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Art. VI.-An Examination of President Edwards' Inquiry into
the Freedom of the Will. By ALBERT Taylor BLEDSOE. Philadelphia: H. Hooker, 16 South-seventh street. 1845.
The Inquiry of President Edwards into the Freedom of the Will has long been regarded, and with great justice, as a master-piece of human reasoning. It has been considered by its admirers as approaching the nearest to “demonstration” of anything out of the mathematics; and, unless we may except the writings of Chillingworth, certainly nothing in the whole range of theology can be accounted, in this respect, superior to it. Attempts had often been made to refute it, but all without success. The well-provided argument of Edwards, anticipating almost every objection which had hitherto been raised against it, like well-tempered armor, had resisted every attack, and turned the weapons of its adversaries broken or blunted to the ground. The Inquiry has always come out from the furnace of severe argumentation apparently purified, but not consumed. Still, the common sense of mankind has almost uniformly been found on the other side. Men have been puzzled and mystified by the acuteness of the reasoning, but have not been convinced. Reasons have been drawn dehors, (as the lawyers would lerm it,) to show that the consequences of the doctrine would be of the most absurd and ruinous nature; that they would involve the world in the iron bonds of fatalism, that the freedom of the will would be but a name. Still, the advocates of the doctrine, though denying that any such consequences would follow, have turned to the undisturbed argument of their champion, and replied, “Show us the defect there." “Point us to the step in the whole process of the reasoning which does not wait on the one preceding, and lead to the one beyond. Show us the fault in his premises, the non sequitur in his conclusions, then will we admit the argument of Edwards to be unsound; but not before." Mr. Bledsoe has taken up this challenge, and has shown himself fully adequate to the task assumed.
We deem the work of Mr. Bledsoe to be a full, direct, and incontrovertible refutation of the celebrated Inquiry of President Edwards. It is certainly a little remarkable that in the long and ingenious controversy which has been carried on upon this subject, it has always been taken for granted that the will is determined. The very language in which Edwards sets forth the question which comprehends the subject of his Inquiry, shows that it was not at all within the scope of his design to discover whether the will is determined; but (taking it for granted that it is) to learn " what determines the will ?" We would not wish to be otherwise than serious on so important a subject, but it brings to our mind a welltold anecdote related by Archbishop Whateley in his “ Historic Doubts," as nearly as our memory serves us, to the following effect. “The question was propounded, as an objection to the system of Copernicus, when it was first introduced, 'Why it was, that when a stone was thrown into the air, it did not, on account of the revolution of the earth on its axis, fall to the westward of the person throwing it; just as a ball, dropped from the top of a mast, instead of falling at its foot, falls as far toward the stern of the vessel as the vessel has proceeded on its way?' The sage philosophers, not at a loss for a moment for a theory to explain the phenomenon, immediately took sides; some contending that it was because the centrifugal force of the earth differed from the motion of the vessel; others, that it was because the stone was a part of the earth, but no part of the vessel : each in turn attacking and repelling until, from being a war of words, it was like to become a war in deeds." At last it occurred to some one of the belligerents, to inquire whether the difference which had been made the groundwork and substratum of their discussion really existed. The experiment was tried, and strange to relate, the stone which was dropped from the top, instead of falling far astern, (as the terms of their discussion required,) fell quietly at the foot of the mast, and thus put an end to the fine-wrought theories which had thus playfully been started into existence.
The discussions on the freedom of the will might have been brought much sooner to a satisfactory determination, had the contending parties first inquired into the existence of the fact which was to be made the basis of their subsequent theories. But such was not their course. Both Edwards and his opponents, the libertarians and the necessitarians, have started from the same pointthe admission that the will is determined-and their great difference has been in regard to the cause by which it is effected; the one contending that the will is determined by the strongest motive, and the other, that the will determines itself. It is singular, that when such unanswerable objections were raised to each of their theories respectively, that it did not occur to their advocates that there was an error at the very start. While on the one hand the unassailable reasoning of Edwards led to a system of necessity, of fatalism, (and that too by the same path that had been pursued by Hobbes and Collins,) a system which is repugnant to our feelings, our ideas of religion, and the idea of moral responsibility; still, the self-determining power of the will had been reduced to an absolute absurdity by the author of the Inquiry, from which the believers in moral liberty had never been able to relieve it. Mr. Bledsoe is the only writer who has placed the doctrine of the freedom of the will upon its proper foundations. West may have had glimpses of the true doctrine, but if he had, he never boldly and strenuously followed it out. Others may have in terms denied the premises of Edwards, but they never placed their denial upon intelligible and tangible grounds. It is easy to deal in sweeping assertions, but it is sometimes difficult to commend them by logical deduction to the minds of those who are seeking for truth. And nowhere has this fact been more clearly manifested, than in the discussions which have taken place on the freedom of the will.
What then was the doctrine of Edwards? And what are the objections of Mr. Bledsoe to it? The great and leading idea in the work of the former is, that volition is an effect—that it is caused by the producing influence of something else—that it is an effect, precisely in the same way that the changes of matter are effects. True it is, that some of his disciples have denied that he has treated volition as an effect, in this sense; but nevertheless, we do not hesitate to affirm that in all parts of his reasoning essential to his scheme, he has used the term “cause,” for that which brings something to pass by its producing influence, and the term "effect," for that which is thus brought to pass. We are aware that Edwards himself says
“ Before I enter on any argument on this subject, I would explain how I would be understood, when I use the word cause in this discourse; since, for want of a better word, I shall have occasion to use it in a sense which is more extensive than that in which it is sometimes used. The word is often used in so restrained a sense as to signify only that which has a positive efficiency or influence to produce a thing, or bring it to pass. But there are many things which have no such positive productive influence, which are yet causes in this respect, that they have truly the nature of a reason why some things are, rather than others; or why they are thus, rather than otherwise. Thus the absence of the sun in the night is not the cause of the fall of the dew at that time, in the same manner as its beams are the cause of the ascent of vapors in the daytime; and its withdrawment in the winter is not in the same manner the cause of the freezing of the waters, as its approach in the spring is the cause of their thawing. But yet the withdrawment or absence of the sun is an antecedent, with which these offects in the night and winter are connected, and on which they depend; and is one thing that belongs to the ground and reason why they come to pass at that time, rather than at other times; though the ab
sence of the sun is nothing positive, nor has any positive influence. ... Therefore, I sometimes use the word 'cause,' in this Inquiry, to signify any antecedent, either natural or moral, positive or negative, on which an event, either a thing, or the manner and circumstance of a thing, so depends, that it is the ground and reason, either in whole, or in part, why it is, rather than not; or why it is as it is, rather than otherwise or, in other words, any antecedent with which a consequent event is so connected, that it truly belongs to the reason why the proposition which affirms that event is true; whether it has any positive influence or not. And agreeably to this, I sometimes use the word “effect' for the consequence of another thing, which is perhaps rather an occasion than a cause, most properly speaking.”—Pp. 50, 51.
He here seems to anticipate that this would be the point of attack, and has, therefore, under the cover of a most general definition, endeavored to conceal the real sense in which the term “cause” is used in the Inquiry. Mr. Bledsoe has collected a number of passages from the different portions of the Inquiry, and has shown from them that Edwards has almost uniformly used the word “cause" in the restricted sense. And it may be confidently asserted that there is no portion of the reasoning which is essential to his peculiar theory, in which he does not use, and to the force of which reasoning it is not necessary that he should use, the word "cause, as the producing influence of, and not the mere occasion, ground, or reason for, volition; and that if you take from the word this restricted sense, you take from the reasoning its very pith and marrow.
No man who shall read the Examination of President Edwards' Inquiry, with his mind directed to this point, can fail to perceive that the causality of cause is “wrought into the very substance and structure of his whole argument.” Take, for instance, the principal doctrine, that the strongest motive determines the will. Search the reasoning by which it is sustained, and say if its whole force does not rest in the idea that the influence of the motive causes the will to be thus, and not otherwise. What force is there in what is said about the strength of motives, if there is not something in that strength which acts with influence on the will? What is meant by the expression that "the voluntary action, which is the immediate consequence of the mind's choice, is DETERMINED by that which appears most agreeable," unless this voluntary action, which is determined by what is most agreeable, is the effect produced, brought to pass, by a competent cause? Take the application which Edwards makes of the maxim, that “every effect must have a cause;" what pertinency is there in it in the connection in which he introduces it, unless volition is an effect which must have a cause ? Every one knows the sense in which the term “cause” is used in this maxim. It does not mean occasion, ground, reason, but it means that which calls the effect into being. It does not mean merely an antecedent, it is a producing influence which is meant. Now Edwards either used the maxim in the same sense, or he was guilty of an unpardonable trick; or else he was ignorant of its proper application : of neither of which last alternatives have we ever for one moment suspected him. Every one who has ever read the “Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will,” knows that he has made much use of the maxim referred to, for the very purpose of showing that volitions must have had a cause, and have, therefore, been effects in the same sense. And, when treating volitions as effects which must have a cause, and in reply to an objection respecting a difference in the nature of the free acts of the will from other things, he says,—“It is not the particular kind of effects that makes the absurdity of supposing it has being without a cause, but something which is common to all things that ever begin to be, viz., that they are not self-existent or necessary in the nature of things.”
This quotation, we think, sets forth clearly the views of Edwards on the nature of volitions as effects, and the sense in which all his reasoning required that they should be understood. The phenomena of nature are divided into two kinds; those which are selfexistent or necessary in the nature of things, and those which are not. The former require no cause ; the latter do. Volitions are not self-existent or necessary in the nature of things; they therefore require a cause to bring them into existence. He makes no distinction here between volitions as effects, and any other events as effects.
Again: take his notion and reasoning respecting liberty. What is the end of his chapter on that subject? Why, to show that notwithstanding our volitions may be necessitated, notwithstanding they may be effects brought about by the prevailing influence of their causes, still liberty consists in doing what we will; to show that though the will itself may be bound by an adamantine chain, still if we are not constrained to act against it, or restrained from acting in accordance with it, we are in a state of perfect liberty. The manner in which Mr. Bledsoe has exposed the sophistry of this argument, and taken from the system of Edwards the only prop that supported an apparent consistency between a necessitated will and moral liberty, by showing that liberty as thus understood is nothing more than physical liberty, is worthy of special notice. He has most clearly shown that Edwards skillfully (we will not say designedly) made use of a popular and almost political meaning of