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The problem of free will is an ancient one that goes at least back to the time when the Atomist philosopher Democritus postulated that reality consists of only atoms and the void. The soul, also consisting of atoms, is governed by the laws that determine all other existence. The problem seems to be that if all human action is governed by cause and effect, then everything is determined. Therefore, if everything is determined how can any human choices in fact be free choices? This is the question that has puzzled many throughout history. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding John Locke attempts to address the problem of free will and offer an account of human liberty. Although Locke admittedly does not want to give a determinist account of the soul, he struggles to give a valid account of human liberty that is consistent with his other theories shared in his Essay, he ultimately fails. In order to demonstrate Locke’s failure to provide a sound account for human liberty, his treatment of the problem must initially be understood. Locke begins by dismissing the age-old question of free will and in effect rephrasing the question in a manner that he deems to be less “absurd”. Should I explain rest of process here? At the outset of his handling of this problem, Locke believes that the ultimate way to address the problem of free will is to initially dissolve the former problem. Locke dissolves the problem by showing that if you carefully define the crucial concepts and distinguish the important distinctions then the problem ultimately is a conceptual confusion that can be eliminated by careful analysis. Locke initially claims that the will and freedom are both powers. Subsequently he defines the specific functions of these powers. He asserts that liberty is the power of doing, or forbearing any particular action, according to the determination of the will. The will, however, poses a greater difficulty to concisely define. He deduces that the will is nothing more than “the power of the mind to determine its thought to the producing, continuing, or stopping of any action, as far as it depends on us” (Essay, II xxi 15). He further distinguishes the two powers by claiming that liberty belongs only to agents, therefore it cannot belong to the will, for the will itself is a power, not a substance or a being. From these assertions he concludes that it makes no sense to ask whether a power is a power, and for this reason to question if the will has freedom is absurd. In an examination of Locke’s first step in the treatment of the problem of free will, it can be observed that he has already encountered an issue. There is in inherent contradiction in his definition of the power of liberty. According to Locke, the power of liberty itself is not liberated. Liberty acts in accordance with another power; in Locke’s words, liberty possesses power but only “according to the determination of the will”. Hence, to get a better understanding of the extent of the power of liberty the question, “What determines the will?” must be answered. In response to this question, Locke primarily clarifies the question at hand. He deciphers* the meaning of the question, “What determines the will?” as “What moves the mind in every particular instance to determine its general power of directing to this or that particular motion or rest?” (Essay, II xxi 29). In response to this question Locke explains that there are two motives for all motion: present satisfaction or uneasiness. Present satisfaction is the motive directing the motion to continue in the same state, while uneasiness is the motive directing any particular motion to change. According to Locke, the uneasiness of the mind for want of some absent good, can be understood as desire, because our desire is equal to the uneasiness felt, whether it is pain of the body or discontent of the mind. Furthermore, Locke asserts that our desires determine all action and consequently he rejects the idea that we ever act for anything other than our desires. From this assertion we can conclude, that the will is determined by our desires. If the will is determined by our desires, then liberty is the power of doing, or forbearing any particular action, according to the determination of the will, which is determined by our desires. From a first reading of this, it may be understood that liberty has the power of doing or forbearing any action that the will has determined. Nevertheless, this understanding is mistaken. If it is understood that liberty has any power to change the determined action of the will, the power of liberty is mistakenly understood as ‘the final say’. The will is determined by desires, and action is determined by the will. Therefore, liberty has no ‘final say’ or final power to determine action. If the power of liberty is not the power to permit, or forbear the action of the determined will, then what is the inherent power of liberty? Locke Locke’s account of human liberty comes to collapse into determinism, as the power of liberty becomes an empty power, which has no effective force on volition to act.
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