The necessity of agency

It says: “In the beginning was the Word.”
Already I am stopped. It seems absurd.
The Word does not deserve the highest prize,
I must translate it otherwise
If I am well inspired and not blind.
It says: In the beginning was the Mind.
Ponder that first line, wait and see,
Lest you should write too hastily.
Is mind the all-creating source?
It ought to say: In the beginning there was Force.
Yet something warns me as I grasp the pen,
That my translation must be changed again.
The spirit helps me. Now it is exact.
I write: In the beginning was the Act.

— Goethe, Faust (Kaufmann translation)

All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

— Joseph Smith, Doctrine and Covenants 93:30

For several years now I have maintained the position that belief in “free will,” in the normally accepted sense of that term, is logically incoherent and not-even-false, that it is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism and as such could not be a feature of any conceivable universe. (See my posts Free will: a problem for everyone, Free will and the limits of reason, and A concise statement of the problem of free will.) Now, after protracted reflection on the kalam paradox, I am recanting that position. I now accept the philosophical necessity of free will — or, to use more precise language, of agency. The universe must include things that act, over and above things that merely happen.

This means that I am rejecting one of the axioms on which my past reasoning about free will was based. Contrary to what I wrote in my first post on free will, there is — must be — “something which is neither chance nor necessity nor a combination of the two.” I am obviously well aware of the paradoxical nature of this position — but the scales have tipped, and I now consider this particular complex of paradoxes to be more philosophically acceptable than that which arises from the contrary position.


I will probably be explaining this further in future posts, or at least attempting to do so. (The topic is notoriously difficult even to think clearly about, to say nothing of writing!) At this point I merely wish to notify my readers that I have changed my mind on this point and no longer stand by what I have written in the past about free will.

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