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Chapter 2 examines the reception of Aristotle’s action theory from the 1220s to 1277 and its influence on novel theories of free will developed in this period. It shows that the reception of Aristotle led to a “psychological turn”: instead of assuming the existence of free will, theologians began to argue for it by clarifying the nature of intellect and will, in which free will is grounded. The chapter canvasses the theories of free will in broad strokes from William of Auxerre to Bonaventure, and in more detail regarding Thomas Aquinas and Siger of Brabant, whose views will provoke strong reactions. Following Aristotle closely, Aquinas understands choices as determined by the practical deliberation that precedes them; one chooses as one judges worth choosing, and one can choose otherwise only because deliberation allows one to judge otherwise. Appealing to the authority of Avicenna, Siger argues that what causes the will’s acts does so necessarily.
The introduction does the following: it lays out the scope and argument of the book; it explains different senses of free will, a broad sense, which does not presuppose the ability to do otherwise, and a narrow sense, which does presuppose it; it presents broad definitions of historiographical labels: intellectualism and voluntarism, which respectively refer to theories that explain free agency mainly with reference to the intellect or the will; it summarizes the commonly accepted narrative of the fall of the angels, of which medieval thinkers discuss particular aspects in connection to free will; and it presents a brief chapter outline.
Chapter 7 examines medieval theories of the first cause of evil. Although Augustine denied that something good is the cause of evil, medieval thinkers routinely attributed to him the view that something good – the will understood as a power of the soul – causes something evil. The majority of the thinkers considered in this chapter use Aristotle’s notion of accidental causality to argue that the will can cause evil not per se – that is, not intending evil as evil – but incidentally. Nevertheless, if the will causes evil, they face the dilemma that a good will cannot cause evil at all, and an evil will cannot cause the first evil will. Medieval thinkers deal with this dilemma in different ways. For example, Bonaventure and others hold that the created will is naturally defectible, and hence not entirely unflawed, and so it can do evil. Aquinas argues that the will causing evil for the first time presupposes a momentary nonculpable deficiency, which becomes culpable at the moment of the evil choice. For Scotus, the will is so free that it can do evil even if it is unflawed. Although all these views trace evil to the will as its cause, they hold that evil is ultimately unexplainable.
As the foregoing study has shown, beginning in the 1220s, the reception of Aristotle’s action theory by Christian thinkers enabled the development of a psychological approach to free will, which raised philosophical reflection on free will to an unprecedented level. Aristotle’s thought enabled later medieval thinkers to articulate more clearly the rational process that leads to a choice, and it provided the tools for them to develop more refined theories of the way in which decision-making is rooted in the powers of the soul. According to the close reading of Aristotle proposed by Thomas Aquinas and others, there cannot be any discrepancy between a choice and the practical judgment that concludes deliberation. But this hypothesis raised concerns about the relation between cognition and volition: Is a choice (or any other kind of volition, such as desire or enjoyment) an inevitable response to a judgment about what is worth choosing?
Chapters 1–5 constitute Part I of the book, entitled “Free Will,” about the principal theories of free will from the 1220s–1320s and their background in Aristotle and earlier medieval thinkers. Chapter 1 gives an overview of the accounts of free will by Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Peter Lombard. Then it sketches the history of the reception of Aristotle’s action theory and offers an account of the principal Aristotelian doctrines that are relevant to later medieval theories of free will.
Chapters 6–7 constitute Part II, entitled “Whence Evil?” Chapter 6 studies theories of the first cause of evil in Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius. Assuming that moral evil came about in a world created good, Augustine faces the question of what first causes evil. If one assumes that evil has a cause, one is faced with the dilemma that moral evil is caused by either a good will or an evil will; but a good will cannot cause moral evil at all, and an evil will cannot cause the first moral evil. So Augustine argues that evil does not have an efficient cause, but only a deficient cause, which means that evil ultimately lacks an explanation. Augustine holds that evil originated in something good, but cannot be caused by something good. Pseudo-Dionysius agrees with Augustine that evil lacks an efficient cause and adds that evil cannot be a final cause: no one acts for the sake of evil.
Chapter 10 studies theories of demonic obstinacy, the state in which the fallen angels or demons are unable to avoid sinning and have a limited ability to do good. The external cause of obstinacy is God’s refusal to offer them the grace of repentance and of justification. Beginning with Aquinas, theologians searched in addition for an internal, psychological cause of their obstinacy – a great challenge, given their shared belief that the angels’ will is by nature oriented to the good. Aquinas traces their obstinacy to the fixity of their cognition, and Henry of Ghent to the forcefulness of their will. Certain Franciscan thinkers explain the demons’ obstinacy by means of a divine intervention, binding their will to evil (Olivi), causing their immoderate self-love (Scotus), causing in them a habit of wickedness (Auriol), or even causing in them hatred of God (Ockham). Durand of St. Pourçain returns to the standard account prior to Aquinas, which explains the demons’ obstinacy by a divine decision, with no reference to their psychological condition. In addition to the cause of obstinacy, theologians discussed whether the demons, though necessarily obstinate, are nevertheless free.
Chapter 4 studies three theories of free will of the late thirteenth century: two that are midway between intellectualism and voluntarism, and one that is strictly intellectualist. Giles of Rome starts from the intellectualist assumption that the cognized object causes the will’s act, but makes a voluntarist concession in assuming that the will controls which aspects of the object end up moving the will. John of Morrovalle (also known as John of Murro) starts from the idea that the will moves itself, but makes the intellectualist concession that the cognized object causes a disposition in the will that predisposes the will in making a choice. Godfrey of Fontaines rejects both solutions and argues that the cognized object alone causes the will’s act. While Giles and Morrovalle grant the will some direct control of its choices, Godfrey considers control necessarily mediated by practical deliberation. In the last analysis, Godfrey leaves the question of how we control our deliberation unanswered.
Chapters 8–10 constitute Part III, entitled “Angelic Sin,” which raises the issue of how rational agents can do evil under ideal psychological conditions. Chapter 8 is about intellectualist accounts of angelic sin. Since according to these accounts, the will acts as the intellect judges best, evil acts presuppose some cognitive deficiency: either an outright error, or some occurrent nonconsideration that keeps the intellect from making the correct judgment. Thus one difficulty faced by intellectualist thinkers is how the cognitive deficiency can come about – especially since most thinkers here discussed assume that angels are infallible prior to making an evil choice. Another difficulty concerns control of the act. It is assumed that while the angels’ good or evil choice was up to them, the content of their knowledge was not up to them. Aquinas’s solution is that knowledge does not predetermine the use of that knowledge, which is up to the will. By contrast, Godfrey of Fontaines argues that the choice of the angels is caused by the cognized object; he fails to explain, however, how his theory avoids cognitive determinism.
Chapter 5 concerns the free will debate in the early fourteenth century. It thoroughly discusses the Franciscans Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, who make a sharp distinction between will and nature, that is, between a free power or cause that controls its act and one whose act is determined by external circumstances. Scotus and Ockham make the will more independent from a cognized good than previous thinkers. Using unedited texts, the chapter also presents what may well be the strongest statement of intellectualism at the time, by John of Pouilly, who builds on Godfrey of Fontaines to explain why, although our choices are moved by the cognized object, we control our choices. More briefly, the Dominicans Hervaeus Natalis and Durand of St. Pourçain are considered, whose general approach resembles Pouilly’s. As a thinker developing an intermediary theory, the chapter studies Peter Auriol, according to whom the will controls directly which judgment considered during deliberation becomes the final judgment that causes one’s choice. The dividing issue among these thinkers is, at bottom, whether the will controls its acts directly or only by means of deliberation.