Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Quaeritur: Are "Will" and "Free Will" Synonymous in St. Thomas?


Quaeritur:  What is the difference between "will" and "free will"?   Looking at the Latin text in the Summa I notice that where Thomas is translated as “free will” the original Latin uses the term liberum arbitrium in various cases and declensions. In contrast, when Thomas speaks of the faculty of the will, he uses the word voluntas in various cases and declensions. So it seems that there is some distinction in what is meant by “will” in the two translations. Stelten's Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin translates arbitrium as "free choice, free will, decision and opinion," whereas voluntas is translated as "will, wish, inclination, desire, will and testament." So it does seem that the former is related to decision-making or choices, where the latter is related to the spiritual faculty of the will.  Would you please help clarify and illustrate?

Respondeo: Great question!  Voluntas is not the same as liberum arbitrium. They are two different acts of the same power. Liberum arbitrium can correctly be translated as "free choice," volulntas is simply willing things in general, even if when do not specifically choose them.  Whenever we deliberate or choose between two different options, we are implicitly willing something more basic that we are not choosing.  For instance, when I deliberate whether I want to eat a burger or a pizza for lunch, I'm trying to make a choice between them, but implicit in that choice I am willing (without choosing) to nourish myself and satiate my hunger.  Similarly, when I come up to a fork in the road, I have to decide which path will take me to my destination, or which one will be a better route; yet in this process I am implicitly willing (without choosing) my destination.  Every choice involves a deeper act of willing that is not a choice, at least not at the moment.  In St. Thomas' own terms, choice is always about the means, and never about the end.  More generally, no one can choose happiness as their ultimate end.  We automatically will it.  All our choices are about the means to get there.  Once a soul enters heaven, there will be no more choices; but they will eternally love (will) God, His happiness, and the soul's own happiness.

Cf. Summa theologiae, Ia, qq. 83, a. 4:

I answer that, The appetitive powers must be proportionate to the apprehensive powers, as we have said above. Now, as on the part of the intellectual apprehension we have intellect and reason, so on the part of the intellectual appetite we have will, and free-will which is nothing else but the power of choice. And this is clear from their relations to their respective objects and acts. For the act of "understanding" implies the simple acceptation of something; whence we say that we understand first principles, which are known of themselves without any comparison. But to "reason," properly speaking, is to come from one thing to the knowledge of another: wherefore, properly speaking, we reason about conclusions, which are known from the principles. In like manner on the part of the appetite to "will" implies the simple appetite for something: wherefore the will is said to regard the end, which is desired for itself. But to "choose" is to desire something for the sake of obtaining something else: wherefore, properly speaking, it regards the means to the end. Now, in matters of knowledge, the principles are related to the conclusion to which we assent on account of the principles: just as, in appetitive matters, the end is related to the means, which is desired on account of the end. Wherefore it is evident that as the intellect is to reason, so is the will to the power of choice, which is free-will. But it has been shown above, that it belongs to the same power both to understand and to reason, even as it belongs to the same power to be at rest and to be in movement. Wherefore it belongs also to the same power to will and to choose: and on this account the will and the free-will are not two powers, but one.