Chapter 8

IF HISTORY had to deal with external phenomena, the establishment of this simple and obvious law would be sufficient, and our argument would be at an end. But the law of history relates to man. A particle of matter cannot tell us that it does not feel the inevitability of attraction and repulsion, and that the law is not true. Man, who is the subject of history, bluntly says: I am free, and so I am not subject to law.

The presence of the question of the freedom of the will, if not openly expressed, is felt at every step in history.

All seriously thinking historians are involuntarily led to this question. All the inconsistencies, and the obscurity of history, and the false path that science has followed, is due to that unsolved question.

If the will of every man were free, that is, if every man could act as he chose, the whole of history would be a tissue of disconnected accidents.

If one man only out of millions once in a thousand years had the power of acting freely, that is, as he chose, it is obvious that a single free act of that man in opposition to the laws governing human action would destroy the possibility of any laws whatever governing all humanity.

If there is but one law controlling the actions of men, there can be no free will, since men’s will must be subject to that law.

In this contradiction lies the question of the freedom of the will, which from the most ancient times has occupied the best intellects of mankind, and has from the most ancient times been regarded as of immense importance.

Looking at man as a subject of observation from any point of view—theological, historical, ethical, philosophical—we find a general law of necessity to which he is subject like everything existing. Looking at him from within ourselves, as what we are conscious of, we feel ourselves free.

This consciousness is a source of self-knowledge utterly apart and independent of reason. Through reason man observes himself; but he knows himself only through consciousness.

Apart from consciousness of self, any observation and application of reason is inconceivable.

To understand, to observe, to draw conclusions, a man must first of all be conscious of himself as living. A man knows himself as living, not otherwise than as willing, that is, he is conscious of his free will. Man is conscious of his will as constituting the essence of his life, and he cannot be conscious of it except as free.

If subjecting himself to his own observation, a man perceives that his will is always controlled by the same law (whether he observes the necessity of taking food, or of exercising his brain, or anything else), he cannot regard this never-varying direction of his will otherwise than as a limitation of it. If it were not free, it could not be limited. A man’s will seems to him to be limited just because he is not conscious of it except as free. You say: I am not free. But I have lifted and dropped my hand. Everybody understands that this illogical reply is an irrefutable proof of freedom.

This reply is an expression of a consciousness not subject to reason.

If the consciousness of freedom were not a separate source of self-knowledge apart from reason, it would be controlled by reasoning and experience. But in reality such control never exists, and is inconceivable.

A series of experiments and arguments prove to every man that he, as an object of observation, is subject to certain laws, and the man submits to them, and never, after they have once been pointed out to him, controverts the law of gravity or of impenetrability. But the same series of experiments and arguments proves to him that the complete freedom of which he is conscious in himself is impossible; that every

  By PanEris using Melati.

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