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Marielle Billig

PHIL 1001
December 17, 2015
Stump on Freedom of the Will: Eleonore Stump argues that the will for Aquinas is
neither a steering wheel for the intellect, nor a mere on-off toggle switch; at the same
time, nor is it necessary that there be alternate possibilities in every act of the free will (p.
291). To what extent do you agree with her conclusion, and do you think that her view and/or
Aquinas view makes sense?
With the amount of consideration given to deciding things in everyday life, from what
to eat for breakfast to what to major in to whether or not to write an optional philosophy
paper, it certainly seems that humans have free will. However, studying philosophy has made
it evident that ones first impression of reality is certainly not always correct. Philosophers
have been trying to reconcile the determination of the physical world with this apparent free
will of humanity for centuries. Stump uses her article, Aquinass Account of Freedom, to
explore how Aquinas interpreted this problem and compare it to her own thoughts on the
subject. I agree with Stump in that Aquinas views the will as neither a steering wheel nor as a
toggle switch for the intellect. However, her claims that Aquinas is a libertarian and an
incompatiblist are not as convincing.
A steering wheel is the instrument through which a car is moved, or rather, it is how
the motion is controlled or determined. The steering wheel however, is not the driver of the
car, who actually makes the real time decisions, nor is it the navigator, who helps provide
what is perceived as objective information to inform the drivers decisions. To claim that the
will is the steering wheel of the body would imply that it is being used by the driver to
control the motion and actions of the body. However, while I agree with Stump that Aquinas
would not agree with this description, I think his issue would arise not from the
representation of the will as neutral in its own right but able to direct other parts of the

person, but in the fact that there is not any element of goodness involved. Aquinas, like
Aristotle believed that the will necessarily willed the good, as determined by the intellect. I
think this is a very good point. I have heard it said that it is easy to bite off a finger as it is to
bite a carrot; yet no one does this because basically no one considers losing fingers to be
good. The biggest flaw, or perhaps strength, of this theory is that the good in general is
dependent on how the intellect interprets the world.
Aquinas, unlike Aristotle, cites that knowing and loving God is the ultimate goal that
humans strive for. I think this actually weakens his argument because instead of allowing the
good that is willed to be dependent on the intellect of that individual person it is now
dependent on an external and relatively constant source. This confounds the issue of free-will
because it would be like assuming every car on the road wants to get to the same place. If
this were true, their movements would seem basically random, which as we discussed earlier
in the class, is not the same thing as free. The only way to make the paths of the cars seem
reasonable is to consider that while all the cars have the same end goal in that they seek to
arrive at their final destination, the definition of final destination can very between two cars.
Another counterexample revolves around Adolf Hitler. To claim that he orchestrated the
Holocaust because he wanted to be closer to God seems ludicrous while to claim that he
orchestrated the Holocaust because he wanted personal power (something that seemed good
for him) and thought he was reasserting the dominance of his people (also good to him) at
least is consistent with the theory. It is in these complex situations where people do things
that dont make sense for many others that it becomes evident why the will also cannot be
considered as a toggle switch. The will does not simply accept, reject or avoid with regard to
the alternatives presented by the intellect. I am inclined to agree with Aquinas here because it
certainly seems as his the will actually can have dispositions and that it interacts extremely

closely with the intellect. He claims both the will and the intellect can be altered by the other.
It is in this way that people are able to convince themselves to think a certain way, simply
because they want to. It is interesting to consider racism in this context. If people were able
to think completely rationally, only using their intellect, perhaps racism would be reduced.
However, racist people often try to rationalize their behavior, or rather they will their intellect
to support their will, perhaps, thinking it will make themselves happier. This challenges the
steering wheel metaphor in a very significant way because it allows for the possibility of the
will influencing the intellect and obviously the steering wheel cannot influence the navigator
in any real sense.
The previous arguments are all dependent on the definition of free will as the ability
to choose between at least alternatives given the exact same previous causes occurred.
Aquinas definitively believes that the presence of alternative are necessary for free will. To
him if the efficient cause of action originated any except in the will or intellect, it was not an
act of free will. Stump cites the example where Satan possesses a person but since the root of
the intellect is now Satan and not the original persons, any actions resulting from this would
not be acts of free will because their efficient causes were not internal.
I understand this argument, however, I think is strange to talk about the origination
site of an efficient cause. It seems that every efficient cause, should itself, have an efficient
cause. For example, in the example of choosing to eat Oreos because Oreos increase
happiness, the efficient cause would be the idea that Oreos make you happy. Aquinas would
say that this efficient cause originated in the intellect and therefore this an act of free will.
However, I would ask where did that idea come from? Perhaps the child saw an
advertisement, heard a friend talking about them, or has some personal experience linking
Oreos and happiness. In that case, then would that previous event be the true efficient cause

of the act of eating Oreo? This line of logic is not altogether different from Mills
Necessitarianism and thus converges to a world where there are no alternatives.
Stump claims that Aquinas would have been an incompatiblist. While this may seem
initially true, I think Aquinas might at least consider compatibilism. This is because while
Aquinass view does include alternatives, it almost seems that the only way a different
outcome could have occurred would have been if the person had different values and beliefs
in their intellect, since for the most part the will will choose what the intellect portrays as
the good. Doesnt this violate the idea that the two alternatives have be possible given the
exact same situation, and if the knowledge or beliefs of the person changed, surely that
would be a different situation?
Ultimately, I believe Stump has written an interesting and accurate article on
Aquinass view of free will. While she brings up many interesting arguments, cases and
metaphors that help explain Aquinass views, she also imbues the subject with her own
opinions. This is not an issue, I would imagine that her goal was not simply to summarize
Aquinas. To some point, it is almost impossible to extrapolate how Aquinas would feel about
many of the more contemporary aspects of philosophy, however, the comparison between
contemporary and classical philosophy is an important way to gain understanding of past
philosophers and provide insights and inspire new theories.