Position of Holbach on the Presence and Experience of Free Will

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Sociology ・APA

According to Holbach, the popular assumption that the soul acts solely on its own volition and will is incorrect. Because man is not a free agent, the soul cannot direct its own acts or determine its own will. The soul has been shown to be heavily dependent on the operations of the body, and it would be dead without the body. It is vulnerable to impulses from material and physical factors, just like the body. The intellectual and moral capabilities are characterized in a physical and natural way. All characteristics of man, whether genuine or deceptive, stem from physical and material senses. Thus, man is subject to nature's laws just like all beings under the universe.
When a man is born, he does not have consent or self-reliance, his thoughts come to him involuntarily, the habits he adopts are as a result of those who cause him to select them, and his nature is the result of modification by known and unknown causes which act as regulators of his existence. These factors determine the way he thinks and the way he operates (d’Holbach 2). Nonetheless, common belief is that man is a free agent with the ability to regulate his condition and determines his free will despite the fact he is shackled. It is evident in religion because a higher being determines whether man deserves to be rewarded or punished (d’Holbach 2). If all of man's deeds were necessary, there would be no need to punish those who hurt others. The notion that man is a free agent is proof of human vanity that aims to differentiate man from other beings. The will equates to the adaptation of the brain that directs the other organs. The actions of man originate from a motive, the object or an idea that is refined in his mind and recalled (d’Holbach 3). If a man does not act on impulse, the causative factors are new motives and purposes which direct his brain in a different direction arousing a different motivation which will lead his will in another direction. In the process, he will follow the standard laws from which he emancipates himself. Henri d'Holbach gives an illustration of a thirsty man and indicates that it is the thirst that leads him to look for water. If he finds the water but it is poisoned, he will not drink it (d’Holbach 3). The false conclusion would be that he is a free agent while in fact he is acting out of his own conservation. He further illustrates the position of the brain by comparing it with a ball which has been directed by a force that leads it in a straight line. The ball will move in a different direction if it is impacted by a much stronger impulse (d’Holbach 4). Thus, the forces of nature are the determinants of man's will. Deliberation occurs when man encounters two equal forces and he cannot determine the importance of the source of the impulse. He has to choose the most probable motive which will eradicate his decision. In making the decision, he will have to determine the object that will accord him with an advantage of which it is not directed by free will. The most forcible motive will carry the day and prevail over the other force. It presents the explanation as to why uncertainty and suspense are painful to man (d’Holbach 5). The brain will be in a state of compression and it will be fatigued because it is a sensitive organ which explains man's inconsistency, indecisiveness his unexplainable conduct. The fact that men have choices does not prove that man is a free agent because when presented with many objects he is only driven to choose the one that moves him the most. The soul needs some motivation to act and does not rely purely on free will. Various motions in perpetual succession determine the actions of man (d’Holbach 6). The idea of man being a free agent is rooted on a deceitful notion. The causative agents of man's activities are unreliable, and it is, therefore, difficult to study the morals of man.

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