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Free Will in Montaigne, Pascal, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire and Sartre


Mary Efrosini Gregory

Free Will in Montaigne, Pascal, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire and Sartre takes the reader on a journey through the corridors of time to explore the evolution of thought regarding free will. The arguments and works presented in this volume raise critical and timeless issues for ethicists, the criminal justice system and the responsible citizen. Montaigne held that humans can break out of the determinist confines of their given cultures and acquired habits by employing reason, welcoming change and promoting education. In The Nun, Diderot chronicles portraits of pathology, records symptoms and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether the unfortunate victims are products of nature, nurture or both. Rousseau thought that civilized man, having joined society, surrenders his free will to the general will to enjoy protection of his person, family and property. Sartre, an indeterminist, averred that since humans have the capacity to be self-reflective, they can exercise creativity with regard to who and how they choose to be from moment to moment. Freud observed that we are marionettes whose strings are commandeered by various realms competing for dominance – the conscious and subconscious; id, ego and superego. Bernays, Freud’s nephew, employed psychoanalytic theory as a tool to advise corporations how to entice the public to purchase their products when confronted with a range of choices. This book opens the door to lively classroom discussion on moral issues. French literature, philosophy, psychology and political science classes will find it an invaluable source presenting a wealth of views on free will.


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1. The Bible 18


Chapter One The Bible Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. —Rev 3:20 The notion that man has free will is a basic premise of Judaism. The Old Testament is liberally sprinkled with terms that connote volition and choice; an examination of all of them would lead one to conclude that free will is emblazoned across every page of the Old Testament. Let us examine the recurrence of terms that can be translated as “free will” and “choose.” James Strong’s Concordance indicates that the English word “freewill” occurs 17 times in the King James Version of the OT.1 Of these occurrences, the original Hebrew ned-aw-baw’ is used 15x; ned-ab’ (Aramaic), 2x. Strong advises that ned-aw-baw’ (which comes from naw-dab’) is defined thus: “…prop. (abstr.) spontaneity, or (adj.) spontaneous; also (concr.) a sponta- neous or (by infer., in plur.) abundant gift.”2 When we count the number of times that ned-aw-baw’ occurs in the OT, we find that it appears 35x. Strong advises that the KJV translates it as “freewill offering (15x), offerings (9x), free offering (2x), freely (2x), willing offering (1x), voluntary offering (1x), plentiful (1x), voluntarily (1x), voluntary (1x), willing (1x), willingly (1x).”3 Strong points out that “This offering is always given willingly, bountifully, liberally, or as a prince would offer. It refers not to the nature of the offering or...

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