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Volume 1

Expanded Contents


1: Introduction [and Summary]
2: Physical Field Theories
3: Psychological Field Theories
4: Social Field Theories
5: The Field of Power
6: Field Theories in Summary
7: Perception and Reality
8: Actuality versus Potentiality
9: Manifests versus Latents
10: Latent Functions
11: Perception, Space, and Field
12: Cognitive Dissonance
13:Behavior, Personality, Situation, and Expectations
14: The Behavioral Equation: Behavior, Situation, and Expectations
15: Situation, Expectations, and Triggers
16: Person-Perception and Distance
17: The Behavioral Occasion
18: Social Behavior
19: Motivational Explanation
20: Energy and Attitudes in the Psychological Field
21: Motivation and the Superordinate Goal
22: What About Other Motivations ?
23: The Dynamic Field and Social Behavior
24: The Sociocultural Spaces
25: The Biophysical Spaces
26: Intentions and The Intentional Field
27: A Point of View
28: The Self As a Power
29: The Will As a Power
30: Determinism and Free Will
32: A Humanism Between Materialism and Idealism
33: Atomism-Mechanism versus Organicism
34: Between Absolutism and Relationism
35: Humanity and Nature

Other Volumes

Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace 

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 31

Alternative Perspectives
Freedom Of The Will*

By R.J. Rummel

This remorseless inevitableness is what pervades scientific thought. The laws of physics are the decrees of Fate.
---- Alfred Z. Whitehead, Science and The Modern World, I

The argument for freedom that I have presented is clearly not the only conception of and solution to the determinism versus free will issue. As a way of better understanding the form of Kant's argument and the strength of his position as adopted here, this chapter will consider briefly some other ways of dealing with the problem.


 One way of deciding the question of whether we are determined or free is by attacking the question itself and showing that in fact no real question exists. Locke's approach is an example.1 He argues that the will is a power to bring the self to action and that freedom is the power to act or not as the will decides. Since the will and freedom are therefore distinct powers, it is meaningless to ask whether the will is free. To ask whether we can will freely between alternatives is absurd, for we will what we will.

Bergson takes another approach.2 He argues that the question as to whether we can freely decide between alternatives misunderstands the continuity of the self and behavior. The self is a continual process of feeling-thinking-doing. To artificially partition this process into choice points, into forks in life's road, is to impose a framework that does not exist. We are a stream of consciousness and acting, and freedom is an indefinable relation of the concrete self to the acts performed within this stream.

A contemporary approach more suited to positivist tastes is the argument of Morris Schlick.3 First, as a good Humian, he points out that our knowledge of nature is only of uniformities. Our laws describe only what concomitances we have observed. There is no necessity or causal determinism to these descriptions, for the allegation of necessity goes beyond our empirical powers. Second, to subsume human behavior under natural laws is, therefore, to do no more than record our behavior in relation to this environment and psychology. There is no imperative in such descriptions. To say we behave under natural laws is not to assert that we must do so or is causally determined in doing so. Therefore, the alleged opposition of determinism and free will is a misunderstanding of scientific laws. There is no problem. We can be free and our actions can be explicable by scientific laws both at the same time.

Within the confining perspective of logical positivism, Schlick's analysis is correct. However, the perspective resolves this problem by assuming its grounds to be metaphysical or meaningless. If one accepts, however, that there is a causal necessity, that we can be driven by a hunger urge, that unconscious Freudian complexes can determine our behavior, that culture can shape our perspectives and personality, that heredity influences our abilities and temperaments, and that our actions constitute a common striving for self-actualization, then the question is legitimate. How free are we then to do otherwise than we do? Schlick cannot analyze the question away by arguing that our laws only describe relationships, for such is denied by whole subdisciplines like psychoanalysis, clinical psychology and motivational psychology, not to mention personal experience.4 Schlick's resolution of the problem of determinism versus free will is to define it away.

Locke's and Berkeley's solutions are not much more satisfying. Locke also seems to resolve the question by definition. There are separate powers, one of which is the will. The will is a power to bring the self to action. And freedom is possessed by agents, not wills (powers). Therefore, there can be no meaningful question about whether the will can do other than it does. Berkeley's solution based on a behavioral process and indefinable relationships also is unsatisfactory. Often we are aware of decisions that must be made between alternatives before we make them. Moreover, we are conscious of the internal battle between our desires and our reason and morality. The question is then pertinent as to whether what we decide or will is a result of forces beyond our conscious control. Locke's will-as-power and Berkeley's all-inclusive process simply sidestep the question.

Kant's solution, however, takes the question of determinism versus free will seriously and deals with it at the level of meaning acceptable to most of us. If nature under laws presumes causality and uniformity, can we spontaneously create our own action? His answer that there is no necessary contradiction regarding such freedom, and natural causality (determinism) is more satisfying, since he accepts the meaningfulness of the question and confronts it directly. Note that there is a certain similarity between the answers of Kant and Schlick. Both argue that natural laws and freedom are possible. For Schlick, however, this is done by castrating natural laws of any causality or necessity, while Kant postulates different worlds of phenomenal causality and underlying things-in-themselves.


Some, like William James5 and Jerome Frank,6 have argued that freedom and determinism are in effect both postulates about humanity, and we have no absolute basis for accepting either. Let us, therefore, accept freedom as the more pragmatically justified postulate, and affirm freedom thereby. Because of the contribution such acceptance makes to our dignity and worth, and to our sense of responsibility and creativity, the onus must be on the shoulders of those who deny freedom to prove their case. Otherwise, let us presuppose freedom.

This is a persuasive argument, especially in light of contemporary positivist philosophies which stress the conventional or instrumental (read pragmatic) nature of our systems of thought.7 However, it concedes too much and thereby makes the pragmatic option appear more a dogmatic faith affirmed in the face of considerable counter-evidence.

With the exception of peculiarities in the quantum domain, lawful causal regularity and uniform dependencies appear to hold sway in nature. Moreover, our behavior in particular seems intuitively explicable, most empirically understandable and best predictable from our personality, heredity and environment. It is to deny overwhelming personal and scientific experience to treat simply as a postulate our dependence on our dynamic and intentional fields. To be sure, there is evidence for freedom as well, such as our consciousness of choice, the existence of morality, and the power of reason, which James, for one, makes use of, but the major antithesis of his argument is of postulate opposing postulate, and not evidence contra evidence.

In either case, the pragmatic approach of James accepts the opposition of freedom and determinism. In contrast, the strength of Kant's approach is to first show that both determinism and freedom are possible, and then that evidence for both can be simultaneously accepted. After showing that we could possibly have our cake and eat it too, he presents the pragmatic (read practical or moral) option and argues for accepting as hypothesis the existence of determinism and freedom. In this manner, Kant harmonizes both humanism and science, and facts and values, giving each a separate realm of activity, but ultimately hypothesizing the dependence of the world of science and experience on our moral laws. Kant thus unifies a determinism with freedom--qualities that James would keep as mortal enemies, the choice of one being over the body of the other.


 There is a variety of grounds for asserting existentially that we are free and not determined. Some of these include our self-consciousness of freedom; the virtually universal assumption that we are free;8 the deductive and abstract power of reason; the "heave of the will," or feeling of effort in willing contrary to desires; the existence of moral alternatives and sense of ought; the uncertainties in physics which may harbor freedom; the statistical nature of reality (in opposition to nature's assumed necessity); our rule-following, noncausal behavior (as in a game of chess). Our ingenuity in arguing grounds for freedom (itself another argument for freedom) is only partly represented in the above list, but the mention of such grounds suffices for our purposes. Each basis assumes some kind of conflict between determinism and freedom. The truth of the libertarian argument presumes the falsity of determinism. As Kant shows, however, such conflicts need not be assumed. We can treat actions as both determined and possibly free, and then the above grounds provide a basis for hypothesizing our freedom.


 The grounds for this position are equally varied, including the existence of scientific laws and the uniformity of nature:9 the explanatory strength of Freudian psychoanalysis; the empirical persuasiveness of Skinnerian behaviorism;10 the constraints of heredity; the clear existence of sociocultural and environmental forces, like social distances, religion and ideology; the sociological basis à la Mannheim and Marx for beliefs and ideas; historical forces like geography, religion, political power, economics and nationalism; and so on. Take your choice. Our resourcefulness in arguing for freedom is clearly matched by our imagination in providing counterpositions. Here also, the value of Kant's solution can be seen. However you argue that we are determined, Kant can say that "you may be right." But even if we are, we may still be free. Therefore, even if you feel strongly about your deterministic position and will not concede it, we can still work together to try to create a better world.


 Contemporary social scientists are inclined to ridicule mysticism of any type11 and surely any hint that we are fated would provoke this reaction. The belief in fate can take a variety of forms, not all of which are inconsistent with freedom. Religious predestination, for example, still permits us freedom to sin, as St. Augustine argued and St. Thomas Aquinas showed. However, there is a form the fatalist position takes that defeats Kant's position and should be considered here.12 The argument originates with the classical Greeks and was considered in detail by Aristotle. It follows this path:13

(1)propositions must be true, or if not true, then false;

(2)a proposition that a Sino-Soviet war will occur next year must be either true or false now;

(3)if it is true now, then such a war will occur and we cannot change this; if false, then the war will not occur;

(4)therefore, all that occurs in the future must of logical necessity take place and we have no free will.

Now, this argument may seem at first fallacious, but if one accepts the law of excluded middle and its synthetic interpretation, then the conclusion is logically valid.

This would strike at Kant's position, for on logical grounds he argues for the independence of reason from observed phenomena, which is the plane upon which causal necessity resides. However, the above logic is independent of the phenomenal plane and follows the same rules that Kant observes in making his distinction. If the logical fatalist is correct, then even though independent of empirical experience, reason would still be subject to the logical necessity of the future. If in using practical reason it is now true that tomorrow we will lie to save a friend embarrassment, then it is not in our power to change this. Our practical reason is thus enslaved by a logical necessity no less dictatorial than absolute, empirical causal laws.

There is a way out of this, but at some ontological cost. Cahn shows that if one accepts (1) above and assumes that true means empirically true14 and false means empirically false (in the sense that true and false represent reality), then this synthetic interpretation leads necessarily to fatalism. There is, however, an analytic interpretation of the law of excluded middle, to wit: "every proposition must be either true or false." The analytic interpretation is not the same as nor does it imply (1), and does not commit one to fatalism. It simply affirms that a war will or will not occur.

Thus, if we are to preserve Kant's solution we must reject the synthetic view of the law of excluded middle and limit ourselves to the analytic form. If we do, however, and I see no way around this if, as reasonable beings, we are to believe in freedom,15 we are logically committed to the following implications.16 First, it allows for future contingent events that are not now true or false. This entails at least a three-valued logic, for some propositions about the future are empirically neither true nor false, and therefore must be something else. Three-valued logics do exist17 and our acceptance of freedom implies that we must adopt something like a proposition being empirically true, indeterminate or false.

Second, propositions cannot be without reference to time. That is, if the truth of propositions are contingent, then they cannot be tenseless. Thus, the proposition that "war is profitless" may be true today, might have been true in the past, but may not be true in the next year or century or millennium, whereas it is commonly assumed that to assert the truth of "war is profitless" is to declare a timeless, spaceless proposition. What this means, in essence, is that a prerequisite to affirming our freedom is also the affirmation of conditionality in our knowledge about the future. We cannot both be free and profess empirical truths about the future.

Third, not only the truth value of a proposition but its modality (e.g., whether the proposition is contingent or necessary) must be subject to change. For example, that a Sino-Soviet war will occur next year, in 1976, is now (1975) contingent. It lies within our power to prevent this future event. However, in 1977, the proposition that "war will occur in 1976" is no longer contingent, for such a war will have or will not have occurred in 1976. Therefore, it will lie beyond any person's power to change this fact and the proposition will then be necessarily true or false. What is, therefore, falsifiable at one time, when an event lies in the future, is not falsifiable at another time, when it lies in the past.

It follows from this that time is no superficial aspect of reality, as Spinoza and Bertrand Russell would assert, or not unreal as in the views of St. Augustine, or transcendental as Kant would have it. The truth of a proposition and its modality depends on the time at which it is affirmed. However, as Cahn shows, "If time is unreal, then it cannot affect a proposition's truth-value or modality and if time cannot affect a proposition's truth-value or modality, we must either accept fatalism or reject logic."18 I will accept time as real. Moreover, to preserve our freedom, I will also have to accept that time is itself a power19 that affects our power. Time can extinguish potentialities that lie in the future, such as our traveling through space to Mars, by moving them to the past. What was within our power to create in the future ceases to exist as potential through the passage of time. "He that will not when he may/When he will be shall have nay."20 Moreover, time is asymmetrical, in the sense that the future is unlike the past. It contains potentials--possibilities--not previously existing. We can actualize these potentials; the future is open to us in a way that the past is not.

It is perhaps fitting to end this section at this point. To affirm our freedom is to affirm a view of logic and time that puts our future very much in our own hands. Freedom precedes progress. 


* Scanned from Chapter 31 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

2. Time and Free Will (New York: Macmillan, 1910).

3. "When Is a Man Responsible," in B. Berofsky (ed.), Free Will and Determinism (New York: Harper, 1966): 54-63.

4. It seems amusing to deny, say, any necessity to the sudden shot of pain from a burned finger and the reflex of pulling it out of a flame. To assert that there is only an association, not a connection, between finger-in-flame, pain and reflex, is to deny us most of our empirical experience.

5. "The Dilemma of Determinism," in Essays in Pragmatism (New York:, Hafner, 1969).

6. Fate and Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945).

7. For example, there is the doctrine that theories are constructions we use as tools to order and make sense out of observations. This Kant-like viewpoint has even infused much contemporary theory in international relations. See, for example, Stanley Hoffman's discussion of theory (Contemporary Theory in International Relations, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1960) and Charles McClelland (Theory and the International System, New York: Macmillan, 1966).

8. Even if one should accept the curious notion that consensus should govern belief, the facts are wrong. A third of the world lives under the historical and material determinism assumed by Marxist-Leninist Communism, and whole cultures such as the Islamic presuppose complete determinism under God. Incidentally, this consensus argument is not bush league. For example, the well-respected philosopher Thomas Reid (Essays on the Active Powers of Man) asks why we should reject freedom when it is compatible with the beliefs of humankind.

9. Such grounds can subsume the statistical view and turn it against freedom. For a statistical approach must itself assume uniformity in nature and natural laws, and thus leads those adopting it to deterministic pronouncements. Consider, for example, the frequent assertion that, since nuclear deterrence has a probability (however small) of breaking down at any one time, in the long run the probability of such an event approaches certainty and is thus eventually inevitable. The epistemological fallacies in this view will be exposed in later volumes. [Added as of May, 1998: this was not done] For the moment I wish only to show that a statistical view of reality is not necessarily congenial with libertarianism, as some like Morris Kline (Mathematics in Western Culture, New York: Oxford University Press, 1953, chap. 24) would assume.

10. I am thinking of his brand of conditioning-reinforcement behaviorism and not his poorly argued, badly composed Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Knopf, 1972).

11. A telling criticism of a colleague is to assert that his ideas are mystical. Such was often alleged of Sorokin's work (such as his belief in the power of love and altruism) and may partly account for its unpopularity. Jung's research was ignored primarily because of its presumed mystical content.

12. This argument is well articulated in Steven M. Cahn, Fate, Logic, and Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967).

13. I am simplifying the argument considerably here. For the logical variants, details, considerations, qualifications and implications, see Cahn, ibid.

14. This does not save Kant's argument, for he joins reason with certain empirical propositions (we do consider "oughts," or there are moral laws). By their nature, the moral grounds for his argument cannot be purely transcendental.

15. There is no counterappeal on metaphysical grounds, for the basis of all metaphysical arguments are the very rules of logic here being considered.

16. These are presented in ibid., pp. 121-138.

17. See ibid., pp. 122-126 for references and a description of the three-valued logic of Jan Lukasiewicz.

18. Ibid., p. 136.

19. In Cahn's words, "efficacious." Ibid.

20. Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, III, 2.5.5.

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