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III.4 Freedom of the Will under the Universal Laws of Nature

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Self-Evidence
of Free Will

What is self-evident cannot be deduced from anything that is prior or better known. We can only show that the denial of the self-evident is contradictory. Thus, we can argue that those who deny the freedom of the will are forced to take this view by their own lack of freedom. Yet others are apparently forced to take the opposite position!

Those who deny the freedom of the will also deny that we are responsible for our actions. If we cannot choose between right and wrong, but are forced to do what we do, then we cannot govern ourselves freely. Neither can we be praised or blamed for our own actions. This contradicts everyday experience. We reward people for their good deeds and punish them for wrongdoing. We would not do this if the will were not free.

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The First
Law of Nature

We naturally desire what is good and are naturally repelled by what is evil. Good and evil are directly known to us within experience. These moral opposites show up as the fulfillment and frustration of the various purposes of nature. Thus death is the frustration of the desire to live. When combined with the freedom of the will, our ability to distinguish between and what is good and evil gives us the power to govern ourselves. We are political creatures by nature.

The first rule of the natural law is that we ought to pursue what is good and avoid what is evil. Every other moral directive is a particular determination of this most general law of nature. Our knowlwedge of this law flows immediately from our experience of nature. No rational being can be ignorant of this fundamental moral directive.

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The Hierarchy
of Good and Evil

Nature presents the mind with a complex realm of goods that are interconnected, interdependent, and ranged in a hierarchy. Some goods are higher than others. When greater and lesser goods come into conflict, we ought not sacrifice a greater good for the sake of a lesser. Thus we ought not choose the life of a dog over that of a human being. Goods are also ordered to each other within nature as a whole. A soldier may suffer death for the sake of his country, but it would be wrong for a country to suffer extinction for the sake of an individual.

Choice of the good also exists in a web of larger actions that admit the possibility of evil. One may become wealthy either by means of hard work or by theft, but the means chosen to secure a good must be suited to the end.

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American Deist © 2012‒2013 Edward J. Furton
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