The advantages Arnauld claims for his new theory over Jansen's theory

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The advantages Arnauld claims for his new theory over Jansen's theory

Arnauld claims a number of advantages for his theory of free will over that of Jansen. In particular, he claims that, when combined with the account of the nature of grace that he found in Estius, it makes it easier to reconcile the intrinsic efficacy of grace with freedom. “In following [Estius's opinion regarding efficacious grace], it is much easier to explain the efficacy of the grace, and to reconcile it with freedom, especially when we define free will, following St. Thomas, as a facultas ad opposita” (Letter to Bossuet, juillet 1694, OA, 3:664).

Explaining the efficacy of grace is easier on Estius's theory than on the competing theories, because it is simpler. On the competing theories, which include Jansen's, the efficacy of actual grace of the will depends on a connection of some sort, within the mind of a creature, between a created grace, like Jansen's “victorious pleasure,” and a meritorious choice. Estius's theory is simpler: The efficacy of actual grace is a direct consequence of the general principle that God's absolute will is infallibly realized.

But how does Estius's theory, combined with the account of free will that Arnauld derived from St. Thomas, help to reconcile the efficacy of grace with free will? According to Jansen, freedom of will is the same as spontaneity, and so every act of will is essentially free. Jansen qualifies that position by adding that during life here on earth, human beings have another kind of freedom: “The freedom of man the pilgrim is not only exempt from constraint, but even from immutable voluntary necessity (necessitatis immutabilis voluntariae), that it, this freedom is indifferent between doing good and doing evil, between acting and not acting” (Quoted by Arnauld in Seconde Apologie, OA, 17:242). When he says that the will is indifferent as between doing good and doing evil, and between acting or not acting, during this life here below, Jansen means that during life on Earth, the will remains mutable or “flexible” between doing good and doing evil, and again, willing or not willing any particular action or end. In other words, the will is not confirmed in good or evil during this life in such a way that it could not fall away from willing the good or be converted from willing what is evil, and again in such a way that it could not cease willing what it does will or begin willing what it does not will.

Now on theories like those of Jansen and Bañez, the intrinsic efficacy of grace involves the determination of a person's volition by an antecedent state of his or her mind, and this seems to conflict with the proposition that the volition is free. On Estius's view, on the other hand, a person's meritorious volition is determined not by an antecedent state of his or her mind, but rather by the will of God. Is this an improvement, with respect to explaining the compatibility of efficacious grace with free will? Arnauld says it is, “especially when we define free will, following St. Thomas, as a facultas ad opposita.”

Here Arnauld appeals to the Thomistic principle that when God causes a creature to act, He always causes the creature to act in accordance with its nature. Paraphrasing Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, I, 82, 1, ad 3), Arnauld says,

When God works our volition in us, He brings it about that we will in conformity with our nature, that is by determining ourselves to what we are not determined by nature. Thus no matter with what efficacy the mind is moved by God, it acts as master of its very own action, and it wills because it wills, determining itself to all other things by its volition to be happy, and hence it acts freely. (Liberté, OA, 10:616).[34]

Arnauld's line of thought seems to be as follows: Human beings are attracted to limited goods only as means to the unlimited good of happiness. Therefore, whenever a human being is attracted to a limited good, he or she can attend to its goodness and will it, or attend to some way in which it falls short of the unlimited good and refrain from willing it. Which of these options is realized is determined by the human being, or more precisely, the human being's mind; thus, in willing or not willing any limited good, the human mind is self-determining and free. All this is part of the nature of the human mind. So if God moves the human mind to will a limited good, He moves it to will in a self-determining and free way.

If pressed for more details about how God by His merciful will (uncreated grace) moves a human being to will a particular good, while yet leaving it up to the human being whether he or she wills that good, Arnauld would surely say that we human beings cannot understand God's causality well enough to supply such details. Our inability to understand God's causality with regard to the created world is a common theme in Arnauld. It is expressed forcefully in his first contribution to the Leibniz-Arnauld exchange, written in 1686, not long after Liberté. Arnauld says that although we are certain that God, “by a single and very simple act, which is His essence,” knows all things, including things that might not have been, and wills things that He might not have willed by His will, which is also His essence, nevertheless we cannot understand how God does these things, because “as far as we are concerned (à notre égard) God dwells in inaccessible light” (LA, p. 31-32).[35]

Before presenting the above theory of free will in Liberté, Arnauld prepares the ground by presenting two examples in which a person's volition occurs “infallibly” and yet freely, in the sense of freedom “that is necessary and sufficient for merit or demerit” (Liberté, OA, 10:620). The examples are preceded by the statement, “However infallible be the determination by which the will is determined with the attention of reason, to objects to which it is not naturally determined, freedom suffers no damage (préjudice); because the infallible determination does not prevent the soul from willing because it wills; and hence it is master of its action” (Liberté, OA, 10:615-16). The first example is that of a prince who is in love with a woman and has “a vehement passion for the pleasures of the flesh.” If the woman offers herself to the prince, “he will infallibly satisfy his passion.” The second example is that of a cruel and revengeful king, who has been offended by one of his subjects and has the subject in his power: “Infallibly he will destroy him.”[36] Everyone who is not “entirely barbarian,” says Arnauld, will agree that the prince and the king have acted demeritoriously and deserve punishment. Thus all such people agree that the king and the prince acted in a relevantly free way.

One might take these passages to suggest that the freedom necessary and sufficient for merit and demerit is compatible with determination of the will by psychological causes. But this misses Arnauld's point, and is an unlikely interpretation. To begin with, Arnauld surely realized that neither the lascivious prince nor the cruel tyrant infallibly act in the ways described, in any strict sense of the term. People do sometimes act out of character. Arnauld seems to think of infallibility, like its cousin, certainty, as a matter of degree. This is indicated by the phrase, “However infallible be the determination by which the will is determined with the attention of reason …” The certainty that the cruel king and the lascivious prince will act in the ways indicated is so high that one would say, in a loose and popular sense of the word, that infallibly the king will revenge himself and the prince satisfy his passion.

Arnauld's point is not that the actions of the prince and the king are causally determined by psychological states antecedent to their volitions. In both cases he says that the action is free because the person could have willed not to perform the action, or again, because the person's will was a potestas ad opposita. Arnauld's point is that our certainty that the prince and the king will act in the ways described does not lessen our certainty that they will act freely. The same, he says, is true of our certainty that a meritorious act will be carried out as a result of efficacious grace, that is, as a result of God's merciful will moving a person to that act. Arnauld claims that our certainty about the freedom of the act produced by efficacious grace, like our certainty about the freedom of the actions of the prince and the kind, is well grounded because in all of these cases, the person had the power to refrain from the act in question; in all of these cases, the person's will is a facultas ad opposita.

There is, of course, an important difference between examples like those of the prince and the king, and example of an action to which one is moved by efficacious grace. In examples of the former sort, the action occurs only with very great, but not absolute, certainty, whereas in the case of efficacious grace, the action follows with absolute certainty upon God's intention that it take place. This difference may seem to damage Arnauld's case: One can plausibly say that it was within the power of the prince, for example, not to will to satisfy his lust, precisely because it was not absolutely certain that, in the given circumstances, he would do so. But no similar claim can be made about the person whom God moves, by efficacious grace, to elicit a meritorious volition. Yet Arnauld insists that in the latter case also, it is within the power of the person not to elicit the volition. It is at this point that Arnauld's views about the mysteriousness of divine causality come into play. Our inability to understand how God moves a person to a meritorious volition, while leaving it within the person's power not to elicit the volition, thus moving the person to will in a self-determining way, is not, in Arnauld's view, surprising, for we are unable, in general, to understand how God produces effects outside of Himself.

Arnauld's work between 1682 and 1694 is a testament to his intellectual vitality. It is remarkable that he was hard at work, until his death at the age of 82, on a set of connected controversies and issues, both philosophical and theological, having to do with creation, grace, and free will. Though he did not construct a philosophical system, he stands out in a century of geniuses for the vigorous and penetrating way in which he dealt with many of the important philosophers and philosophical problems of the time.


Arnauld's Works

Principal Editions

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