Free Choice of the Will

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The question of evil, which has been studied by philosophers for centuries, can find an answer in the ability of man to choose. Evil can take different forms including pain, suffering, malice and ill-intentioned actions towards oneself and others. Some people assure that their actions are never intended towards evil, but they are held responsible for their actions regardless of their intentions. This happens due to one’s human desire for goodness which makes one find a way to deal with evil around them. How is it, however, that one might see an individual willfully doing evil, even if it is not intended? Looking into the account of evil given by Augustine of Hippo a theory can be found. In the Confessions, he holds that the source of evil is the free choice of the will (Confessions: Book 7, III).

There is, of course, a natural human impulse to try to find reasons for the different occurrences of evil, to identify the individuals responsible for men’s suffering of evil and to hold them accountable if possible. Augustine examined the cause of human suffering evil and thought it was a result of God’s just judgment after they use their free choice of the will. He refers to instances where acts are done without an intention of evil or being purposely at fault, but having to confront repercussions which he saw as God’s just punishment for the actions performed (Confessions: Book 7, III). In discerning the cause of suffering and evil, Augustine became aware that he had a will, as much as he had a life, which made him do certain things and not do others. He accepted that, when he chose to act a certain way, it was by his own volition and not pressed by anyone or anything. This for him was the source of sin and evil. In his quest to comprehend how this evil sprang from us, Augustine pondered the question of where this evil came from, considering that in his view, man was created ‘good’ (Confessions: Book 7, V). In On Free Choice of the Will Augustine makes his friend Evodius aware of what he calls a good will. This good will is the will by which one seeks to live rightly and honorably and to come to the highest wisdom (On Free Choice of the Will: Book I, XII-83). Augustine chastises his friend Evodius for not knowing if he wants to know whether or not he has a will. (On Free Choice of the Will: Book I, XII-82). A common goal in every single person is to live an honorable life and to live rightly; the means by which one obtains this honorable and right life are what differ between men and determines whether or not they have a good will. Augustine makes clear with Evodius that unless men’s will is to have knowledge and to reach a state of wisdom, then there is no point in addressing the question of will, for there is no intention to be wise or virtuous. The good will is what drives people to do what is right and just, and failure to adhere to it with reason will bring about instances of a disgraceful and unhappy life. Augustine argues that those who love this good will and hold it in high regards will show it by doing the will itself (On Free Choice of the Will: Book I, XIII-90). Therefore, it can be said that it is by the will that a happy life is achieved, since, as previously established, the good will bring us to an honorable and righteous way of living.

When evil is identified in its various forms, there are several factors that lead men to arrive at the evil outcome at hand. Humans have a tendency always to lay the blame on something or someone other than themselves. In discerning the free choice of the will, Augustine came to the realization that whatever he did, it was done because he willed it so, not others pressing on him (Confessions: Book 7, III). He focused on that as the place where his sin (evil) lay. His affirmation reveals how the will is the ultimate source for our actions. Aside from what kind of action these might be in terms of their nature, the free choice of will is what brings feelings, emotions, and...
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