Saturday, February 21, 2009

Philo on Free Will

Philo of Alexandria
(20 BC - 50 AD)
(Image from Wikipedia)

I have not forgotten that I owe several people a follow-up post on divine sovereignty and human freedom, and I have been thinking about a response to the critiques.

In the meantime, I've been alerted by Frank McCoy (of St. Paul, Minnesota) to a passage in Philo of Alexandria's text On the Unchangableness of God:
X. Man, then, has received this one extraordinary gift, intellect, which is accustomed to comprehend the nature of all bodies and of all things at the same time; for, as in the body, the sight is the most important faculty, and since in the universe the nature of light is the most pre-eminent thing, in the same manner that part of us which is entitled to the highest rank is the mind. (46) For the mind is the sight of the soul, shining transcendently with its own rays, by which the great and dense darkness which ignorance of things sheds around is dissipated. This species of soul is not composed of the same elements as those of which the other kinds were made, but it has received a purer and more excellent essence of which the divine natures were formed; on which account the intellect naturally appears to be the only thing in us which is imperishable, (47) for that is the only quality in us which the Father, who created us, thought deserving of freedom; and, unloosing the bonds of necessity, he let it go unrestrained, bestowing on it that most admirable gift and most connected with himself, the power, namely, of spontaneous will, as far as he was able to receive it; for the irrational animals, in whose soul there is not that especial gift tending to freedom, namely, mind, are put under the yoke and have bridles put in their mouths, and so are given unto men to be their slaves, as servants are given to their masters. But man, who has had bestowed on him a voluntary and self-impelling intellect, and who for the most part puts forth his energies in accordance with deliberate purpose, very properly receives blame for the offences which he designedly commits, and praise for the good actions which he intentionally performs. (48) For, in the case of other plants and other animals, we cannot call either the good that is caused by them deserving of praise, nor the evil that they do deserving of blame; for all their motions in either direction, and, all their changes, have no design about them, but are involuntary. But the soul of man, being the only one which has received from God the power of voluntary motion, and which in this respect has been made to resemble God, and being as far as possible emancipated from the authority of that grievous and severe mistress, necessity, may rightly be visited with reproach if she does not pay due honour to the being who has emancipated her. And therefore, in such a case, she will most deservedly suffer the implacable punishment denounced against slavish and ungrateful minds. (49) So that God "considered" and though within himself, not now for the first time, but long ago, and with great steadiness and resolution, "that he had made man;" that is to say, he considered within himself what kind of being he had made him. For he had made him free from all bondage or restraint, able to exert his energies in accordance with his own will and deliberate purpose, on this account: that so knowing what things were good and what, on the contrary, were evil, and having arrived at a proper comprehension of what is honourable and what is disgraceful, and apprehending what things are just and what unjust, and, in short, what things flow from virtue and what from wickedness, he might exercise a choice of the better objects and an avoidance of their opposites; (50) and this is the meaning of the oracle recorded in Deuteronomy, "Behold, I have put before thy face life and death; good and evil. Do thou choose life."12 Therefore he teaches us by this sentence both that men have a knowledge of good and of the contrary, evil, and that it is their duty to choose the better in preference to the worse, preserving reason within themselves as an incorruptible judge, to be guided by the arguments which sound sense suggests, and to reject those which are brought forward by the contrary power.
This passage is found in the work On the Unchangableness of God, from The Works of Philo Judaeus, the Contemporary of Josephus (London, H. G. Bohn, 1854-1890) and was translated from the Greek by Charles Duke Yonge. I searched for an online copy of the original Greek text but found only a defective one Google Books here, which begins on page 75 but is missing pages 76 and 77, so the copy is not very helpful.

This is unfortunate, for I'd like to know the Greek for what Yonge has translated as "a voluntary and self-impelling intellect," for this sounds rather like what contemporary philosophers call "libertarian free will" in its emphasis upon the "self-impelling" of our intellect. Another translation -- appearing in Giovanni Reale's Schools of the Imperial Age (edited and translated by John R. Catan) -- offers "a spontaneous and self-determined will," which is similar in meaning but differing in terms.

Philo, of course, is drawing on Stoic and Platonic thought, but he attempts to ground his theology in scripture, specifically Deuteronomy 30:15, which states: "Behold, I have put before thy face life and death; good and evil. Do thou choose life."

I did manage to find the Greek for this quote:
Quod Deus immutab. § 10, i. 280 = [10].50, quoting Deut. 30.15: παρὸ καὶ λόγιόν ἐστι τοιοῦτον ἀναγεγραμμένον ἐν Δευτερονομίῳ· „ἰδοὺ δέδωκα πρὸ προσώπου σου τὴν ζωὴν καὶ τὸν θάνατον, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ τὸ κακόν, ἔκλεξαι τὴν ζωήν‟ (Deut. 30.15,19). And this is the meaning of the oracle recorded in Deuteronomy, "Behold, I have put before thy face life and death; good and evil. Do thou choose life" (Yonge).
This comes from a website presenting the notes that Herbert Edward Ryle wrote for an edition of Philo (1895).

Enough for now, for the day calls me to my works of days and ways.

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At 11:37 AM, Blogger Frank McCoy said...

Dear Dr. Hodges:
Thank you for the credit.

The sentence with the phrase translated as "voluntary and self-impelling intellect" reads: Ho de anthrwpos ethelourgou kai autokeleustou gnwmes lachwn kai prosairetikais chrwmenos ta polla tais energeiais eikotws phogon men eschen eph hois ek pronoias adikei epainon de eph hois hekwn katorthoi.

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thank Mr. McCoy, I'll try to puzzle that out and see what Philo may have meant about free will.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:00 PM, Blogger Jan Krans-Plaisier said...

You may want the Greek as Greek:
ὁ δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἐθελουργοῦ καὶ αὐτοκελεύστου γνώμης λαχὼν καὶ προαιρετικαῖς χρώμενος τὰ πολλὰ ταῖς ἐνεργείαις εἰκότως ψόγον μὲν ἔσχεν ἐφ᾽ οἷς ἐκ προνοίας ἀδικεῖ, ἔπαινον δὲ ἐφ᾽ οἷς ἑκὼν κατορθοῖ. (Note ψόγον.)
Source: the Philo Concordance Database module in BibleWorks 7.

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thank you, Dr. Krans. That's very helpful.

Jeffery Hodges

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