Summary Against Modern Thought: Intellect & Free Will

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

More on the intellect, the good, and what precisely free will means.

Chapter 48 The intellectual substance are of free-will in acting (alternate translation)

1 FROM this it is clear that the aforesaid substances are of free-will in acting.

2 That they act by judgment is clear, since through their intellective knowledge they judge of things to be done. And they must needs have freedom if, as proved, they have dominion over their action. Therefore the aforesaid substances are of free-will in acting.

Notes Which is plain, since you yourself used your intellective knowledge to judge that it would be well to read this article.

3 Again. The free is that which is its own cause. Wherefore that which is not the cause of its own acting is not free in acting. Now whatever things are not moved, nor act except they be moved by others, are not a cause of their own acting. Therefore self-movers alone have liberty in acting. These alone act by judgment: because the self-mover is divided into mover and moved; and the mover is the appetite moved by intellect, imagination, or sense, to which faculties judgment belongs. Of these then those alone judge freely which in judging move themselves. Now, no judging power moves itself to judge unless it reflect on its own action: for if it moves itself to judge it must needs know its own judgment: and this belongs to the intellect alone. Hence irrational animals have, in a sense, free movement or action, but not free judgment: whereas inanimate beings, which are moved only by others, have not even free action or movement; while intellectual beings have freedom not only of action, but also of judgment, and this is to have free-will.

Notes The italics in the translation for “The free is that which is its own cause” are original and important, especially considering arguments against free will are causative (molecules, atoms, and whatnot act by strict unbreakable “laws” so free will cannot occur). Now “no judging power moves itself to judge unless it reflect on its own action…and this belongs to the intellect alone.” Only the intellect can apprehend. Apprehension is greater than sensation or imagination. Apprehension is what you yourself are doing now by understanding these sentences.

4 Further. The apprehended form is a moving principle according as it is apprehended under the aspect of good or fittingness: because the external action in self-movers comes from the judgment whereby it is judged that something is good or fitting through the aforesaid form. Accordingly, if he who judges moves himself to judge, he must needs, by some higher form, move himself to judge. And this form can be no other than the idea itself of good or fittingness, whereby one judges of any determinate good or fitting thing. Wherefore those alone move themselves to judge who apprehend the common notion of goodness or fittingness. And these are intellectual beings alone. Therefore intellectual beings alone move themselves not only to act, but also to judge. Therefore they alone are free in judging, and this is to have free-will.

Notes We move towards what we think is good in the moment, even though, Lord help us, we often realize some movements were better not made. This says our momentary notions of the good are not accurate apprehensions of the good.

5 Moreover. Movement and action do not follow from a universal concept save through the medium of a particular apprehension: because movement and action are about particular things. Now the intellect is naturally apprehensive of universals. Wherefore, in order that movement and action of any kind follow from the apprehension of the intellect, it is necessary for the universal concept of the intellect to be applied to particulars. But the universal contains many particulars potentially. Hence application of the intellectual concept may be made to many and divers things. Consequently the judgment of the intellect about matters of action is not determined to one thing only. Therefore all intellectual beings have free-will.

Notes And we know “the intellect is naturally apprehensive of universals” because you yourself understand universals. Even claiming not to understand universals would be to claim apprehension of a universals (that there aren’t any), which is self-contradictory. The rest follows easily from choosing among potentialities.

6 Further. Certain things lack liberty of judgment, either because they have no judgment at all, as plants and stones; or because they have a judgment determined by nature to one thing, as irrational animals, for the sheep by its natural estimate judges the wolf to be harmful to it, and as a result of this judgment flies from the wolf; and the same applies to others.

Whatever beings therefore have a judgment that is not determined to one thing by nature, must needs have free-will. Now such are all intellectual beings. For the intellect apprehends not only this or that good, but good itself in general. Wherefore, since the intellect moves the will by the form apprehended; and since in all things mover and moved must needs be mutually proportionate; the will of an intellectual substance will not be determined by nature otherwise than to the good in general. Hence, whatever be offered to it under the aspect of good, it is possible for the will to be inclined thereto, since there is no natural determination to the contrary to prevent it. Therefore in all intellectual beings the will’s act resulting from the judgments of the intellect is free: and this is to have free-will which is defined as the free judgment of reason.

Notes And there you go. Free will is the apprehending and choosing what seems good, the rest following by physics and chemistry, of you like. And this reinforces the ancient notion that the most important thing we can do is know what the good is.


  1. Laffo

    Briggs.. I may have been permanently disadvantaged by my Jesuit education, but these weekly exercises are harder to understand than a paper on quantum physics. Were I god (or God) – and you all should be very relieved I’m not– I’m sure I’d make my existence inarguable. Conceding the impossibility of our having any knowledge before the beginning of this visible universe (the Big Bang as I like to call it) which of the many gods humans have conceived of is the correct one? Which has the lowest p value? I’m a Marxist (Groucho) – any god I can conceive of isn’t worth believing in.

  2. Oldavid

    Laffo, I can’t say just what sort of education has disadvantaged you but whatever it was has done a helluva good job of launching you into a make-believe world.

    I do agree, though, that ole Tom with his penchant for meticulous “I” dotting and “T” crossing is a bit hard to catch onto. That he thought it and wrote it in Latin and that the translators are not very sympathetic to current words and idiom doesn’t help either.

    Anyhow, God has “made His existence inarguable” but without denying free will to humans He cannot impose that knowledge over human perversity of intellect and will.

  3. Oldavid, what’s the point? Why would God make Himself a mystery? It’s goofy, at best.


  4. Laffo

    Thanks Bob..those citations do indeed directly address my Grouchian take – (and all this time I thought that analogy was an original!). However, both commenters assume as a given that the god of Abraham – would-be child killer – should be the object of our veneration. Of course god however defined is ineffable..but upon which particular deity should I place my Pascalian wager?

  5. Joy

    Yes, Th translation leaves a lot to be desired.
    Thomas would have said it better! (were he alive today).
    Language has become more exact, perfect and beautiful.
    Latin is limited.

  6. Oldavid

    “Oldavid, what’s the point? Why would God make Himself a mystery? It’s goofy, at best.”

    He doesn’t. It’s only the likes of you blundering around with your eyes shut claiming that it’s all shrouded in darkness.

    There is another problem… an ocean won’t fit in a Kool-Aid can.

  7. Oldavid

    “Language has become more exact, perfect and beautiful.
    Latin is limited.”

    Vernacular is fluid and indefinite; words and idiom change incessantly with use from place to place, sub-culture to culture etc.

    Latin is consistent and precise just because it’s not in common use/abuse. However, it’s foreign to most of us.

  8. Laffo

    OlDavid since people have be arguing over the nature and existence of the Abrahamic god for over 6,000 years, it’s hardly reasonable for you to aver that she has “made His existence inarguable.”
    I also don’t think you serve your argument by addressing Jersey with tired ad homs.. though I understand that there’s some history there.

  9. Oldavid

    Hey, Laffo!
    You underestimate me, ole chap. I am not intimidated by the sort of “political correctness” that you bods rely on for a “hide” or bunker from which you launch attacks with impunity.

    He (God) has definitely given us all the indications of His existence but He has not taken the freedom to be perverse from Man.

    As usual for insane self-worship these days you imagine that you are the cusp of an inevitable “becoming” in which a mindless whim of material accidents creates everything…

    Get a dose of reality, d***head! You can’t create the reality you live in any more than you can create your own parents.

  10. Laffo

    Mmm..nice display of petulant defensiveness..not much in the way of actual argument though. Anyway, if it makes you feel superior to call me a dickhead, it’s not going to ruin my day. Have a good one.

  11. Oldavid

    Even if I try to be offensive you, from the safety of your bunker, patronisingly evade the issue dismissing it as being “defensive”.

    I am not just a sheep in wolf’s clothing, cobber.

  12. Laffo

    What fascinates me about this blog is the insistency with which we are cautioned about being too certain of our knowledge when it’s based on faith in statistics, contrasted with the absolute certainty of our knowledge based on a faith that has no factual basis. And I’m not being sarcastic, it’s the contradiction that keeps me coming back.

  13. Mactoul.

    Briggs’ conclusion that
    “Free will is the apprehending and choosing what seems good, the rest following by physics and chemistry”
    directly contradicts Aquinas’ threefold distinction between man, irrational animals and plants along with stones.

    I am left perplexed. Do animals follow physics or chemistry or not. If they do, what about the distinction made by Aquinas. Is Aquinas mistaken that animals have a certain liberty from physics?

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