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Aristotle and Augustine on voluntary action and freedom and weakness of the will

Aristotle's remarks on free will suggest, not so much an argument for the existence of free will, as an account of its nature. This account depends on his making no hard distinction between what we call 'free action' and 'voluntary action'. For him, these would be interchangeable terms. The Aristotelian can, then, point out that, if we give up our belief in free will, we must give up many other natural beliefs too. In particular, we must stop believing in voluntary action. There are, in Aristotelian terms, three conditions (not two, as Aristotle himself evidently supposed), which any behaviour must satisfy to count as free/voluntary action. The behaviour (i) must not be compelled, but must be performed by the agent's own power and desire; (ii) must not be done in ignorance, but must be action on relevant knowledge; and (iii) must not be irrational but must result from the combination of the agent's own power and desire with the agents relevant knowledge. (i) leads me to discuss Aristotle's account of what he calls kinesis; (ii) leads me into epistemology; (iii) into an account of Aristotle's theory of proairesis and practical reasoning as the cause of voluntary action. One problem for Aristotle's account of the causation of voluntary action is posed by akrasia, deliberate choice of what I sincerely believe I should not choose. This seems to be voluntary action which is not caused as Aristotle says voluntary action should be. But the three conditions of voluntary action which I say Aristotle should be committed to can be used to show that the existing forms of akrasia make no counter example to Aristotle's theory, but rather an interesting adjunct to it. My study of Augustine's theory of freedom begins with a survey of a crucial text, the de Libero Arbitrio (Ch.5). I then apply an analogous schema to that found in Aristotle. Augustine too depends on the idea that to analyse free action is to analyse voluntary action; he also equates these two types with responsive action. He too believes (i) that ignorance usually makes for involuntariness, and (ii) that there can be no voluntary action which is compelled or which the agent could not have done otherwise. In his later works, these doctrines are often obscured by his interest in original sin and predestination (neither of which topics, be it noted, are focuses of this thesis). But they remain his doctrines.
CreatorsChappell, T. D. J.
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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