This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.
The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.
In Locke’s Moral Man I argue for the following eight claims:
(L1) Strong active power is the underlying source of the capacity to make a change.
(L2) Only spirits have strong active power; will is the only strong active power.
(L3) Free actions are voluntary actions that meet certain counterfactual conditions.
(L4) Animals will and act freely: will and free action aren’t unique to moral agents.
(L5) Instead, what distinguishes moral agents is a second kind of freedom.
(L6) This is full-fledged free agency and involves suspension.
(L7) Suspension is not caused by volition. Locke doesn’t say what it is caused by.
(L8) Locke is agnostic on the metaphysics of moral agency, including suspension.
Sam argues that all eight are false. Instead, he holds:
(R1) Strong active power is the capacity to make changes by one’s own power.
(R2) There are many strong active powers and they are not all unique to spiritts.
(R3) Freedom of action is the ability to do as you will (including forbear as you will).
(R4) Only moral agents, not animals, have freedom of action.
(R5) There’s only one notion of liberty in Locke, freedom of action.
(R6) The ability to suspend is just a kind of freedom of action.
(R7) Suspension is caused by the volition to suspend.
(R8) Locke is a compatibilist.
I’ll try to defend L1-L8 against R1-R8.
(1) and (2). I’ll discuss (1) and (2) together. What matters to me is that Locke sometimes treats active power as the source of change (rather than a mere transmitter of change) and that in this sense, he thinks that only spirits have active power and only will is active power.
Sam mentions three alleged counterexamples, that is, three powers that are clearly not volitions but do seem to involve some activity beyond the mere transmission of motion:
(a) The spontaneous motion or self-motion of animals.
(b) Mediately and immediately perceived secondary qualities like fire’s power to melt wax.
(c) Gravitational attraction and other apparent distance forces.
Since whether (a) is really a counter-example depends on whether animals will, I’ll defer discussing it until I discuss animal will in (4) below.
I’m not really worried about (b). I won’t say that Locke is committed to mechanism, but I do think he would assume that (b)-type cases are open to mechanical explanation. So if we really understood them we would see that they don’t involve any activity beyond the mere transmission of motion.
I am worried about (c), and I wish I’d said more about attraction in the book. (However, I start losing my grip on the distinction between being a source of change and a mere transmitter of change when the change isn’t just local motion.) Locke does come to think that attraction may be real, not reducible to the transmission of motion, and not the direct exercise of divine will. That would make attraction an active power that is not will. So I wish I’d hedged my claims a bit more, and said that the only active power we have a clear idea of, and the only active power we are sure there is, is will. That’s all I need for (3)-(8).
I say that “[t]o have an active power is to be an original source of change” (31). (I also say that “the idea of active power is … the idea of the underlying source” of “the capacity to change” (31), but I prefer the first way of putting it: it has less danger of reifying power.) Sam says that having active power is being able to make changes by one’s own power, rather than by the power of another. I don’t think I fully understand the difference between being an original source of change and being able to make changes by one’s own power. (Although part of why it matters will emerge in the next section.) What does the ‘by one’s own power’ add? Isn’t anything I do something I do by my own power? The only way I can get a grip on what it is to do something by one’s own power is by thinking of original sources of change, but that’s clearly not what Sam has in mind.
(3). I say that someone performs action A freely iff she does A because she wills to do A, and she would not have done A had she not willed to do A. Thus, free actions are voluntary actions that also meet certain counterfactual conditions. An agent acts freely in performing an action just in case she does that action because she wills to do it, and, if she had not willed to do it she would not have done it.
Sam has several objections to this. One is that Locke isn’t talking about acting freely at all. Rather, Sam says, he is doing two things. First, he’s giving “general conditions for an agent’s being free”, the most general condition being that an agent is free just in case she can act or not act according as she wills. (I’ll come back to this in section 5.) It seems to me that what Sam calls a general condition is really a schema. Locke’s discussion of freedom is full with examples – cases where the issue is whether the agent is free in respect of a particular action. In fact, all the examples in 2.21 concern particular agents or things performing or not performing particular actions.
The second thing Locke is doing, Sam says, is giving “more particular conditions for an agent’s being free in respect of a particular action or omission”. I don’t see the difference between an agent being free in respect of performing a certain action she performs, and her performing that action freely. The second strikes me as a shorter way of expressing the first. I don’t think Sam is just saying that we should have conditions that apply equally well whether the action is actually performed or not. But I’m not sure about that.
Sam says: S is free in respect of A iff she has the power to do A if she wills to do A, and she has the power to forbear doing A if she wills to forbear doing A. Let’s assume she does A and is free in respect of doing so. This implies, for Sam, that she willed to do A. (If she’d willed to forbear doing A, she wouldn’t have done it.) And, since she has the power to do A if she wills to do A, then she did A because she willed to do A. It also implies that if she had willed to forbear doing A, then she would not have done A. So it seems to me that if you meet Sam’s conditions you’ll meet mine. And if you meet my conditions you’ll meet Sam’s. I say that S does A freely iff she does A because she willed to do A, and if she had not willed to do A, she would not have done A. Now, if she does A because she willed to do A, she must have the power to do A if she wills to do A. And, since if she had not willed to do A, she would not have done A, she must have the power to forbear doing A if she wills to forbear doing A.
In the last paragraph, I bracketed out two issues. One is about whether forbearing to do A is willing to not do A, or not willing to do A. I’m not sure what to say about that. The other is deviant causal chains. Sam brings them in with the example of Sally the compulsive speaker: “if Sally had not willed to speak, God would have glued her lips shut”. He says that for my Locke, Sally has the power to hold her peace. But, he thinks, this is intuitively wrong, and Locke would deny that Sally has the power to hold her peace because he would deny that Sally “can, by a … thought of [her] Mind … produce … silence”. However, I don’t think my Locke would say that Sally has the power to hold her peace. She doesn’t hold her peace because she wills to hold her peace, but because God glued her lips shut. The ‘because’ is supposed to help with deviant causal chains.
Sam might say that even if our conditions give the same verdict, his are still preferable because they fit the text better. But consider these two passages (which Sam quoted):
Where-ever any performance or forbearance are not equally in a Man’s power; where-ever doing or not doing, will not equally follow upon the preference of his mind directing it, there he is not Free (2.21.8).
… a Man falling into the Water … has not herein liberty … For though he has Volition, though he prefers his not falling to falling, yet the forbearance of that Motion not being in his Power, the Stop or Cessation of that Motion follows not upon his Volition; and therefore therein he is not free (2.21.9).
In 2.21.8, the man is not free because doing or not doing will not equally follow his willing or not willing, as well as because performing or forbearing are not equally in his power. In 2.21.9, the man is not free because the cessation of motion follows not upon his volition, and the cessation of motion follows not upon his volition because the forbearance of motion is not in his power. In these passages Locke is going back and forth between Sam’s conditions and mine. This suggests that the difference doesn’t matter.
Now for a second objection. Sam writes, “Faced with the problem that a spirit’s liberty, which is distinct from its will, also appears to be an active power,” I counter by saying that liberty is the same active power as will (8). He thinks this is just confused: Lockean freedom of action is
[A] combination of two conditional active powers (the power to act in accordance with one’s volition to act + the power to forbear acting in accordance with one’s volition to so forbear), each of which is completely distinct from (and does not in any way result from) the will (8). It is therefore misleading to suggest that, at bottom, the only real active power of a spirit is its will. Under ordinary circumstances, a spirit also has the power to initiate thought (without borrowing anything from without), and this appears to be an active power if anything is (8).
Two things about this puzzled me. First, forbearing is an action, according to Sam. So why is this two conditional active powers instead of just one? Second, why isn’t the power to initiate thought (without borrowing anything from without) will? Consider how Locke introduces will in 2.21:
We find in our selves a Power to begin or forbear, continue or end several actions of our minds, and motions of our Bodies, barely by a thought or preference of the mind ordering, or as it were commanding the doing or not doing such or such a particular action. This Power … is that which we call the Will (2.21.5).
The power to initiate thought sure seems like the power to begin an action of the mind.
In any case, much of my disagreement with Sam here comes from our disagreement about (1). Sam argues that active power is the capacity to make changes by one’s own power. I think of active power in terms of efficacy, the thing Hume denied we have any idea of. Will and liberty are exercises of the same active power because both involve the mind’s using its metaphysical oomphh to bring about a thought or motion.
(4). I say that liberty and will differ only extrinsically and that animals will. Thus, the capacity to act freely isn’t unique to moral agents. Sam says that only moral agents, not animals, have freedom of action. Here’s his textual evidence, from the third letter to Stillingfleet:
God creates an extended solid substance … to some parts of it he superadds motion … to other parts he adds sense and spontaneous motion, and those other properties that are to be found in an elephant. Hitherto it is not doubted but the power of God may go, and that the properties of … an elephant, superadded to matter, change not the properties of matter … But if one venture to go one step further, and say, God may give matter thought, reason, and volition, as well as sense and spontaneous motion, there are men ready presently to limit the power of the omnipotent Creator, and tell us he cannot do it (4.460).
It is clear from this passage both that Locke takes animals … to possess sense and spontaneous motion … and that animals lack those properties in addition to sense and spontaneous motion that would be needed to turn them into material spirits, namely thought, reason, and, importantly, volition. In Locke’s universe, then, animals have sense and spontaneous motion, but no will or volition.
I think Sam is misreading the passage. Locke is talking to someone who thinks that God cannot superadd “thought, reason, and volition” to matter. She’s not a Cartesian: she grants that animals are material beings with sense and spontaneous motion. But she denies that animals have thought, reason, and volition. Moreover, she denies that it’s even possible for a material being to have been granted thought, reason, and volition. Locke’s point, to this poor benighted soul, is that there’s no reason to deny the possibility of superadded thought once you’ve allowed other superadded powers. He can make this point without himself being committed to the view that animals are material beings with sense and spontaneous motion but not thought, reason, and volition. And indeed, he cannot be committed to this, since on his view animals do have thought and reason. If they have sense, then, for Locke, they have thought; if they have ideas – which they do, since they have sense – they have reason.
(5) and (6). Sam disagrees with two point I borrowed from Gideon Yaffe: that 2.27 uses two different notions of liberty, and that the second sort of liberty is free agency, which depends on the power to suspend. (Where I disagree with Yaffe is about why the power to suspend matters.) In Locke Studies in 2001, Sam argued against Yaffe. His strategy was to go through all the passages that Yaffe thinks require something beyond mere freedom of action and show how they could be read differently, so that suspending is just like any other action.
Here’s how Sam deals with a passage that both Yaffe and I find pretty compelling:
… though this general Desire of Happiness operates constantly and invariably, yet the satisfaction of any particular desire can be suspended from determining the will to any subservient action, till we have maturely examin’d, whether the particular apparent good, which we then desire, makes a part of our real Happiness, or be consistent or inconsistent with it. The result of our judgment upon that Examination is what ultimately determines the Man, who could not be free if his will were determin’d by any thing, but his own desire guided by his own Judgment (2.21.71).
[I]f we wish to read [this passage] in a way that brings it into harmony with the rest of the section in which it appears, we should understand Locke to be making a point … that, if an agent’s will were determined by anything other than her own desire guided by her own judgment, then she would be as good as unfree (251).
He goes on to argue that when Locke describes the power to suspend as “the source of all liberty”, the “great inlet, and exercise of all the liberty Men have”, and “the hinge on which turns the liberty of intellectual Beings in their constant endeavours after, and a steady prosecution of true felicity”, he means “that the point or function of the power of suspension is the attainment of happiness”. In the next paragraph, he says that “the end, use, and foundation of our liberty … is the avoidance of misery and the acquisition of pleasure”.
So, Sam holds not only that the point of the power to suspend is that it helps us attain happiness, but that the point of liberty is that it helps us attain happiness. I think this can’t possibly be right. If God just wanted us to attain happiness, he could have just created us happy. He didn’t need to create us free and then hope we’d use our freedom to attain happiness. Hence, freedom must be intrinsically valuable.
A similar point can be made about the power to suspend. If God just wanted us to desire the right thing, he could have simply created us so that our most immediately pressing desires were always for the right thing. He didn’t need to give us the power to suspend. So the power to suspend must be intrinsically valuable. This isn’t something Yaffe could say. He thinks that the power to suspend is valuable because it allows us to be determined by the good. But God could have created beings who are determined by the good without giving them the power to suspend.
I think Sam does show that the passages Yaffe uses as textual evidence can be made sense of on his deflationary view as well. In some cases Yaffe’s reading still seems a lot more natural to me, but in some Sam’s does. I don’t want to say that textual evidence doesn’t matter here. But I think the text here is messy, it’s open to several different readings, and which reading you find more natural is awfully easily influenced by the view you have in mind when you come to the text. So maybe we are best off thinking in big-picture terms. And in big-picture terms, my reading works better. It makes more sense of why Locke cares about suspension, why 2.21 goes on for so long, and why we have the power to suspend than either Sam’s or Yaffe’s.
(7). Sam says that suspension is caused by the volition to suspend, which is determined by a desire. I say that Locke never tells us what causes supension. In the book I said that the passage from 2.21.71 I just quoted makes clear that suspension cannot be caused by the volition to suspend. And although Sam thinks I’m overreading the passage, I still think 2.21.71 is evidence that suspension is not caused by the volition to suspend. For what desire could determine that volition? Not the “general Desire of Happiness”, since that “operates constantly and invariably”. (You might think the general desire for happiness always operates, but only determines the will when it outweighs the particular desire. But that would imply that we suspend when the particular desire in question is relatively weak, and this seems wrong.) And there don’t seem to be any other candidates.
A second, related reason for denying that suspension is causd by a volition to suspend is this. Suspension can’t do the work Locke needs it to do if your desire to suspend has to be strong enough to outweigh your desire to pursue an immediate good. We are supposed to suspend precisely so that we aren’t just blown around by whatever desire is most pressing.
A third reason is that Locke simply never says that a desire – or anything else – causes suspension. This suggests that he doesn’t think it matters what causes suspension.
Sam suggested a fourth reason not to make suspension voluntary himself: making suspension voluntary raises an infinite regress. He thinks this is a problem for Locke, not his interpretation of Locke. I disagree.
Sam also points out that Locke clearly thinks you can be blamed for failing to suspend and hence must think that we can will to suspend:
It follows that Locke is committed to the view that whether humans suspend or not is a matter of choice: for if an agent’s failure to suspend is something that happens regardless of her choices, then it seems wrong to criticize her for her failure to suspend.
But on Sam’s view it seems wrong to criticize agents for their failure to suspend too! If “suspension, which is a forbearance to will, is really no different from any other mental act or forbearance”, then it’s determined by a desire. If I don’t suspend, it’s because my desire to do what’s in my long-term best interest wasn’t strong enough to outweigh my desire for immediate gratification. And how am I any more blameworthy for the weakness of the first desire than for the strength of the second? Thus, Sam is no better off here than I am.
(8). I say that Locke is agnostic about the metaphysics of moral agency. His account of freedom – like Hobbes’ – is compatible with necessitarianism. But unlike Hobbes (and most compatibilists), Locke is not committed to necessitarianism. This is indeed a kind of metaphysical neutrality.
Tomorrow: Jessica Gordon-Roth’s Criticism of LoLordo