Free Will in Ancient Thought
Frede. Chapter One: "Introduction," 12-20
These lecture notes take the following form. For each number, I quote a paragraph from (the online verions of) A Free Will. These quotations are in boldface type. I quote them in the order they occur in the book. The remarks in plainface that follow are mine. In these remarks, I try to call attention to and explain important points. 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.
This can seem surprising. One might think that the notion is something human beings have had all along. Frede soon explains why this is a mistake.
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 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.
If the notion of a free will does not help us "understand ourselves and what we do," then we should stop using it. This seems to presuppose we are using it.
Whether we are using it or not, how do we tell if it is still useful?
Frede proposes to identify the "purpose ... [the notion] was supposed to serve." This, he seems to think, will show us "whether it was flawed right from the its beginnings."
What would make the notion "flawed right from its beginnings"?
One possibility, perhaps, is that to us now the notion looks to be "flawed right from the beginnings" if it essentially includes assumptions about human beings or the world that we no longer accept. The notion, in this case, now has no application.
Another possibility is that the notion is incoherent.
3. In these lectures it is in this spirit that 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 was the notion introduced?
Frede will argue that it is part of a late Stoic theory.
Why did the Stoics introduce the notion?
Presumably because they thought it was true of human beings. But why did it occur to them to think that humans have free will? Presumably they were tying to solve some problem and thought that the existence of free will was part of the solution.
What is the notion of a free will?
It includes a notion of will and a notion of freedom.
The notion of freedom is lack of certain constraints. So to know what freedom is in connection with the will, it is necessary to know what the constraints are.
4. To raise this question [stated in 3], 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.
Every philosophical notion is introduced in a historical context. The context consists in assumptions about ourselves and the world that we may or may not now share. In the case of free will, Frede proposes to identify and set out these assumptions.
It will turn out that the assumptions in the case of free will, as Frede understands it, are ones we no longer share. So the notion of free will first introduced in antiquity is not applicable to us. Frede, though, will suggest that it includes two ideas that are worth further thought.
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.
Historians of ancient philosophy used to think that free will is a notion human beings have had all along. In this respect, Frede takes his view to be a contribution to the field.
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.
There is an argument here for the conclusion that free will is a technical notion.
Plato and Aristotle do not have the notion of free will. (Why? Free will is a notion one would expect philosophers to discuss. Plato and Aristotle do not discuss it.) If Plato and Aristotle do not have the notion, then it is a technical notion that was introduced at some point.
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 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.”
From the fact that Plato and Aristotle did not discuss free will, historians did not conclude that they did not have the notion. Why? They were convinced that free will is a notion human beings have had all along and hence that the philosophers must have had this notion.
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
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.
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.
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.
Why were historians convinced that free will is a notion human beings have had all along and hence that the ancient philosophers must have had this notion?
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." The technical notion of free will that was introduced to explain this belief became identified with the belief, and this identification allowed scholars to think that the ancients believed in free will.
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.
This identification is mistake.
Some philosophers had the belief but not the technical notion. Aristotle is an example.
Further, if it turns out that the notion of free will is "flawed," it will not follow that we have give up the ordinary and plausibly true belief 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."
10. This 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.
Historians of philosophy now recognize the distinction between the ordinary belief and technical notions of free will. Frede cites the influence of Gilbert Ryle for the change of opinion. 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) that now has "no utility" (49).
Ryle (1900-1976) supervised G.E.L Owen's B.Phil thesis at Oxford. Owen (1922-1982) was an influential scholar in ancient philosophy. Frede attended Owen's seminars in Oxford in 1962.
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 did the 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.
So the "notion of a free will is a notion we have inherited from antiquity" (as Frede puts the point in the opening sentence of 1) is not necessarily identical to the Stoic notion.
This opens the possibility that the "notion of free will we inherited" is applicable today, but Frede is not really concerned with our current notion. His interest is in the Stoic notion and in the ways Platonists and Aristotelians tried to incorporate this notion into their philosophies.
13. 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 notions have to be in place for the notion of free will to be introduced? There has to be a notion of will, and there has to be a notion of freedom.
14. 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.
The notion of will in free will presupposes something too, but Frede leaves what this is a little unclear. Part of the idea, it seems, is that the will must be something in the mind.
"[O]ne 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."
15. [F]or 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 will is the "ability to make such choices or decisions which make us act in the way we do." As such, the will is part of the explanation of every action.
So if a theory of mind and action explains some actions one way and other actions another way, it follows that this theory does not contain a notion of the will.
The will can vary "from person to person" and can be "developed, cultivated, and perfected."
We will have to see what this means subsequently.
προαίρεσις, proairesis, noun, "choice"
βούλησις, boulēsis, noun, "willing"
θέλησις, thelēsis, noun, "will"
voluntas, noun, "will" 16. 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 class, we don't 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, e.g., he uses prohairesis for προαίρεσις. This makes it a little easier for those who do not know the language to pronounce the words. Some publishers too insist that all Greek words must be transliterated, presumably for practical reasons. I do not know if this is true for the publisher of A Free Will.
17. The Greek term for the relevant notion of freedom is eleutheria. ἐλευθερία, eleutheria, noun, "freedom" 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.
Free in free will is like the political notion of freedom.
The political notion 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 have a good life."
18. 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.
The notion of free in free will is formed in "analogy" with the political notion of freedom, but the constraints that must be absent for a will to be free are left unspecified.
Given that "there is a tendency among philosophers ... to claim that one can live a good life even under a tyrant or as a slave," we can expect the notion of free will is such that a human being can have a free will even if he lives "under a tyrant" or "is a slave."
Which philosophers say this?
19. 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.
"[W]hen the notion of a free will arises," the things that might count as "external constraints" inconsistent with the freedom necessary to live a good life are not ones that first occur to us now.
20. There are, for instance, the so-called archontes, ἄρχοντες, archontes, noun, "rulers" 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.
The "planetary gods" were a threat to freedom that was taken seriously.
21. 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.
"[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" (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" (A Free Will, 74). 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.
This "demiurge" was also taken seriously, but few if any would do so today.
22. 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.
The notion of free will emerges against the background of an understanding of the world that is very different from the one we have now. So it might be that the notion essentially includes assumptions about the world and human beings that no longer seem plausible to us.
23. 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.
The ancient threats to freedom "assume some kind of physical determinism."
24. 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), ancient atomist, 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 ancient atomism, that this atomism was thought to be a threat to freedom, and that therefore the notion of free will arises against the background of an understanding of the world that is not all that different from ours.
25. 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, however, does not understand "physical determinism" to be part of his atomism. Further, when Epicurus insists on the "swerve," he aligns himself with Democritus.
26. 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 Hellenistic philosophers take their name from 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. These philosophers in this period were
united by their critical reaction to what they thought were the excesses of the
prior classical tradition, the tradition of Plato and Aristotle.
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.
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). The need for Epicurus to make clear that his atomism aligns with the atomism of Democritus shows that in the Hellenistic period of philosophy it was becoming increasingly possible to take stronger forms of "physical determinism" seriously.
27. 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 "Stoic doctrine of fate" is "nearest" to what we think of as "physical determinism."
How is it different?
"Modern determinists ... do not normally believe in a cosmic agent who determines things."
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."
The last point ("that God anticipates [our choices and decisions] in determining the way the world evolves") is important for understanding the Stoic notion of free will.
28. 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 the "Stoic doctrine of fate" allows for the possibility of free will.
29. 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.
The most important point here, I think, 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." Instead, the ancient philosophers thought that "the most important factor for one's understanding of the way things behave is the nature of an object."
30. 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."
What else determines behavior?
31. 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."
What is "our sense"?
32. 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.
There is space to introduce a notion of free will once there are views that entail "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." The existence of free will is incompatible with the truth of these views.
33. 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.
If the will explains our actions, "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."
There might be philosophers who believe in the will but who do not see the need to insist on the freedom of the will to explain why there is the freedom necessary to live a good life.
Frede seems to have the early Stoics in mind.
34. 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.
Nor is the interest in the freedom of the will explained by thought that we live in a world in which a being has constrained the alternatives from which we choose so that they are all bad and thus that our choices result in a life that is not a good life as this life is usually understood.
35. 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.
What would explain the interest 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."
Because they would be forcing us to act the way we do.
36. 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" whether what we decide to do fits into its plan for the best possible world and hence will be allowed to come to fruition.
The notion of free will is introduced to explain the fact 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."
37. 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.