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A Free Will: Origins of the Notion in Ancient Thought by Michæl Frede, A. A. Long, David Sedley

By Michæl Frede, A. A. Long, David Sedley

Where does the thought of unfastened will come from? How and while did it advance, and what did that improvement contain? In Michael Frede's greatly new account of the heritage of this concept, the idea of a unfastened will emerged from robust assumptions in regards to the relation among divine windfall, correctness of person selection, and self-enslavement as a result of fallacious selection. Anchoring his dialogue in Stoicism, Frede starts with Aristotle--who, he argues, had no concept of a loose will--and ends with Augustine. Frede indicates that Augustine, faraway from originating the belief (as is frequently claimed), derived such a lot of his pondering it from the Stoicism constructed through Epictetus.

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Indeed, this notion plays a fundamental role in their thought about human beings and their behavior, and it will continue to play a crucial role throughout antiquity. But the term boulesthai will be a source of confusion, and hence it is important to be clear about what it means in Plato and in Aristotle. It will be a source of confusion in part because the word is the Greek version of a verb which we seem to find in many, if not all, IndoEuropean languages, for example, velle in Latin and its derivatives in the Romance languages, and wollen in German, or “to will” in English.

If, on the other hand, by desire we mean, as Plato and Aristotle obviously sometimes do, a motive which might be overridden by a conflicting desire, something which just might move us to act but also may fail to do so, then, according to the Stoics, we must be talking about an impulsive rational impression. And this impulsive impression is formed by reason. Whatever we make of the details of all this, there is one point which is absolutely crucial for the emergence of the notion of the will. The case of the Stoics against Plato and Aristotle would completely collapse without the assumption that any action, unless one is physically and literally forced into doing something, presupposes an act of reason’s assent to an appropriate impulsive impression.

To understand fully why the Stoics reject the partition of the soul, we have to take into account that the opposing view, that the soul has a nonrational part, naturally brings with it two further views: (1) that since it is by nature that the soul is divided, it is also by nature that we have these nonrational desires, and hence it is perfectly natural and acceptable to have such desires, and (2) that these desires, at least if properly conditioned and channeled, aim at the attainment of certain genuine goods, like the food and the drink we need, or at the avoidance of certain The Emergence of a Notion of Will in Stoicism / 33 genuine evils, like death, mutilation, or illness.

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