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Josef Seifert

Are we really free?  Can we know it?

Sep. 6, 2009, at 8:31pm

In our discussion of the essence of freedom we already presupposed all along, and as we shall see with good reason, that we as human persons are free. We spoke of us being able to take free stances, to command actions, to cooperate, etc. Nevertheless, we must distinguish sharply between knowing the essence of freedom and knowing the existence of human freedom. In principle, to gain an insight into all we saw about the essence of freedom does not yet imply that we actually are free, that freedom actually exists in the human being, either in actu or in potency, as fundamental faculty of the person. Especially when it comes to freedom, we can well understand the fundamental difference between grasping the essence of freedom and knowing the existence of human freedom. This is evident because the determinist who denies the existence of human freedom has as well to understand the essence of freedom whose existence in man he denies. He cannot deny freedom without some grasp of what the freedom is the existence of which he denies. Can we then know that human freedom exists and that we actually are free?

If human freedom did not exist, human beings would not be persons, as we have seen – but why should this be impossible? Maybe humans are not persons, as those countless philosophies imply that deny human freedom.

That it is one of innumerable „eternal truths” that “person and freedom are inseparable,” leaves the question unanswered: Does freedom exist in man? All the facts about the essence of freedom and personhood say nothing yet about human beings’ actually possessing this astonishing faculty.
Is it not a prerogative of God to be Lord over the being and the non-being of a thing by a simple inner word or fiat, without the person being determined to such a fiat by any cause other than his or her free center itself?

Is there then such a god-like quality in any finite person as to be the lord over the being and non-being of her acts? Answering this question affirmatively, as we implicitly did, obliges us to answer also how we can know that we are free? I will present in the following six ways in which we know that we are free or “six proofs of freedom.”


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