Free Will in Ancient Thought
PHI 420. Writing Assignments, Bibliography Project, Final Paper.
Example Answer to a Writing Assignment
Explain what Frede is saying in the following. "[That free will is a technical, philosophical notion is] not the view scholars took until fairly recently. They went on the "On the whole we must say that [Aristotle] shared the plain man's belief in free will but that he did not examine the problem very thoroughly, and did not express himself with perfect consistency" (W. D. Ross, Aristotle (Methuen & Company, Limited; London, 1923), 201). assumption that the notion of a free will is an ordinary notion, part of the repertory of notions in terms of which the ordinary person thinks about things and in terms of which the ancient Greeks must have already been thinking all along. And on this assumption, of course, there is no place for the question of when the ancients first came to think of human beings as having a free will" (12).
Frede is contrasting his view with one some scholars (such as W. D. Ross) endorsed not too long ago. On Frede's view, the notion of free will is not an ordinary notion in terms which human beings have always understood themselves. Instead, it is a notion that first emerges in late Stoicism as part of a theory to explain why it is true that sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we do. Frede thinks that what would become orthodox Christianity incorporated the Stoic notion of free will into their beliefs and that as this form of Christianity spread in the ancient world, so did the belief in free will. Few understood the Stoic notion, as Stoicism ceased to have followers, but many were committed as Christians to the belief that we have free will. In this way, according to Frede, belief in free will came to be no more than the belief that sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we do. People were told that they have free will, that this means they are responsible for what they do, and that God punishes wrongdoers. The scholars whose view Frede rejects thought that human beings have long believed that they are sometimes responsible for their actions. So it did not bother them that Plato and Aristotle nowhere use the Greek terms corresponding to free will to say that we have a will and that it is free. They did not conclude that Plato and Aristotle did not have the notion of a free will because they "went on the assumption that" everyone has the notion of free will because everyone believes that sometimes we are responsible for what we do. This assumption, though, according to Frede, is false. Plato and Aristotle did have the belief about responsibility, but they did not believe in free will. Frede thinks that we can see that they did not when we consider what they say goes on in the soul when we are responsible for what we do. Frede thinks that their explanations show that they did not have the notion of the will and hence did not have the notion of a free will.