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According to Spinoza humans do not have free will. It is merely an illusion. But in his political tractatus he also wrote that men should have the freedom to choose a religion. But if one has the freedom to choose a religion doesn't this imply free will? Or is this kind of freedom also just an illusion?

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    Spinoza's "free will" for humans is compatibilist (i.e. compatible with determinism), only God/Nature is "entirely" free, see Astore's commentary, human freedom is in aligning themselves with God/Nature. As for "illusion", the word has pejorative connotations in this context, for compatibilists their version of "free will" is the only real one, and the naive libertarian alternative to it is unintelligible. To Spinoza that is the illusion. – Conifold Jun 6 '18 at 18:00
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    You should consider a difference between someone else's will (or circumstances) being imposed on you by acts of humans and leaving you no choice regardless the metaphysical status of free will (freedom of choice), the talk of free will and its place in moral discourse (freedom as a concept), and metaphysical free will (freedom as ontological matter of fact). Those are three different layers of the discourse on "freedom". Compatibilist theories mostly consider the concept as implying the reality and an expression of the importance of freedom in discourse without making ontological inferences. – Philip Klöcking Jun 6 '18 at 20:07
  • I don't know Spinoza well but those who say that freewill is not a fundamental phenomenon would say that our choice of religion is conditioned, thus not free. But it would be free in the sense that we are free to follow our conditioning. Likewise, God would be free but only in the sense that He is free to act as He must given what He is. (Which is Lao Tsu's view put in theistic language). I wonder if Spinoza was this sort of compatabilist. – PeterJ Jun 9 '18 at 11:44
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In the Ethics, Spinoza states :

Determinism

In nature there is nothing contingent, but all things have been determined from the necessity of the divine nature to exist and operate in a certain way : In rerum natura nullum datur contingens sed omnia ex necessitate divinæ naturæ determinata sunt ad certo modo existendum et operandum. (Spinoza, Ethics, I, proposition 29 : Spinoza, Ethics, tr. G.H.R. Parkinson, Oxford : OUP, 2000, 99.)

But what our our experience of freedom ?

One of the strongest arguments for an inde terministic and eo ipso for a non-necessitarian position is that in acting we, at least sometimes, are directly aware that we could have done otherwise. Spinoza deals with this problem in 3p2s. He argues that direct awareness of freedom cannot justify belief in freedom to do otherwise, because sometimes experience tells that this awareness of freedom is illusory. We grant that there are cases when we thought we were acting freely, even though we are now convinced that something made us to do what we now repent. Thus, Spinoza argues, it is not contrary to experience to hold that there are always such causes, and that the illusory experience of freedom to do otherwise has its root in the ignorance of those causes. (Olli Koistinen, 'Spinoza's Proof of Necessitarianism', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 67, No. 2 (Sep., 2003), pp. 283-310 : 307.)

So is there no freedom or free will ?

There is freedom or free will but not unqualifiedly. Here is a good exposition of the point :

Baruch Spinoza is known for his powerful notion of freedom, which consists in a certain partial autonomy firmly situated within his natu ralism. He offers the view that individuals have freedom of action, in a measure, because they have a place in nature, and, within that locus, they may exert a real influence, although that influence is not absolute and indeed is severely limited. It is through this influence that freedom has its relevance and moral significance. Our salvation will come, if it comes at all, through following the dictates of reason?the unique path to freedom. Only confusion and error can arise when the matter is dis cussed in terms of a free will based on indeterminism. Spinoza has an earnest skepticism about the reliability of the will and the commonsense notion of how thought leads to action. Indeed, the will is not a cause of action, but an aspect of mind, and the function of mind is solely to think. (Angus Kerr-Lawson, 'Freedom and Free Will in Spinoza and Santayana', The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, New Series, Vol. 14, No. 4 (2000), pp. 243- 267 : 243.)

Very roughly, Spinoza does not see the will as a distinct faculty; it is one and the same with intellect. When the intellect thinks rationally it is uncoerced. Spinoza doesn't use the following example but it may help. In 'If p, then q; p; therefore q' (modus ponens) there is logical necessity : the truth of the premises, if they are true, necessitates the truth of the conclusion (q). But when I work through an example of modus ponens my intellect operates with uncoerced rationality. I am not pre-programmed deterministically to conclude that q; my rational intellect spontaneously follows the logic. This is freedom.

Free necessity

To spell out matters a bit more :

Spinoza explicitly uses the phrase "free necessity": "I say that a thing is free, which exists and acts solely by the necessity of its own nature. Thus also God understands Himself and all things freely, because it follows solely from the necessity of His nature, that He should understand all things. You see I do not place freedom in free decision, but in free necessity" (letter 62 of October 1674; Ethics 2: 390). According to his construal, freedom means autonomy and is not concerned with an ability to decide among alternative actions. He is fully aware that what he is calling freedom is quite different from the free will discussed in the schools, a notion that he derides. According to freedom in his sense, we are free to the extent that the ways of nature?the will of God?can be realized in us according to the dictates of reason; however, all is predetermined, so this is not a free will depending on causal lapses or on choices coming from outside the realm of nature. (Angus Kerr-Lawson, 'Freedom and Free Will in Spinoza and Santayana', The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, New Series, Vol. 14, No. 4 (2000) : 246.)

This is as clearly as I can state Spinoza's views on determinism and freedom.

References

  • This confuses me. Kerr-Lawson claims Spinosa believes "that individuals have freedom of action, in a measure, because they have a place in nature, and, within that locus, they may exert a real influence, although that influence is not absolute and indeed is severely limited". So they have free will. Then Kerr-Lawson quotes Spinoza writing in a letter, "You see I do not place freedom in free decision, but in free necessity". So there is no free will. Perhaps Spinoza's position is contradictory. – Frank Hubeny Jun 27 '18 at 13:40
  • @Frank Hubeny. I see your point. I need to think about it. Best - Geoff – Geoffrey Thomas Jun 27 '18 at 14:00

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