv).

In his Ethices christianae libri tres Lambert Daneau (1583) develops a new view of ethics as theological discipline. Daneau argues that Aristotelian virtue ethics is impossible since all humans continue to struggle with harmful desires and thus cannot reach true virtue. The highest goal that we can reach is continence, a strong-willed continuous struggle. This achievement Daneau calls virtus luctans, wrestling virtue. As a Calvinist and Neo-Stoic he does not really believe in free will, but he teaches that the moral responsibility of human beings nevertheless concerns a steadfast prevailing in this wrestling (Saarinen 2011, 188–200).

Daneau takes over the old Augustinian view of two wills that struggle within a person. He interprets this idea so broadly that “we then clearly perceive as if two persons (homines duo) and two wills were active in us.” The continent person can observe the enemy as another person: “When the virtue and the holy desire to do good, which the Spirit of God gives, prevail in this wrestling, the will remaining repugnant, it is called continence. Such is the case of Jacob wrestling with the angel” (Daneau 1583, 104v-105r). In this manner, the strong alienates or “outsources” other powers from itself.

The change of identity as a result of inner struggle (v) is often used as a literary theme of the Renaissance. Marsilio Ficino’s De amore (1985, II, 8 and VI, 10) depicts love as a passage through death: when I fall in love, my beloved takes my soul away so that I die. When my beloved gives my soul back, my new life begins. This means, however, that the beloved is also a murderer, so that I both love and hate my beloved. Ficino writes:

You would not want to be with this murderer of yourself, but you do not want to live without his blessed sight. … You would certainly not want to love, O madman, because you do not want to die. You would also certainly not want not to love since you think that service must be rendered to an image of heavenly things. (Ficino 1985, VI, 10)

When Ficino here uses the Latin word nolles four times, he underlines the fluctuating identity of the willing person. In some sense, the act of the will defines the identity of the person. At the same time, the events of willing and “nilling” (nolle) prove to be a source of both joy and sorrow so that a plural identity emerges.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609) may be the most prominent Renaissance source in which the plurality of wills (and Wills!) is elaborated and taken as a basis of shifting identities. Sometimes Shakespeare can describe an inner struggle (in the sense iii or iv) in almost Puritan or Calvinist terms, as in Sonnet 146:

Poore soule the center of my sinfull earth,

My sinfull earth these rebbell powres that thee array,

Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth

Painting thy outward walls so costlie gay?

Other traditional instances of inner struggle (in the senses i–iii) include, for instance, the famous verses “Such civill love is in my love and hate” (35) and “Two loves I have of comfort and dispaire” (144).

The Sonnet 136 employs sexual imagery to draw a stunning picture of the interplay of soul and will. In this interplay, the soul remains little more than a blind platform on which the various wills exercise their activities so that identities are shifted (v):

If thy soule check thee that I come so neere,

Sweare to thy blind soule that I was thy Will,

And will thy soule knowes is admitted there,

Thus farre for love, my love-sute sweet fulfill.

Will, will fulfill the treasure of thy love,

I fill it full with wils, and my will one …

Shakespeare does not aim to take a philosophical stance but presents a playful variation of complex identities that appear as a plurality of wills. Sonnet 135 attempts an even greater complexity of identities (v) than Sonnet 136 quoted above. Like many other Renaissance authors, Shakespeare is more interested in elucidating the problems of will from different angles than solving them. At the same time, however, the literary productions of the Renaissance are not completely detached from philosophical views. Shakespeare’s use of inner struggle and his interplay of love, hate, and will connect him with Ficino and the broader intellectual tradition of inner wrestling.

In sum, the innovative and original aspects of Renaissance thought concerning free will do not constitute a grand narrative but rather a variety of short stories. There is, first, the story of moderate voluntarism that comes from Aquinas and Buridan to Pomponazzi and Erasmus, being continued by the Council of Trent. A more radically voluntarist trend comes from Scotus and Ockham to Molina and Suarez; this may be the most ambitious story philosophically. The Protestant story wants to downplay voluntarism, but finally it affirms free will in the moderate fashion of Melanchthon and Neo-Stoics. The literary story of Ficino and Shakespeare highlights love and flexible identities, while borrowing from philosophical traditions.

The impact and legacy of Renaissance views is also manifold and scattered along diverse paths. Philosophically, the Molinist elaboration of contingency and freedom continues to be discussed until the present day. In contemporary analytic philosophy, the semantics of possible worlds employs ideas that resemble Molinism. In theology, free will is often seen as an issue that divides different Protestants from each other as well as from Roman Catholics. As the positions of Erasmus, Melanchthon, and the Council of Trent are, at least philosophically, fairly similar, the differences in this issue may have been exaggerated in the teaching of the churches.

Probably the most important legacy of the Renaissance at this point concerns the new literary and artistic ways of understanding human freedom and inner complexity. Authors like Ficino and Shakespeare develop creatively various themes that they receive from scholarly traditions. Due to the literary creativity of the Renaissance, an increasingly individualistic patchwork of love, freedom, and many-sided will emerges. This patchwork is no longer philosophical in itself, but it needs to be understood against the broader Western intellectual tradition of free will.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of TheologyUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

Section editors and affiliations

  • David A. Lines
    • 1
  1. 1.Italian Studies, School of Modern Languages and CulturesUniversity of WarwickCoventryUnited Kingdom