'Freedom' and 'Will'

The Empty Robot

What is it that constitutes an act of volition, or supplies us with the fact of will? The larger part of our bodily movements do not come under the heading of volition at all. The primary bodily movements are reflex, instinctive, emotional, the action following without any interposition of consciousness. Of course, an action that is performed quite automatically at one time may be voluntarily performed at another time. I may close my eyelid deliberately, or it may be because of the approach of some foreign object. Or an action, if it be performed frequently, tends to become automatic. To come within the category of a voluntary action, it must be performed consciously, and there is also present some consciousness of an end to be realized. Every voluntary action is thus really dependent upon memory. A newly-born child has no volitions, only reflexes. It is only when experience has supplied us with an idea of what may be done that we will it shall be done. This consideration alone is enough to shatter the case for the supposed freedom of the will.

— Chapman Cohen, 1919

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