Phl 349 Lecture #23 Scotus and Ockham on Free Will and Ethics I.

Scotus on the Freedom of the Will On the nature of the will and its freedom, Scotus stakes out a highly original position. He develops one of the most sophisticated theories of the extreme free-will position in history. There have been a number of defenders of a socalled “libertarian” position (not to be confused with the political “libertarianism” of the Libertarian Party, Ron Paul, and the Cato Institute) in the twentieth century, including those of Keith Campbell, Austin Farrer, and Roderick Chisholm, but these represent a small advance, if any, beyond Scotus’s well thought-out account. As you may recall, Aquinas sees human willing as simply one part of a uniform natural phenomenon, that of teleology. Everything in creation has a natural end to which it is constantly moving or tending to move by its natural powers. Elemental matter is moving toward its natural place, plants and animals are moving toward a state of complete growth and successful reproduction, and human beings are of necessity seeking true happiness. In each case, the kind of movement involved depends on the kind of creature: material bodies move blindly toward their natural place, animals are guided by sensation and instinct, and human beings use their intellect and will to choose the best course. The ultimate end of human action is not up for grabs: no one can choose whether to seek happiness, only how to do so (only means, not the ultimate end, are matters of choice). Since human beings move themselves intellectually and voluntarily, there is more that can go wrong in the case of human beings, as compared to blind matter or instinct-driven animals. A human being requires a sufficient degree of self-control over his appetites, and a reasonably clear understanding of what, in detail, true happiness consists in, if he is to succeed in reaching his natural goal. Since almost every choice we have to make occurs in the midst of ambivalence and ambiguity, we often choose badly, or less well than we might. We can violate secondary principles of the natural law, if we fail to see how they follow from the primary axioms. We can even violate what we know to be valid positive laws, if we fail to grasp that obeying such laws is really required by the natural law. However, according to Aquinas, it is impossible for us to choose willingly and deliberately the worse course of action over the better. If we see that action A is required by the natural law (seek the good and avoid evil), then we are unable to fail to choose A. All sin, therefore, is caused, at least in part, by ignorance or intellectual confusion. In some cases, we may be responsible for the confusion: our ignorance might be the consequence of earlier bad choices we made. However, at the very beginning (e.g., the choice of Adam and Eve in the garden), it is an apparently innocent ignorance that is causally responsible for the wrong choice. Scotus objects to this account on several grounds. First, he thinks it is simply a matter of everyday experience that our will is absolutely free. We are free to choose the worse option over the better, if we please. We are free not to will happiness. Second, Scotus appeals to Scriptural support for his position, especially Paul’s autobiographical remarks in the seventh chapter of Romans. There, Paul writes that he delights in God’s law in his inner man, but finds his choices enslaved to a law in his “members”. The good he would do, he fails to do, and the evil he would not do is just what he does. It’s not very clear that Scotus’s interpretation of this passage is correct: it could be taken to support the opposite conclusion, that in our fallen condition we lack anything like free will. Third, Scotus that moral responsibility requires that the originof evil lie in the misuse of the will, not in the innocent fallibility of the human intellect. It seems harsh for God to punish Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, for the fact that, due to a fallible and finite intellect, they failed to see that eating the fruit was the wrong choice. Scotus argues that a free will is undetermined by anthing, including the person’s nature or the state of his intellect. To be free is always to be free for opposites. That is, in the very act of doing one thing, I must remain free to do the opposite. A free agent is a self-mover. Whether a free agent chooses anything at all at a given point of time is entirely up to that agent. A free agent can refrain from acting even when all the causaly necessary conditions for its action are present. Nothing can determine or necessitate the free will’s choice in advance.

even if God didn’t command it. • Nothing can be morally obligatory unless God actually commands it. then. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. we are morally obliged to obey God.) the situation changes radically. Scotus thinks that there the duties a creature owes to God are morally obligatory for the creature. Aquinas assumes to be true for the saints in heaven? If I have only one rational choice. by making two further claims: • God is capable of commanding us to do anything whatsoever. Muslims. etc. be required) for the fulfillment of our created nature. However. evenif God didn’t command them. and Christians. It is easy to see. for what is right and proper in itself). how can my will remain free to do the opposite? Scotus’s response is to hypothesize that there is always present within each human being two independent sources of motivation: the affectio commodi (the love of one’s own happiness or fulfillment) and the affectio iustitiae (the love for objective justice. but our reasons can only incline our will to various courses of action: they can never necessitate that we do some one thing. Thou shalt hallow the Sabbath Day. to keep it holy”) to the “second tablet” (“Honor your father and mother.g. Scotus’s Complex Theory of Morality Like all Jews. when we turn from the “first tablet” of the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt have no other Gods. What then would be the right thing for us to do? To keep the Ten Commandments. we can always choose whether to act according to the one motivation or the other. however. we always choose for a reason. By this standard. do not murder. discoverable by human reason. In addition. steal. whenever we choose. even though God hasn’t commanded that we obey Him (which would be a very odd command. moral or altruistic set. a self-interested set. that God is to be loved above all things. To make sense of this ever-present possibility. How can he explain the fact that when we act freely. Second. Suppose He commanded us to break all of His other commands. including the Ten Commandments. in the absence of the command. or to treat Him with disrespect. God could not contravene this obligation. If God were . I think. for example. can he guarantee that the will is always free? What if I have only one rational motivation available.) Thus. as. How. Scotus thinks that it is a necessary truth of morality. Even when the two sources of motivation agree (e. Suppose God did command us to hate Him. we can choose whether to act from one motive or the other. both tell me to eat a healthy diet). a disinterested.This immediately raises a problem: Scotus seems to be describing the will as a completely random factor within the soul. In each situation. First. Scotus believes that God can create new duties for His creatures by issuing positive commands to them. we can also always choose to choose nothing at all. indeed). God could command us to do anything whatsoever to our fellow creatures. We are morally obliged to love God. isn’t the will in some way or other determined by the reasons that we have? Scotus’s answer is to agree that a rational motivation is always required for any free choice. As we shall see. or love of inactivity. we always act for some reason or other? Won’t it always be the case that our reasons explain why we do what we do? If so. or both together. A so-called divine command theory goes beyond this. There are always two distinct sets of reasons to choose from. (Moreover. according to Scotus. it seems to me that Scotus should have proposed a third fundamental source of motivation: an affectio inertiae.. II. or to break them? It seems that a full divine command theory would have to give contradictory answers. his view could be described as a partial divine command theory. Scotus does not think that God could command us to hate Him. These duties can go above and beyond what is required (or would. First. why Scotus imposes this limit on God. Scotus does notoffer a divine command theory of morality.

why a theist is pulled in two different directions. accepted that there were moral principles discoverable by “right reason”. On the other hand. then murder would become obligatory. if God were really capable of commanding horrible things. He doesn’t claim that if God hadn’t issued any commands. Second. then He violates no obligation to command us to treat one another badly. there would be no moral truths about how we must treat each other. On the one hand. on the question of the first tablet of the Law. However. Given human nature. this is a puzzling position. However. Should God command us to murder. On the other hand. that is binding on His will as well as on ours. From this follows the ethical necessity of obeying God’s . but He is not necessitated to do so. God is free to contravene these rules. We can knowingly will the bad and nill the good. Kant. it is inappropriate for us to murder each other or steal from each other. So human will. agency are not part of a universal phenomenon. III. since He had no real alternative to acting as He did. Denied natural teleology. Nonetheless. it is not a necessary truth that murder or stealing is wrong. What motive in God could possibly conflict with His natural inclination toward justice? Is God afflicted with an affectio commodi. he argues that God owes us absolutely nothing. and an untrustworthy God would not be a fit object for faith and adoration. Scotus gives several reasons for thinking this. according to Scotus. We can understand. on the question of the second tablet of the Law. although not with respect to Himself. like G. if God was compelled to issue good commands by His own immutable nature. since He has given us everything and we have given Him nothing. Scotus admits that God’s natural justice “inclines” Him toward issuing commands that are in accordance with what is naturally appropriate. Moore. First. The first principle of right reason: God is to be loved. He is capable of commanding any kind of creature-to-creature treatment. E. but He can will absolutely anything with respect to the vicissitudes of His creatures. An ethical dualist. there is a moral principle above God. So far. even here Scotus does not go all the way to a full divine command theory. On the one hand. However. like murder and torture. then it would seem that God is not really trustworthy. I think. the question of the freedom of God’s will with respect to the moral law becomes an increasingly central question in late medieval philosophy. Moreover. and no longer wrong. Ockham’s views on Will and Ethics Went beyond even Scotus: liberty of indifference. If God were to issue us no commands on these subjects.to command us to murder each other. and that there are no constraints on what a good and just God might command. and God is no longer the supreme being. this sounds like a divine command theory. and it is only a kind of happy chance that in fact He commanded us not to murder or steal. God cannot will that He Himself should not receive the respect He deserves. we could use our natural reason to discern these moral principles. Scotus takes the implausible position that murder could be right. there are certain things that it would be appropriate (“conveniens”) for us to do to each other. but they can be cancelled by God’s order. Scotus’s position seems to have the worst of both worlds. If God owes us nothing. one could argue that in this case God would not deserve our gratitude. In the absence of God’s commands. Consequently. it would be wrong to murder or to steal. Moreover. then it might seem that the moral law is superior to God. John Stuart Mill. or some other motivation potentially in conflict with His ethical knowledge? As we shall see. Scotus argues that God’s will must be absolutely free with respect to His creatures. limited to creature-to-creature relations. Is it just a lucky chance that God’s actual commands to us concerning our relationships to other creations happen to accord with what is naturally appropriate? Not exactly. The principles of appropriateness (convenientia) are what we might call “default rules”: they constitute the substance of morality in the absence of any divine commands to the contrary. refraining from murder would have been morally wrong.

which can override any other principle of right reason.commands. .

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