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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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8. Freud 186


Chapter Eight Freud …the ego is not the master in its own house.1 —Sigmund Freud, “A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis” (1917) As we move forward in time through the 20th and into the 21st century, we find that scientific fields that address the workings of the mind and brain, i.e., psy- chology, psychiatry, and neuroscience, tend to take a determinist point of view, that is, that free will is purely an illusion. They recognize that the choices we make are contingent on past events and also on neuroscience (the way that the human brain physically works and transmits information). They acknowledge that these interactions influence our behavior and therefore, the goal of psy- chology has evolved so that today it seeks to investigate the numerous vari- ables—biological (inheritance, gender, neuroscience of the brain), personal (one’s upbringing), and social beliefs (imparted by one’s culture and social status)—that interact in determining behavior and thought processes. If a psy- chologist suspects that a mental condition may be causally related to a mal- function of the brain, he will recommend that the patient be evaluated by medical doctors and by neuroscientists, in particular. Sigmund Freud, the single most influential psychologist of the 20th cen- tury, thought that the unanalyzed mind does not have free will. He viewed us as marionettes who strings are commandeered by various realms, each compet- ing for dominance. These spheres of influence that rule us—and often even ruin our lives—are many: the conscious mind;...

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