Bramhall on Freedom

His picture of human psychology sets the background for Bramhall to describe the necessary conditions for free human action. Free human actions must not be coerced or compelled; that is to say, they must not be the immediate result of an external force (as when a gust of wind forces me to “open or shut [my] eyes,” or a “strong man, holding the hand of a weaker… therewith kill[s] a third person” (LN 9)). Among uncoerced actions, free ones must be spontaneous; that is, they must be willed and taken by an agent who has (at least some dim) knowledge of her action’s end. When a stone falls to the earth, it is certainly uncoerced (it comes from what Bramhall would call an “intrinsical cause”), but it is also not spontaneous. For Bramhall, acts like the stone’s falling are natural acts; they happen in the absence of “any manner of knowledge of the end”(LN 48)  and involve no operation of the will. Among willed (voluntary, spontaneous) actions, some (like the actions of children, animals, and fools) are still unfree; these are done “with an imperfect knowledge of the end” (LN 48). Free actions are done in the presence of “a more perfect knowledge of the end” (LN 48), which for Bramhall requires deliberation. He claims that “the formal reason of liberty is election. The necessary requisite to election is deliberation” (LN 48).

The diagram below (unabashedly stolen from our class’s handout) represents the distinctions drawn in the paragraph above.



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