Reading for Wednesday, June 24

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Tolstoy tackles the issue of free will. If there is a law, he says, that governs all of man’s actions – then we’re not really free. Everything we do is pre-determined by our make-up, our past, everything. It’s a kind of fatalism.

But yet – inside us – our consciousness perceives that we are free and that we get to make our own choices. So how do we reconcile this?

He touches briefly on Darwinism at the end, which says that all our behaviour is explained by evolution. But, says Tolstoy, even granting that – it doesn’t answer the question. It just agrees with his main point – but doesn’t explain our consciousness.

I’m sure modern Darwinists would disagree, and will quite happily give reasons for why we think the way we do, based on evolution as well. I’m also sure that theologians would also be dismissive of Tolstoy’s attempt to put evolution on the same level as God’s predestination (which he tries to argue for near the end of the chapter).

For Tolstoy, whether you are controlled by your evolutionary history or you are controlled by the sovereign will of God, you’re still a product of forces outside of you. They’re not quite the same thing, but from the point of view of being forces that act outside our consciousness, it follows on.

Anyway, he’s on a roll, and he’s got four chapters left, so I wouldn’t argue too much . . . the book will soon be over.

One thought on “One-Year War and Peace E2.8 – Free Will

  1. I must say that I’m finding these arguments a whole lot more interesting and absorbing than I did first time around. Like most people, I found the 2nd Epilogue pretty hard going at first. But now, as I think mentioned some time ago, I’ve found that I was much more prepared for it, and so was much more able to accept and appreciate it on its own terms.

    But, all that aside, the discussion about free will is certainly very confronting, and, even today, it seems pretty radical and daring to suggest that free will is just an illusion. I guess you could argue, from a Darwinian perspective, that it would be an evolutionary necessity to have a consciousness of free will (albeit a false consciousness) because that’s what ultimately translates into the drive to survive as a species – if we didn’t believe that we had free will, then we would be less likely to develop more and more sophisticated ways of ensuring that, as a spieces, we continue to thrive. We would become defeatist and would stagnate. Mind you, I don’t think Tolstoy is actually saing any of this – but I just found it interesting, since you mentioned the Darwn connection, Matt, to ponder where free will would fit in with a Darwinian view of history.

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