Remarks In Refutation Of The Treatise Of Jonathan Edwards

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Remarks In Refutation Of The Treatise Of Jonathan Edwards


Bibliographic Citation

William B. Greene, Remarks In Refutation Of The Treatise Of Jonathan Edwards (West Brookfield, Mass.: Cooke & Chapin, 1848).


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“As to the arguments I have made use of, if they are quibbles, they may be shown so: such knots are capable of being untied, and the trick and cheat may be detected and plainly laid open.”

Jonathan Edwards.







NOTE:—Every efficient cause is alive, for life is nothing other than the activity of an efficient cause. All life is in concurrence, that is in relations. God, the absolute cause, is related to himself, and is therefore self-living; all other causes are related to that which is not themselves. The life of all causes, is, consequently, always subjective, and objective. These principles, form the basis, not only of this tract, but of the two which preceded it. In a tract soon to be printed, on the Immortality of the Soul, I propose to speak more fully of the doctrine of Life, a doctrine which (if I am not mistaken) forms the foundation of all the sound philosophy of the present epoch. I have hesitated to speak fully of this doctrine hitherto, on account of the abstruse metaphysical nature of the speculations involved in its explanation.

W. B. G.

R E M A R K S .

A Cause,” says President Day, “in the more extended signification of the term, is an antecedent on which something depends. An antecedent! how? In time, space, or the order of thought? A definition, to be good for any thing must state, clearly and fully (1) the class to which an object belongs, and (2) that which distinguishes the object from all other objects in the same class. President Day states that all causes belong to the class of antecedents, and that they differ from other antecedents in this, that their consequents depend upon them. But this, after all, gives us no clear idea of causation; for nothing is said of the essential causative element, viz.: that efficiency which makes the consequent to depend upon, and follow, its antecedent—whether in space, time, or otherwheres. President Day speaks, indeed, a little further on, of efficiency, but gives us no reason to believe that he had any adequate notion of the true nature of causes. A consequent which depends upon an antecedent by reason of an efficiency which makes it thus to depend, is an effect; and the antecedent which brings the efficiency is a cause.

There are various kinds of causes, occasional, instrumental, material, mechanical, efficient, &c.: thus the absence of the sun in the night, is the occasion of the condensing of the vapours in the atmosphere; and, although the absence of the sun cannot itself condense any vapour, yet an efficiency operates during that absence which cannot operate during the sun’s presence; thus it is evident that the absence of the sun, and the condensation of the vapour, are connected as antecedent and consequent, through the operation of an efficiency: and therefore the absence of the sun may be said to be the occasional cause, of the condensing of the vapor: yet the efficiency inheres not in the sun, but in some other power. An instrumental cause, is the instrument by which an efficiency produces its effect: the axe is the antecedent of the chopping of the wood, but the axe might remain forever at the side of the wood, and no chopping take place, if some efficiency did not bring the axe and the chopping into the relation of antecedent and consequent: here the efficiency resides not in the axe, but in the man who uses the axe.

An efficient cause is one which acts by virtue of energy inhering within itself.

Efficient causes belong to the general class of causes; but they differ from all other causes in this, that whereas all other causes operate by virtue of efficiency residing out of themselves, an efficient cause operates always by virtue of efficiency, residing and inhering in itself.

The question now presents itself: Is the soul an efficient cause? If all our knowledge is derived from observation and experience, we ought to seek an answer to this question from these sources. As the knowledge sought relates to the soul, we must observe the phenomena of the soul’s action, a task which each can perform for himself, but which no one can perform for another. Observation, by a man, of the activities of his own soul, is called consciousness.

What does consciousness teach in relation to the causative nature of the soul?

Before attempting any direct answer, let us endeavour to remove some of the difficulties that stand in the way of impartial observation. First: It may be said that there is no such thing as a soul, that what we call the soul, is but the result of the organization of the body, depending upon the body, as music depends upon the musical instrument, or the blaze upon the candle; and that when the body ceases to exist, the soul, being a mere play and operation of the organs, will cease also, as music ceases when the instrument is destroyed. Let us see if this opinion be tenable. If the soul is any thing, it is that which calls itself, Ego, I; as when I say, I will, I think, I feel, &c. For this I, is the personality, which seems to itself to perform voluntary actions. If any concurrence of material organs can perform the functions of this I, can give the sentiment of personality, then it is possible that the soul has no real existence in itself, but is a mere operation of the material organs. What is this I? what are its place, dignity and functions?

The recollection of the earliest event of my life that has left its trace in my memory, brings with it the conviction that I have remained identical to myself since the event took place. My body may have changed once in seven years; but that which I call, Ego, I, is the same I now that it was then. Not only does this act of memory bring with it the conviction of my identity, it brings also the conviction that I have persisted through many changes—that the I has persisted through a certain lapse of time. But the I only is identical, its thoughts feelings, volitions, desires, &c. vary at every moment. The identity belongs to the I alone, and is anterior to the succession of its thoughts, feelings, desires; for, if the identity of the I did not exist, as a prior condition to the existence of the thoughts, feelings, desires, these thoughts, feelings, desires, could not succeed each other. If the I were not, in itself, independently of its acts, identical, then the first thought or desire would belong to one person, while the second thought or desire would belong to another. Now our consciousness tells us that all our acts have been the acts of the same person of the same identical I. The I does not persist because the thoughts succeed each other, but the thoughts succeed each other because it persists. Succession is only one element of duration; in order that duration should be possible, there must be an identity to bind the discrete elements of succession to each other. As there is progress only where there is an element which remains identical, while its conditions are continually changing, so there is duration under similar circumstances only. A thing endures when it remains identical to itself, while that which surrounds it undergoes continual alteration. Remove the identity which persists through the changes, and the continual alteration will-remain, but the duration will have vanished.

How do we obtain our knowledge of time? We look at any mass of matter in motion, as, for example, the hand of a clock, and say it is not now where it was, and that, during its motion, time has elapsed; but if the I be the same with the thoughts, and not a higher persisting something transcending them, then the I that looked at the clock some time ago, is not the same I that looks at the clock now; for the thoughts and perceptions have changed, else there would be nothing on which to predicate the affirmation of a lapse of time. If there were not something in man which does not fall into time, something transcending time, then man could have no knowledge of time; for this knowledge does not consist in a knowledge of one event, and a knowledge of another event, but consists in a knowledge of that relation between events, which is time. And this knowledge cannot be possessed except by something to which both these events are present, for otherwise, who shall discern the relation between them? If a first fact fall in time, and a second in time, the I must exist independently of time, else it can make no comparison, and, without a comparison, it will be incapable of obtaining any notion of time.

All the facts of our memory are equally present to us; a fact that happened ten years ago, is as present to the I as a fact that happened yesterday. Time is not a relation of the I to the facts of memory, but it is a relation of order and succession, which these facts have among themselves. The I therefore transcends time, and is in eternity, although all its acts take place in time. Can any thing more be required to prove the distinct existence and immateriality of the soul? Eternity is not time indefinitely extended, it is not a succession of an infinite number of moments, it is not time at all; for time and eternity exclude each other. When we say, God looks on a thousand years as one day, and one day as a thousand years, we mean that time has no absolute existence for God, since he created it when he made the world, and now transcends it, and is independent of it, as he would have been if he had never created the worlds. God lives in an eternity, which is a negation of all time and all succession, (an eternal now,) and time is a mere relation resulting from the motion of the creatures he has made. This is a tedious road, but we have gone far upon it, for we have gone one step away from materialism; and that step is infinite. The soul, the I, exists as a distinct existence, identical to itself, and it exists, (or, rather, is) transcending all time; for, if it did not transcend time, it could have no knowledge of time, while now it knows that all its acts happen in time. But no material change or operation, takes place otherwise than in time; if, therefore, the I were an efflorescence of material Movement, it would have its being in time; but it does not hare its being in time, therefore it is no such efflorescence—therefore it is no mere material operation. [Q. E. D., I think.]

The fact of the existence of the soul being settled, what does consciousness teach us concerning its nature? Every one must answer this question for himself I may say, for my part, (and I think: my experience is very much like that of every other person) that my consciousness teaches me that I am an active force, capable of thinking, feeling, remembering, &c., for certainly I think, I feel, &c. Consciousness tells me, therefore, that this active force which I call I, is an efficient cause; that is, it tells me that it is I that exert the intelligence, sentiment, &c., which are revealed in my mental, and other acts. Consciousness tells me that I obtain my notion of efficiency from the observation of the efficiency which inheres in, and is exerted by, this active force which I call I, myself: and experience informs me that I obtain this notion from no other source whatever. The efficiency revealed to me in consciousness, is the only efficiency submitted to my direct observation: for in the outward world, I perceive nothing but effects, and recognise their causes only by induction. And I should have no suspicion that any effect in nature was produced by a cause, and should make no induction, if the principle of efficient causation were not revealed to me in the observation of my own activity. But knowing that I exert an efficiency, and originate acts, I am led to suspect that I am not the only cause in the world, I am led to suspect that every change is produced by an efficiency adequate to its production. Who ever observed efficient causes directly? It is very easy to observe effects, but all efficient causes, with the exception of one, the I, are forever hidden from direct observation.

But here the materialist may cavil. The materialist asserts that every thing is matter, that all our knowledge is sensation transformed, that it is all of it derived through sensible observation and experience. I ask him how he obtained his knowledge of the relation of cause and effect, a relation upon which he founds all his reasonings? He answers (as he must) that he obtained this knowledge by observing a constant succession of antecedents and consequents which follow each other in nature. I ask him, also, how he came to know of the existence of the very first material object that fell under his observation? He answers (as he must) that this material object produced an impression upon his senses, and that, noticing this impression, he recognised that it must have proceeded from a cause adequate to its production. But this answer cannot be admitted; for in it he explains the very first act of the acquisition of knowledge, the very first act of observation and experience, by supposing an application by the mind of the principle of the relation of cause and effect; while he affirms, as a fundamental position, that the mind could have no knowledge of this same relation of cause and effect, until after the acquisition of the first fact of observation and experience. If the knowledge of the relation of cause and effect be necessary in order to the possibility of the first fact of observation and experience; and if the first fact of observation and experience be necessary in order to the possibility of the knowledge of the relation of cause and effect; how is a man ever to obtain either? The knowledge of the relation of cause and effect is indeed necessary in order to the possibility of the first fact of observation; but man has a knowledge of this relation from the beginning; for as soon as he acts, wills, thinks, perceives, he begins to learn the nature of efficient causes, by observing the operations of his own spiritual existence.

But now, while we are answering objections, perhaps it would be well to say a few words to the Pantheist also. The Pantheist affirms that God is the only efficient cause, and that man acts by the efficiency of God operating through him. But he must admit that we obtain our knowledge of efficiency from one source only, viz.: the observation of the efficiency of our own souls; for certainly he can point out no other origin from which this knowledge could have been derived. He will admit also that there is no demonstration of the existence of God, except that founded on the principle of efficiency and causation; for no other adequate argument can be indicated. But, by affirming that God is the only efficient cause, he affirms that the knowledge of efficiency derived to us from observation of the activity of the soul, is false; for this observation taught us the causative efficiency, not of the divine nature, but of the soul. Thus the statement that God is the only efficient cause destroys the sole foundation on which a proof of the Divine Existence can be built. The conclusion of the Pantheist, therefore, by shutting out its only possible premises, annihilates itself: for, if God were the only efficient cause, we never could discover the fact of efficiency, and, consequently, never could be authorised in affirming any thing concerning it.

The soul, being an efficient cause, and revealing itself in consciousness as an intelligence (for the I thinks, as well as acts,) is evidently a will; for what is a will, if it be not an intelligent power that produces effects bearing the stamp of its intelligence and efficiency? I am revealed to myself as a free will, producing my own volitions, and determining them in the very act of production. It is true, I have not an unlimited power of volition; I cannot will, for example, to do what an ancient Roman might have willed to do, for the circumstances of this Roman were very different from what mine are: where he might will to dine in Rome, I might will to dine in Boston; and he certainly could not will to dine in Boston, for Boston did not exist in his day. Man’s field of action is limited, there are certain things he can do, or thinks he can do, and those he may will to do; there are certain things he cannot do, and these he may wish he might do, and this is a sort of willing. Again, there are certain things so very repulsive in their nature that he can neither will nor desire to do them. Does this prove that mall is not free? It proves only that his power of action, and his power of volition, are not infinite. My every day experience proves to me that my field of action, and the number of volitions possible for me, are limited by my own nature and the nature of things—that there are many things I cannot do, many things I cannot wish to do; but my consciousness proves to me that there is a field open before me, (limited it may be,) in which I can exert my power of volition; it teaches me, that when I will within these fixed limits, it is I that will, I that originate the volition, I that determine it to be one rather than another among these volitions which are possible to me. Our issue with Edwards is therefore plain. We do not maintain that the soul possesses an infinite power, we do not believe that it can will all manner of absurdities: but we do believe that the will can produce volitions within a certain range, and that all our volitions are produced and determined by our will.

Let us proceed now to adduce and examine, sentence by sentence, the

Second Section of the Second Part of the Treatise of Jonathan Edwards on the Will.

“If, to evade the force of what has been observed, it should be said, that when the Arminians speak of the will’s determining its own acts, they do not mean that the will determines its acts by any preceding act, or that one act of will determines another; but only that the faculty or power of the will, or the soul in the use of that power, determines its own volitions; and that it does this without any act going before the act determined: such an evasion would be full of the most gross absurdity.”

We may suppose a conversation to take place between Edwards and his opponent, to the following effect. Edwards:—I understand you to maintain that the will determines its own volitions. Opponent:—That is my doctrine. Ed.—You do not believe that the will determines itself. Op.—Certainly not. I believe that the will determines, not itself, but its volitions. Ed.—You maintain, however, that the will not only determines its volitions, but that it determines them without any determining volition going before the volition determined. Op.—That, sir, is undoubtedly my doctrine, and, if you wish to oppose it, the issue is very clear between us. Ed.—Our issue is indeed perfectly plain, no one can mistake it; and I now intend to demonstrate to you that your proposition, That the will determines its own volitions, and this without any act of will going before the act determined, is full of the grossest absurdity. Op.— will listen with patience, objecting, however, with due humility, when I think you wander from the question at issue, or adduce weak arguments.—

“I confess it is an evasion of my own inventing; and I do not know but I should wrong the Arminians in supposing that any of them would make use of it. But it being as good a one as I can invent, I would observe upon it a few things.”

I do not suppose that any Arminians ever had recourse to the “evasion” in question; for, if Edwards represents their doctrine rightly (and I know nothing of them except what I learn from him, for I never read their writings,) they were much nearer to our Transcendentalists (who maintain a theory of self-determining-power, the postulation of the non Ego by the Ego, &c., &c.,) than to any other class of thinkers we have among us at this time. Be that as it may, it is singular that the principles he invented for them should have appeared so new and strange. If he had been better acquainted with the history of philosophy, he would have known that all the great philosophers, with very few exceptions indeed, maintained the very position which he conceives to be almost the climax of absurdity. For example, Plato maintains that the Idea of a man is not only a causative form which makes a man to be as he is and not otherwise, but that it is also the very substance which makes a man to have a real existence. Thus the Platonic Idea would appear to be, not a notion residing in the mind, but a causative substance, making the very essence of a man. This substance, being causative, produces effects; and what are these effects if not the acts of man, among which volitions hold so distinguished a rank, The whole oriental philosophy, being founded on the doctrine of the reality of Potential Existences, coincides with the results of the “evasion” stated by Edwards. But this is a matter of little moment: the question is not whether the “evasion” was originated by Edwards but whether it is philosophical and true.

First, If the faculty or power of the will determines an “act of volition, or the soul in the use or exercise of that power determines it, that is the same thing as for the soul to determine volition by an act of will.

I protest against the introduction of a new and unnecessary term. The original proposition (the “evasion”) affirms that the will determines its volitions. I suppose, however, that Edwards uses the terms volition, and act of volition, as synonymous; but such a confusion of language is not altogether excusable; for a volition is not an act of volition, but an act of will. I affirm again, that the faculty or power of the will, or, if you please, the soul in the use or exercise of that faculty or power, determines volition; but I do not admit that it determines volition by an act of will, that is by volition: neither do I admit that the proposition affirming that the will determines its volitions, involves this other proposition that the will determines its volitions by antecedent volitions. Is not Edwards misled by the terms volition, and act of volition? Does he not confound in his own mind the volition which is the effect, with the will which is the cause? When a man does any thing, the act of doing is the doing, and when he wills (which is something that he undoubtedly does) the act of will is the volition: yet when a man does any thing, it is by no means necessary that, before he does the thing, he should do the doing; neither does it follow, when the will determines a volition by the free causative power it possesses, that it must first determine the determining. For the determining of a volition is the doing of something; and the determining of the determining, is a doing of the doing. If Edwards affirms any thing he affirms that man cannot will at all; for, according to his reasoning, if a man wills, that is, produces a volition, he does it in the exercise of the faculty or power of will, that is, in an act of the will, and the acts of the will are volitions; therefore, he produces a volition in an act of will which act of will is itself a volition; that is, (never mind the length of the leap) he produces one volition by another. But this other, being a volition, (never mind the fact of its being the same volition,) and having been produced, must itself, for the same reasons, have been produced by still another volition, and this last by still another, and so on through an infinite series of volitions which must have preceded any volition which actually takes place: and, as it is evidently impossible that any volition could take place under such conditions, it follows that no volition does take place, in other words, it follows that man does not actually will at all. When a preacher once undertook to prove that his hearers could not be saved in any way whatever, the hearers remarked to each other that it was very close preaching: the preceding process of reasoning might very properly be said to be very close metaphysics. When a man does any thing he does it in the exercise of the faculty he possesses of doing it; therefore he does a thing by doing it: all this is plain, but if we had one or two ambiguous terms to be used in two or more different senses, like will, act of volition, &c., we could easily prove that because a man cannot possibly do a thing without doing it, it necessarily follows that he cannot do it at all. But Edwards has made his statement, let him defend it.

“For an exercise of the power of the will, and an act of that power, are the same thing.”

I cannot object to the statement made in this sentence.

“Therefore, to say that the power of will, or the soul in the “exercise or use of that power, determines volition, without an “act of will preceding the volition determined, is a contradiction.”

There is no contradiction whatever in the statement. The exercise or use of the power of will is itself the volition, for what is a volition but an act of the will? The will acts in one way or in another, the action in either case being a volition, and, by acting in one way or in another, it determines the volition to be one volition or another, and that without any necessity for a foregoing act of will. Where is the contradiction? When I affirm that a nail machine is composed of a pair of shears, which cut a piece of iron into a nail, determining, in the very act of closing upon, and cutting, the iron, whether the nail shall be a ten-penny nail or otherwise, and this without previously cutting out a ten-penny (or other) nail, as a prior condition necessary to the cutting of the very first nail—is there contradiction involved in my statement? The soul, I acknowledge, is not to be compared to a dead machine, whose productions are determined in form by the form of the mechanism, for the soul is an efficient cause and determines its volitions, not by reason of any physical conformation, but by the causative efficiency that inheres in itself: nevertheless the logic which would derive from one statement the necessity of an antecedent volition, would derive from the other the necessity of an antecedent ten-penny nail.

Secondly, If a power of will determines the act of the will, then a power of choosing determines it. For as was before observed, in every act of will there is choice; and a power of willing is a power of choosing.”

I am willing to accept this definition, though I conceive it to be a very weak one. The power of will is exerted mainly in dwelling upon feelings or thoughts, and in exciting muscular motion. Choosing is a very small part of the functions of the will; indeed, defining the will to be a mere power of choosing, is attempting to misrepresent the limit of its efficiency. The will is that power by which we have the faculty of originating action. It is through the energy of the will, of the inhering activity of the soul, that we have been enabled to cause our bodies to perform the labours which have changed the surface of the earth. If the will is a mere power of choosing, by what power do I move my hand in writing these lines? Nevertheless I am willing to accept the definition of Edwards; for undoubtedly the power of will includes the power of choosing.

“But if a power of choosing determines the act of volition, it determines it by choosing it.”

Whenever a power of choosing actually chooses one thing in preference to another, that act of choosing is the volition itself: if, therefore, a power of choosing should select between two volitions, and choose one, it would not determine either of those volitions (for they are determined already in their own natures, else there would be no occasion for choice between them) but it determines its own act of choosing between the two, that is, it determines a new volition, different from either, viz.: its own act of choosing, whether it will have one volition (say, a certain line of conduct) or another. So the sentence of Edwards, properly corrected, would read as follows: If a power of choosing determines the act of volition, it determines it by choosing, not it, but something which is not the volition. When I am in doubt whether I will read Milton or Shakspeare, and conclude to read Milton, I determine my choice by choosing Milton—not by choosing to choose Milton; I determine the volition, not by choosing the volition, but by choosing the outward object. And whenever I actually choose any outward object, I determine, by thus choosing, the volition to be the volition it is, rather than another.

It is necessary that we should notice, in passing, the ambiguity which is attached to the word determine, as it is used by Jonathan Edwards: for this word has two distinct meanings, and, by using it in the original proposition according to one of its significations, and in the discussion according to the other, he succeeds in confusing the whole subject, making an ingenious play of words to stand in the place of sound reasoning. The dictionaries give us the following definition: To Determine:—to fix; to settle; to limit; to conclude; to resolve; to decide. Evidently, according to this definition, the expression “the will determines its own volitions,” may signify, either: 1st. That it settles, fixes, limits and defines, its volitions; or, 2d. That it resolves upon a volition, deciding that it will have one rather than another, choosing to have one rather than another. Thus the word determine may be used in the sense of determine upon, and by the will’s determining a volition may be meant a choosing of that volition; but the word may be used, on the other hand, to mean, settle, fix, or limit, in which case the determination will be, not a choosing, but a settling, fixing, or limitation. If now we understand the word determine, in the sense of choosing, the sentence under immediate consideration will undoubtedly be true: “If a power of choosing determines (chooses) a volition, it determines it (chooses it) by choosing it.” But this is evidently not the signification of the word in the original proposition, for Edwards there guarded the meaning, and fixed it, by saying, in behalf of the Arminians, that the determination of the volition takes place “without any act of will going before the act determined.” So the sentence under immediate consideration appears to be not only trivial in itself, but also altogether irrelevant. The original proposition affirms, by saying that the will determines its own volitions—not that the will chooses them, but that it makes them to be as they are and not otherwise. The will by choosing an outward object, fixes, settles, determines, the volition, makes it to be what it is, and not otherwise: by choosing the object, it settles, fixes, determines, the act of choice, which is the volition; for a man cannot choose any one thing without settling and determining the matter that his act of choice shall be the particular choice it is: yet he chooses not the choice, but the object. I choose to have beef for dinner, but I choose, not the choice, (which is the volition) but the beef (which is the object of the volition.)

“For it is most absurd to say that a power of choosing determines one thing rather than another, without choosing any thing.”

I admit that the power of choosing does really choose something, but that something is not the choice, but the object of the choice, the object which is chosen.

“But if a power of choosing determines volition by choosing it, then here is the act of volition determined by an antecedent choice, choosing that volition.”

This again is not to the point. We do not say, and we have not said, that a power of choosing (that is, the will) determines a volition by choosing it: our original proposition was that the will determined its volitions, and we now say, as we then meant, and supposed we should be understood to mean, (I speak not only for the Arminians, but, I conceive, for all sensible men,) that the will determines its volitions, not by choosing them, but by choosing the objects of those volitions.

Thirdly, To say, the faculty, or the soul, determines its own volition, but not by any act, is a contradiction.”

This is all very well: we should prefer, however, to replace the expression by any act, by the words in any act. But perhaps by any act, may mean the same as in any act.

“Because for the soul to direct, decide, or determine anything, is to act; and this is supposed; for the soul is here spoken of as being a cause in this affair, bringing something to pass, or doing something; or, which is the same thing, exerting itself in order to an effect, which effect is the determination of volition, or the particular kind and manner of an act of will.”

Not at all. The will does not exert itself in order to the determination of volition. The determination of volition is not a distinct volition, but is the mark and characteristic which distinguishes one volition from all others. The soul exerts itself in order to effect a volition; the soul wills, and determines the volition incidentally, without intentionally exerting itself to that effect. To say that a volition is voluntary, is to say either (1) That a volition is a volition, which is very true, but insignificant, or (2) That one volition is determined by another volition, which is false, or, at least, by no means clearly demonstrated as yet by any person. If a man does any thing, he does the thing, but I take it he troubles himself very little as to who shall do the doing. The soul exerts itself in this particular act, viz.: of choosing between two or more objects presented to it. The soul chooses; but it never thinks of willing to will to will, &c., to choose. If it chooses one object, it determines its choice to be a choice of that object, without ever dreaming of determining so to determine.

“Again, the advocates for this notion of freedom of the will speak of a certain sovereignty of the will, whereby it has power to determine its own volitions. And therefore the determination of volition must itself be an act of the will; for, otherwise, it can be no exercise of that supposed power and sovereignty.”

We do not feel called upon at this time, to defend the Arminians: what with the ambiguity involved in the words, will, (which may mean the faculty of the will, or a particular volition); volition (which Edwards sometimes seems to use as synonymous with the volitive faculty itself); determining; act of will; act of volition; &c., the subject is sufficiently confused already: we have no idea of entering into a discussion which shall turn on the double meaning of such a word as sovereignty. Besides, all this has nothing to do with the original issue which we proposed to maintain.

“Again, if the will determines itself, then either the will is active in determining its volitions, or it is not.”

If I do not misapprehend the matter at issue, this sentence is not only absurd, but ridiculous. “If the will determines itself”!—the evasion that Edwards considers so absurd states, not that the will determines itself, but that it determines its volitions. Edwards shows here a lamentable ignorance of the nature of efficient causes. Is there no difference between a cause determining itself, and a cause determining its effect?

“If it be active in it, then the determination is an act of the will; and so there is one act of the will determining another.”

The nail machine produces tenpenny nails; but the act of the machine, producing a ten-penny nail, is not itself a tenpenny nail.

“But if the will be not active in the determination, then how does it exercise any liberty in it?”

The will is active.

“These gentlemen suppose, that the thing wherein the will exercises liberty, is in determining its own acts.”

The gentlemen referred to, are, I suppose, the Arminians. For ourselves, we do not know what Edwards means by the exercise of liberty. Liberty is a state and not an active power. But all this is foreign to the purpose: we are discussing the question whether the will determines its own volitions; this new question, whether the will exercises liberty in so doing, we may put off to a more convenient season.

“But how can this be, if it be not active in determining? Certainly the will, or the soul, cannot exercise any liberty in that wherein it doth not act, or wherein it doth not exercise itself.”

This is all very true.

“So that if either part of this dilemma be taken, this scheme of liberty, consisting of self-determining power, is overthrown.”

Edwards may overthrow the scheme of liberty, consisting in self-determining power, as often as he pleases; our patience is inexhaustible: we would suggest, however, that he wastes his labor, as we maintain no such “scheme.” Our doctrine is—not that the will possesses a self-determining power—but that it possesses a power of determining its own volitions.

“If there be an act of the will in determining all its own free acts, then one free act of the will is determined by an” other; and so we have the absurdity of every free act, even the very first, determined by a foregoing free act.”

This if, commencing the sentence, in sign of supposition, is impertinent: for no such supposition is admissible. The original proposition states clearly that “the will determines its volitions, without any act going before the act determined.” As the supposition cannot take place, the absurdity does not follow.

“But if there be no act or exercise of the will in determining its own free acts, then no liberty is exercised in determining them.”

My bodily freedom consists in the fact that I am not imprisoned, bound, or prevented by any outward constraint from exercising my bodily powers. I suppose the freedom of my will to consist in the fact, that when several objects of choice are presented to me, or several lines of conduct are open before me, that I can really choose one of these objects, or follow one of these lines of conduct, and this without being compelled, or necessitated, so to do, by any power, external or internal, save that sole power which is the efficient cause of the volition, and which I call Ego, I. Now, we do not maintain that the will determines its determinations, chooses its choices. I do not conceive that freedom consists in a man’s willing as he wills to will; but I hold that man wills, and that the very word will includes the idea of freedom. I choose between two outward objects, and my freedom consists in my ability to choose between those objects, and this ability I possess: I cannot even discern any meaning in the expression that liberty consists in the power of choosing between different choices. If I choose between two objects, is it not ‘I that choose? Do I not exert an efficiency in so choosing? Can I choose without incidentally determining the act of choice to be the act of choice it is rather than another? And is it necessary, before I choose at all, that I should voluntarily determine the act of choice, by first selecting a choice, which, by the conditions of the question, must be a choice without an object, a choice that chooses nothing, and therefore no choice at all? How shall we find an end to all these absurdities? Verily, by adhering to the question at issue.

“From whence it follows, that no liberty consists in the will’s power to determine its own acts; or, which is the same thing, that there is no such thing as liberty consisting in a self-determining-power of the will.”

Same thing!—This sentence shows that Edwards has no comprehension whatever of the question at issue; for he assumes that for the will to determine its acts, and for it to determine itself, are the same thing. Is there no difference between a cause and the acts of that cause? The original proposition is this, The will determines, not itself, but its volitions

“If it should be said, that although it be true, if the soul determines its own volitions, it must be active in so doing, and the determination itself must be an act; yet there is no need of supposing this act to be prior to the volition determined: but that the will or soul determines the act of will in willing; it determines its own volition, in the very act of volition; it directs and limits the act of will causing it to be so and not otherwise, in exerting the act, without any preceding act to exert that.”

This statement, although it contains some ambiguous words, we are by no means unwilling to accept.

“If any should say after this manner, they must mean one of these three things: either (1) that the determining act, though it be before the act determined in the order of nature, yet is not before it in the order of time.”

We do not mean this.

“Or, (2) That the determining act is not before the act determined, either in the order of time or nature, nor is truely distinct from it; but that the soul’s determining the act of volition is the same thing with its exerting the act of volition: the mind’s exerting such a particular act, is its causing and determining the act.”

This is precisely what we do mean.

“Or, (3) That volition has no cause, and is no effect; but comes into existence, with such a particular determination, without any ground or reason of its existence and determination. I shall consider these distinctly.”

A man must be insane to take this last position. We assert a cause for volition, viz.: the will itself.

“1. If all that is meant be, that the determining act is not before the act determined in order of time, it will not help the case at all, though it should be allowed. If it be before the determined act in the order of nature, being the cause or ground of its existence, this as much proves it to be distinct from it and independent on it, as if it were before in the order of time. As the cause of the particular motion of a natural body, in a certain direction, may have no distance as to time, yet cannot be the same with the motion effected by it, but must be as distinct from it as any other cause that is before its effect in the order of time: as the architect is distinct from the house which he builds, or the father distinct from the son which he begets. And if the act of the will determining be distinct from the act determined, and be- fore it in the order of nature, then we can go back from one to another, until we come to the first of the series, which has no act of the will before it in the order of nature, determining it; and consequently is an act not determined by the will, and so not a free act, in this notion of freedom. And this being the act which determines all the rest, none of them are free acts. As, when there is a chain of many links, the first of which only is taken hold of and drawn by hand; all the rest may follow and be moved at the same instant, without any distance of time; but yet the motion of one link is before that of another in the order of nature; the last is moved by the next, and that by the next, and so till we come to the first; which not being moved by any other, but by something distinct from the whole chain, this as much proves that no “ power is moved by any self-moving power in the chain, as if the motion of one link followed that of another in the order of time.”

We have no issue with Edwards here. We abandoned the proposition he combats, when he first stated it.

“2. If any should say that the determining act is not before the act determined, either in the order of time or nature, nor is distinct from it; but that the exertion of the act is the determination of the act; that for the soul to exert a particular volition, is for it to cause and determine that act of volition: I would observe that the thing in question seems to be forgotten, or kept out of sight, in a darkness and unintelligibleness of speech; unless such an objector would mean to contradict himself.”

Why all this fire? Here is the very point at issue; and the reader will be very well able to judge on which side rests the greater depth of darkness.

“The very act of volition itself is doubtless a determination of mind; i. e. it is the mind’s drawing up a conclusion, or coming to a choice between two things, or more, proposed to it.”


“But determining among external objects of choice is not the same with determining the act of choice itself, among various possible acts of choice.”

Nothing can be more true.

“The question is, What influences, directs or determines the mind or will to come to such a conclusion or choice as it does? Or what is the ground, cause or reason, why it concludes thus, and not otherwise?”

Presto, change!—This is the first explicit intimation we have received that the question at issue relates to the cause or reason which makes the will choose as it does choose. The question stated in the original proposition, is a question of fact: it is this, Does the will determine its own volitions, and that without any act of will going before the volition determined? The efficiency which makes the volition to be what it is, resides in the will itself—but this is not to the point, let us adhere to the original proposition.

“Now it must be answered, according to the Arminian notion of freedom, that the will influences, orders, and determines itself thus to act.”

What have we to do with the Arminian notion of freedom? Or with the will’s determination of itself? All this is foreign to the point.

“To say it is caused, influenced, and determined by something, and yet not determined by any thing antecedent, either in order of time or nature, is a contradiction. For that is what is meant by a thing’s being prior in the order of nature, that it is some way the cause or reason of the thing with respect to which it is said to be prior.”

We do not feel called upon to defend the Arminians.

“If the particular act or exertion of will, which comes into existence, be any thing properly determined at all, then it has some cause of its existing, and of its existing in such a particular determinate manner, and not another; some cause, whose influence decides the matter; which cause is distinct from the effect, and prior to it.”

The soul, or will, is the cause which determines volition, and it is the influence of the soul, or will, that decides the matter. The will is distinct from the volition, is the cause of which the volition is an effect, and is prior to it.

“But to say, that the will or mind orders, influences, and determines itself to exert such an act as it does, by the very exertion itself, is to make the exertion both cause and effect; or the exerting such an act, to be a cause of the exertion of such an act.”

But we do not say, and have never said, or even implied, that the mind or will orders, influences, and determines itself.

“For the question is, what is the cause, or reason, of the soul’s exerting such an act? To which the answer is: The soul exerts such an act, and that is the cause of it.”

We deny that there is any such question at issue.

If a problem should be stated in this way: Why is it that the pride of Satan is uniformly of a pale violet color? we think a wise enquirer would endeavor to solve it, not by attempting to find reasons why such a particular manifestation of Satanic character should have this color rather than another, but by showing that the ideas of color and pride are incompatible with each other, because one is a quality of matter and the other a quality of spirit. Thus he would show the absurdity of the question.

Now we suppose some of our readers may think that Edwards’ questions, “What is the cause or reason of the will’s exerting such an act rather than another? What influences, directs, or determines the mind or will to come to such ‘a conclusion as it does?” though impertinent in the connection, ought, nevertheless, to receive an answer. The question, What determines the will? is absurd; for the will is an efficient cause, whose very essence consists in its producing and determining power: the will is that which determines, not that which is determined. If the will be determined at all, it must be determined either (1) by itself, or (2) by that which is not itself. But (1) it cannot be determined by itself, for it is an efficient cause, which brings something to pass which is an effect, distinct and different from itself: and if this effect were a determination of itself, then the causative energy would be identical with the effect produced by it. But Edwards has done full justice to the doctrine that the will determines itself, so that we have no occasion to waste words upon it. This form of expression, the self-determining power of the will, would not seem plausible for a moment, if it were not for the double meaning of the word will, which signifies sometimes a faculty of the soul, the will, and sometimes a volition, which is an effect of that faculty. The will cannot be determined (2) by that which is not itself; for then the will would cease to be a will. If we define (with Edwards) the will to be a power of choosing, it will follow that wherever the will chooses, it chooses between two or more. But if it be determined by something which is not itself, that it shall choose one rather than another, then it has no choice between two, in fact, no choice at all, for some alien power has chosen for it between the two, and limited it to one; in this case, therefore, the will does not choose, and as the power of the will manifests itself in choosing, the will does not manifest itself at all, but gives way to a higher power that manifests itself in its stead.

Edwards proves truly that the will cannot determine itself, but he ought to go further, and show that the will cannot be determined at all. The will determines. When we can speak sensibly of the violet color of Satanic pride, perhaps we shall be able to speak sensibly of the will’s being determined.

“And so, by this, the exertion must be prior in the order of nature to itself, and distinct from itself.”

This conclusion does not follow from any thing we have said.

“3. If the meaning be, that the soul’s exertion of such a particular act of will is a thing that comes to pass of itself, without any cause; and that there is absolutely no ground or reason of the soul’s being determined to exert such a volition, and make such a choice, rather than another; I say, if this be the meaning of Arminians, when they contend so earnestly for the will’s determining its own acts, and for liberty of will consisting in self-determining power; they do nothing but confound themselves and others with words without a meaning. In the question, What determines the will? and in their answer, that the will determines itself, and in all the dispute about it, it seems to be taken for granted, that something determines the will; and the controversy on this head is not, whether any thing at all determines it, or whether its determination has any cause or foundation at all; but where the foundation of it is, whether in the will itself, or somewhere else. But if the thing intended be what is above mentioned, then all comes to this, that nothing at all determines the will; volition having absolutely no cause or foundation of its existence, either within or without. There is a great noise made about self-determining power, as the source of all free acts of the will; but when the matter comes to be explained, the meaning is, that no power at all in the source of these acts, neither self-determining power, nor any other but they arise from nothing; no cause, no power, no influence, being at all concerned in the matter.

“However, this very thing, even that the free acts of the will are events which come to pass without a cause, is certainly implied in the Arminian notion of liberty of will; though it be very inconsistent with many other things in their scheme, and repugnant to some things implied in their notion of liberty. Their opinion implies, that the particular determination of volition is without any cause, because they hold the free acts of the will to be contingent events; and contingence is essential to freedom, in their notion of it. But certainly, those things which have a prior ground and reason of their particular existence, a cause which antecedently determines them to be, and determines them to he just as they are, do not happen contingently. If something foregoing, by a causal influence and connection, determines and fixes precisely their corning to pass, and the manner of it, then it does not remain a contingent thing whether they shall come to pass or no.

“And because it is a question in many respects very important, in this controversy about the freedom of the will, whether the free acts of the will are events which come to pass without a cause; I shall be particular in examining this point in the two following sections.”

We have no issue here with Edwards; we have already said that we should consider a man insane who should undertake to maintain the proposition to which these sentences refer. Besides, these sentences have no relation whatever to the original proposition under discussion, the only proposition that interests us in this connection.

Having now quoted, and remarked upon, the whole of the Second Section of the Second Part of the Treatise of Jonathan Edwards on the Freedom of the Will, I hasten to conclude.

The whole question may be reduced to very simple terms. Let us define (with Edwards) the will as a power of choosing.


William B. Greene, Remarks In Refutation Of The Treatise Of Jonathan Edwards (West Brookfield, Mass.: Cooke & Chapin, 1848).



Greene, William Batchelder, 1819-1878, “Remarks In Refutation Of The Treatise Of Jonathan Edwards ,” The Libertarian Labyrinth, accessed January 16, 2018,