The Wikipedia article on "secondary causation" notes the following without footnote:

According to the Jewish Torah which brought down the original idea in Genesis, the phrase "free will" is a mistranslation from the Torah, rather what humans are given is "freedom to choose". Freedom to choose to do God's Will at all times even though God gave us a good inclination and a not-good inclination to use in choosing, we are told "Therefore choose life".

I don't see the difference between free will and freedom to choose. What would that difference be?

References to literature that make this distinction clear are most welcome.

Wikipedia contributors. "Secondary causation." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 Apr. 2018. Web. 16 Mar. 2019.

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    The difference is relevant theologically in whether created beings have genuine causal powers (secondary causation), or God is not just the first cause but the only cause, and hence his involvement is continuously needed to actualize their choices (as in Leibniz's pre-established harmony), see SEP Creation and Conservation. Latin liberum arbitrium is Aquinas's translation of Aristotle's to eph' hemin, not of Torah.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 3:01
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    According to Cudworth, there is a an important difference. Freedom to choose doesn't involve morality, whereas the exercise of free will may be praise- or blame-worthy. ia800406.us.archive.org/16/items/b28149294/b28149294.pdf
    – Bread
    Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 17:19
  • @Bread I have been reading Cudworth off and on based on your previous recommendations. I will continue reading that with the idea of morality being involved in free will but not in freedom to choose. That would be one way to make a difference between these two. Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 21:02
  • Just one more observation following my rant below @PeterJ : The choice of translation would speak respectively to an internal or external observer.
    – christo183
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 12:13

2 Answers 2


The Torah is saying that we have a choice between surrender to God or to the Ego. Here 'God may be interpreted as a Divine being separate to ourselves or as 'Being' and the essential part of ourselves.

Either way, freewill is not evident except in the choice of who or what governs our behaviour. If we surrender to a conjectural God we must act as we believe He would. If we surrender to our innate Being we must discover it and act accordingly. If we surrender to the ego then we are at the mercy of our beliefs, conditioning and temperament. In all case freewill is not evident except in the singular choice of whose rules we follow.

Yet that choice does seem to be a free one and thus to qualify as freewill, albeit that the choice is so limited that freedom hardly seems to be the right word.

The Torah is not alone in its view of freewill but gives what may be the most common view in religion and mysticism. This would explain, for instance, why Islam promotes surrender to God not freedom of action, which is bound to be egoistic thus not free, and why Buddhism does not blame the misuse of freewill for our troubled lives but ignorance of the facts of our situation. It also explains the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas that sin, as such, does not exist. This would be because we do not have freewill beyond our ability to serve the master of our choice, as suggested by the Torah.

Whether even this choice is actually free is not clear to me. It seems possible that it is only by acquiring some knowledge of God or Being that this choice becomes available to us, and if we have sufficient knowledge it may no longer be a choice but might seem to be a necessity.

All in all it's difficult to see how pure freewill makes sense. Even a monotheistic God must follow His own nature.

  • +1 Nonetheless, I'm puzzled. From a physicalist perspective if we do not have free will we do not have the ability to make that choice to surrender. If we do have the ability to make that choice to surrender then we have all the free will that we need. This is why there appears to me to be no difference between "free will" and "freedom to choose". But apparently the writers of the Wikipedia article when referencing occasionalism think there is some difference. Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 20:59
  • @FrankHubeny - Yes, I agree. They seem to be the same thing. If it really is a choice then it really is a free one. This apparent choice is a counterexample to my view of freewill that I haven't yet managed to properly eliminate.
    – user20253
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 13:12
  • @FrankHubeny Semantically "freedom to choose" (FtC) would be when an agent is unconstrained by external forces, and "freewill" (FW) would be the agent's capacity to exercise choice. To an external observer FW can only be inferred, while FtC would be readily apparent; but they will never be in conflict. However some "external forces" can be internalized: (I do not feel free to choose murder, though I feel like I could sometimes). Thus to an internal observer there may be conflict between what the agent is FtC and what pure FW would enact. Of course then it becomes a strange loop...
    – christo183
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 11:36
  • @PeterJ The act of surrendering would be a continuous process. Eg. every decision would entail firstly asking "what would X do?" (compare Proverbs3:6 "...in all your ways submit to him...") Interesting that in this way, with the temporal included, an agency would repeatedly and freely choose not to be free.
    – christo183
    Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 11:46
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    @christo183 I liked your question on forgetting, but I did not have a reference to justify any answer. The loop idea tries to keep the explanation for memory or freedom within an individual. One can use a field approach, view both consciousness and memory as fields, and then our individualities become less distinct. Here I am trying to understand better the Jewish perspective on free will and freedom to choose. Why do they want to make this distinction? It may be just a kind of perspective on a loop as I think you are saying. Commented Mar 28, 2019 at 12:51

If "free will" is mistranslation and the correct translation is "freedom of choice", then it may be that "freedom of choice" does not refer to "free will", so why mix them in the first place. It may simply mean that God gave us choice to do bad thing or to follow Scripture.

  • It may be a mistranslation, but wouldn't this freedom of choice mean that we have enough free will to make that choice? I wonder what the difference is between those two terms. What does free will include that freedom of choice does not? Thank you for the answer. +1 Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 10:30
  • @FrankHubeny i suggest that the two phrases have completely different meanings which do not even intersect. Free will means capability to choose, and freedom of choice means possiblity to choose. For example, one can have free will while not having freedom to choose what he wills. Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 10:41
  • If you have any reference that makes this distinction that might be helpful. It would give me a place to go for more information that you have already found useful. Commented Mar 16, 2019 at 13:20

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