chapter  4
14 Pages

Just another word for ‘nothing left to lose’: freedom, agency, and ethics for Mādhyamikas

But what is the ‘will’? We do not come by the idea that we have wills through observation of ourselves or of others. Try introspecting and finding a will. What does it feel like? Nor is it the theoretical posit of any science. Nor has it always been in Western intellectual history that persons took themselves to have willsfaculties of action. Despite the influential translation of akrasia (non-control) as weakness of will, Aristotle never identified a faculty of will. The will is the legacy of St. Augustine and his struggle to solve the theodicy problem raised by the Fall of Adam and Eve. If God is the omniscient cause of all, then God caused the Fall, but then God would not be omnibenevolent, since he punished Adam, Eve, and the human race, consequently. To preserve God’s omnibenevolence, thought Augustine, Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience had to be authored by them, not God. Augustine posited a faculty of uncaused (free) action to show how that could be the cause, and argued that only action produced by that faculty is morally praiseworthy or blameworthy; all other behavior, being heteronomously caused, is mere natural event (Stump 2001). This linkage of morality, personhood, and freedom runs through Aquinas to Kant, grounds Enlightenment political and legal theory, and infuses high and popular culture with a presupposition of the reality of the will and its freedom. It leads us to presuppose we are persons insofar as we are free, and that responsibility requires freedom. Many take the Fall seriously, and are sanguine about the foundation of this aspect of our culture and the nest of philosophical problems it motivates. But this genealogy of metaphysical freedom suggests need for reassessment. If there are reasons to worry about free will, and reasons to ask what Mādhyamikas think about it, Christian theodicy is not a resource.