In Leviathan, Hobbes argues that it is not the will that is free but that which exercises the will. So is there only will, exercised by beings who may or may not be free?

  • It may be good to scope the question to only the writings of Hobbes and writings directly answering Hobbes, else the question becomes too broad.
    – tkruse
    Nov 6, 2023 at 9:38
  • Yes. There is an empirical notion of volition or "willing" in psychology, and it is non-controversial as an observed aspect of human behavior. Whether some of it it is "free" and in what sense, is subject to metaphysical debates, but it is an added characteristic beyond mere willing for all of their participants, including those who deny that it occurs in humans.
    – Conifold
    Nov 7, 2023 at 6:59

4 Answers 4


In Leviathan Hobbes attempts a definition of freedom compatible with his deterministic views. "Freedom" in this book is to be understood as "political freedom", not "metaphysical freedom".

His views about will is that our desires are determined, and what we ultimately want to do (our will) depends on those desires. I want an extra cookie from the cookie jar, but I also want to obey mama so she does not get angry: from the respective strength of those two desires will emerge my decision to pick from the jar or not.

Similar arguments can be found in Spinoza or Schopenhauer. The latter summarized it in the formula "You can do what you will, but you can not will what you will". There is, after all, a circular paradox under the idea that we could choose our desires: we choose according to what we want, so how could we make a choice about what we want?

In this context what Hobbes calls freedom is merely the abscence of impediment when we act to fullfil a given desire. Chains, a fence, a guard, preventing us from fullfiling our desire make us not free. From this Hobbes draws on the idea of a Social Contract, or the idea that every members of a society should sacrifice part of their freedom to be guaranteed the maximum possible ammount and thrive together.

I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner.

So to answer OP's question in the Leviathan's context: will is determined, and freedom is our practical ability to act according to our will. The more things we can do without impediment the more free we are, but this freedom can in turn impede the action of other people, hence the need for a powerful regulating government (poeticaly represented by the almighty Leviathan monster from the Bible).


What is described here, is a realization that if not experienced, cannot be logically communicated - yes there are these kind of truths.

I will make a try though.

The concept is fundamental in all spiritual and religious cultures from ancient times: Your emotions and thoughts are not you, are not yours; you are that which lies behind; you are that which experiences these things.

So, what he says is that, if you can realise that you are, what lies behind, then you can exercise a will that it is free, because you have escaped the loop of feel-think-act as an automated process, (since you know that you can be the coordinator of the process) you are not bound to the thoughts and emotions that lead you like a "slave" to action.

The whole thing is like being I, me and myself.

"I" is what lies behind. It's not just an abstract concept, it's concrete, think of it that which has the will.

"Me" is the emotions and thoughts. It's the echo of experiences relative to the "I".

"Myself" is my social-conditioning life. Job, reputation, etc

Only by identifying yourself as this kind of entity it is possible to exercise a free-will in this sense. Unfortunately this is a self-realisation thing, it cannot be logically explained. I hope this helps clarifying.

  • Del la Soul expressed that as, just Me, myself and I. Kinda rolls of the tongue more fluidly. However, that is not a criticism.
    – 8Mad0Manc8
    Nov 5, 2023 at 21:36
  • Indeed, more poetic! Nov 5, 2023 at 21:39

No. Will is always free from other wills and any causal necessity.

A non-free will is an incoherent or at least undefined concept.


Yes, there is a difference between will and free will. Will can be yours or others , for example - God’s will or Devil’s will. A notion of free will arises when a choice appears. Choice may get executed spontaneously or causally or unpredictabily. When a choice is dictated by God , Devil or your wife etc then free will is understood as God’s will or your wife’s will etc. Will does not disappear, it just shifts from one self to other. Free will is impermanent. It arises , changes and vanishes , therefore we can not call free will as self or a being with free will.

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