- Published: Sunday, 29 November 2015 18:21
[From Theosophical Encyclopedia, here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style.]
The question of whether human beings have or do not have free will has been a perennial problem in Western philosophy, starting with the Greeks and continuing down to the present time. Early Chinese philosophy did not address the question, and it took an Indian approach when Buddhism entered China in the first century CE. Indian philosophy, however, has considered the question of central importance, most systems arguing that human beings do not exercise real free will until they have attained Self-realization. Theosophy has generally adopted the Indian point of view when it treats the issue at all.
Two different approaches have been taken to the problem in the West, usually stated as “freedom from” and “freedom to.” The former claims that causal determinism (“Every event has a cause”) implies lack of real free will since one’s actions are always the result of prior causal conditions. If one knew all those prior causal conditions, so the argument goes, one could predict unerringly what a person would do under any specific circumstances. But, as some philosophers have pointed out, if one did not have such causal conditions, one would never be able to do anything at all. From this it follows logically that causality is both necessary for free will and incompatible with it! Obviously something has gone wrong somewhere.