Determinism or Free-Will?

Chaptman Cohen


The demand for a new edition of Determinism or Free-Will is gratifying as affording evidence of the existence of a public, apart from the class catered for by more expensive publications, interested in philosophic questions[1]. It was, indeed, in the conviction that such a public existed that the book was written. Capacity, in spite of a popular impression to the contrary, has no very close relation to cash, nor is interest in philosophic questions indicated solely by the ability to spend a half-guinea or guinea on a work that might well have been published at three or four shillings. There exists a fairly large public of sufficient capacity and education intelligently to discuss the deeper aspects of life, but which has neither time nor patience to give to the study of bulky works that so often leave a subject more obscure at the end than it was at the beginning.

Nor does there appear any adequate reason why it should be otherwise. A sane philosophy must base itself on the common things of life, and must deal with the common experience of all men. The man who cannot find material for philosophic study by reflecting on those which are near at hand is not likely to achieve success by travelling all over the globe. He will only succeed in presenting to his readers a more elaborately acquired and a more expensively gained confusion. Nor is there any reason why philosophy should be discussed only in the jargon of the schools, except to keep it, like the religious mysteries, the property of the initiated few. We all talk philosophy, as we all talk prose, and doubtless many are as surprised as was M. Jourdain, when the fact is pointed out to them.

So whatever merit this little work has is chiefly due to the avoidance, so far as possible, of a stereotyped phraseology, and to the elimination of irrelevant matter that has gathered round the subject. The present writer has long had the conviction that the great need in the discussion of ethical and psychological questions is their restatement in the simplest possible terms. The most difficult thing that faces the newcomer to these questions is to find out what they are really all about. Writer follows writer, each apparently more concerned to discuss what others have said than to deal with a straightforward discussion of the subject itself. Imposing as this method may be, it is fatal to enlightenment. For the longer the discussion continues the farther away from the original question it seems to get. One has heard of “The Religion of Philosophy,” and its acquisition of obscurity in thought and prolixity in language seems to have gone some distance towards earning the title.

Being neither anxious to parade the extent of my reading, nor greatly overawed by the large number of eminent men who have written on the subject, I decided that what was needed was a plain statement of the problem itself. My concern, therefore, has been to keep out all that has not a direct bearing on the essential question, and only to deal with other writers so far as a discussion of what they say may help to make plain the point at issue. If the result does not carry conviction it at least makes clear the ground of disagreement. And that is certainly something gained.

Moreover, there is a real need for a clearing away of all the verbal lumber that has been allowed to gather round subjects concerning which intelligent men and women will think even though they may be unable to reach reliable or satisfactory conclusions. And I have good grounds for believing that so far this little work has achieved the purpose for which it was written. If I may say it without being accused of conceit, it has made the subject clear to many who before found it incomprehensible. And, really, philosophy would not be so very obscure, if it were not for the philosophers. We may not always be able to find answers to our questions, but we ought always to understand what the questions are about. That it is not always the case is largely due to those who mistake obscurity for profundity, and in their haste to rise from the ground lose altogether their touch with the earth.

C. C.



I.— The Question Stated

II.— “Freedom” and “Will”

III.— Consciousness, Deliberation, and Choice

IV.— Some Alleged Consequences of Determinism

V.— Professor James on the “Dilemma of Determinism”

VI.— The Nature and Implications of Responsibility

VII.— Determinism and Character

VIII.— A Problem in Determinism

IX.— Environment


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