A DIALOGUE BETWEEN A PHILOSOPHER AND HIS FRIEND
PHIL. A battery of cannon is playing close by your
ears; are you at liberty to hear or not to hear it?
FRIEND. Unquestionably, I cannot but hear it.
PHIL. Would you have those cannon-balls carry off
your head, and your wife and daughter's, who are
walking with you?
FRIEND. What a question! In my sober senses, it is
impossible that I should will any such thing. It cannot
PHIL. Well, you necessarily hear the explosion of
those cannon, and you necessarily are against being,
with your family, cut off by a cannon-shot, as you
are taking the air. You have not the power not to
hear, nor the power of willing to remain there.
FRIEND. Nothing more evident.
PHIL. Accordingly, you have come thirty paces to be
out of the cannon's way: thus you have had the power
of walking that little space with me.
FRIEND. That also is clear.
PHIL. And, if you had been paralytic, you could not
have avoided being exposed to this battery. You would
not have had the power of being where you are; you
would necessarily not only have heard the explosion,
but have received a cannon-shot; and thus you would
undoubtedly have been killed.
FRIEND. Very true.
PHIL. In what, then, consists your liberty? if not
in the power which your body has made use of to do,
what your volition, by an absolute necessity,
FRIEND. You put me to a stand. Liberty, then, is
nothing but the power of doing what I will?
PHIL. Think of it, and see whether liberty can have
any other meaning.
FRIEND. At this rate, my greyhound is as free as I
am. He has necessarily a will to run at the sight of
a hare, and likewise the power of running, if not
lame; so that, in nothing am I superior to my dog.
This is leveling me with the beasts.
PHIL. Such are the wretched sophisms of those who
have tutored you. Wretched! to be in the same state
of liberty as your dog? And are you not like your
dog in a thousand things? In hunger, thirst, waking,
sleeping: And your five senses, are they not also
possessed by him? Are you for smelling otherwise
than through the nose? Of hearing, except through
the ears? Of seeing, without eyes? Why, then, are
you for having liberty in a manner different from
FRIEND. How? Am I not at liberty to will what I
PHIL. Your meaning?
FRIEND. I mean what all the world means. Is it not
a common saying, will is free?
PHIL. A proverb is no reason. Please to explain
yourself more clearly.
FRIEND. I mean that I have the liberty of willing
as I please.
PHIL. By your leave, there is no sense in that. Do
you not perceive that it is ridiculous to say, I
will will. You will necessarily, in consequence of
the ideas occurring to you. Would you marry? Yes,
FRIEND. What, were I to say, I neither will the
one nor the other?
PHIL. That would be answering like him, who said:
Some think that Cardinal Mazarin is dead, others
believe him to be still living, but I believe neither
the one nor the other!
FRIEND. Well, I have a mind to marry.
PHIL. Good. That is something of an answer. And
why have you a mind to marry?
FRIEND. Because I am in love with a young lady, who
is handsome, of a sweet temper, well-bred, with a
tolerable fortune, sings charmingly, and her parents
are people of good credit. Besides, I flatter myself,
that my addresses are very acceptable, both to herself,
and to her family.
PHIL. Why, there is a reason. You see you cannot
will without a reason, and I declare you have the
liberty of marrying; that is, you have the liberty
of signing the contract.
FRIEND. How? Not will without a reason? What, then,
becomes of another proverb, "Sit pro ratione voluntas?"
my will is my reason. I will, because I will.
PHIL. My dear friend, under favor, that is an absurdity.
There would then be in you an effect without a cause.
FRIEND. What! when I am playing at even and odd, is
there a reason for my choosing even, rather than odd?
PHIL. Yes, to be sure.
FRIEND. Pray, let me hear that reason.
PHIL. Because the idea of odd presented itself to
your mind before the contrary notion. It would be
strange, indeed, that in some cases you will because
there is a cause of volition; and that, in other
cases, you will without any cause. In your willing
to be married, you evidently perceive the determining
reason; and, in playing at even and odd, you do not
perceive it; and yet one there must be.
FRIEND. But again, am I not then free?
PHIL. Your will is not free, but your actions are.
You are free to act, when you have the power of acting.
FRIEND. But all the books I have read on the liberty
of indifference --
PHIL. Are nonsense. There is no such thing as the
liberty of indifference. It is a phrase void of sense,
and was coined by those who were not overloaded