[opening paragraph]: Our sense of free will (volitional control) depends upon a balance between reliability and flexibility in relation to cause-and-effect. Without the former, all outcomes would be arbitrary; without the latter, all outcomes would be predetermined. In neither case would there be any way of putting one's will into effect. So much is clear, yet establishing that precarious balance has proved so difficult that Kant himself declared ‘freedom of the will’ to be one of only three metaphysical problems which lie beyond the powers of the human intellect (Kant, 1788). Western debate on this topic reflects a complex ethical and religious inheritance. Insights from Greek philosophy and Hebrew scripture were combined and filtered through Christian and Jewish traditions which developed in late antiquity and through the middle ages. These formed the context for the Enlightenment, whose dominant thinkers in turn provide the backdrop against which today's scholars act and react.
Document Type: Review Article
Department of Physiology, University of California, San Francisco.
Publication date: August 1, 1999