Chapter 9

THE QUESTION of free will and necessity holds a position in history different from its place in other branches of knowledge, because in history, the question relates, not to the essential nature of the will of man, but to the representation of the manifestations of that will in the past and under certain conditions.

History, in regard to the solution of this question, stands to the other sciences in the position of an experimental science to speculative sciences.

The subject of history is not the will of man, but our representation of its action.

And so the insoluble mystery of the union of the two antinomies of freedom and necessity does not exist for history as it does for theology, ethics, and philosophy. History deals with the representation of the life of man, in which the union of those two antinomies is accomplished.

In actual life every historical event, every human action, is quite clearly and definitely understood, without a sense of the slightest contradiction in it, although every event is conceived of partly as free, and partly as necessary.

To solve the problem of combining freedom and necessity and the question what constitutes the essence of those two conceptions, the philosophy of history can and ought to go to work in a direction opposite to that taken by the other sciences. Instead of first defining the ideas of freedom and necessity in themselves, and then ranging the phenomena of life under those definitions, history must form the definition of the ideas of free will and necessity from the immense multitude of phenomena in her domain that are always dependent on those two elements.

Whatever presentation of the activity of one man or of several persons we examine, we always regard it as the product partly of that man or men’s free will, partly of the laws of necessity.

Whether we are discussing the migrations of peoples and the inroads of barbarians, or the government of Napoleon III., or the action of some man an hour ago in selecting one direction for his walk out of several, we see nothing contradictory in it. The proportion of freedom and necessity guiding the actions of those men is clearly defined for us.

Very often our conception of a greater or less degree of freedom differs according to the different points of view from which we regard the phenomenon.

But every human action is always alike conceived by us as a certain combination of free will and necessity.

In every action we investigate, we see a certain proportion of freedom and a certain proportion of necessity. And whatever action we investigate, the more necessity we see, the less freedom, and the more freedom, the less necessity.

The proportion of freedom to necessity is decreased or increased, according to the point of view from which the act is regarded; but there always remains an inverse ratio between them.

A drowning man clutching at another and drowning him, or a hungry mother starved by suckling her baby and stealing food, or a man trained to discipline who at the word of command kills a defenceless man, all seem less guilty—that is, less free and more subject to the law of necessity to one who knows the circumstances in which they are placed, and more free to one who did not know that the man was himself drowning, that the mother was starving, that the soldier was on duty, and so on. In the same way a man who has twenty years ago committed a murder and afterwards has gone on living calmly and innocently in society seems less guilty, and his acts seem more subject to the law of necessity, to one who looks at his act after the lapse of twenty years than to one looking at the same act the day after it was perpetrated. And just in the same way the act of a madman, a drunkard, or a man labouring under violent excitement seems less free and more inevitable to one who knows the mental condition of the man who performed the action, and more free and less inevitable to one who does not know it. In

  By PanEris using Melati.

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