As has often enough been remarked, there is a curious paradox attending the problem of freedom, which lends to all argument about it a certain air of unreality. For whatever be the outcome of theory, it seems just not possible to engage in practice without believing that one is free; and free even in the so-called 'popular' or 'vulgar' sense of being the arbiter between genuinely open possibilities. The Determinist philosopher may in his philosophising convince himself that a freedom of 'open possibilities' is sheer illusion, hopelessly untenable in theory, and even (perhaps) seriously mischievous in practice. He may sincerely believe that there is not one major proposition in the whole field of philosophy upon which confidence is more amply justified than that which affirms the irrefragable causal continuity of all things within the universe. And yet - paradox of paradoxes! - in the very next deliberate act of will that he performs he gives the lie to his own considered doctrine by tacitly, but insistently, claiming personal exemption from the universal order. For no amount of sophistication, it would seem, can rid a man of what Sidgwick has called' the immediate affirmation of consciousness in the moment of deliberate action.' 1 Illusory this affirmation of freedom may be, but it bears all the marks of being an 'illusion' which philosophy itself is powerless to eradicate, an 'illusion' inexpugnable from the experience of a self-conscious conative being.
1 Methods of Ethics (6th ed.), p. 65.
That this deliverance of the practical consciousness is not illusory but veridical will be the thesis of this and the following chapter. And although I cannot yet define with precision the nature and scope of the freedom which I wish to defend, this much may be said at once. It is in all essential respects the freedom believed in by the plain man.1 I am prepared to maintain the literal truth of such asseverations as that of the plain man who, having (as we say) given way to temptation, obstinately refuses the asylum of convenient psychologies and philosophies and insists that he is rightly to be blamed, for 'he could have acted otherwise.' Nor do I mean merely that he 'could have acted otherwise,' if his 'character' had been different; but, quite simply, that character and circumstances being what they were, the agent could nevertheless have willed the believed higher course. Naturally, it will be no part of my purpose to deny that formed character has a potent bearing upon the direction of the will in conduct. No sane philosophy can thus turn its back upon obvious facts. I shall attempt later to indicate what exactly I take this influence to be. But, I shall urge, it is of fundamental importance to recognise that man is ever more than his formed character at any moment. Formed character is an abstraction from personality - the latter involving, as indeed its most distinctive feature, the constant potency of creative activity. A being who could not express himself save in the response of his formed character to the given situation would not be a 'person,' but just a spiritual corpse.
1 One naturally feels a good deal of diffidence in setting out to recommend a doctrine of free will of a type adherence to which appears to be almost universally regarded as a sure mark of philosophic immaturity. The Idealist tradition in philosophy, no less than the Materialist, has been active in pouring contempt and ridicule upon a freedom of 'open possibilities.' For Spinoza, the vulgar conception of freedom 'provokes either laughter or disgust' (Ethics, ii. 35, Schol.). And Bradley has roundly declared that 'no philosopher who respects himself can be called on any longer to treat it seriously' (Appearance and Reality, p. 435, note). I can here only register, leaving to the text to justify, my firm conviction that it is entirely possible to appreciate the reasons underlying the prevailing disparagement, and at the same time to reject these reasons as utterly inadequate.
There is no experience, perhaps, in which man's sense of spiritual livingness is so keen as where he is engaged in combating this 'formed character,' which from an abstractly psychological point of view is sometimes mistaken for his intrinsic self. It is precisely because man is, and knows himself to be, something more than the complex of habits, tendencies, sentiments, etc., which he might enumerate in giving a so-called 'psychological' account of himself, that he finds himself able at once to deny that his choice is adequately explained as issuing from his formed character, and at the same time to insist that it does, nevertheless, issue from his self.
Shortly I shall proceed to the elaboration of this view, and to its defence against the manifold objections which any such view almost automatically evokes in the mind of the philosopher. In the Section which now follows, however, I propose to make some comments upon the Idealist doctrine of freedom. And that for two reasons. Firstly, because the adoption in the present work of the general standpoint and starting-point of the Idealist philosophy makes it desirable to show how this important Idealist doctrine is affected when we substitute, as we are now obliged to do, the Supra-rational for the Rational Absolute; and secondly, because it is extremely important to see clearly at once that the type of freedom which Idealism undertakes to defend has nothing whatever to do with that freedom which constitutes the traditional problem of philosophy - in which connection I hope to show that the freedom which is the perennial subject of human interest is precisely that which I am endeavouring to vindicate in this and the succeeding chapter.