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Dooyeweerd and Freedom

Dooyeweerd does not much discuss freedom as a topic in itself, nor does he assume it is to be something to which we aspire. However, he does give us substantial material with which we can understand it - but in a new way since he fundamentally questions many of the presuppositions underlying Western thought. Here I merely note briefly some of these.

Some Points


I find affinity between Dooyeweerd's view and that of C.S. Lewis, where, at the end of The Great Divorce, he has the Heavenly Being telling him:

"No. Because all answers deceive. If ye put the question [of who will be saved at the end] from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. These who choose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see - small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope - something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phantom of what ye might have chosen and didn't is itself Freedom. They are a lens. The picture is a symbol: but it's truer than any philosophical theorem (or, perhaps, than any mystic's vision) that claims to go behind it. For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination [a theological position that says that only certain God-chosen ones will be saved] which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn't Universalism [the theological position that all will be saved] do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition. Time itself, and all acts and events that fill Time, are the definition, and it must be lived. The Lord said we were gods. How long could ye bear to look (without Time's lens) on the greatness of your own soul and the eternal reality of her choice?"

Ponder that, and all its various pieces that wrap together Time, Freedom choice, self, and the lens through which we see it.

The conventional NFGM views of freedom seem to be related to the temporal succession or the phantom of what might have been otherwise, that they think the lens is itself the freedom. But I think that, despite Lewis' remarks about 'philosophical theorem', Dooyeweerd might be able to provide the philosophical account for what Lewis is saying.


Freewill, Choice and Brain Functioning

Quantum theory's notion of indeterminacy has been appealed to as a way of accounting for our experience of freedom e.g. to make choices in a cosmos governed by otherwise determinative physical laws. Specifically, because every sub-atomic particle is a wave, where it actually is at any time is not clear. So it could have influence away from its centre. What influence it has is not determined. This happens at tiny distances, and it has been suggested that something in the operation of brain synapses operates at sufficiently tiny distances so that this non-determinate effect is manifested in the functioning of the brain.

Could this account for our experience of 'freewill', our freedom to, for example, make choices? It could account for why a person's behaviour or thoughts (which depend on brain functioning) seem to be not determined. But it would suggest that brain functioning is random, rather than free. So it does not really account for our experience of freedom, of being able to choose between two options. Our choosing is not random but free. So quantum theory does not seem to be the answer.

Robert Kane and Nancey Murphy make some useful points, however [Metanexus Conference, 2008, Madrid].

This fits nicely with Dooyeweerd's notion of aspects, in that our physical functioning might involve quantum non-determinacy to provide many possible physical future states in our brains, but our formative function of will actually exerts downward causative influence to constrain these.

However, this idea has, as far as I know, not yet been explored.

This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 19 October 2004. Last updated: 21 July 2008 freewill, quantum theory, etc.