Free Will in Ancient Thought

Frede. Chapter One: "Introduction," 12-20

*** These lectures notes are works in progress ***

LECTURE NOTES 1


The quotations from Frede's A Free Will are in boldface type and in the order in which they occur in the book. The remarks in plainface that follow are mine. In these remarks, I call attention to and try to explain some of the initially more difficult points in his discussion.

The following are the main points we need to grasp to begin to understand Frede's argument.

The Main Points in the Chapter

• These days the term "free will" seems to be nothing more than a shorthand for the proposition that sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we do. In this use, the terms "free" and "will" have no significance within the term "free will."

• This use of the term "free will" is not the one that primarily interests Frede.

• Frede is interested in a use in which "free" and "will" have significance within the term. In this use, "free will" is part of an explanation of (rather than a shorthand for) the proposition that sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we do.

• The term "will" refers to a fact about the human psychology. Someone has a "will" just in case whenever he does something (as opposed to being moved, say, by the wind), something happens in his mind that makes him do what he does. What happens is that he chooses.

• Frede will argue that this notion of "free will" first appears in late Stoicism in Epictetus. He tries to establish this conclusion by arguing that none of the major philosophers before the late Stoics had the notion of "free will" because none of them had a notion of the "will."

Frede's Lecture (12-20)




notio, Latin noun, "idea, conception, notion."
1. The notion of a free will is a notion we have inherited from antiquity. It was first in antiquity that one came to think of human beings as having a free will.

What is it to have a "notion" of free will?

It is, it seems, to have the ability to think that human beings are a certain way, that they have or can have "free will," and that this means such-and-such about human beings.

It can seem surprising that we "inherited" the notion of free will from antiquity. One might think instead that human beings had the notion had all along.

2. But, as with so many other notions we have inherited from antiquity, for instance, the notion of an essence or the notion of a teleological cause, we "the notion of an essence"

"the notion of a teleological cause"

What are these notions?
have to ask ourselves whether the notion of a free will has not outlived its usefulness, has not become a burden rather than of any real help in understanding ourselves and what we do. ... In this situation it may be of some help to retrace our steps and see what purpose the notion of a free will originally was supposed to serve, how it was supposed to help our understanding, and whether it was flawed right from its beginnings, as we might now see in hindsight.

Not all notions "we have inherited from antiquity" are still useful. Frede gives examples, but we will not look into them. He suggests that the same might true for the notion of free will.

How do we tell if the notion of free will is still useful?

Frede proposes to identify the "purpose ... [the notion of free will] was supposed to serve." The suggestion is that if we still have the need the notion was supposed to serve, the next step would be to determine whether we can still use the notion to serve this need.

What is it to have a need for the notion of free will?

The answer, it seems, is that we need the notion if something else we think is true about human beings or the world requires that human beings have or can have free will.

"Of all the major ancient philosophers we have come across, only Alexander of Aphrodisias lets himself be driven into accepting a conception of a free will which is very close to the kind of conception criticized nowadays by philosophers. All the other authors we have considered seem to me to have notions of a free will which, perhaps for good reasons, we might not want to accept but which do not seem to be basically flawed in the way a notion like Alexander's is" (Frede, A Free Will, 103.) What it is for the notion to be "flawed from its beginnings"?

One possibility is that the notion is incoherent. If so, we cannot need it for anything.

It might be, though, that the notion of free will is not incoherent but still is not something we need because it essentially includes assumptions about human beings or the world that we no longer accept. The notion, in this case, would have no application for us now.

This, it seems, is what Frede believes about the notion of free will that first appears in antiquity.

3. In these lectures ... I want to pursue the question “When in antiquity did one first think of human beings as having a free will, why did one come to think so, and what notion of a free will was involved when one came to think of human beings in this way?”

When did someone first "think" that we have free will?

Frede will argue that it happened in late Stoicism.

So to evaluate Frede's argument, we need to understand Stoicism.

This will take time. Stoicism has an early, middle, and late period. Further, before Frede considers Stoicism, he discusses Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. He does this (i) to show that they do not have a notion of the free will and (ii) because he is interested in how subsequent Platonists and Aristotelians incorporated a notion of free will into their thought.

So, in trying to understand and evaluate Frede's argument, it is necessary for us to consider a line of thought that extends through almost the entire history of Ancient philosophy.

4. To raise this question ["When in antiquity did..."], though, is to make a substantial assumption about the very nature of the notion of a free will. I assume, and I will try to show, that this notion in its origins is a technical, philosophical notion which already presupposes quite definite and far from trivial assumptions about ourselves and the world.

τέχνη, technē, noun, "art, skill" A "technical" notion is one that it has been crafted and that is a product of theorizing.

5. [T]his is not the view scholars took until fairly recently. They went on the 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.

Not too long ago [in the last hundred years] it was thought among historians of Ancient philosophy that free will is a notion the Ancient philosophers had all along.

6. The assumption that the Greeks all along must have been thinking of human beings as having a free will seems truly astounding nowadays. For, if we look at Greek literature from Homer onwards, down to long after Aristotle, we do not find any trace of a reference to, let alone a mention of, a free will. This is all the more remarkable, as Plato and in particular Aristotle had plenty of occasion to refer to a free will. But there is no sign of such a reference in their works.

In Plato and Aristotle, "there is no sign of ... a reference [to free will]."

7. Scholars did indeed notice this with a certain amount of puzzlement. But it did not occur to them to draw what would seem to be the obvious inference, namely, that Plato and Aristotle did not yet have a notion of a free will and that it was for William David Ross, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ross (1877–1971) was an academic who did and was recognized for important work in Ancient philosophy.
this reason that they did not talk of a free will. As eminent a scholar as W. D. Ross again could note that Plato and Aristotle do not refer to a will, let alone a free will. But even Ross concludes that we must assume that Aristotle, as Ross puts it, “shared the plain man's belief in free will.”

Historians thought that Plato and Aristotle had the notion of free despite the fact that they did not "did not talk of a free will" in their theories of the soul.

Why did historians think this?

8. But why should we assume in the first place that Aristotle believed in a free will? To understand the assumption Ross and earlier scholars make, we have to take into account the following. Let us assume that it is a fact that, at least sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way. Let us also assume, as is reasonable enough, that this is what the Greeks believed all along. Socrates, 469-399 BCE

Plato, 429?-347 BCE

Aristotle, 384-322 BCE


Socrates, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Plato, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Aristotle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Early Stoicism:

Zeno of Citium, late 4th to middle 3rd century BCE. Founded the school in about 300 BCE.

Cleanthes, late 4th to late 3rd century BCE. He succeeded Zeno as head of the school.

Chrysippus, early 3rd to late 3rd century BCE. He was the third and most influential head of the Stoic school.

Middle Stoicism:

Panaetius of Rhodes, late 2nd to early 2nd century BCE. He succeeded Antipater of Tarsus in about 129 BCE to become the seventh head of the Stoic school in Athens.

Posidonius of Apameia, early 2nd to middle 1st century BCE. He was polymath whose writings have survived only in fragments.

Late Stoicism:

Seneca, late 1st century BCE to middle 1st century CE.

Epictetus, middle 1st to late 2nd century CE.

Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 CE. Roman Emperor from 161-180 CE.
It certainly is something Aristotle took to be a fact. The notion of a free will was originally introduced within the context of a particular theory, namely, a late Stoic theory, in a way specific to this theory, to account for this presumed fact. But once this notion had been introduced into Stoicism, rival theories, either Peripatetic or Platonist, developed their own version of a notion of a free will,which fitted in with their overall theory. In fact, it was a notion which was eagerly taken up by Christians, too. And, largely due to the influence of mainstream Christianity, it came to be a notion which, in one version or another, gained almost universal acceptance. People quite generally, whether followers of Stoicism, Platonism, or mainstream Christianity, felt committed to a belief in a free will. Even if they themselves were not able to give a theoretical account of what a free will is, they relied on such an account's being available. This had the effect that the mere assumption that sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, since we do it not because we are forced to but because we ourselves want to, came to be regarded as tantamount to a belief in a free will. From here it was just a short step to the assumption that the mere notion of a free will was an ordinary notion, with philosophical theory coming in only to give a theoretical account of what it is to have a free will. This is why Ross could assume that Aristotle shared the plain man's belief in a free will but failed to give a theoretical account of that.

Frede tries to explain why historians thought that Plato and Aristotle had the notion of free despite the fact that they did not "did not talk of a free will" in their theories of the soul.

Here is Frede's explanation as I understand it.

There is something "the Greeks believed all along": that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we our selves desire or even choose or decide to act in this way."

Frede argues that belief in free will became identified with this belief that "sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we do" and that this identification allowed historians to understand the Ancients so that they "believed all along" in free will.

What does "identified" mean here?

Frede explains "that the mere assumption that sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, since we do it not because we are forced to but because we ourselves want to, came to be regarded as tantamount to a belief in a free will."

When did this happen?

Frede thinks that it was due to the influence of Christianity.

He thinks that because Christianity became widespread and posits that we do have free will, people came to think of free will not as an explanation but as a way of expressing the belief that sometimes we are responsible for what we do. "From here," he says, "it was just a short step to the assumption that the mere notion of a free will was an ordinary notion, with philosophical theory coming in only to give a theoretical account of what it is to have a free will."

So historians could think that because Plato and Aristotle had the ordinary belief about responsibility, they had the notion of free will. They did not "talk of a free will" in their theories of the soul because no one yet used the equivalent Greek terms this way.

"One finds scholarly debate on the ‘origin’ of the notion of free will in Western philosophy. (See, e.g., Dihle (1982) and, in response Frede (2011), with Dihle finding it in St. Augustine (354–430 CE) and Frede in the Stoic Epictetus (c. 55–c. 135 CE)). But this debate presupposes a fairly particular and highly conceptualized concept of free will, with Dihle’s later ‘origin’ reflecting his having a yet more particular concept in view than Frede. If, instead, we look more generally for philosophical reflection on choice-directed control over one’s own actions, then we find significant discussion in Plato and Aristotle (cf. Irwin 1992)" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Free Will. 1. Major Historical Contributions 1.1 Ancient and Medieval Period"). In their article "Free Will" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Timothy O’Connor and Christopher Franklin seem to have the sort of view of free will as an ordinary notion that Frede rejects. These authors maintain that "[t]he term 'free will' has emerged over the past two millennia as the canonical designator for a significant kind of control over one’s actions" and that "[q]uestions concerning the nature and existence of this kind of control ... have been taken up in every period of Western philosophy and by many of the most important philosophical figures, such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant."

Further, O’Connor and Franklin say that one "idea is that the kind of control ... in free will is the kind of control ... relevant to moral responsibility" and that according to this line of thought, "understanding free will is inextricably linked to, and perhaps even derivative from, understanding moral responsibility" and that "even those who demur from this claim regarding conceptual priority typically see a close link between these two ideas."

So their view seems to be that (i) for at least the last two millennia it has been the majority view in Western philosophy to think that we can exert control over what we do in such a way that we are responsible for these actions and that (ii) philosophers, at some point during this time, came to refer to this belief about ourselves by saying that we have "free will."

Are (i) and (ii) true?

Surely (i) is true. What the philosophers are said to believe in (i) is just the ordianry belief about responsibility. Maybe (ii) is true too, but it is easy to think that what is interesting is what happens before philosophers came to refer to the ordinary belief by saying that we have "free will." Presumably some thought that we have a "will" and thought about what makes it "free."

9. [W]e should carefully distinguish between the belief in a free will and the ordinary belief that at least sometimes we are responsible for what we are doing, because we are not forced or made to behave in this way but really want or even choose or decide to act in this way. This belief in a free will is involved in some theoretical accounts of what we ordinarily believe. But it is not to be identified with this ordinary belief. And it seems to me that Aristotle is a good example of a philosopher who is committed to the ordinary belief but does not resort to the notion of a free will to account for this belief. Hence, since even Aristotle does not yet talk of a free will, we should assume that he did not yet have a notion of a free will.

Frede thinks that we should distinguish between free will and the ordinary belief.

Why?

This is necessary to understand the history of philosophy. Aristotle, for example, has the common belief about responsibility, but he does not have the notion of free will.

10. This [that free will is not the ordinary belief] indeed is what scholars nowadays are generally agreed on. The change of scholarly opinion is largely due to the fact that philosophical discussions, of the kind we find, for instance, Gilbert Ryle, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy in Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind [published in 1949], have persuaded scholars that the notion of a free will is at best a highly controversial notion. In light of this, Aristotle's failure to refer to a free will is no longer regarded as a cause for puzzlement but by many is registered with outright relief.

  "Most of the mental-conduct concepts whose logical behaviour we examine in this book, are familiar and everyday concepts. We all know how to apply them and we understand other people when they apply them. What is in dispute is not how to apply them, but how to classify them, or in what categories to put them.
  The concept of volition is in a different case. We do not know in daily life how to use it, for we do not use it in daily life and do not, consequently, learn by practice how to apply it, and how not to misapply it. It is an artificial concept. We have to study certain specialist theories in order to find out how it is to be manipulated. It does not, of course, follow from its being a technical concept that it is an illegitimate or useless concept. ‘Ionisation’ and ‘off-side’ are technical concepts, but both are legitimate and useful. 'Phlogiston' and ‘animal spirits’ were technical concepts, though they have now no utility.
  I hope to show that the concept of volition belongs to the latter tribe.
  It has for a long time been taken for an indisputable axiom that the Mind is in some important sense tripartite, that is, that there are just three ultimate classes of mental processes. The Mind or Soul, we are often told, has three parts, namely, Thought, Feeling and Will; or, more solemnly, the Mind or Soul functions in three irreducibly different modes, the Cognitive mode, the Emotional mode and the Conative mode. This traditional dogma is not only not self-evident, it is such a welter of confusions and false inferences that it is best to give up any attempt to re-fashion it. It should be treated as one of the curios of theory.
  The main object of this chapter is not, however, to discuss the whole trinitarian theory of mind but to discuss, and discuss destructively, one of its ingredients. I hope to refute the doctrine that there exists a Faculty, immaterial Organ, or Ministry, corresponding to the theory’s description of the ‘Will’ and, accordingly, that there occur processes, or operations, corresponding to what it describes as 'volitions.' I must however make it clear from the start that this refutation will not invalidate the distinctions which we all quite properly draw between voluntary and involuntary actions and between strong-willed and weak-willed persons" (Gilbert Ryle, "III. The Will," The Concept of Mind, 49-50).

"The fact that Plato and Aristotle never mentioned them in their frequent and elaborate discussions of the nature of the soul and the springs of conduct is due not to any perverse neglect by them of notorious ingredients of daily life but to the historical circumstance that they were not acquainted with a special hypothesis the acceptance of which rests not on the discovery, but on the postulation, of these ghostly thrusts" (The Concept of Mind, 52).
Frede says that scholars or historians now recognize the difference between the ordinary belief and technical notion of free will. Frede cites, for example, the influence of Gilbert Ryle for the change. In chapter III ("The Will") of his Concept of Mind, he says that the "concept of volition" is a technical concept like "phlogiston" in 18th century chemistry (49).

Ryle (1900-1976) supervised G.E.L Owen's B.Phil thesis at Oxford. Owen (1922-1982) was an influential figure in ancient philosophy. Frede attended Owen's seminars in Oxford in 1962.

I find the relevant passages in Ryle a little hard to understand.

It is worth noting the O’Connor and Franklin do not include Ryle in their bibliography.

11. Once one finally comes to see that it is not the case that the Greeks all along had a notion of a free will and that we do not yet find this notion even in Aristotle, the question naturally poses itself: When did the notion of a free will arise?

When, then, "did notion of a free will arise?"

Frede gave his answer in 8: "[t]he notion of a free will was originally introduced within the context of a particular theory, namely, a late Stoic theory..."

12. I regard my inquiry as purely historical. ... I am interested, as I said at the outset, in trying to find out when and why a notion of a free will arose in the first place and what notion this was. I will then try to trace the history of this notion to see whether and how it changed in the course of the discussions to which it gave rise in antiquity. In this way, I hope, we shall also be able to identify ... the ancestors of any later notion of a free will. It is in this sense that I plan to talk about the origins of the notion of a free will.

Frede, as a historian, is interested is in the late Stoic notion and in the ways subsequent Platonists and Aristotelians tried to incorporate this notion into their philosophies. He is also interested in why philosophers before the late Stoics did not have the notion of free will.

In this course, Frede's historical interest is our interest too. (It does not follow that we are not interested in philosophical considerations connected to free will, but our interest in such considerations is determined by our interest in understanding the history.)

13. Now, though I do not presuppose a specific notion of a free will, let alone want to endorse or advocate some specific notion of it, I do rely on something like a general idea of a free will,something like a schema which any specific notion of a free will or any particular version ofthe notion of a free will, at least in antiquity, will fit into. I do not arrive at this general idea or schema on the basis of some philosophical view as to what any notion of a free will has to look like but rather with the benefit of historical hindsight. That is to say, I have looked at the relevant ancient texts and have abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will. In having such a schema, we shall at least have a general idea of what we are looking for when we investigate the origins of the notion of a free will but without having to commit ourselves to any particular view, ancient or modern, as to what a free will really is.

Frede does not simply assert that a notion the Stoics introduced is the first notion of free will. He argues for this view by looking at the history of philosophy prior to the Stoics.

For this procedure to work, we need to know what notion to look for in these philosophers.

Frede sets out a "schema" of the notion free will.

What does this mean?

Frede says that he has "looked at the relevant ancient texts and [has] abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will."

What does "abstracted" mean here?

I am not sure.

Maybe the idea is that the authors never say that "someone has a free will just in case ____," but they talk about the will and a free will. So on this basis, Frede fills in the blank.

What are texts from which Frede abstacts his schema?

He does not identify these texts, at least not explicitly.

Given the schema, Frede looks at the philosophers in historical sequence to see who first has a theory of mind and action that contains something that fits the schema.

Here is a way to think about this search.

The notion of free will, according to Frede, was introduced to explain something: that sometimes we are responsible for what we do. So the search is really an effort to see if in connection with responsibility the ancient philosophers talk about anything that fits the schema in an effort to establish that in fact sometimes we are responsible for what we do.

14. It should be clear that in order to have any such notion, one must first of all have a notion of a will. As a matter of historical fact, it turns out that a notion of a will is not necessarily a notion of a will which is free. In any case, in order to have a notion of a free will, one must, in addition to the notion of a will, also have a notion of freedom. These notions of a will and of freedom must be such that it makes sense to say that we have a will which is free.

What is it to have a will? What is it for the will to be free?

15. In order to get any notion of a will at all, one must assume the following. Unless one is literally forced or made to do something in such a manner that what one is doing is in no way one's own action (as when one is pushing something over because one is pushed oneself), one does what one does because something happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does. Moreover, one has to assume that what happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does is that one chooses or decides to act in this way. Or at least one has to assume that there is something going on in the mind which can be construed as a choice or decision. We need not worry for the moment about this qualification or its significance. Thus, for instance, if one feels hungry or feels like having something to eat, one might or might not choose or decide to have something to eat. If one then does have something to eat, it is because one has chosen or decided to have something to eat, since one feels hungry.

The notion of "will" in "free will" (as part of the "schema" that Frede mentions in 13) is the notion that in human beings "something happens in one's mind" every time one acts. Further, this something must be such that it "can be construed as a choice or decision."

Why is Frede's schema the right schema for "will"?

Frede says (in 13) that he has "looked at the relevant ancient texts and have abstracted this schema from those texts which explicitly talk of a will, the freedom of the will, or a free will."

Frede, though, does not provide citations to the texts and the specific places in these texts that the words occur. This makes it hard for us to check this part of his argument.

16. But the notion of the will, at least in antiquity, involves a notion of the mind such that the mere fact that one feels hungry will not yet explain why one is having something to eat. This is supposed to be so, because, even if one does feel hungry or does feel like having something to eat, one might choose or decide not to have anything to eat because one thinks that it would not be a good thing to have something to eat now. One might also decide to have something to eat, though one does not feel hungry at all, because one thinks that it would be a good thing to have something to eat. But, in any case, for there to be an action that is one's own action, there is supposed to be an event in one's mind, a mental act, a choice or decision which brings about the action. The notion of a will, then, is the notion of our ability to make such choices or decisions which make us act in the way we do. It is crucial for the notion of the will that this ability differs greatly from person to person, as different people not only have different thoughts about what is or is not a good thing to do but also have quite different feelings about different things. This is why different people in the same situation will make very different choices and hence will act quite differently. It is also crucial for the notion of the will that it is an ability which needs to be developed, cultivated, and perfected. One can get better and better at making choices, just as one can get worse and worse. One can choose or decide to improve one's will, one's ability to make choices.

The "notion of a will ... is the notion of our ability to make such choices or decisions which make us act in the way we do." The will can thus vary "from person to person" because the ability to choose can be "developed, cultivated, and perfected."

προαίρεσις, proairesis, noun, "choice"

βούλησις, boulēsis, noun, "willing."
From the verb βούλομαι, boulomai, "wish."

θέλησις, thelēsis, noun, "will"

voluntas, noun, "will." From the verb volo, "wish."
17. The standard Greek term for the will is prohairesis, literally, “choice” or “disposition to choose.” Later boulêsis and, in particular, thelêsis will also be used in this sense, especially in Byzantine times. The standard Latin term, of course, is voluntas.

In this course, we do not need to think too much about the Greek and Latin terms. They are interesting, though, so I provide links to their dictionary meanings.

Frede talks about Greek words in terms of their transliterations. So, for example, he uses prohairesis for προαίρεσις. This makes it easier for those who do not know the language to pronounce the words. Some publishers insist too, presumably for practical reasons, that all Greek words be transliterated. I do not know if this is true for the publisher of A Free Will.

A search in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (created initially with money that came out of the Zenith corporation) shows that forms of προαίρεσις occur in Plato only once (Parmenides 143c3). Forms of the word occur 209 times in Aristotle. Most are in the ethical works.

18. The Greek term for the relevant notion of freedom is eleutheria. ἐλευθερία, eleutheria, noun, "freedom"

ἐλεύθερος, eleutheros, adjective, "free"

The earliest occurrences of ἐλεύθερος and προαίρεσις together are in Philo of Alexander (On the Unchangeableness of God 114-115) and Epictetus (Discourses II.15: "the will is free by nature and unconstrained (ἡ μὲν προαίρεσις ἐλεύθερον φύσει καὶ ἀνανάγκαστον).").

See also Discourses III.5.7-8.

Philo of Alexander (end of the 1st century BCE and the middle of the 1st century CE) is sometimes called Philo Judaeus. He was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria. The city of Alexandria was founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. It became a major center of Hellenistic civilization and became the capital of Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy (a Greek general and companion of Alexander the Great) and his family (who ruled until the Roman conquest in 30 BCE). A significant Jewish community existed in Alexandria.
This term provides us with some guidance as to how the notion of freedom we are interested in is to be understood. As the very term indicates, it must be a notion formed by analogy to the political notion of freedom. According to the political notion, one is free if one is a citizen rather than a slave and living in a free political community rather than in a community governed, for instance, by a tyrant. This political notion of freedom is two-sided. It is characterized, on the one side, by the laws which the citizens of the community have imposed on themselves and, on the other side, by there being no further external constraints on a free citizen which would systematically prevent him from doing what he could reasonably want to do in pursuit of his own good, in particular from living the kind of life he could reasonably want to live. It is crucial that this freedom, to put the matter in a grossly simplified form, almost invariably seems to be understood as a freedom from external constraints which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living in a political community and which would systematically prevent one from doing what it takes to have a good life. Living under a tyrant and being a slave are regarded as involving such constraints, as the tyrant and the slave master, by definition, impose constraints on what one can do which systematically prevent one from having a good life, at least given a certain traditional understanding of what a good life amounts to.

This is a little confusing.

Frede says that the Greek term ἐλευθερία ("freedom") "provides us with some guidance as to how the notion of freedom [in free will] we are interested in is to be understood."

"As the very term indicates, it must be a notion formed by analogy to the political notion of freedom."

Why is this true?

I am not sure.

The political notion of freedom is "freedom from external constraints which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living in a political community and which would systematically prevent one from doing what it takes to live a good life."

This notion presumably arose with life in a "city" or πόλις.

19. The notion of freedom we are interested in is formed by analogy to this political notion, but its precise relation to the political is never definitively settled, in good part for political and social reasons; being formed by analogy to the political notion, it also inherits its double-sided character. Thus the ability of a free person to have a good life is understood more precisely as the ability to live a good life in what we, not very helpfully, might be tempted to call a moral sense. The lack of clarity about the relation between the political notion and this personal notion of freedom in part is due to a lack of clarity about the relation between the good life one is able to have when one is politically free and the good life one can live if one has personal freedom. The tendency among ancient philosophers, needless to say, is to claim that one can live a good life even under a tyrant or as a slave.

What is the "personal notion of freedom"?

The suggestion seems to be that we have this kind of freedom if we are free from any external constraints which go beyond the acceptable constraints involved in living and which would systematically prevent one from doing what it takes to live a good life.

20. What, then, are the external constraints which this personal notion of freedom envisages which could systematically prevent us from doing what we need to do in order to live a good life, assuming that the constraints a tyrant or a slave master could impose on us do not count as such? The answer, in a nutshell and again very grossly simplified, is that at the time when the notion of a free will arises, there are any number of views, some of them widespread, according to which the world we live in, or at least part of the world we live in, is run by a tyrant or a slave master or a whole group of them. We should not forget that even Christians Saint Augustine, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

John of Damascus (7th to 8th Century CE)
like Augustine or John of Damascus had no difficulty in thinking that the right way to characterize our relationship to God is to say that we are slaves of God. Now the Christian God is a benevolent agent who provides for his slaves in such a way as to enable them to live a good life. Even on this view there is an obvious tension between our being free and our being slaves, one may even say at least an apparent contradiction. But there were lots of other views, according to which those who rule the world, or our sublunary part of it, are far from benevolent, far from concerned about our well-being.

To have the notion of personal freedom, we must have in mind some possible external constraints that are or are not inconsistent with living the good life.

"[W]hen the notion of a free will arises," the "external constraints" inconsistent with the freedom necessary to live a good life are not ones that first occur to us now.

This is a confusing part of Frede's argument.

Frede's remarks in his concluding chapter help show what is going on.

"The notion [of free will] was regarded as helpful, because there was a widespread but vague fear... fed by the belief that one lived in a world full of forces and powers, many, if not most, of them hidden from us, which seemed to leave little or no room for the free pursuit of our own interests. These were either blind forces or forces which pursued their own interests without regard to us or downright hostile and malicious forces, out to tyrannize, enslave, or seduce us. The Stoics themselves had greatly contributed to giving some respectability to such fears by developing a theory that everything which happens in the world, including our actions, happens according to a divine providential plan. So it seemed particularly incumbent upon the Stoics to explain how such a seamless divine providential order was compatible with human choices. They tried to do this with their doctrine of freedom and a free will" (102).

Frede's claim seems to be that the notion of free will gets introduced in response to pressure from outside Stoicism. There was the "fear" that we might not be responsible for our actions. The early Stoics give some "respectability" to this idea with their doctrine of fate. So it was "incumbent" on them to respond. They do this with their doctrine of "freedom." Because the fear was still increasing, the late Stoics respond again. They do this with their doctrine of "free will."

This opens a possible problem for Frede's argument that the notion of free will first emerges in late Stoicism in the work of Epictetus. He tries to establish this conclusion by arguing that the major philoophers before the late Stoics (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the early Stoics) did not have the notion of free will because they did not have the notion of the will. It might be, though, that although none had the notion of free will, some had the notion of the will but did not talk about it because the "fear" was not strong and widepread enough to merit a response.

21. There are, for instance, the so-called archontes, ἄρχοντες, archontes, noun, "rulers"

The "sublunary world" is part of the Aristotelian conception of the universe, which was dominant until Copernicus (1473-1543). The earth, at the center, was surrounded by the heavens. The moon was the closest part of the heavens.
the rulers or planetary gods who rule the sublunary world and determine what happens in it, including our lives, so as to fit their designs and ideas and to serve their interests as they perceive them. They do not care about what this does to our lives or to our ability to have or to live a good life. Indeed, they might try to do what they can to make it impossible for us to live a good life.

Aristotle thought there are "planetary gods," but he did not think of them as a threat.

Who first thought of them as a threat?

This can be confusing to think about.

Traditionally the ancient Greeks pretty much all believed that the sun and moon, for example, are gods. The inquirers into nature were the first exceptions.

  "Do I not even believe that the sun or yet the moon are gods, as the rest of mankind do?
  No, by Zeus, judges, since he says that the sun is a stone and the moon earth.
  Do you think you are accusing Anaxagoras, my dear Meletus, and do you so despise these gentlemen and think they are so unversed in letters as not to know, that the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian are full of such utterances" (Apology 26d).

There was, though, a less "scientific" tradition that we see in reflected in Hesiod (8th to 7th century BCE). According to this tradition, there are "δαίμονες dwelling on the earth ..., clothed in mist and [who] keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds...."

"Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care. ... But for those who practice violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment. ... The deathless gods are near among men; and mark all those who oppress their fellows with crooked judgements.... You princes, mark well this punishment, you also, for upon the bounteous earth Zeus has thrice ten thousand spirits (ἀθάνατοι), watchers of mortal men, and these keep watch on judgements and deeds of wrong as they roam, clothed in mist, all over the earth. ... For the son of Cronos has ordained this law for men, that fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for right is not in them; but to mankind he gave right (δίκην) which proves far the best. For whoever knows the right and is ready to speak it, far-seeing Zeus gives him prosperity" (Works and Days 230). "First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronos when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods. But after the earth had covered this generation—they are called pure spirits (δαίμονες) dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth; for this royal right also they received" (Works and Days 110).

These δαίμονες are not a threat to the freedom necessary to live a good life, at least given that good life is not the life of doing whatever one wants, but but it is easy to imagine how the understanding of the δαίμονες could develop into something more sinister.

22. There is also a wide spread view, which we find among groups (following some early Christian authors like Irenaeus) Irenaeus, 2nd century CE, Bishop of Lugdunum (a Roman military colony founded in 43 CE, now Lyon in the Rhone Valley in Southern France).

In his Against Heresies, he describes Gnosticism and contrasts it with his conception of orthodox Christianity. Knowledge of Gnosticism depends on Irenaeus because the Gnostic writings themselves have largely been lost.

Irenaeus is a heresiologist. Someone who tries to define the Christian orthodoxy, as he understands it, by writing about previous mistaken views. Others include

Clement of Alexandria (150-215)
Hippolytus of Rome (170-236)
Origen of Alexandria (185-254)

"[I]t is ... the Gnostics who are in disagreement about the Father of Jewish scripture who created the world we live in. According to them, he cannot be good and just and hence cannot be God" (Frede, A Free Will, 72).

"My claim is that Christianity's interest in freedom and a free will was motivated by a concern with various forms of Gnosticism and astral determinism, that a basically Stoic view on a free will admirably served the purpose of combating these unorthodox views, and that we therefore have no particular reason to expect a radically new notion of a free will's emerging from Christianity" (Frede, A Free Will, 74).

What is astral determinism?

The answer comes in part from the Stoic theory of divination. We know about this theory primarily from Cicero (106-43 CE) and his On Divination). (In Book I, Quintus (Cicero’s brother) sets out divination from the Stoic point of view. In Book II, Cicero criticizes this position from the point of view of Academic skepticism.)

In discussions of signs in astrology, one question was whether the predictive value was based on the causal influences on human beings and their affairs by heavenly bodies or was merely a matter of empirical correlations.

Astral determinism takes the influence to be causal. It takes the view that our choices, our characters and our lives are determined by the movements of the stars.
we have come to call “Gnostics,” according to which the agent who created the visible world we live in, the demiurge or creator, is a being which pursues its own interests without regard for what this does to us, a being lacking in wisdom and goodness, as one can see from the fact that it deludes itself into thinking that it is God and demanding worship. This view, if held by Gnostics, as a rule seems to be combined with the view that this God is the God of Jewish scripture, who created this world which in all sorts of ways reflects his lack of wisdom and goodness, for instance, in that it puts at least many, if not all of us, into a position in which it is impossible to live a good life.

The Gnostics have a view "according to which the world we live in, or at least part of the world we live in, is run by a tyrant or a slave master or a whole group of them" (20).

23. It is against the background of a large number of such views that the notion of freedom we are interested in emerges. 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.

According to Frede, the "notion of freedom we are interested in emerges."

It cannot "emerge" before there is the idea that "the world ... put[s] such constraints on us from the outside as to make it impossible for us to live a good life."

24. The [much less fanciful] 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.

Many introduction to philosophy courses introduce the so-called "problem of free will" as a question about whether "free will" is compatible with "determinism."

Here, for example, is the opening paragraph of the entry "Compatibilism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem, which concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed as a thesis about the compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism."

25. The nearest we ever get in antiquity to the kind of physical determinism we are now Democritus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Epicurus, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Democritus (5th to 4th century BCE), founder (with Leucippus) of atomism, younger contemporary of Socrates.

Epicurus (4th to 3rd century BCE), atomist, founder of Epicureanism.
thinking of, when we talk about determinism, is in Epicurus, if only for Epicurus to reject it without much of an argument. Epicurus is concerned that the kind of atomism introduced by Democritus, and espoused by himself, might be misunderstood as entailing a view according to which everything which happens, including what we do, is predetermined by an endless chain of antecedent causes. If this were true, nothing that we do would in any substantial sense depend on us. For the conditions from which it would ineluctably follow that one day you would exist, that you would be this sort of person with those beliefs and those desires, and that in a certain situation you would respond to this situation in this way, would already be there all along. These conditions would have come about without any thought of you, without any regard to you or your life, and you certainly would have had no active part in bringing them about. So your action would just be a part of how the world ineluctably unfolds from antecedent conditions which have predetermined you action long before you existed.

We might think that "physical determinism" is part of Democritus' atomism, that this atomism was thought to be a threat to freedom, and that therefore the notion of free will arises against an understanding of the world that is not all that different from ours.

This, however, according to Frede, would be a mistake.

Epicurus is a Hellenistic philosopher.

The Hellenistic philosophers take their name because of the time in which they lived, the Hellenistic Age. This is the period in history from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE to the end of the Roman Republic in 27 BCE.

The Hellenistic Age is a period in history, not philosophy, but the philosophers in this period have something philosophical in common that makes it reasonable to think of them as a group within the ancient philosophical tradition. They are united by their critical reaction to what they thought were the excesses of the prior classical tradition, the tradition of Plato and Aristotle.

This critical reaction began to disintegrate around 100 BCE as non-skeptical forms of Platonism underwent a resurgence and eventually gave rise to Christianity. This disintegration marks the end of the Period of Schools.

The Period of Schools is the second of the three periods into which ancient philosophy is traditionally divided. This is the time of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic philosophers (Epicurus and the Epicureans, the Academics, and Zeno of Citium and the early Stoics).



"Epicurus and his followers had a more mechanistic conception of bodily action than the Stoics. They held that all things (human soul included) are constituted by atoms, whose law-governed behavior fixes the behavior of everything made of such atoms. But they rejected determinism by supposing that atoms, though law-governed, are susceptible to slight ‘swerves’ or departures from the usual paths" (SEP, "Free Will. 1. Major Historical Contributions 1.1 Ancient and Medieval Period").

What are "Epicurus and followers" said to think?

The view, it seems, is that although there are laws of nature that govern everything, these laws are indeterministic.

"Whom, after all, do you consider superior to the man who ... would deride the fate which some introduce as overlord of everything, but sees that some things are necessitated, others are due to fortune, and others through ourselves, since necessity is accountable to no one, and fortune is an unstable thing to watch, while our actions, with which culpability and its opposite are naturally associated, are without an overlord? For it would be better to follow the mythology about gods than be a slave to the fate of the natural philosophers: the former at least hints at the hope of begging the gods off by means of worship, whereas the latter involves an inexorable necessity" (Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus X.133).

"Moreover, if all movements are invariably linked, if new movement arises from old in unalterable succession, if there is no atomic swerve to initiate movement that can annul the decrees of destiny and prevent the existence of an endless chain of causation, what is the source of this freedom (libera) possessed by living creatures all over the earth? What, I ask, is the course of this volition (voluntas) wrested from destiny, which enables us to advance where pleasure leads us, and to alter our movements not at a fixed time or place, but at the direction of our minds? For undoubtedly in each case it is the individual volition that gives the initial impulse to such actions and channels movements though the limbs" (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura II.251).

De Rerum Natura = On the Nature of Things
26. It is almost impossible for us not to understand Democritus in the way Epicurus rejects. Democritus assumes that all there is are atoms moving in a void. They collide and rebound, form transient compounds, among them compounds which are relatively stable, owing to the configuration of their constituent atoms. What we call “objects,” including plants, animals, and human beings, are such compounds. These entities, owing to the particular configurations of their constituent atoms, display a certain regularity in their behavior. We can hardly resist the temptation to assume wrongly that Democritus must have thought that the atoms move, collide, or rebound according to fixed laws of nature, such that everything which happens ultimately is governed by these laws. But it is perfectly clear that Democritus has no idea of such laws. He is concerned, rather, to resist the idea that the apparent regularity in the behavior of objects be understood as the result of their being designed to behave in this fashion; for in Greek thought regularity of behavior as a rule is associated with design by an intellect. The planets are taken to be supremely intelligent, if not wise, because they move with an extreme degree of regularity. If an object is not intelligent but displays regularity in behavior, it is readily thought to do so by design of an intelligent agent. Democritus's point is that the apparent regularity in the world is not a work of design, say, by an Anaxagorean cosmic intellect but a surface phenomenon produced by the aimless, random motion of the atoms. Thus apparent regularity is supposed to be explained in terms of randomness. But already in Epicurus's day there was the temptation to think of the motion of the atoms as itself regular. Hence Epicurus, to avoid this misinterpretation of his own atomism, tries to insist on the irregularity of the motion of the atoms by claiming that they swerve from their paths without cause.

Democritus does not understand "physical determinism" to be part of his atomism, although it is easy for us to think he does. Epicurus insists on the "swerve" to aligns himself with Democritus.

The history of philosophy here is interesting.

The Milesian inquirers into nature (Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes) tried to move away from the explanations of events in the world that unfold in a regular way in terms of Zeus and the pantheon of traditional gods. Democritus and Leucippus are part of this tradition. They explain this sort of regularity in the world as how the random motion in the atoms appears to us.

27. 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. But here is at least an envisaged possible view, which is not fanciful at all but is rather close to what we call physical determinism. According to that, the world puts constraints on what we can do, which are such that we cannot but do whatever it is that we are doing, and hence might systematically prevent us from doing what we would need to do to live a good life.

The need for Epicurus to make clear that his atomism aligns with the atomism of Democritus shows that it was beginning to become possible to think "the world puts constraints on what we can do, which are such that we cannot but do whatever it is that we are doing, and hence might systematically prevent us from doing what we would need to do to live a good life."

So this shows the beliefs about the world outside philosophy at the time of early Stoicism.

28. The doctrine which in antiquity comes nearest to physical determinism in our sense, and was actually espoused, is the Stoic doctrine of fate. According to the Stoics, everything which happens has antecedent physical causes which form a chain reaching back as far as we care to trace it. But even this form of universal physical determinism differs radically from its modern counterpart in three crucial respects. First, Stoic fate is the work of an agent, namely, God, whose plan dictates the way the world evolves and changes, including what we ourselves do,down to the smallest detail. Modern determinists, in contrast, do not normally believe in a cosmic agent who determines things. Second, this plan is providential precisely in the sense that the Stoic God predetermines things in part with regard to us, taking into consideration what his determination does to us and to our life. Modern determinists, however, will find it natural to think not only that everything we do is predetermined but also that our choices and decisions are predetermined entirely without regard to us. Third, in a curious twist to the Stoic position (and with nothing comparable in the case of modern determinism), the divine plan itself seems to be contingent on our choices and decisions, in such a way that God anticipates them in determining the way the world evolves.

"The doctrine which in antiquity comes nearest to physical determinism in our sense, and was actually espoused, is the Stoic doctrine of fate."

How is this "doctrine" different from modern instances of physical determinism?

"Modern determinists ... do not normally believe in a cosmic agent who determines things."

"Fixing just upon this conception of agency [that an agent’s control seems to consist in her playing a crucial role in the production of her actions], how might determinism pose a threat to free will? If determinism is true, then what happened in the distant past, when combined with the laws of nature, is causally sufficient for the production of every human action. But if this is so, then, while it might be true that an agent herself is crucially involved in the production of her action, that action actually has its source in causal antecedents that originate outside of her. Hence, she, as an agent, is not the ultimate source of her actions" ("Compatibilism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Modern determinists "think not only that everything we do is predetermined but also that our choices and decisions are predetermined entirely without regard to us."

Modern determinists do not think that "God [the cosmic agent who determines things] anticipates [our choices and decisions] in determining the way the world evolves."

29. God in his providence sets the world up in such a way that there are no constraints imposed on us from the outside which would systematically make it impossible for us to do what we need to do to live a good life. So here we do have a form of causal determinism, but it was a matter of dispute whether it posed a threat to freedom or not. Tellingly, those who argued that it did, like Alexander of Aphrodisias, conveniently Alexander of Aphrodisias, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy disregarded the idea that, on this theory, our choices are not just the product of fate but themselves to some extent determine fate.

It is part of the "Stoic doctrine of fate" that "God in his providence sets the world up in such a way that there are no constraints imposed on us from the outside which would systematically make it impossible for us to do what we need to do to live a good life."

In this way, the "Stoic doctrine of fate" is compatible with freedom.

30. Universal causal determinism, though, was not a view which had many adherents in antiquity. This was not because the ancients believed for the most part that things happen without a cause or an explanation. For the most part they came to believe that things do have a natural cause or explanation. But they had a very different conception from ours of what constitutes a cause or explanation. Perhaps the most crucial difference is that nobody in antiquity had the notion of laws of nature, meaning a body of laws which govern and explain the behavior of all objects, irrespective of their kind. For the most part, at least, philosophers believed (and this is true, though in different ways, of Aristotelians, Platonists, Stoics, and Epicureans alike) that the most important factor for one's understanding of the way things behave is the nature of an object. If you wish, you can think of the nature of an object as something which could be explained by a set of principles and laws which govern and explain the behavior of objects with this nature, for instance, plants or stars. But they are principles and laws governing a specific set of items. The nature of an object puts certain internal constraints on what objects of this kind or nature can do. Human beings, for instance, cannot do everything; just because they are human beings, they cannot fly, even if they wanted to. But there are also lots of things the nature of an object enables it to do. For instance, the nature of a sunflower enables it to turn in the direction of the sun. In fact, it makes the flower turn towards the sun, when the sun is visible. Quite generally, the nature of an object is such that, given certain specifiable conditions, it cannot but behave in a certain identifiable way.

"[N]obody in antiquity had the notion of laws of nature, meaning a body of laws which govern and explain the behavior of all objects, irrespective of their kind."

Frede explains that instead of laws nature, the Ancients thought "the most important factor for one's understanding of the way things behave is the nature of an object."

What, according to the Ancient philosophers, is the "nature of an object"?

The answer is long. Frede only gives part of the idea.

31. It is only when we come to more complex animals and, of course, to human beings that the behavior is not entirely determined by the nature of the object and the circumstances or conditions the object finds itself in. Animals can learn, be trained, or even be taught to do certain things. Different animals of the same kind might behave quite differently in the same circumstances. Their behavior is not entirely fixed by their nature or the laws of their nature. And, notoriously, human beings have to be trained and taught and educated. They have to learn a lot before they are able to act in a truly human and mature way. What is more, and what is crucially important, human beings have to actively involve themselves in acquiring the competence it takes to lead a truly human life. It is certainly not by their nature that human beings act virtuously.

According to the Ancient understanding, "behavior is not entirely determined by the nature of the object and the circumstances or conditions the object finds itself in."

32. Given a view of the world in which what happens is largely accounted for in terms of the nature of things, there may be nothing which does not have a natural cause and explanation, but, given the kinds of causes and explanations appealed to, the world might remain in our sense causally under determined, leaving enough space for us to live our life as we see fit.

The Ancient understanding of what determines behavior leaves open the possibility that "the world might remain in our sense causally under determined."

33. But, as we come to late antiquity, there is a growing sense that at least the physical world may be determined. Yet by then, of course, there is also the view, which rapidly spreads, that the mind is not physical. In any case, the notion of freedom gets its point only from the fact that there are available at the time numerous views about the world, according to which we are under such constraints as to possibly, if not necessarily, be unable to do what we need to do to live a good life.

Frede repeats an earlier point.

"[T]he notion of freedom gets its point only from the fact that there are available at the time numerous views about the world, according to which we are under such constraints as to possibly, if not necessarily, be unable to do what we need to do to live a good life."

34. With this we come to the combination of the two notions of the will, on the one hand, and of freedom, on the other hand, in the notion of a free will. Given the view that our actions are caused by a choice or a decision of the will, our freedom to do the things we need to do in order to live a good life must involve the freedom to make the choices which need to be made in order to produce the actions which need to be taken. This, however, is a trivial connection between the will and freedom. It would hardly explain the great emphasis on the freedom of the will.

What is Frede's point here?

I am not sure.

35. A less trivial connection is this. We might act under such constraints that the choices we have are so limited that they might not produce a good life. Just think of a cosmic tyrant who again and again confronts you with a choice like this: having your children killed or betraying your friends; or killing your child or being condemned for not obeying the order to kill your child. This too, though, would hardly suffice to explain the emphasis on freedom of the will.

What is Frede's point?

Again, I am not sure.

36. A still more promising connection is this. As soon as we think of a world run by a cosmic tyrant—or by planetary intellects and their daemonic minions who have access to our mind, perhaps can manipulate it, and perhaps can systematically try to prevent us from gaining the knowledge we would need to live a good life—we can see that there is a special point in emphasizing the freedom of the will. No cosmic power has such a force over our minds as to prevent the will from making the choices it needs to make.

Frede thinks that what would explain the "great emphasis on the freedom of the will" (34) in late antiquity in Christian literature is the presence of the thought that there are beings "who have access to our mind, perhaps can manipulate it, and perhaps can systematically try to prevent us from gaining the knowledge we would need to live a good life."

This work is part of what is called the Nag Hammadi codices (a thirteen volume library of Gnostic texts) discovered in 1945. The codices were manufactured in 350 CE. They are Coptic translations of earlier Greek works. How these codices came to be buried in a pot in Egypt is not known, but it seems likely they were buried to hide them in the face the increasing orthodoxy of Christianity.

"On account of the reality (ὑπόστασις) of the powers (ἐξουσίαι), in the spirit of the father of truth, the great apostle [Paul]--referring to the powers of the darkness--told us that our contest is not against flesh and blood; rather, the powers of the world and the spirits of wickedness [Cf. Ephesians 6:12]. I have sent you this because you inquire about the reality of the powers. But their great one is blind..." (The Hypostasis of the Archons, 86.20).

The view in the thirteen texts seems to be a product of the encounter of the Jewish and Christian tradition with Greek and Roman ideas about the world. In On the Creation of the World, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (30 BCE - 45 CE) tried to show that Plato's Timaeus said the same thing as the first chapters of Genesis. Hellenistic Judaism flourished in Alexandra in Egypt and in Antioch in Syria (both founded in the 4th century BCE conquests of Alexander the Greek).

Philo Judaeus of Alexandria is Philo of Alexandria.
We can get some idea from the The Hypostasis of the Archons

This work seems to be intended as an esoteric work (work for insiders) for Christian Gnostics. The author sets out a mythological world view in which the archons exist and pose a problem that the Christian Gnostic must guard against. The problem, it seems, is that they are powerful and sadistic and have the ability to manipulate our minds and thus to make us act as they want.

Irenaeus, in Against Heresies (about 180 CE) provides the earliest surviving reference to the Gnostics, but the way of thinking may have begun late in the previous century as Christian theologists tried to incorporate their creation myth into the explanation in Plato's Timaeus.

This way of thinking seems to have spread among ordinary people. There was an increasing interest in the fate of the soul, and the Gnostics had answers that many found appealing.

37. We may decide to cross the street but be run over as we try to do so. We may decide to raise our arm, but the arm does not rise. The doctrine of a free will is certainly not a doctrine to explain how we manage to raise our arm or cross the street. It is, rather, a doctrine of how we are responsible for raising our arm, if we do raise our arm, irrespective of the fact that the world out there is populated by agents of various kinds who might thwart our endeavor. At least for Stoics, Christians, and, to a lesser degree, Platonists, there is also divine providence, which already has settled ab initio

ab initio = "from the beginning"


The details of the Gnostic view are hard to grasp. It is thought, it seems, that there is some sort of divine first principle. It somehow emits a second being and other beings that constitute the spiritual world. The demiurge, Yaldabaoth, emits the archons. Yaldabaoth makes and administers the material world with the archons. They love the first principle, but they express this love inappropriately. Their love takes the form of a desire to possess the divine. This desire for possession extends to the attempt to dominate and enslave human beings through the manipulation of sexual lusts and the other emotions that accompany vice.
whether what we decide to do fits into its plan for the best possible world and hence will be allowed to come to fruition.

Two ideas push the late Stoics to introduce the notion of free will.

One is the Gnostic idea about the creation of the world and the "agents who might thwart our endeavors." The other is the Stoic idea about the creation of the world in terms of "divine providence, which already has settled ab initio [from the beginning] whether what we decide to do fits into its plan for the best possible world and hence will be allowed to come to fruition."

38. This, then, is the general schema for a notion of a free will. Our next major step will be to see how the notion of a specific and actual will first emerged in Stoicism. But before we can turn to this, we have to take a look at Aristotle.

Frede gives the most detailed consideration to Aristotle, but he will also touch on Socrates and Plato. On what happens in the mind when someone acts, Frede will argue that the Stoics return to the sort of view of the mind Socrates held but that Plato and Aristotle rejected.




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