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Voluntary opposed to involuntary, not to necessary February 18, 2012

Posted by aldelsol in FREE WILL.
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10.LIBERTY ….. VOLITION.

Again : suppose a man be carried, whilst fast asleep, into a room where is a person he longs to see and speak with ; and be there locked fast in, beyond his power to get out : he awakes, and is glad to find himself in so desirable company, which he stays willingly in, i.e. prefers his stay to going away. I ask, is not this stay voluntary ? I think nobody will doubt it : and yet, being locked fast in, it is evident he is not at liberty not to stay, he has not freedom to be gone.

So that liberty is not an idea belonging to volition, or preferring ; but to the person having the power of doing, or forbearing to do, according as the mind shall choose or direct. Our idea of liberty reaches as far as that power, and no farther. For wherever restraint comes to check that power, or compulsion takes away that indifferency of ability to act, or to forbear acting, there liberty, and our notion of it, presently ceases.

11. Voluntary opposed to involuntary, not to necessary.

We have instances enough, and often more than enough, in our own bodies. A man’s heart beats, and the blood circulates, which it is not in his power by any thought or volition to stop ; and therefore in respect of these motions, where rest depends not on his choice, nor would follow the determination of his mind, if it should prefer it, he is not a free agent. Convulsive motions agitate his legs, so that though he wills it ever so much, he cannot by any power of his mind stop their motion, (as in that odd disease called chorea sancti viti), but he is perpetually dancing; he is not at liberty in this action, but under as much necessity of moving, as a stone that falls, or a tennis-ball struck with a racket. On the other side, a palsy or the stocks hinder his legs from obeying the determination of his mind, if it would thereby transfer his body to another place. In all these there is want of freedom ; though the sitting still, even of a paralytic, whilst he prefers it to a removal, is truly voluntary. Voluntary, then, is not opposed to necessary, but to involuntary. For a man may prefer what he can do, to what he cannot do ; the state he is in, to its absence or change ; though necessity has made it in itself unalterable.

John Locke – Human understanding

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