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Of God and His Creatures
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CHAPTER LXXIIIThat Divine Providence is not inconsistent with Freedom of the Will

THE government of every prudent governor is ordained to the perfection of the things governed, to the gaining, or increasing, of maintenance of that perfection. An element of perfection then is more worthy of being preserved by providence than an element of imperfection and defect. But in inanimate things the contingency of causes comes of imperfection and defect: for by their nature they are determined to one effect, which they always gain, unless there be some let or hindrance arising either from limitation of power, or the interference of some external agent, or indisposition of subject-matter; and on this account natural causes in their action are not indifferent to either side of an alternative, but for the most part produce their effects uniformly, while they fail in a minority of instances. But that the will is a contingent cause comes of its very perfection, because its power is not tied to one effect, but it rests with it to produce this effect or that, wherefore it is contingent either way.655655To say that the will is ‘contingent either way’ means that, between two ways, it so takes one way as to be able to take the other. The question need not be raised here whether the two ways are opposed a contraries, or as contradictories. Therefore providence is more concerned to preserve the liberty of the will than to preserve contingency in natural causes.

2. It belongs to divine providence to use things according to their several modes. But a thing’s mode of action depends upon its form, which is the principle of action. But the form whereby a voluntary agent acts is not determinate: for the will acts through a form apprehended by the intellect; and the intellect has not one determined form of effect under its consideration, but essentially embraces a multitude of forms;656656In plain English, the intellect does not think of one thing only to do, but of many courses of action. and therefore the will can produce multiform effects.

3. The last end of every creature is to attain to a likeness to God (Chap. XVII): therefore it would be contrary to providence to withdraw from a creature that whereby it attains the divine likeness. But a voluntary agent attains the divine likeness by acting freely, as it has been shown that there is free will in God (B. I, Chap. LXXXVIII).

4. Providence tends to multiply good things in the subjects of its government. But if free will were taken away, many good things would be withdrawn. The praise of human virtue would be taken away, which is nullified where good is not done freely: the justice of rewards and punishments would be taken away, if man did not do good and evil freely: wariness and circumspection in counsel would be taken away, as there would be no need of taking counsel about things done under necessity. It would be therefore contrary to the plan of providence to withdraw the liberty of the will.657657I have endeavoured to lend this contested argument some support in Political and Moral Essays, Essay VI, Morality without free will.

Hence it is said: God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel: before man is life and death, whatever he shall please shall be given him (Ecclus xv, 14-17).

Hereby is excluded the error of the Stoics, who said that all things arose of necessity, according to an indefeasible order, which the Greeks called ymarmene (εἱμαρμένη).


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