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A free will : origins of the notion in ancient thought by Michæl Frede, A. A. Long, David Sedley

By Michæl Frede, A. A. Long, David Sedley

Where does the idea of loose will come from? How and while did it increase, and what did that improvement contain? In Michael Frede's notably new account of the historical past of this concept, the proposal of a loose will emerged from strong assumptions concerning the relation among divine windfall, correctness of person selection, and self-enslavement because of fallacious selection. Anchoring his dialogue in Stoicism, Frede starts with Aristotle--who, he argues, had no inspiration of a unfastened will--and ends with Augustine. Frede indicates that Augustine, faraway from originating the assumption (as is frequently claimed), derived such a lot of his puzzling over it from the Stoicism constructed by means of Epictetus.

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Example text

But already in Epicurus's day there was the temptation to think of the motion of the atoms as itself regular. 9 Epicurus's doctrine of the swerve, it seems to me, has been widely misunderstood as a doctrine which is meant to explain human freedom, as if a postulated swerve of atoms in the mind could explain such a thing. Epicurus's point is, rather, that, since the world is not deterministic in this way, it does not constitute a threat to the idea that some of the things we do are genuinely our own actions, rather than something which happens to us or something we are made to do.

Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (1951), and Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (1993). As Tony Long explains in his preface, although the lectures were extremely well received, Frede did not feel ready to publish them before extending his research further. But as readers will quickly discover, the quality of the text that he has bequeathed fully matches the brilliance and incisiveness for which all his work is admired. The origin of the concept of will, and more specifically free will, has been endlessly debated, and the inconclusiveness of the debate has mirrored the philosophical indeterminacy of the concept itself.

To say that human beings are free is to say that the world does not put such constraints on us from the outside as to make it impossible for us to live a good life. These views will strike most of us as extremely fanciful. But we should keep in mind that late antiquity was full of such views, which exercised an enormous attraction. And we should also keep in mind that there were other views which, though much less fanciful, were also perceived to put at least into question whether we are free. The views in question assume some kind of physical determinism, according to which everything which happens, including our actions, is determined by antecedent physical causes and is thus predetermined.

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