In my construction of a model of what it would be like for there to be Satan, freewill is a fundamental “buliding block” of the model. For any Satan worthy of the name has to exercise freewill in defiance of his Creator. The notion of personal agency is crucial in the concept of freewill. So, a paradigm of agency is helpful. I chose this example from my experience because on this occasion I realized that an act of agency, free choosing, is separable from being conscious of it.
On Wednesday afternoon, January 3, 2024, while standing for about an hour ironing some clothes I started to feel very tired with aches throughout my body. I thought that I might be getting a flu although I had been recently vacinated. I did not sleep well Wednesday night. I frequently awoke and noticed that 5:55AM, the time at which my alarm was set, was rapdily approaching. I dreaded the prospect of getting out of bed to began my schedule for Thursday morning. I outline my schedule to bring out that I have the character of a man who pushes himself hard at 88. That outline supports a prediction about how I might likely respond to a challenge about facing a physical hardship. But plausible predicatability is not evidence against freedom of a decision; let alone that it was not I who made the decision.
The schedule was to bring my wife coffee at 6:15AM, talk a bit, recite Matins with my wife, walk about two miles, bike a mile to my parish church for 8:30AM mass and then bike six miles to work until 1130 AM at a St. Vincent de Paul free clothing store. Then I would bike another six miles to home. The temperatures were in the low 30s. I felt very sick but I could not say clearly what was wrong: no sore throat, no fever, no coughing.
I chose to go back to bed at 6:30AM. But that is not the free choice I want to exhibit. Before going back to bed, I asked my wife to wake me up by 8AM; at which time I would decide whether to bike to mass and then to the Clothing Center or stay in bed and have my wife contact the Clothing Center to report my absence. (She planned to drive to the Center to drop off some clothing donations.) It was warm and comfortable in bed. But I slept fitfully thinking about whether or not to stay in bed all morning or bike to mass and work at the Clothing Center.
Myriad pros and cons went through my mind. I thought about being comfortable. Staying in bed would be comfortable but boring if I could not sleep. On one hand, I worried that I would be giving into weakness. On the other, I worried that I would be giving in to vanity about being tough if rested all morning. Irealized that vanity should not mislead me into prolonging whatever this sickness might be.There were moral thoughts about not spreading whatever my sickness was. There were contrary moral thoughts about the need for people to staff the Center. There was, however, no decisive moral claim. This was not to be a moral decision. I simply could not decide what I was going to do. Or better: I was not conscious about how I was to decide
About five minutes to eight, I heard my wife coming up the stairs to get my decision. What was I going to do? I was not sure even as she came through the door. Then I threw the blankets back, sat at the edge of my bed and said that I was going to bike to mass and the Clothing Center. I had the intentions of facing the cold and going ahead with my regular Thursday morning plans. That was my choice and I was conscious of it. I was not so much conscious of it as a free choice. I was mostly conscious of it as the choice I made. I was even a bit surprised that I made the choice to keep my schedule; and rather proud of myself for making the choice to confront physical discomfort.
What is the relevance of this example for freewill? Most importantly, the example shows that consciousness of the choice does not make it my choice; let alone make it a free choice. Self consciousness only reports that I made the choice and apparently could have chosen otherwise, viz.,formed an intention to stay in bed. Conscious choosing, or better, consciousness of choosing, could occur after I have chosen, as some controversial research suggests.1 The important fact reported by consciousness is that of my agency: I was conscious that I stood up with the intention of carrying on my regular Thursday routine. I was not conscious of any freedom to carry out my intention. I could have fainted upon standing, as has happened. Then my wife would seriously restrict my activities that morning. If I had fainted, I would not be the agent of my fainting. (One could be the agent of their own fainting by standing up quickly to produce orthostatic hypotension.)
What is my interpretation of my behavior? Although we consciously entertain many thoughts while deliberating, making the choice is not another conscious thought in the deliberation. The thought of making the decision comes after we make the decision. The choice is made by ourselves as agents. As agents we create something new in reality, viz., an intention to act a certain way. The intention is created ex nihilo by the agent. An intention is a thought but a thought with causal force; intentions are dynamic. Thoughts of the pros and cons of getting up do not get me up or keep me down. The thought which is the intention to get up is the thought which gets me up. The previous thoughts or physical states are relevant to the intention I form. The previous thoughts and physical states are necessary for whatever intention I form; they set severe constraints on the kind of intention I form. But they are not suffficient for it. Action of me as an agent is the factor which is the efficient cause in this situation.2
It would be inaccurate for me to say that my brain formed the intention and made the decision.
It would be inaccurate to say that an entity apart from my brain, which is my self, formed the intention and made the decision. My awareness that I made the decision is not awareness that warrants any analysis of what kind of being I am; only that I am the agent, the maker of certain decisions.
I close with an aphorism: Consciousness of choosing freely is not freely choosing. Consciousness of freely choosing only reports the fact of an agent freely choosing.
1 Libet, B., Gleason, C.A., Wright, E.W. & Pearl, D.K. ‘Time of conscious
intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential).
The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act’, Brain (1983)106: 623-642. A clear summary of this investigation is in Faraday Paper 17 by Peter G.H. Clarke
2. I have been influenced by John Mackie’s notion of an INUS condition. It is a term” coined byphilosopherj John Mackie to describe a condition that is necessary but not sufficient for an outcome, and is part of a complex condition that is sufficient but not necessary for the outcome. For example, an electric short circuit is an INUS condition for a house fire, because it needs flammable material to cause the fire, and the fire could also be caused by other factors. In the case of my example, the forming of the intention to get up is like the short circuit. I formed the intention to get up before I became conscious of my intention.