The Conception of Philosophical Libertarianism and Determinism

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Two authors completely changed the modern perceptions of free will. Agustine by attempting to answer the question of why does evil exist in the world and why does God allows suffering to exist, and Hobbes by attempting to define liberty and clarifying the distinction between willing to act and willing to will. Both definitions intended to define whether there is true freedom in actions.

In one hand, Agustine deriving from Manicheanism and Neoplatonism affirms that the existence of evil lays in the fact that we, as humans, have free will.

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In his definition, God allows and enables humans to choose their own actions and evil is an inevitable result from that discerning process. Even natural misfortunes, diseases and disasters are considered by Agustine as a indirect result from human action, as if humans would get in the way of evil during the discerning process of action. Later in his life, he elaborates on this definition by providing a Theological explanation: What we, as humans, might consider as evil because it results in suffering or harm, might be shaping us and becoming an actual good or not at all evil.

On the other hand, Hobbes presents a completely different approach, since he doesn’t draw a distinction between free and unfree actions through a deliberation process. According to Hobbes, even when he recognizes a distinction or uniqueness in Human action, that differentiation does not involve a discernment process. He defines liberty as: “the absence of all the impediments to action that are not contained in the nature and intrinsical quality of the agent” . This liberty, described by Hobbes, has its limitations (later defined as impediment), as he describes the agent “free, in those things that were in his power, to follow his will” . At the same time, he defines the voluntary agent as free , understanding the choices that the agent has to choose from are limited (acknowledging the existence of the impediment) and understanding that the agent it is not defined by the discerning process, because the agent is free before the deliberating process starts, and it is also after the process ends.

Having defined what the two authors define as free will, it is important to define the relationship between free will and the normative ideal of political liberty. While living an era when the pillar of strength and stability, the Roman Empire, was being shattered, Agustine in De civitate Dei describes a struggle between the Amor libertatis (the love of liberty) and the cupiditas dominationis (the desire to dominate). He described that the Political liberty allowed Romans to dominate for praise and glory. In this sense, he justifies rebelling against unjust mastery . He also described the exercise of that political liberty, in peaceful societies, upon the threat of war, to defend life and liberty . Interesting enough, he considers that the suffering from loosing political liberty has a moral benefit which frees you from the domination of evil. This is aligned with the definition of free will provided at the beginning of this question, in which we perceive the recognition of a greater good, coming from suffering. At the same time he recognizes that political liberty assures that citizens are able to pursue the end that is materially and morally good for them. But as we described before, the absence of political liberty can also lead to an good for the citizens.

While Agustine recognizes God as the ultimate authority, even above political authority, Hobbes considers political authority artificial, stating that in their natural condition, human beings lack of government. The only authority that he recognizes lays in the relationship between the mother and the child, because the child is significantly weaker than the mom and he/she will be forever indebted to the mother because the child owns the mother its own life. In that sense, it can be perceived a clear difference between the two authors when it comes to their own perception of authority, since Agustine acknowledges authority from the beginning, when he recognizes God as the one who understands the ultimate meaning of suffering. Hobbes, on the other hand, challenges the perception of authority and, therefore, the structure of government when he considers it antinatural.

Hobbes, at the same time, states that it is impossible for humans to live in peace and security without a government, dismantling the concept of Anarchism, even though he considers authority not natural. It is important to describe that this perception has its own roots in Hobbe’s understanding of human beings. He defends that, not all, but many are (1) violent, (2) others fight out of fear and (3) some might act seeking for glory, when their lifes and our well-being is at stake . ‘The wickedness of bad men also compels good men to have recourse, for their own protection, to the virtues of war, which are violence and fraud”, Hobbes affirms.

Under the framework of government, how Hobbes predicts that humans are going to react plays a very important role, because government functions based on contracts or covenants. Those contracts assume that both parts have an interest in executing their own part of the deal. However, Hobbes defends that only the weak would carry their part of the bargain because we have a tendency to operate instinctively, that is ensuring our self-preservation, and we each have the right to determine what will ensure our self-preservation. Contrary to Agustine, who belives that someone, in this particular case God, knows better, because even in times of suffering our sorrow is purposeful; Hobbes relativizes and even makes actions pragmatic. He affirms: “To this war of every man against every man,’ he says, ‘this also is consequent [i.e., it follows]: that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place [in the state of nature]” . Based on this definition, Everything is valid, if I as a human, consider that it is needed to continue my existence.

Many still believe that Hobbes describes human motivation with civil war in his mind, and in that sense, that statement is very similar and also very different to Agustine’s justification for rebellion. While Hobbes’ justification is self-preservation, Agustine’s is to regain free will to be able to practice faith, in both cases, nonetheless, there is a reason that justifies rebelling to an authority and that is an argument where both authors find common ground. They also live in a time, historically, when the structure of government seem to be oppressing citizens (the Roman empire in the times of Agustine and the monarchy in the times of Hobbes) and both seem to have a reaction to justify naturally and philosophically rebellion.

Another very important similitude between both authors perceptions of Political Liberty is the fact that in both cases human beings are responsible for evil. The city of God, according to Agustine is “the society of men, who live not according to man in contentment with earthly felicity, but according to God in hope for everlasting felicity” . In this sense he describes that redemption as a gift that can only be accomplished when we deny what is human to us and when we embrace hope in God. Whatever it is earthly to us will lead us to evil. Hobbes, very similar, and very different at the same time, considers evil natural to human beings, as we described earlier. Hobbes alternative is different because it doesn´t consider an alternative that could be good for human beings and this has consequences in how he perceives human nature and. War, chaos and egocentric choices are what define society from this perception. ‘That a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth as for peace and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things, and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself” .

It is important to point out that Agustine´s positive alternative to evil it is not a given, it is a choice, and therefore, it is a possibility that it could not happen. Clearly, Augustine states that “the laws of man’s nature move him to hold fellowship and maintain peace with all men” , but this statement is not absolute and it is true only when humans embrace the assumptions of the ¨City of God¨: “there is nothing so social by nature, so unsocial by corruption, as this race…” . Agustine’s statements describe the potential for good in humans, that could be annihilated by human nature itself; contrary to Hobbes, who doesn´t necessarily acknowledges potentiality in humans.

In both cases we can appreciate, as it was mentioned before that both philosophers have a negative perception of the state. Agustine describes rulers as glory seekers, and humility and the source of all virtues. “Humility, by making us subject to God, exalts us. But pride, being a defect by nature, by the very act of refuting subjection and revolting from Him who is supreme, falls to a low condition” . However, virtues are unachievable in the material world, because we are constantly seeking redemption under Agustine’s scheme of life. Therefore, the role of political institutions should be to encourage virtuousness and to make humans to love God. Under this definition, the role of the state is far from promoting and providing happiness and opportunities, but to restrict and repent sinful actions. In conclusion, Augustine has a deeply negative and functional notion of the state as a political authority that should serve God and, therefore preserving peace and social order should be done through repression and discipline.

Interpreting Hobbes from the perception that we need to avoid the state of nature, it also imposes consequences on his own perfection of the State. Mainly because the transition between state of nature to civil society happens only when and if we are able to avoid the state of nature. ‘there is scarce a commonwealth in the world whose beginnings can in conscience be justified’ . This statement questions the legitimacy of government as something imposed and foisted upon people, by force and fraud, never by collective agreement, unless the government secure peace among its subjects, not under the idea of peace, but to peace itself. In that sense, the role of government and state to Hobbes restricts their right to nature, preserving only the right to defend their lives under imminent threat. We have described how Hobbes considers that humans should be able to determine what they consider as a threat to their well-being. However, once civil society exists, the only rightful judge is sovereign.

In conclusion, Agustine defines political liberty under a framework of unquestioned obedience to God’s will, understanding that our own nature is the main consequence of evil. Hobbes, on the other hand, defines political liberty under scheme of unmeasurable freedom, since, according to him, coercion and enforcement does not define freedom. Nonetheless the logic of his theory suggests that, as soon as government starts to weaken and disorder sets in, our duty of obedience lapses, the same way Agustine right to rebel is stated.  

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The conception of philosophical libertarianism and determinism. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved from