THE view set forth in this work implies that the world as it appears in space and time is a purposive system; and of that postulate a defence has been offered. But finite minds have each their own purposes; and the argument requires further that, in forming and carrying out these purposes, they have a certain spontaneity or freedom; and to this postulate consideration must now be given.
The question of freedom is part of the question as to the way in which we are to interpret the unity of reality. To affirm freedom for finite persons is to limit the psychical unity of the universe and to give a meaning to its causal connectedness which is perhaps not the most obvious meaning. Consequently, the assertion has been always met with severe and even impatient criticism both from monistic philosophers, whether they are inclined to materialism or to idealism, and from numbers of men of science who are anxious to do something in defence of the law of universal causation.
We have already seen how the idea of freedom is dealt with in the monistic scheme. It is ruled out of court at once as an interference with the unity of the whole. The same scheme, as we have found either explains moral values as mere entia rationis or else is led into a mystical attitude for which acquiescence in the actual, whether called good or evil, becomes the highest good. One or other of these conclusions we should be obliged to adopt if the scheme itself were well-grounded. It is unnecessary to repeat the criticism of its grounds. And, if we admit the independent validity of the moral order, and its relation to the natural order, then in that relation we shall find the significance of individual freedom—if individual freedom is truly a factor in the universe.
But to assert personal freedom as a factor in the universal order brings us at once in face of the causal law—a law which claims universal validity. In modern controversy it is the causation-argument that has always been the chief support of determinism. How can man have any freedom in volition if each event follows in a determinate manner from antecedent events? Causal determinateness seems to leave no loop-hole for that possibility of opposites with which human volition is credited. This view has often been regarded as self-evident; but, before we accept it, it is well to be clear as to the meaning of the principle of causation itself.
The first and most general statement of the causal law is that every event is the effect of something else which we call its cause. Nothing is said here as to the nature either of the cause or of the effect; it is merely a heuristic principle which leads us to enquire into the causal connexions of particular sets of phenomena. The principle itself says nothing as to the nature of the things connected. So far as it goes, the falling of a pebble might extinguish the sun or the wish of a man control the planets in their orbits. With this principle, therefore, personal freedom is not inconsistent; for the freedom asserted is that of the self to act as a cause, not of anything to happen without a cause.
A second meaning of the causal principle was formulated by Mill out of Hume's criticism. In it the implication of power or efficiency which was commonly associated with the first view is dropped, and the idea of uniformity takes its place. The law may therefore be stated in the form that the same antecedents are followed by the same consequents: a cause is simply an invariable or constant antecedent. This is still, perhaps, the most common view of cause. But it names something the presence of which in the world cannot be verified. There are no invariable or constant antecedents in nature; the cosmic process never repeats itself. An exact statement of the law, applicable to the actual order, would therefore have to take some modified form, such as this: So far as the antecedents are the same, the consequents will be the same; or, more precisely, any difference between two sets of consequents must be accounted for (or preceded by) a corresponding difference in their respective antecedents. If one sequence is a, b, and another α, β, then the difference of β from b is explained by a difference of α from a.
Here we have what seems to be a clear statement, and yet in one respect it is lacking in precision. The consequents in any one sequence are always different from the consequents in any other sequence. Even in the experiments of the laboratory there is only an approximation to complete similarity. So are the antecedents always different. It is therefore only a statement of the constant process of change in the world to say that along with the difference in consequents there is a difference in antecedents. And to describe the difference in the latter as corresponding with that in the former is to use a vague term which stands in need of further definition. It is possible to give some further definition such as is needed by a description of the qualities exhibited by antecedents and consequents respectively. But this qualitative description is always lacking in exactness. Complete precision can be got only by a quantitative expression, and that is supplied by the law of conservation of energy, which will enable us to give a new statement to the causal law, such as the following: In every sequence, so far as the system under investigation does not receive energy from, or part with it to, an outside system, the quantity of energy in the consequent is the same as the quantity of energy in the antecedent. Thus a third point of view is reached from which the causal law may be formulated, and here it receives a precise form, in which it may be applied in scientific investigations.
When it is argued that the doctrine of freedom is inconsistent with the causal principle, the arguments sometimes proceed on the second and sometimes on the third way of regarding that principle. And it is when the principle is conceived in the latter and exact form that the argument can be brought home most distinctly. Now, volition is manifested frequently, if not always, by bodily movement; and if volition can be interpreted as the free act of a self, then this freely-determined action has an effect on the material world. And it is here that the determinist intervenes with his objection. The objection is shortly as follows: In reflex action it is admitted that the physical stimulus gives rise to a neural process, then to a redistribution of energy in some nerve centre, and thereafter through the efferent nerves to muscular contraction and bodily movement. It is admitted that the whole process from stimulus to movement is on material lines and that it is carried through in accordance with the principle of conservation of energy. Now substitute voluntary action for reflex action. To the physiologist the only difference between the two cases is that in the latter it is in the nerve cells of a certain portion of the brain, an not in some subordinate centre, that the redistribution of energy from afferent to efferent nerves takes place. There is no disappearance of energy into some psychical entity called the mind or soul, and no appearance of new energy from such a source. The sequence follows the well-defined routes of the bodily organism and is nowhere broken. Therefore, it is concluded, there is no place for free will.
This argument, if it prove anything, proves too much. It has no special reference to freedom. It is not some figment of free will that it disproves, but the whole concept of mental causation or conscious activity. Yet conscious activity is a fact; and we are not passively conscious of what we call our actions as if they were the moving pictures of a cinema show. If this truth were really inconsistent with the doctrine of the conservation of energy as manifested in the organic body, we should have to examine more closely the grounds for our acceptance of that doctrine. But the doctrine of the conservation of energy in a material system does not and cannot refute the fact of conscious activity in the domain of mind. It does imply that the bodily expression of conscious activity is subject to material laws; but that has not been called in question. And, with regard to the conscious activity itself, it can only show that it belongs to a different order of facts from the material.
The valid results of the argument are therefore two: first, that life or mind, as distinguished from the body which it animates, is not a storehouse of energy, either receiving it or parting with it: that energy is always connected with the material system; and secondly, that the causality which we attribute to mind is not a creation of this energy, while its bodily expressions must take place in a manner consistent with the doctrine that the amount of energy remains a constant. According as we interpret the relation of body and mind, the fact of mental causation will or will not conflict with the doctrine of the conservation of energy. If we look upon mind as a sort of little body within the body, then we shall also look upon its activity as similar to bodily action, and contradiction will be the result. On the other hand, if we hold that mind or mental function is sui generis, no contradiction will arise. But, whether there is contradiction or not, it is mental causation in general that is concerned. To the question of free will the argument has no special application.
A living organism reacts to stimulus in a different way from a dead body; a conscious being reacts differently from a being without consciousness. The relation of organised structure to life and to mind is indeed so close that an organism may continue for a time to react in much the same way as before after consciousness has disappeared. The organism is, as it were, tuned up by consciousness to respond in a certain manner, and a little time elapses before it gets out of tune. But the time is never long before the difference between conscious reaction and the reaction of the dead body becomes apparent. Yet there has been no diminution of physical energy with the disappearance of consciousness. The quantitative law of the conservation of energy does not explain in any way what is peculiar to conscious activity even in its simplest manifestations. From this, however, it does not follow that conscious action is irregular or outside law in its manifestations. It may even be described by the causal law in that wider unquantitative form in which it means a certain uniformity. We do find in consciousness, as in material processes, that like antecedents have commonly like consequents, that the same kind of motive tends to produce the same kind of response from persons of like temperament and antecedents.
A school of psychologists has maintained more than this. It has taken its cue from the quantitative methods of physical science, and it has striven to submit mental process to quantitative measurement. In the region of volition it is held that the result depends upon the strongest motive; but in what way the strength of the motive is to be measured is a question not easy to answer. Sometimes it is said that the motive which prevails is the strongest; but this only repeats the dogma without solving the difficulty. If it is the strongest motive that prevails, then there must be some common measure of strength by which the force of all motives may be estimated, from sensuous impulse to regard for the moral law. If there are any differences of quality between motives, and these differences cannot be reduced to different degrees of strength of the same quality, something more than strength of motive is required to explain both the triumph and the failure of moral ideals when confronted with the temptations by which they are beset. If motives of whatever sort could be reduced to terms of pleasure-pain, and if pleasures and pains were capable of quantitative summation, then indeed the difficulty would be solved, and we should have a clear causal account of human action which would exclude the notion of free will. But this is the only supposition ever put forward that would achieve the result. Strict causal determination of volition by motives requires measurement of all motives by their strength; psychological hedonism is the only theory that makes such measurement possible. This form of determinism, therefore—and it is the only form which admits of exact statement—stands or falls with the doctrine of psychological hedonism—a doctrine which we have already seen reason to reject.
The fundamental objection to the ‘strongest motive’ explanation of volition is that it treats motives as if they had an existence by themselves, and each a measurable strength. The assumption overlooks the fact that the motive exists only for the self-conscious being whose motive it is. Apart from the self it is nothing: there is only the physical stimulus. The treatment of motives as existing forces is on a par with the treatment of presentations, sensations, or feelings as separate existents, out of which mind is somehow compounded. But presentation and motive alike are only elements arrived at by analysing concrete states of mind; if we think that the division into these elements is or can be an exhaustive account of mind, we forget the unity which binds them together and without which none of them would be real.
Accordingly, if we speak of the relation between successive mental states as a causal relation, causation in this case will not mean quantitative equivalence in respect of some form of energy resident in antecedent and in consequent; but it may mean continuity, and it may mean uniformity. Continuity hardly bears upon the point in dispute. Neither in nature nor in human action are the changes by which moment is linked to moment strictly infinitesimal in amount. The continuity which we are at liberty to assert must allow for the occurrence of changes of considerable and varying amount. It is the law of these changes that we seek, and there is no good reason for identifying the law of succession in mind with the law which holds for nature. It is therefore upon the conception of causation as uniformity that the doctrine of determinism will depend. But strict uniformity of sequence cannot be verified in any case. The same antecedents are never repeated, nor the same consequents. We may say that a difference in the consequent is always connected with some difference in the antecedent; but, as there are always differences both in consequents and in antecedents, this statement conveys little until we know to what difference in the one a given difference in the other is to be referred.
Uniformity in any strict sense is never verified. We cannot take a particular sort of motive and say that it will always produce action of a given kind; the variety of human nature refutes the assumption. We cannot even say that it will always operate upon the same man in the same way; he reveals his individuality not only by confirming our expectations but also by the surprises he gives us. Even statistical results are far from exhibiting any precise uniformity of connexion; and even if they enable us to state a general law for the average man, this does not decide our question, which is concerned not with the average man but with the individual.
Thus it appears that the determinist explanation is driven from one view of causation to another. It is driven from the law in its exact quantitative statement as used in physical science, because it is discovered that with this view it is no more difficult to reconcile a will that is free than a will that is bound. It takes refuge in the more general statement of uniformity; but for this no adequate verification is discovered. And in consequence there is a tendency for it to be driven back upon the first and simplest meaning of cause as the agent or producing power. Nor is it illegitimate to adopt this meaning in describing mental process, for it was from the experience of personal activity that the notion of cause was originally derived. But here the question remains whether, and if so in what sense, the person who causes the action is himself determined in its causation.
To this question the determinist has an answer ready. The volition or action is in every case due to the present mental state of the person acting, combined with the effect of the environment on that mental state. And as his state of mind is due in part to previous actions of his and in part to his original inheritance of dispositions, all actions may be said to result from the cooperation of the two factors, heredity and environment. As the environment acts upon him through a physical medium, its contribution to the issue would seem to be theoretically calculable; at any rate, its influence cannot be a proof of freedom. And although heredity may be largely an unknown factor, it can hardly be maintained that it is due to the free will of the individual whose character it goes to form. The idea of freedom would therefore seem to be excluded.
Now it is true that the self appears to come into being in time, as it certainly grows to maturity in time; and it is also true that the qualities of the self, or many of them, can be connected with the qualities of ancestral individuals and so traced to heredity. But the self is not merely a set of qualities, tendencies, or dispositions; it is a new centre of conscious life, a new source of conscious activity; and no approach has been made to a causal explanation of the core of self-hood which marks it off as the centre of its own world and the source of its own activity. None of the qualities, ideas, or actions of the self have any real existence except as qualities, ideas, or actions of the individual subject. It is the centre to which they are all related and without which they would not be. It is perfectly legitimate for a science, or a branch of science, to restrict itself to analysis and the elements which analysis discloses. In this way, the psychologist, if it suits him, may limit himself to mental presentations, ideas, and the like, and study their rise and history. In so doing the causal principle will be his guide, and he will attempt to trace causal connexions between the factors with which he deals. But all enquiry of this sort is abstract and incomplete, because it neglects the principle of unity, the self or subject, through which ideas live as facts of consciousness. If we could explain the constitution and being of the self out of these fragments of presentation or any other sort of elementary mind-stuff, then indeed the claim might be put forward that the working of mind itself had been explained and that it could be reduced to the form of causal connexion approved by the determinists. But if, as is the case, this has never been done, nor any real approach to doing it effected, then the appeal to heredity in explaining the character of the individual mind will not decide the question of its mode of activity.
The statement I am making is not an appeal to the unknown; it is an appeal against prejudice in interpreting what actually takes place.
There are two interpretations which are inadequate. One of these is the psychological determinism referred to, which, taking as its cue physical sequence, or physiological reflex, or perhaps the process of unhampered impulse, neglects the unity of mental process and leaves out of account the subjective principle through which mental facts are facts of mind. This is the error of the merely analytic understanding. The other inadequate view is the unpsychological indeterminism which regards free will as an incalculable force which somehow interferes with the orderly working of mind and turns our actions out of their normal causal direction. It is assigned perhaps to a self or pure ego which is regarded as without qualities or content. Here we find the opposite error. The unity of mental life is treated just as if it were an extra element, over and above the elements discovered by analysis, to which a separate function should be assigned analogous to the functions of the other elements. And this is to misinterpret the nature of the principle of unity. It has no place and no function apart from the diversity of qualities which are united in an individual consciousness. The pure ego of the theory of knowledge and of the theory of activity alike is a logical abstraction. It has no being separate or separable from the being of the self with its character. The reference of action to a characterless self would be worthless for all purposes of ethics; it is besides unsupported by introspection and would be equivalent to reference of actual changes to a logical abstraction or to an unfilled moment of time. Any adequate theory of the mode of mental activity must recognise that the self is never without character, that it is a diversity in unity, that subject without qualities is empty just as qualities without subject are blind.
When we reflect upon the process of action as we are conscious of it, we are aware of a number of tendencies which may point in different directions; but it is the whole self that acts, and every tendency contributes to the result—even if it oppose it. Of these tendencies some are of the nature of impulse, others are due to reflexion and are of the nature of idea; and among the latter is the idea of moral value, of duty, or of goodness. It claims authority over volition, while the others present inducements to it or exercise driving—or drifting—force on it. The difference is fundamental for moral theory. It is also important for the present purpose, as showing that the consciousness of moral obligation is not something of the same order as the attractions of sense or worldly desire, and that it is not measurable on the same scale. The development of moral character consists in the gradual organisation of all active tendencies under this principle. In the process of this organisation it often happens that the idea of goodness is opposed to some impulse or desire. It is the same self that is at once conscious of duty and attracted by a conflicting desire. To what is the resultant conduct due? If it is due to the struggle of the conflicting motives (as they are called) in a character of definite qualities, then the ‘strongest’ motive must win the day, and the motives must therefore have each a degree of strength which can be measured on the same scale. It has already been seen that this method can only be carried out on the assumption of psychological hedonism. And, if we decline to make this assumption, only one course is open to us. We must recognise that the self which is the origin of the action, and in which we distinguish both the idea of goodness and the desire for an object inconsistent with the good, is the real cause of the action and exercises a real choice. It is the nature of the self to act and thus, in certain circumstances, to choose or select between possible alternatives. This is neither a freak of unmotived willing nor an irruption of a pure ego into the realm of time. It is simply the real choice of a real self—a self which is not merely a diversity of tendencies and qualities, but the unity of that diversity. It is a continuous life which manifests itself by active selection of its own course, often in circumstances when factors in its own nature point in opposed directions. Each act tends to fashion and modify its character, for the act is its own act and its character persists and may develop into greater and greater harmony with an ideal. But in our experience this internal harmony in the self is never so completely achieved that there is no longer need for choice between competing alternatives of conduct.
What Kant calls freedom is on the negative side freedom from the dominion of sensuous impulse and on the positive side determination by moral law. The two forms of determination have no common measure, and Kant thinks it necessary to regard them as belonging to different worlds, so that freedom is banished to a transcendent region. But moral determination is actually experienced in every-day life. It is a factor in the normal process of volition. Kant's ‘sensible’ and ‘intelligible’ worlds are not two different worlds with distinct modes of volition. They are combined in the voluntary action of man, in whom sensuous motives and the moral law strive together, and who himself is arbiter of them and of his fate.
Again, Kant speaks of the free volition as an act out of time, an act which forms the character which functions in time. In this way he cuts it off from our experience, which is in time; his freedom is a non-temporal act, and little more can be said of it. On the other hand, the view which I would put forward is that in moral action—indeed in all action above mere impulse—successive moments of time are brought into unity through the purpose which runs through them and which they realise. In some experiences we are conscious of a process of which the beginning and the end are present in the same span of time, as when I will the purpose and forthwith perform the act. More commonly the purpose can be fulfilled only at a more or less distant period; but even here, although the successive moments are not present together to consciousness, although a number of successive volitions may be required to bring the purpose to fulfilment, yet the idea of the end may be present throughout, guiding the whole process.
As the freedom which we realise is never indeterminateness, so also it is never out of time. But the time in which it functions is not the abstract time, conceived by mathematicians, which consists of discrete moments one of which disappears into the past (or into nothingness) as the next arrives. Time as experienced does not exhibit this feature with any exactness. Strictly speaking, time itself is not experienced; what we experience is a continuous change of object which is also a continuous change of activity. There are no such things in our experience as absolutely discrete moments, each with its minute content of presentation or motive. The smallest distinguishable part of our experience always covers an appreciable duration, which is not a mere moment nor a certain number of moments. This is its time-span1; and the span may vary in length according to other conditions in our experience. One of these conditions is the interest or purpose or meaning which guides our effort.
Conscious action is thus in time, or determined by time, in a very different way from that in which we are apt to conceive, say, the successive ticks of a watch. The latter approach disconnectedness and mere succession. But the successive stages in purposive activity are united in our consciousness by the idea of the end to be realised, in the same way as successive tones may be felt or understood by us as a melody: so that the first already means the last and is retained in the last. The idea dominates the succession and gives unity to the whole: and yet such a unity as does not annul the reality of the parts but gives them a place in the whole.
In a character completely in accordance with the ideal of goodness the whole life would be regulated in this way—unified by the moral ideal to which each particular action would be contributory. We cannot say that it would have the actual experienced unity of a single time-span, far less that all one's life would be before one as a totum simul. The nature of our experience in which object is added to object, and the limitation of our attention in grasp and range, make this impossible for the finite consciousness. But yet each object would be seen in the light of its place and value for the whole, and each act would be a conscious approximation towards the realisation of the ideal. The mode of determination would in this case be determination by reference to an ideal whole—an ideal of goodness which expressed for the agent the meaning and purpose of his life. His idea of the good to be realised would determine its own realisation; the end would bring forth its own means. Here final causality or purpose would find unqualified expression.
In this description of the good will which is fully enlightened, freedom in the ordinary sense, the sense in which the term has been used hitherto as involving the choice between alternatives, is transcended. To the mind that is altogether set in goodness and has knowledge unlimited—for whom sense or desire has no temptations and the world no surprises—for such a mind there would be one clear purpose, one inevitable line of activity: there would no longer be a question between the higher and the meaner goal, the right road and the wrong. For such a mind freedom would consist simply in the absence of any opposition to its purposive activity and the completeness of its self-determination. If we form the conception of a Perfect or Infinite Mind it is in this sense that we must speak of such a mind as free. To speak of choice between alternatives is to suggest that another course than the best might be chosen, and this would be inconsistent with the idea of perfection.
A finite mind, limited in knowledge and power and distracted by desires other than the will to goodness, may yet have a partial measure of that self-determination which is complete only in the infinite. It is incompletely determined by forces external to itself. And if it stand—as it does stand—between the realm of nature and the realm of goodness, conscious of the good and yet beset by many temptations to fall to a lower level, then the relative independence or partial spontaneity of such a mind may be exhibited in the power to direct its own path towards the goal of goodness or to allow it to lapse into evil. Its freedom will be neither complete independence of external determination, nor complete agreement with the ideal of goodness; but it will exclude total subordination to the forces beyond itself, and it will give opportunity for choosing and serving the good. In spite of its restrictions human activity will be recognised as possessing a core of spontaneity.
If we acknowledge this spontaneity we shall ascribe to the action of self-conscious beings a mode of causation which differs from that formulated to describe physical sequences. In the latter we attempt to measure the quantity of energy and show its constancy through the change of form in successive events. Or, if we are unable to reach an exact estimate, we still proceed on the postulate of uniformity and connect each difference in the consequent with some difference in the antecedent; and the psychologist applies the same formula to express the determination of mental events. But, in connecting difference with difference in this way, he is really assuming the sufficiency of the analytic method: for each difference is arrived at as the result of an analysis. We see in it a determining factor or a determined result; we treat it as something by itself with its own distinct measure of causal efficiency: so that the change in the result as a whole may be assigned to a changed factor in the antecedent. The more nearly correct it is to regard the whole experience under consideration as equivalent to the sum of a number of discrete parts, the nearer will such an account approach to accuracy, as it does in physical sequences. On the other hand, the more the parts owe their nature to the whole to which they belong, the greater will be the danger of inaccuracy in connecting one portion of the consequent with a portion of the antecedent. The risk of error will be at its maximum in the case of the highest type of unity which we know—the unity of a spiritual being or self.
Now, it has been a fundamental point in the argument of this book that a living whole cannot be identified with the parts into which it is capable of analysis, nor be regarded as the sum of these parts. Even to say that it is something more than the sum of its parts is an inadequate expression of the truth. The parts have no existence of their own, and therefore cannot be summed. The whole is not an additive whole; no true whole is. The living bond, or principle of unity, moulds the nature of each part by incorporating it in the whole, so that neither the nature of the part nor its mode of operation remains the same as it would be did it exist in isolation. It is never the part that acts, but life or mind that acts. And the way of acting is life's way, or the mind's way, not simply the way of the part. The result is made manifest in the outer world by speech or movement; and these can be measured or compared one with another, so that we can identify the difference between two sets of results. But to attribute this difference to a given difference in the mental antecedents, and to regard this as settling the question, is to overlook the unity of self-consciousness which fuses stimuli or motives in its crucible, and works through them by its own laws and under the idea of freedom.
It is not strange that we should postulate a special mode of operation for self-consciousness. For it is a kind of being different from any which we can ascribe to material things. What would be strange would be for mental processes to have the same laws as the succession of material events. We may trace the growth and development of the individual mind. But what makes it a mind—a finite centre of experience and source of activity—we cannot tell. Neither the inherited structure nor the influence of the environment reveals this secret. What we know is that, as life always proceeds from life, so consciousness has always consciousness as its origin. But the entrance into space and time of a new finite centre of conscious life remains an event which we are unable to connect with any special feature of the cell from which its organism was developed or of the medium which supplied it with nourishment. And in its life as in its origin it is unique. The self is the cause of its own actions; and each action although connected with the past is yet a choice determined by itself, a true creation.
We hesitate to accept this view only because it seems opposed to a scientific postulate, or because, if accepted, it would seem to disturb at every moment the generalisation which science has established. But this result does not really follow. The self is thrown into an environment in which it can live and act only in conformity with natural law. It brings with it mental dispositions and it develops a character which tends to give it a stability of its own. Thus its freedom is limited in two ways. In the first place, it is limited by the physical conditions in the midst of which it is set, and its own organism is subject in all respects to these physical conditions. However the organism behaves, and in whatever way we conceive the embodiment of the self, mind does not create material out of nothing nor does it produce or consume energy. The material processes which are mentally determined are such and such only as are consistent with physical laws. As mind acts through body, it is in all its activity limited by the laws to which its body is subject. Whatever interpretation we give of the manner of volition this holds. As already shown, the theory of freedom is not in conflict with the axiom of the conservation of energy, and is not affected by it, any more than is the theory of psychological determinism.
Nor, in the second place, is freedom in human nature divorced from its own past. It is the means by which character is established, and in which we look to the future to fulfil the promise and correct the errors of the time that has gone before. Life is broken up into periods by its contact with new and widening experience; it is at the mercy of an environment seemingly alien to it and full of surprises; and it grows to maturity along with a physical organism in which it is unable to stem the approach of decay. But yet it a may approximate to a unity, and in its continuous process there is never a moment which is not reminiscent of the past and prophetic of the future. As its unity is always inclusive of diversity, so its freedom is a freedom which contains causation. We cannot, with Kant, say that there is only one free act, for that is to put freedom outside time altogether. But the free act unites successive moments of time into a unity of purpose. It connects them into a single span. It exhibits within its degree the spiritual principle which makes the stages of the process into members of a self-conscious whole.
Actions are systematised into the growing character of the self, and thus contribute to the determination of the acts which follow. But in every case the succeeding acts proceed from the self, not from the particular features which we distinguish as making up its character, nor even from all these features taken together. If, as I have urged, the self as a spiritual unity is always a much greater and deeper thing than the sum of these distinguishable parts, and its action is always more than their collective causation could have been, then this will hold for the developed as well as for the immature self. To the observer it will show a higher degree of calculable uniformity—for he knows more about it than he did before. And indeed the self, when character is fully formed, is less puzzled by surprises from the environment; but it still selects its own path freely, even when the variety of competing ways is diminished.
The freedom of a finite being is most clearly exhibited in selecting between alternatives of conduct; and it is in this respect that the ethical importance of freedom makes its first appeal. Man is thrown into the midst of competing interests and values or apparent values, and he is left to make his own choice among them. Yet he is not left entirely alone. From his race and his surroundings he receives predispositions and suggestions which set him on the road without compelling him to follow it. From his own reason and from social judgment he becomes aware of the differences of value which make one way preferable to another and authoritative for his will. No causal necessity compels him to take the way he ought to take. But, if he does so choose, and if he accustom himself to will the higher values in spite of the attractions of other interests, then he achieves in this process a higher value than any other—that of the good will of a free man.
When, if ever, this character is firmly established, the need for repeated conflict in order that the good may be chosen disappears; the warring elements in his nature are brought into order, the hostile forces into subjection, and the good will ceases to display the struggle between higher and lower principles with which we are familiar. Goodness achieved through freedom, if completely realised, would exhibit to the observer a uniformity similar to that of the necessarily connected processes of nature; but the principle of action would remain different. It would be external in the one case and internal in the other. The free man may achieve uniformity through his freedom; upon the unfree man it would have to be imposed.
Cp. Royce, The World and the Individual, vol. I, pp. 420 ff.