Ethical Studies/Essay 1 notes

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Note A.—Compulsion and Responsibility.

On this difficult point we will venture a few remarks, though our want of acquaintance with what juridical and other literature there may be on the subject, as well as our own very partial insight, prevent our attempting to deal with the matter fully.

Ignorance, as a plea for non-responsibility, is easier to discuss. It seems that either ignorance of particular facts, or of moral distinctions generally, or of the moral quality of this or that act, remove responsibility, provided only that the ignorance itself be not imputable to us as a fault.

What is compulsion? The word is no doubt used loosely, but we see at once that it is applicable to nothing which has not will. We do not talk of the inanimate being ‘compelled.’ This raises the question, ‘unless I am compelled to do something, am I compelled?’ But this we shall not trouble ourselves to answer, as at any rate we can say, ‘I am forced;’ and in relation to the will we had better take force and compulsion to be the same, even if the words are not quite synonymous.

To proceed then, when I am forced there is some state (in the widest sense) of my body or mind, which is referred to me without being referred to my will (properly speaking). And so compulsion will be the production, in the body or mind of an animate being, of a result which is not related as a consequence to its will, in the highest sense of the term will. And to that we must add that the result must be contrary to the actual desire of the person forced, or, given knowledge, would have been contrary; e.g., if a man is first drugged and then robbed, it is compulsion. This is why, where compulsion is doubtful, present repentance has been used as a test; because, given present grief for a past event, from that we infer in the past a presumable will contrary to the event (Arist. Eth. III. i. 13). But (to say nothing of ‘repentance’) grief need not follow compulsion, and is not always a sign of it. I must be forced, or not, at the time; I can not by subsequent sorrow make myself to have been forced, and it is possible 1 may now be glad to have been really forced.

This we may call absolute compulsion; and ordinary examples are any forcible action on my body, direct or by creation of physical circumstances; and, again, the production of any psychical state not under the control of my will.

Here there is little difficulty, since, properly speaking, I neither do nor abstain. The only thing which in any degree can make me accountable here, is that it is my fault that I was able to be compelled. Then all is, to some extent, the issue of my action or omission; in either case, of my will.

The real problem is what follows. When I have to say anywhere, ‘I did it,’ can I then escape imputation by pleading compulsion? Can my will be forced?

This has been denied. It has been said that compulsion of the will is hypothetical and ‘relative’ only, not absolute; that all it means is, if I will to have or be without this or that, then something else must follow, as a consequence which I can not escape. Choose to defy consequences on one side, and to renounce them on the other, and there can be no compulsion. ‘No one can be compelled to anything, unless he wills to let himself be compelled.’ (See Hegel, xviii. 35; viii. 128.)

I do not think this will hold. We see at once that, in a given case, there may be only one or two courses for me (my not-acting is a course of action); and all of these I may dislike and disapprove. But one course I must accept. In short, I may be compelled to an alternative; and here whether what I do is morally imputable, depends on whether it is my fault that I am in the position I am in.

But let us pass by this, since the far more serious question awaits us, ‘Apart from alternatives, can I not be made to do this or that? Can not the will be forced to this or that result?’

It all depends on the way in which we use ‘will.’ If by ‘will’ we mean ‘choice,’ ‘volition,’ the conscious realizing of myself in the object of one desire (in the widest sense), which has been separated from and put before the mind, as a possibility not yet real—then the will can not be forced. For, supposing you could produce a state of mind, which certainly would issue in such and such a volition, yet the result, when produced, comes from the self. There is no saying, ‘I did not will it;’ or, ‘If I could have willed, I would have willed otherwise.’[1]

But if will be used (as it often must be) in a lower sense, then I am afraid we can not deny that the will may be, and often is, forced; and forced not relatively but absolutely.

How is this? To put it shortly, it is because, by the application of compulsion, the psychical conditions of volition can be suppressed, so that it becomes impossible for me to decide myself for this and not for that.

Let us explain. (1) What are called (by a metaphor, and no more than a metaphor) ‘automatic’ acts may be produced by compulsion. I need not illustrate. Where my conscious will has no control, or has not had time to exert that control, there what must be called the ‘unconscious will’ can be stimulated to react. Here, obviously, I am not accountable, unless the state of my will, or the circumstances, are imputable to me as a fault. Strictly speaking, I do not know what I am doing, and there is no act proper.

The difficulty is to limit this class. If a pistol is suddenly presented at my head, what I do, before I have time to collect myself, may not be imputable to me at all. The problem is, if I have time enough, may the deed still be ‘automatic,’ in the sense of not proceeding from the conscious will? I possess no private experience in these matters, but I suppose that, given extreme terror or great bodily weakness or some abnormal state of mind, a deed may be done on compulsion, not only without conscious will, but also without the possibility of it. Here, of course, we are not responsible, except so far as it is our own fault that we are in the above condition.

(2) But by far the most awkward question is, ‘Given the knowledge of what we are doing, can we then plead compulsion as a ground of irresponsibility?’

If we know what we do, so far as to know we do this thing, but not so far as to perceive it in relation to other things, the question is easier to answer. There we can not collect ourselves; and when the deed is being done, we do not know it in its specific character. For instance, if a woman is to sign some document which may be a gross wrong upon her children, she, I suppose, may be so frightened by violence, that she signs, knowing that she is signing, but not at the moment knowing anything but that she is signing. Here we do not know what we do to be wrong, when we are doing it, and here there may be no accountability.

But when I know what I am doing, and also know the quality of it, know the relation in which it stands to the rest of my life, and know that it is wrong, can I then be forced to do it? It is with some diffidence that I express an opinion, but I think we must say, yes.

Whenever I can not collect myself, so as by conscious volition to decide one way or the other, there (provided that it is not my fault that I am unable), it seems to me, we must say I am not accountable, I did not do the act; there was force put upon me; whether proceeding simply from an uncontrollable element of my nature, or, in addition, from a will outside me, makes no difference. Where volition is a psychical impossibility, and where it is not my fault that it is so impossible, there I am not responsible.

Do such cases exist in fact? I believe they do. There seems no doubt that insanity supplies them; and apart from that, and with regard only to sane persons, such cases are possible. Violent physical pain, with great weakness, may destroy the conditions of volition, by destroying energy; or, further, violent emotion may make it impossible for the person to keep two courses before him and decide—impossible to separate himself from the strain put on him, so as either to resist it or to identify himself with it. In such cases the agents can not collect themselves so as to will, and though with knowledge, yet with pain and feeling of guiltiness, as in a dream, they perform some act which is abhorrent to them, and which they impute to themselves as guilt, but which (provided always their fault has not led to it) the sober onlooker may be unable to impute to them, in their character of a moral agent. I can not doubt, for instance, that in some cases a woman is seduced really against her will; and though morally accountable for what has preceded, is not so for anything else. With the practical bearing of this we are not concerned; but I must be allowed to remark that there are dangers beside those of moral laxity. There is a false self-condemnation, which takes on the will more than belongs to it, and hopelessness and self-desertion, which lets itself become really what it is not yet, because it thinks it is so already. In morality the past is real because it is present in the will; and conversely, what is not present in the will is only past.

Where the act was only voluntary, where there was no conscious volition, and where volition was psychically impossible, there we are responsible only so far as we ourselves have made the impossibility. If this is not so, we can plead compulsion.

But we foresee the objection that will at once be made. ‘This doctrine,’ it will be said, ‘excuses well-nigh everything. For when we go wrong, we do not always say, “I will,” and so act. We often intend nothing beforehand, and suddenly, being tempted, we find that we are in the fault before we know what we are doing. And here volition does not take place. Do you say, “But it was possible”? What do you mean? Are you not deluding yourself with phrases? We say, of course it was possible; of course all might have been otherwise, if it had not been what it was. But then it was so, and not otherwise. What you say about possibility here might be said everywhere else and about everything else.’

We must explain. We admit that in a given case it may fairly be said to be psychically impossible that a man, being tempted, should exercise volition one way or the other. But we add that he need not, therefore, be any the less accountable.

The point is this. The impossibility being admitted, why is it there? From what comes it? Is it because solicitation to bad is so strong, or because desire of good is so weak? And if it be answered, ‘That makes no difference, for it all is relative’; we say that, in this sense, it is not ‘all relative’ at all. The question is, can the man say, ‘It is not my doing that my will for good is not stronger. It is not my doing that solicitation to bad is not weaker’? Can he say, ‘What energy was in me has, so far as my power went, been made one with good and withdrawn from bad. My standing will, for which volition was not possible, was in this respect not of my own making’? If a man can truly say this, then he may also say, ‘I did not have a volition because I could not; and therefore I am not responsible for the act, because not responsible for the will’?

No man can be tempted except by his own will; and the point is, Is it his fault that his will is not otherwise? If that is not his fault, then we admit that he was overborne—that volition was really impossible; and we think that to him, as a moral agent, the deed is not imputable.

But now in our turn we ask, How many bad acts will this account of the matter excuse? Not many, we think.

To repeat, wherever a man can truly say, ‘It was not that through my act or neglect my will is generally weak, nor that what will I have is too little made one with the good and turned away from the bad, but my finite strength was overborne;’ there we say there is no moral imputation, because it did not lie with the man’s will, nor was it in his power, that volition should have taken place.

But where we collect ourselves and volition does take place, I think we must say that, given knowledge, there is always imputation. The degree of guilt is of course another matter, which we do not enter on.

The doctrine that our will can be forced to voluntary acts should not, I think, alarm or distress us. It seems to me by no means an immoral doctrine; and that charge holds good far more against the teaching that there is always a possibility of resistance to evil and performance of good at any moment, and under any previous and present conditions. Possibility of compulsion should make us see more clearly the need of so strengthening our will for good, as to make that compulsion impossible for us, except in theory. It should also make us afraid of circumstances, of which most people seem to me not enough afraid, being encouraged in some cases by the doctrine of libertas arbitrii. But what we, who reject that doctrine, should encourage ourselves with, is the clear fact that again and again, and by the weak, what we should have said beforehand it was impossible to resist has been resisted, and simply because they had made their will one with the good.

This is all we have to say on compulsion in relation to responsibility, and we know we have not done justice to it. The compulsion which makes irresponsible is absolute compulsion.[2] Relative compulsion, no one would say, relieves us from responsibility; for this means not an unconditional ‘must,’ but a ‘must,’ only in case I make up my mind to have this, or decide that I can not face that. Here we can collect ourselves to take which course we choose.

And at this point we should stop; but I should like to wander beyond the subject so far as to call attention to a matter on which there seems to be a great want of light. Everybody sees that any and every sort of influence does not amount to compulsion; but if I may judge from Mr. Stephen’s interesting book on Liberty, &c., and the few reviews of it which I saw, there is a general inability to draw the line between them. This is somewhat surprising, and as, from wrong views on this point, wrong conclusions follow on most important matters, I will venture to say something. Absolute compulsion, we saw above, is the production in a man of a state of mind or body, without his actual will and against his actual or presumable will; and I compel, when with intent I produce this state in another. Relative compulsion rests on the belief in conditional absolute compulsion. In this sense I try to compel, when I cause another to believe that in the case of a certain event taking (or not taking) place, a certain state, against his will, will be produced in him through my agency. Relative compulsion is influence by holding forth of absolute compulsion. It is not mere warning, nor again mere command, but it is a threat; for the compulsion is, directly or indirectly, to issue from my will. This last point is of the essence of the matter; and it is here that we think Mr. Stephen went quite wrong (p. 125, etc.), and not keeping in mind the distinction between ‘warning’ and ‘threat,’ so failed further to distinguish ‘persuasion’ from ‘force.’ Of course, in one sense of the word ‘force,’ persuasion is ‘force,’ but not in the sense of ‘compulsion.’ If I say, ‘Cross the stream now, or the rising water will break the bridge, and you will be forced to remain,’ that is warning; and if, further, I try to convince the man’s intellect that the fact is as I state it, with a view perhaps so to influence his conduct, that is persuasion. But if I say, ‘Cross now, or I will have the bridge broken,’ that is threat. It is an attempt at relative compulsion, because it is the holding forth of conditional absolute compulsion, which is to be the result of my will. So if a priest (see Mr. Stephen) says, ‘If you do this, it is my conviction or my fear that you will be lost,’ that is warning. It is holding forth of painful consequences not to be the result of the will of the warner: (in fact, you may ‘warn’ of what certainly and unconditionally will be; e.g., if an imaginary priest thought you were one of the massa damnata, he might conceivably tell you so). And if the priest by reasoning tried to bring the fact of these consequences home to you, that would be persuasion. But if the priest says, ‘If you do this, I, or what I represent, will take such order that you will, or may be, lost: what we do will, or may, depend on what you do; and what we do will, or may, make a difference in your future prospects,’ then that is a threat and an attempt at relative compulsion. Persuasion is the bringing about a change in the beliefs or opinions of a man (with or without a view to an answering change in his conduct), by considerations addressed to his understanding; such considerations to put before his mind (as facts) actual or possible facts, existing or to exist. This, I think, will be clear to the reader on reflection. The argumentum baculinum and the ‘persuaders’ of the horseman are jokes; the joke lying in the incongruity of such things with persuasion. In persuasion consequences to come from the persuader may be the fact we are to be persuaded of; but all that that means is that persuasion may be used in threat. Mere persuasion is the mere bringing home the fact as a fact, and in abstraction from what the fact is, and from the relation of it to the will of the party persuading and the party persuaded. Further, in persuasion there must be reflection and reasoning of some kind. Jacob did not persuade Esau with the mess of pottage; he might have done so if he had argued the point. I should be glad, did space permit me, to develope this against possible objections; but as it is, I must ask the reader to pardon the digression, on the ground that want of clearness here must mean want of clearness in some of the first principles of politics.

Note B.—Character, how far Fixed.

Thoroughly to understand what character means is to know what individuality in general means, and in what sense a man’s self is individual. And to understand this (need we say it?) is to be clear on some of the most difficult questions. This we do not for a moment pretend to be; and all that we are going to say must be looked on as more or less superficial remark.

‘Given such a character and such a stimulus, such an act must follow.’ This is the view which certainly is making its way. To prove it by particular experiences is from the very nature of the case impossible; nevertheless, when we understand it so—‘Supposing you have the self-same character and the self-same stimulus, and nothing else, must not what follows be also the same?’—it seems quite impossible to refuse our assent to it, or possible only if we are prepared to question the truth of any and every general proposition. But before we assent, we should see that the statement is not true except in the abstract. It is true only if you have nothing but the same character and stimulus.

This suggests the inquiry, Is the abstraction any more than idle? The whole statement stands and falls with the ‘given.’ No doubt, hypothetical conclusions from a fiction may be useful, but it is not well to forget the fictitious character of the starting-point. So we must ask, Do we ever have such a supposed ‘given’? (1) Is there such a thing as a character which remains the same? and (2) In all action are we not forced to recognize something beside character and stimulus?

There is a view which supposes character to be inborn and unalterable. Here we may say that what solicits the character to react alters, but the character does not alter; and further, nothing falls outside the character; it includes the whole individual. And this being so, we might have a stimulus, if not perfectly indistinguishable, yet so much the same that we can say, what has solicited once may solicit again; and, if so, what has been willed once must be willed again. I do not deny that there are some facts on the side of this view, but we must reject it; since, apart from the metaphysical and psychological objections to which it lies open, it is impossible to reconcile it with the palpable fact that characters at least sometimes do alter.[3]

On the above view our abstract statement was as near fact as general statements need be. But let us suppose the opposite view to be true. If character is not fixed at all, if it alters perpetually, then if you have what would have been the same stimulus, you may always have a different reaction. Here the doctrine, ‘same character, same stimulus, same act,’ is not positively incorrect, but is quite idle, and tells you nothing worth knowing. But this second view, again, is in collision with plain facts, since more or less you can count on human action. Indeed on this view there would be no such thing as character at all.

What facts point to is, however, a third view; and that we may express by saying ‘Character is relatively fixed.’ Having once been formed from the disposition and circumstances, it may alter so little, and so unessentially, that we have a right to say it remained the same. Facts tell us that with many men there is a system of principles, conscious or unconscious, from which most of their acts proceed, and which we can presume upon. Again, others alter so much that, as to the man you counted on some years ago, you know not what he will do in such or such a case. And then there are persons who undergo ‘conversions,’ and we have to say, ‘Since such a time he is quite another man.’

On this view, ‘Same character and stimulus, same act’ is again more than not positively incorrect. It stands for something more or less real, and holds good more or less as characters are more or less fixed. But it never loses its hypothetical nature.

Nay more, unless regarded as standing for the abstraction of an element which really is inseparable from other elements, it is positively false. Here we come back to the second question we asked. Are we not forced to recognize something beside character and stimulus? If so, if the act issues from anything beside the character, then it is downright false to say, ‘Same character, same act;’ unless all you mean is, ‘Supposing that to take place which perhaps does not ever take place, supposing that you never had anything but character, then you would have the same act.’

Thus, really to appreciate the truth of ‘same character, same act,’ we have to keep in view, (1) That characters are alterable; (2) That acts do, or may, proceed from something beside the character. And these two qualifications, which are closely connected, we must try to understand more fully.

Character is fixed, but only relatively fixed. When we see how the first comes about, we see that the latter is true. The material of the character is disposition in relation to circumstances. The character is what I have made myself into from these elements, and the reason it remains fixed is that the conditions have so to speak been used up and realized into the individuality. What I am I have made myself, out of, in relation to, and against my raw material with its external conditions. The external conditions are more or less permanent, and the raw material is more or less systematized. Hence well-nigh everything is now subsumed under, and takes its quality from my character. The self is more and more determined and realized, and so excludes possibilities, fixes and closes itself; in short, gets hardened.

Hence, knowing a man to be a certain system (conscious or unconscious), we can tell how things will present themselves to him, and how he will manifest himself against particular stimuli. And we say the man is settled and made, and we know what he is and have a practical certainty that he will always keep so, because we are sure that nothing will happen to him which he has not had before in some form, and which has not some principle in his character under which it will be brought. This is what we mean by the character being fixed.

But the fixedness is not more than relative. There is always a theoretical possibility of change, and sometimes a good deal more than this. The reason is twofold. (1) We can not exhaust all possible external conditions; (2) We can never systematize the whole self.

(1) You never can say, a man has withstood all sorts of temptations and all combinations of them; and thus there remains the theoretical possibility of some unknown and fatal kind. And (2) the man’s self and his character never quite coincide. The character is always the narrower; and moreover, its materials shift, or may shift. This must be, because a man’s body changes through change of climate, disease, or age, and so too desires change their force and their nature; and the character to the last, though made, is always in making, and hence there is a possibility of change in it. And to the former consideration, that a man’s character does not exhaust his self, it is quite as necessary to keep our eyes open. Character is the ‘second nature;’ but, beside that, there is something of the first nature left. The raw material of the disposition is not all systematized in the character, but some element or elements probably remain beside, or rather beneath, the conscious self which affirms itself in the world. Hence, given some new external condition, some strange psychical combination, and the, so to speak, underground self comes to light as a felt want or known desire; and the result of the volition is uncertain. The self is now the abstraction, not from what has been brought under the character, but from that plus a new desire; and what emerges can not be predicted with theoretical certainty. Everybody must feel that he has unrealized possibilities; and what would he do if there was a chance of realizing them, if, so to speak, they could be let loose?

Now so far as the habitual self is both well systematized, and wide enough to cover possibilities, we are pretty safe. But, as we have seen, no man can order his whole self with all its underground longings. Hence something might always come up, if not kept down by the habituated self. Suppose now that this takes place, and there ensues a collision between desire and principle; then, as the conclusion is not through habit a foregone one (there is only a general habit of acting on principle, not on principle against this desire), the strength of the temptation can not be calculated, and so also not the issue. Take for example an elderly man, who never has had temptation in the way of sexual love, and now, through some accident, is in love where the passion ought to remain unsatisfied. Here such a temptation has not been resisted by the character. The volition results not merely from the habituated or principled self, but from that plus a new force; and if the volition were a ‘resultant’ only, the result must be different. As it is, all we can say is that it may be.

If there is thus no theoretical certainty of the future with a systematic principled character, how will it be when the habituated self involves contradictions? Here we must guess by analogy, but we can do no more than guess. The act depends on the whole conscious and unconscious self;[4] and if that is more or less chaotic, it must be variable and subject to mere accident; nor, given a fresh combination of the elements, so far as I can see, is it possible theoretically to deduce the result. The result is not a mere ‘resultant.’

It has been remarked that before the time comes it is not possible to have an absolutely certain knowledge, how we shall act. The reason partly, no doubt, is that particular knowledge of details is wanting to us; but this is not all the reason. The act does not answer to the mere theoretical application of a principle. The desire in the presence of the object can not be excluded from the calculation, nor can that desire always be forerealized by the presentation of the object before the understanding and imagination. In the act the will is the reaction of the whole self against the presented object, and we can know how that will be determined, only so far as the self, which we have not habituated and do not know, can be excluded.

Thus the self we have habituated ourselves into, is the only self to be counted on, and so none of us are quite safe. Many of us show selves to ourselves and the world, which are not the realization of another element which we take about with us, and which quietly, or it may be longingly, remains below the ‘floor of consciousness,’ perhaps never to appear, perhaps to burst out in we know not what, in light and love, or in ‘dirt and fire.’ But this should be a mere theoretical possibility; and if it really comes about, yet the self that we know should be strong enough to make the best of it.

This consideration (though in most cases there is little need for it) will help to explain mysterious conversions and changes; but we must bring this note to an end.

Our result is that we may have practical certainty that a man will not change; and hence, knowing his ways, we may be pretty sure what he will do. But since the conditions he will meet with can not be theoretically exhausted, and his habituated self does not cover his whole nature, therefore theoretical possibility of fresh act and change of character remains;[5] and this is important; for we see, on the whole, that it is only a part of the facts which is covered by ‘same character and stimulus, same act.’

Note C.—Freedom.

I am not going to try to treat such a subject as this by the way, but a very few words may be of use to the beginner. If we put it in as ordinary language as we can, the main difficulty is this—If there is a ‘because’ to my acts, responsibility seems to go; and yet we have an irresistible impulse to find a ‘because’ everywhere. But is it not the sort of ‘because’ which gives all the trouble?

(1.) We may say there is one kind of ‘because,’ and one only. Then I am put on a level with nature; and whether you take your ‘because’ from mechanism, or start from will and put nature on a level with me, makes no practical difference, since in neither case do you distinguish.

(2.) We may say there is no ‘because’ for us, and may say,

(a) We know will, and it is beyond the ‘because.’ It=chance. Or,
(b) Will is unknowable. ‘Because’ is for thought only, and for intelligible objects.
Neither of these assertions can hold; for, apart from metaphysical difficulties, we actually do predict volitions to a large extent.

(3.) We may admit the ‘because’ (or rather, since our will is rational, we may demand it), but may say, there is more than one sort of ‘because.’ There is mechanical ‘because,’ but that is not adequate to the lowest life, still less to mind. And if we take this line, we may find that the ‘because’ which excludes accountability, is only the ‘because’ which does not apply to the mind, but to something else.

If ‘must’ always means the ‘must’ of the falling stone, then ‘must’ is irreconcileable with ‘ought’ or ‘can.’ Freedom will be a bare ‘not-must,’ and will be purely negative.

But how if the ‘must’ is a higher ‘must’? And how if freedom is also positive—if a merely negative freedom is no freedom at all? We may find then that in true freedom the ‘can’ is not only reconcileable with, but inseparable from, the ‘ought;’ and both not only reconcileable with, but inseparable from, the ‘must.’ Is not freedom something positive? And can we give a positive meaning to freedom except by introducing a will which not only ‘can,’ but also ‘ought to’ and ‘must,’ fulfil a law of its nature, which is not the nature of the physical world.

There is a view, which says to the necessitarian, ‘Are you not neglecting distinctions?’; to the believer in ‘liberty’, ‘Are you sure you are distinguishing? Is there the smallest practical difference between external necessity and chance? Can you even define them theoretically, and keep them distinct? Is the opposite of a false view always true? Is it not much rather often (and always in some spheres) just as false?’; and to both, ‘So long as you refuse to read metaphysic, so long will metaphysical abstractions prey upon you.’

Or to put the same thing in a slightly different way. We all want freedom. Well then, what is freedom? ‘It means not being made to do or be anything. “Free” means “free from.”’ And are we to be quite free? ‘Yes, if freedom is good, we can not have too much of it.’ Then, if ‘free’ = ‘free from,’ to be quite free is to be free from everything—free from other men, free from law, from morality, from thought, from sense, from—Is there anything we are not to be free from? To be free from everything is to be—nothing. Only nothing is quite free, and freedom is abstract nothingness. If in death we cease to be anything, then there first we are free, because there first we are—not.

Every one sees this is not the freedom we want. ‘“Free” is “free from,” but then I am to be free. It is absurd to think that I am to be free from myself. I am to be free to exist and to assert myself.’ Well and good; but this is not what we began with. Freedom now means the self-assertion which is nothing but self-assertion. It is not merely negative—it is also positive, and negative only so far as, and because, it is positive.

‘I am to assert myself and nothing else, and this is freedom.’ So far as this goes we quite agree; but it tells us scarcely anything. I am to assert myself, but then what action does assert myself; or rather, what action does not assert myself? And if I am to assert nothing but myself, what can I do, so as to do this and nothing but this? What, in short, is this self, the assertion of which is freedom?

My self,’ we shall hear, ‘is what is mine; and mine is what is not yours, or what does not belong to any one else. I am free when I assert my private will, the will peculiar to me.’ Can this hold? Apart from any other objection, is it freedom? Suppose I am a glutton and a drunkard; in these vices I assert my private will; am I then free so far as a glutton and drunkard, or am I a slave—the slave of my appetites? The answer must be, ‘The slave of his lusts is, so far, not a free man. The man is free who realizes his true self.’ Then the whole question is, What is this true self, and can it be found apart from something like law? Is there any ‘perfect freedom’ which does not mean ‘service’?

Reflection shows us that what we call freedom is both positive and negative. There are then two questions—What am I to be free to assert? What am I to be free from? And these are answered by the answer to one question—What is my true self?


  1. Hence what issues from volition can not issue from compulsion. But the question arises, ‘Can a volition be compelled into existence?’ This we must answer in the negative. Force and compulsion are terms not here applicable. For directly to produce a volition in another is absolutely impossible; and supposing that, by compulsion, you can produce a state of mind, on which the volition follows; yet you have not compelled the volition. That is not the effect of the state you have produced. It is the reassertion of the self, which has been drawn back from the whole content of the self; and the whole self asserts itself in the act. Compulsion may lead to volition, it can not cause it.
  2. The above doctrine, I think, will cover all maniacal phenomena. In connection with these let me remark against Dr. Maudsley that not all metaphysicians have denied, or ignored, insane irresistible impulses, coexisting with knowledge of the moral quality of the act. See, for instance, Hegel, vii. (2), 222. Dr. Maudsley’s book on ‘Responsibility in mental disease,’ which I read with much interest and I hope some profit, seems to me to proceed in a somewhat unscientific fashion. How in the world is it possible to say what relieves a madman of responsibility, until you know what makes a sane man responsible? But that Dr. M. does not tell us. And until we know whether a writer is one with us in our main beliefs as to a sane man’s responsibility, how can we (unless we are most foolish) receive his evidence as to any one’s non-responsibility, when, so far as we can see, on his showing no one (sane or mad) would be what we call responsible?
  3. This view has been not originated but most clearly and recklessly developed by Schopenhauer. It is interesting to see how with him one one-sidedness leads to the other. Having first supposed intellect to have nothing to do with character, he is then forced by facts to admit the ‘acquired character,’ which, as I understand him, is nothing but intellect.
  4. Let me observe that this consideration destroys the last refuge of the ‘freedom’ which rests on abstract possibility or mere chance. Where the act can not be accounted for by what is before the mind, we have still to consider what is in the mind.
  5. This bears on a practical difficulty. Often we feel tolerably sure that this or that old reprobate is hopelessly hardened, but we can not say there is no chance of his turning again. Hence the theoretical justification of the practical religious maxim not to give up any man as lost.