Freedom Of The Will Or The Extent Of Its Control
We have seen in this discussion that will is a mode of control--control
of our thoughts and, through our thoughts, of our actions. Will may be
looked upon, then, as the culmination of the mental life, the highest
form of directive agent within us. Beginning with the direction of the
simplest movements, it goes on until it governs the current of our life
in the pursuit of some distant ideal.
THE WILL.--Just how far the will can go in its control,
just how far man is a free moral agent, has long been one of the mooted
questions among the philosophers. But some few facts are clear. If the
will can exercise full control over all our acts, it by this very fact
determines our character; and character spells destiny. There is not the
least doubt, however, that the will in thus directing us in the
achievement of a destiny works under two limitations: First, every
individual enters upon life with a large stock of inherited
tendencies, which go far to shape his interests and aspirations. And
these are important factors in the work of volition. Second, we all
have our setting in the midst of a great material and social
environment, which is largely beyond our power to modify, and whose
influences are constantly playing upon us and molding us according to
THESE LIMITATIONS THE CONDITIONS OF FREEDOM.--Yet there is nothing in
this thought to discourage us. For these very limitations have in them
our hope of a larger freedom. Man's heredity, coming to him through ages
of conflict with the forces of nature, with his brother man, and with
himself, has deeply instilled in him the spirit of independence and
self-control. It has trained him to deliberate, to choose, to achieve.
It has developed in him the power to will. Likewise man's environment,
in which he must live and work, furnishes the problems which his life
work is to solve, and out of whose solution will receives its only true
It is through the action and interaction of these two factors, then,
that man is to work out his destiny. What he is, coupled with what he
may do, leads him to what he may become. Every man possesses in some
degree a spark of divinity, a sovereign individuality, a power of
independent initiative. This is all he needs to make him free--free to
do his best in whatever walk of life he finds himself. If he will but do
this, the doing of it will lead him into a constantly growing freedom,
and he can voice the cry of every earnest heart:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!