ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

On Free Will: A Meditation

Updated on May 19, 2016
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.

Today what I'd like to do, briefly, is examine the question of free will. Do we have it? Do we not have it? Or, is the very question a nonsense?

What is free will?

Well, I would say that "free" means: no cost or obligation for possession of something.

What is "will"? That's a slightly harder one. What do we mean when we purport to exercise "will"-power? Dieters often find that "willpower" alone fails them.

Perhaps it is correct to say that "will" is the "power" of self-direction.

Let us say that "will" is the "power" of either negative or positive self-direction. That is to say, that "will" is the power to make oneself not do something or do something.

But the idea of "power" comes up. What is power?

I'm going to skip one or two steps and tell you that the kind of power we're talking about, in this context is: the ability to accomplish something in spite of resistance.

Question: What "resistance" might we encounter in the matter of the self-directed will?

Answer: The inherently daunting nature of the task.

Question: What task?

Answer: In this case, we're talking about the total task of living.

Question: How so?

We can begin to sort things out this way: What is free will?

We can define the "will" part of (free) will like this: It is the self-directed power to make one not do things she ought not do and do things she ought to do.

What about the "free" part of free will? Once again, I shall skip one or two steps, to save time, and say that, in this context, what we mean is: There is nothing restraining you from not doing what you ought not do; and there is nothing restraining you from doing what you ought to do.

What is free will?

What we can begin to say is: Free will is the absence of external restraint to your not doing what you ought not do; and in your doing what you ought to do.

Let us remember that you do face resistance: the inherent (or 'internal') difficulty of the task. But since your will is "free," there is no external burden increasing the odds of your failure to either not do what you ought not do, or do what you ought to do.

Does that make sense?


Now, having said that, let us ask ourselves if the question of free will is even meaningful.

Is the matter of "free will" even meaningful?

Let's make an informal test. Let us apply "free will" to cigarette smoking.

Let us say that one ought not smoke. But if one does, he ought to quit.

For our purpose, then, let us take a smoker who ought to quit. Does he have free will to quit smoking cigarettes?

If we say yes, then what we're saying is that there is no external restraint which tilts the odds in favor of his failing to achieve that objective. We are saying that he is perfectly "free" to apply his self-directed will to the task of getting that monkey off his back. Is that clear? This absence of external restraint should make it easier (but not to say "easy") for him to quit smoking.

If we say no, then what we're saying is that there is some kind of external restraint which will tilt the odds in favor of his failing to achieve the objective of quitting smoking. What we're saying is that, in addition to the inherent (or 'internal') difficulty of the task, he is further challenged by a force outside himself, which exerts pressure on him to fail. That is to say, the application of his self-directed will cannot go about its work without external pressure. Of course, this is not to say that he cannot quit smoking because it happens every day.

Does one have "free will" to stop smoking cigarettes?

I would say no.

Question: Why?

Nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes, is known to be chemically and physically addictive. Your body simply has to have it. Smoking cigarettes is not like eating chocolate, which is very, very, very sweet and very, very, very good.

One can develop a compulsion to overindulge in chocolate. But as far as I know, chocolate is not actually chemically and physically addictive. One may say, "I am addicted to chocolate," but the word "addicted," in this instance, is hyperbole.

It will take discipline for you to break yourself of the compulsion to eat too much chocolate. But in the absence of actual chemically and physically addictive properties in chocolate, we have to admit that there is no external restraint which might tilt the odds in favor of you failing to reign in your sweet tooth.

Nicotine, being chemically and physically addictive, takes control of your body away from you, in a way that chocolate (which is merely a compulsion) can never do.

Therefore one does have "free will" in cutting back the chocolate intake.

But one does not have "free will" to stop smoking.

Let's try another one. Let's do one of the Christian ten commandments.

Let us say that a heterosexual, married man ought not even lust in his heart for another woman. You shall not even lust in your heart for another woman.

Is free will operative here?


Do you have the "free will" to not think about a pink elephant?

I doubt it. You have to think about it in order to know what you are to keep out of your mind. The exercise is like one of those hopeless Chinese finger traps. The injunction itself is the external restraint tilting the odds in favor of your failing to achieve your objective.

In fact, we're looking at a conceptual---though not grammatical---double negative. The inherent (or 'internal') difficulty of the task is spelled out in the prohibition. And it is that very prohibition, which impedes your ability to actually observe the prohibition. Maddeningly, the very act of "observing" the prohibition means that you fail.

Okay, enough of that. Let's get back on track.

Is free will operative in the commandment not to lust in the heart?

No because it is a hopelessly contradictory command not to think.

Is lusting a form of thinking?


Then what is thinking?

I would define "thinking" as the active or passive internal process of either calculating problems; or savoring good feelings about something or someone, or suffering (or wallowing) negative feelings about someone or something, or about oneself or a situation she is in.

Thinking is a kind of internal navigational process.

How does "lust" fit into all of this?

When we "lust" for something, we wish to hold in our grasp that which we behold with our eyes. The "thinking" involved takes the form of "yearning" (wallowing in desire). It may go to a more practical planning stage, in which one thinks about how he might possess the thing he yearns for.

If specific possession is out of the question, beyond possibility, then he will latch on to the very closest approximation he can lay his hands on.

To lust is to plan adultery?

It can lead to that.

Can a man avoid lust rising up within him?


Why not?

Because a person can never know what he wants before he sees it. But I like to "think" that most people who lust outside of committed relationships, only yearn in passing. Today this looks good, tomorrow its that which strikes your fancy.

Does the idea that God disapproves act as an external restraint on lusting in the heart?

If it did, the self-directed will not to do it would not be "free." But to the extent that a depersonalized "guilt" is attendant, then yes, the idea that God disapproves does act as an external restraint. But another name for "God" might be "custom" or "tradition" or the "super conscious."

Are all external restraints to the self-directed will always bad?

Given the synonyms I have just listed for "God," then to make such a sweeping generalization would be akin to saying that culture and tradition are invariably and uniformly bad. How can anyone say that about culture and tradition?

If you want to achieve the impossible goal of total free will, you would have to cut yourself off from all culture and tradition, as well as the "little voice in your head," which was put there by your upbringing in your family of origin. That kind of "freedom" is probably impossible. It is certainly not desirable.

Thank you for reading!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      2 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thank you for reading this, Frank. And please, if you would like to argue something with me, feel free. I welcome the feedback.

      Take it easy!


    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      2 years ago from Shelton

      free will to stop smoking.. hmm... you say no... again.. hmmm.. I think I like these types of hubs.. I can argue some of the points.. but I won't..:)


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)