Even the more confident advocates of Determinism are, as a rule, prepared to admit that the immediate affirmation of consciousness at the moment of deliberate action' does constitute a real difficulty.1 For this practical conviction' of freedom is, to all appearances, inexpugnable from human nature. Moreover, although it is spoken of as a 'practical' conviction, which suggests a distinction from 'theoretical' convictions, it is quite evident that the distinction must not be interpreted as meaning that the 'practical' conviction does not claim to be true. It assuredly does claim 'truth.' That it is practical does not mean that it is pragmatical - claiming only to be 'useful.' If we oppose it to 'theoretical' conviction, it can only be on the ground of the peculiarly intimate relation which it bears, both as to stimulus and as to content, to the conative side of our experience.
But the Determinist is apt to retort, prima facie with a good deal of justice, that the difficulties in the way of accepting this immediate affirmation of consciousness are incomparably greater. Against its implicit claim that there are genuinely open possibilities, that there is no irrevocable causal continuity, a formidable array of objections can readily be marshalled. We must defer detail meantime. But, to speak generally, we have got to recognise (1) that for many metaphysicians the'intelligibility of reality' has the force of an a priori postulate of thought; (2) that the achievements of science have rendered the hypotheses of causal continuity almost unassailable in respect of those material processes which are, by reason of their relative simplicity, most readily susceptible of accurate observation and crucial experiment;1 which suggests the natural enough inference that it is only the greater intricacy of the factors involved which obstructs the discovery of irrevocable law in those highly complex material processes into which the human organism enters, and which constitute the material expression of 'conduct'; (3) that even in this latter field, the field of 'conduct' at least a beginning seems to have been made (the Behaviourist would, of course, couch his claim in much less modest phraseology) towards the discovery of explanatory 'laws'; (4) that we do in our everyday experience take it for granted (with apparent success) that we can predict, in at least rough, approximate fashion, the reactions to given circumstances of those whose 'characters' we most fully know; (5) that even with respect to our own actions, it is only an extremely small minority, viz. deliberate volitions, that we feel any disposition to deny to be causally continuous with the past; (6) that the very conception of a 'free act' is fraught with grave difficulties, since it is by no means obvious how an act which the agent's 'character' does not determine in relation to the circumstances can be said to be the agent's own act at all. The cumulative force of these objections can scarcely be denied to be very considerable. And what is there really, it may be asked, to set on the other side? What is there to support the 'immediate affirmation of consciousness' that we can interrupt the causal sequence? Is there, e.g. the slightest indication from experience that we ever actually realise this capacity which we are supposed to possess, by the performance of an act which cannot reasonably be interpreted as the 'reaction of character to circumstances'? If not, if the immediate affirmation of consciousness merely stands alone, like some Athanasius contra mundum, little wonder, it may be said, that even temperate thinkers are disposed to urge that the conviction of freedom must yield to force majeure.
1 I am speaking, of course, only of philosophical Determinists. The difficulty may not be felt by the purely 'scientific' Determinist - the kind of person who is blind even to the possibility of any revelations of the nature of man which do not appear through the channels of natural science. But Determinists of this class have no claim to be listened to in a philosophical discussion.
1 I wish to take no advantage of the 'principle of indeterminacy' recently introduced into scientific thought. It cannot be said to have yet attained a secure place in the storehouse of accredited scientific truth. Many eminent scientists are disposed to regard it as standing for no more than a confession of temporary ignorance. In any case, the advocate of free-will has (as such) no need to recognise a principle of the sort in inorganic nature (his preference would even be, I think, for the reverse), although he must, I think, affirm its validity for the human organism. Not that indeterminacy in the human organism would be equivalent to 'free will.' It might mean mere 'chance' - a totally dilferent conception. It is really astounding to find it seriously suggested by contemporary scientific publicists that the alleged indeterminacy of the inorganic world itself is of the nature of 'free will' ! One would have thought that it required no special discipline in psychology to recognise that it is necessary to have a will before one can have a free will.
Now I might reply, indeed, that a conviction admittedly 'inexpugnable' can never 'yield': or, more precisely, that as against an 'inexpugnable' conviction there can be no force majeure. Counter considerations here can never produce more than a 'balance' of opposite forces. But that point I do not wish to press. I wish, rather, to work towards my positive argument for freedom by taking up the challenge to the Libertarian contained in the question just posed. 'Is there any evidence from experience of actual realisation of the supposed capacity of the will to interrupt the causal continuity of things?' It is not, of course, absolutely essential for the Libertarian to show that there is. It would not even, in strict logic, destroy the claim to freedom if (per impossibile) it could be decisively established that in no past act has there been divergence from the order which would be followed if causal continuity were a fact. For it is the capacity to choose between open possibilities that is at issue, and the interpretation would still remain abstractly possible that man has always (as the champion of freedom agrees that he has often) elected freely to follow that line of action which accords with the 'course of nature.' 1 But, admittedly, no one would be likely to put much credence in so forced an interpretation. It will obviously support in the most important way the conviction that man has the power to interrupt the causal order, if we can find evidence that man actually does in fact interrupt that order.
1 This point will be elaborated later in discussing the self's adoption in willing of 'the line of least resistance'.