[Milton-L] Absolute Freedom

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at smith.edu
Wed Apr 15 18:36:10 EDT 2009


"If God is free to act or not, if he is free to create the world and man
or not, in response to the action(s) pursuant to Satan's evil desire,
and we accept that Creation is good as God's will to create is a priori
good, then wouldn't God's potential hypothetical will not to create by
definition then be an evil action--or rather an evil inaction?" 

Perhaps not quite evil, but not unproblematic either.

Clearly the preference of a lesser to a greater good is morally wrong;
and equally clearly the nonexistence of creation is a lesser good than
its existence. God's freedom to create or not (if he enjoys that
freedom) is an instance of what the seventeenth century called "the
freedom of indifference" (libertas indifferentiae), total indeterminacy
of choice ("nothing at all made me do it, and nothing at all made me
choose to do it"). If (as Steve Fallon seems to have demonstrated)
Milton's God is free to refrain from creation and hence to prefer
non-creation, then Milton's God enjoys a freedom usually reserved for
finite creatures, and then only before they are translated to
beatitude.

The glaring difficulty with the freedom of indifference — "nothing at
all made me do it" — is that if nothing AT ALL caused an act, then the
AGENT didn't cause the act either; the "indifferently free" act is a
brute or gratuitous event unconnected with the agent or his nature,
something that happens to the agent rather than something that emanates
from him. The cure to this absurdity, at least with respect to
characterizing God's freedom, is to reject freedom of indifference or
(as we would say nowadays) indeterminacy in favor of the freedom of
SELF-determination or essence or nature or ((internal) necessity):
"nothing made me do it — with the exception of ME" — "I was
self-caused or self-determined." 

The freedom of self-determination is true of God par excellence, the
ultimate CAUSA SUI, or self-determined agent. Luther is never more godly
than when he reports "Ich kann nicht anders" — I cannnot do otherwise
— of his uncoerced decision to take a stand. God's actions are the
preeminent examples of this kind of freedom; they are the uncoerced
expression of his own nature and of nothing external to that nature. In
Steve Fallon's words, quoting Milton:

"What limits freedom of action, Milton writes (at the top of p. 1155)
is "any necessity operating externally upon a given cause," which "makes
it produce a certain effect or limits it from producing other effects"
(my emphasis). The  perfect freedom of God is a freedom from any
external influence or compulsory necessity."

The most famous exponent of CAUSA SUI freedom is Spinoza; see my book
on his philosophical works(forthcoming this fall) for details. 



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