Freedom of the Will Notes (Part 1, Sec. 1-2)

Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards is a difficult book I am reading through slowly but surely.

By difficult, I mean it’s hard to understand and follow the train of thought. But it’s good to read books that are difficult like this. This is how one can expand his reading capability. If you just read stuff that’s easy to follow, you can not grow. When I first read C.S. Lewis it took a half an hour to get through one page. But as I read more of him, I was able to follow along easier and quicker.

In order to make out the thoughts of Edwards in this book I have to take notes. I have to pick apart what he is writing and reword it for my self so that I can figure out how he thought.

Below are the notes I took for the first couple of sections. If you are having trouble sleeping tonight, reading this post should knock you out no problem. Enjoy!

Part One

Section One

* The Will: that by which the mind chooses anything–by which it is capable of choosing

* Volition: because one has decided to, without being forced; volition=preferring

* Act of Will: a man is pleased to do this or that; a man doing as he pleases=a man doing as he wills; a going forth of the will

* I do not will something contrary to my desire, even if it is painful to carry out my will. The outcome of carrying out my will (or the action of it) is more desirable to me than avoiding the pain of carrying out the action.
Eg. Running into a burning building to save my child would be an extremely painful experience, but the desire to save my child outweighs the desire to avoid the pain of the fire and smoke.

Section Two

* The determination of the will is to act or influence with a particular end result which is favorable over another.

* The determination of the will supposes an effect, which must have a cause–the determined (in this case, the will) has a determiner.

* What determines the will?
-The motive which, at present in one’s mind, is the strongest (or most desirable).

* Motive: the whole of which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition

* What ever is the motive, it must be wholly perceived, for what is wholly unperceived can not effect the mind at all.

* Tendency: the way a person, or thing, is likely to be or behave

* That which acts as the motivator in one’s act of will, will have, to some degree, an advantage or tendency within the person’s life prior to the act of will excited.

* This tendency, or advantage, can be called: the strength of the motive.

* Those motives that have a weaker advantage, or have a lesser tendency, can be referred to as: the weaker motive.

* That which appears most inviting concerning the understanding of the person is the strongest motive.

* It can be supposed that the will is always determined by the strongest motive.

* So, an example which explains all above:
If an alcoholic goes to the doctor and is told that, unless he immediately quits drinking, he will soon be dead. The alcoholic is terrified of dying, so at the moment of leaving the doctor’s office, he’s determined to quit drinking once and for all. His fear of death outweighs his desire to drink.
But, because he is an alcoholic, his desire to drink grows with each passing hour after leaving the doctor’s office. Therefore, soon his desire to drink outweighs his fear of death.
The strongest motive shifts from a desire to live to a desire to drink, and unless there is a reason for this man’s strongest motive to shift back to a desire to live, he will drink himself to death.

* Motives to cause one to act in a specific way are affected by:
1) The nature and circumstances of the thing viewed.
2) The nature and circumstances of the mind that views.
3) The degree and manner of its view.

* That which motivates a person to act in a certain way will be perceived by them as “good” or “the will always is as the greatest apparent good is”.

*The above statement is understood by observing:
1) “Good” in this sense means “Agreeable”–in the mind’s view, suits the best, and pleases the most.
2) The apparent “good” refers to the direct and immediate object before the person at that particular moment.

Eg. Joseph had Potiphar’s wife before him at that moment, and he could have slept with her. A lot of men would have.

But Joseph voluntarily chose to run.

* Voluntary Action: the immediate consequence of the mind’s choice is determined by that which appears to be most agreeable (many men would have voluntarily found it most agreeable to be with Potifer’s wife).

* Volition (the ability to chose something without being forced) is determined by that which causes it (the object) to appear most agreeable.

* I do because the doing appears most agreeable at that moment.


* I want to do because the doing appears to be the best of all my options.
Based on…
1) The nature and circumstances of the object (ie Potiphar’s wife).
2) The nature and circumstances of the mind that views the object (ie Joseph’s state of mind at that moment).
3) The degree and manner of the view of the object (not just what one sees agreeable in the object itself, but in all the circumstances surrounding the object too).

* Looking at the three items above:

1) The nature of the object…

A) intrinsically beautiful or ugly
B) the apparent degree of trouble attending the object or the consequence of it
C) the apparent state of pleasure or trouble in relation to time–nearer or farther: the quicker the pleasure, the better–even if there is suffering in the long term

2) The state of the mind of the viewer…

A) particular temper
B) education (or lack of)
C) the state of mind on a particular occasion
D) one object may be more agreeable at some times than other times
E) some men follow reason, while others follow appetite
F) some men like to deny themselves more often than not, and some like to gratify themselves more often than not

3) The manner of view…

A) a more probable pleasure will always be more agreeable than a less probable pleasure–a surer certain happiness in the future
B) the immediate exposure to the object, or the immediate sensation, is usually stronger than the imagination of the object

* Therefore, the agreeableness of an object of choice will be the combination of:
1) The supposed “good” of the object.
2) The degree of certainty of obtaining that “good”.
3) The degree of liveliness (or immediate sensation–the immediate sensation or the imagined sensation, which ever is available to the person at the moment of choice).

*Dictate: order or state of authority

* The will always follows the last dictate of understanding.

* The last, or most recent, state of understanding determines the will of that person.

* One’s understanding is a combination of reason, judgement, and emotions–not just one of those items, but all together creating an understanding of the object to influence the will in either choosing for or against the object.

*To summarize…
The choice of the mind never departs from that which appears most agreeable and pleasing at the moment of choice. The will is always determined by the strongest motive.