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Special Portuguese Spanish    

Year 6 - N° 272 – August 5, 2012


Belo Horizonte, MG (Brasil)

Pedro Campos - pedro@aliseditora.com.br  


Can free will be misused?

Self knowledge is crucial in order to
make better choices and make a
better use of free-will

José Lourenço de Sousa Neto


When Paulo said – “All things are licit...” – in Cor 6:12 he seems to suggest that there’s no bad, in principle, in enjoying free-will. There’s the use of free-will, pure and simple. The use in itself is not good or bad – it’s a possibility, in the sense of being possible, viable, that can be done. Whatever is decided by the subject, in the use of his free-will, it is always allowed, made possible, is within his ability and there are no obstacles enough to stop it from happening. Therefore, to act with freedom of free-will is only to do what you’re set out to do, provided you achieve it. This is no Good or Evil in itself.

The idea that God forbids something – such as eating from the tree of Good or Evil- lacks sense if it’s not taken as a mere expression or a metaphor.

God wouldn’t be God if his ‘commands’ could be disobeyed. If the ordinary man, with some power, is able to make sure his determinations and desires are fulfilled, at least partially accordin to his power, God as The almighty, would have ways to ensure his orders are followed. By the way, He wouldn’t even have to dictate commands – creatures simply wouldn’t have a way act differently. Hence the possibility to understand that the use of free-will, in itself, is neither good or bad. As a matter of fact, free-will is given to man as a prerogative for being what he is, diffrerent from other animals.


The outcome of a choice made can be good or bad, or even neutral


The use of free-will implies choice. It makes no sense in saying that of free-will was used  when there was no choice. If there’s only one path, there’s no choice to make and, therefore, there’s no arbitrary action – of decision, of choice. And, in life we’re always making choices – we are doomed to freedom (Sartre), there isn’t the “not choosing”.

But, if the act of choosing is not good or bad, the same does not apply to its consequences. The outcome of a choice made can be good or bad, or even neutral – neither one nor the other. Enters Paulo’s words – “… but not all things are convenient.” The verb convene alludes to the adequacy and the purpose of the action. Why was it done? Is it appropriate for the evolutionary purposes of the Spirit? Is it in accordance with what’s been learnt about about a higher reality? That’s where the challenge begins. It’s not just about consulting with your desires – do I want it or do I not? -, not even operational posibilities – can I or can’t I? We need to go further and ask: are you interested in the consequences of that choice or not? What do they contribute in reaching the ultimate target? And more importantly: Is it bearable for the Spirit that makes choices, meaning it is aware an prepared for the consequences, that it is inevitable?

Paulo wisely adds up: “All things are licit, but I won’t let be ridden by any of them”. What that means is that the table is set and the array of options is wide, but I won’t get attached to any of them and will chose only the ones that can do me good. The warning about the use of free-will only makes sense from a cause-and-effect standpoint. Once the process is triggered  - the right to arbitrate and act out is used – or, in other terms, planted the act, the result is a mere consequence, the reaping is inevitable.  


What may seem pleasant for the man of the city may be disagreeable for the countryman


So, if you don’t want a bitter fruit, you chose well the seed to be sown. Being “responsibility a necessary consequence of freedom”, the agent will, wether he likes it or not, answer for the choices he’s made.

From another viewpoint, even the consequences would not just be good or bad. If we consider the evolving Spirit, all of his choices, with their respective results, are elements of learning. We learn all the time, whichever the choice/outcome, or cause/effect.

If, in order to achive target X, an individual choses path A, passing up B, and misses the target, at least he will learn the path not to chose next time. It’s not, rigorously, about a good or bad choice/outcome – because one way or another, learning has taken place. And there’s always the possibility of repeating the lesson…

There’s a tendency to deem good or bad as pleasant or unpleasant. This way of looking at it is quite limitating, because being pleasant or not depends exclusively on the level in which the individual finds himself in and on his spiritual evolution. What is pleasant for the man in big cities can be extremely unpleasant for the man living in the jungle. Not every animal can bite, happily, into a piece of meat, as not every animal accepts birseeds as meal. Therefore, to judge if something is good or bad just by the sudden happines or sadness it causes is not a good criteria.

The perception of a spiritual reality, the acknowledgement that we are more than an agglomerate of flesh and bones, to see yourself as an evolving Spirit in an eternal coming of age, to assume yourself as a son of God – “I said you are gods, you are all sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6) -, As a holder of the divine flame – “Let your light shine before others” (Jesus, Mt 6:16) – broadens the perspective of the individual and takes him “off the ground”, showing him horizons further beyond the limited realm of human senses.


We know that evolution is a process to which all Spirits are subject to


Right or wrong, good or bad, pleasant or disagreeable, they all take up another configuration and “man is the measure for all things” (Pythagoras of Abdera) is replaced by “the Spirit is the measure of all things”.

Actions, behaviors or choices, unpleasant to the limitating eye of immediatism, are done willingly if the Spirit sees in them elements that help their evolutionary journey. What seems like suffering, when measured under the ruler of the here and now, is absorbed peacefully when the Spirit realises it as necessary, useful for his emancipation. Hence Jesus’ invitation- “take me yoke upon you and learn from me (…), for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:29-30) – is in such a perfect sync with his consolation – “I desire mercy and not sacrifices” (Mt 9:13).

Being evolution a process to which all Spirits are subject to and no one can abdicate, as left clear by the Law of Progress, thoroughly described in The Book of Spirits, it’s wise to question, when exercising free-will, what’s more appropriate for each endeavor. It’s not very logic to chose a momentary satisfaction over something that lasts longer. A brief moment of happiness is only justifiable if it doesn’t lead to sadness afterwards.

Paulo’s warnings are also about passions, that can bring so much pain to the ones slaved by them.

Greeks already warned us. The so misunderstood and distorted phylosophy of Epicuro already preached having a balance when making choices as a priviledge of the wise. Man cannot be happy if he’s not free, and he’s not free if he allows himself to become a slave of passions. Therefore, his choices must have in mind a higher joy, long-lasting, as opposed to an elusive happiness.


Progress is inevitable in the inferior forms of Nature, but with man it happens differently


From another source, stoics taught ethical demeanor and moral strictness as a means to translate, through individual action, the universal Logos. This requires an understanding of the whole, which is a characteristic of the wise.

Later, St. Augustine, linking helenism and christianity, will teach that man, when seeking happiness, is, in fact, looking for the Good, which is contained in a virtuous life and in the practice of love. For him there’s no Evil, but the absolute Good – being God perfection. His creation cannot be imperfect; “from the absolut perfection of God derives the relative perfection of the created universe”.
(1) Augustine does not deny the existence of mistakes, which are a consequence of the exercise of freedom – man trades off the relative for the absolut and pays the price for his choice. But in order to chose correctly, man needs to know… The “know thyself”, so much in accordance with Socrates, is, therefore, emblematic. Only by taking possesion of yourself, as a Spiritual individuality, as well as an element in the context of a city (and we may extend the meaning of city to the universe, or creation), knowing his potentialities and what is expected from him, that the individual can make more adequate choices.

We conclude from all of this that self-knowledge is fundamental for us to make better choices, better using our free-will. If progress is “inevitable in the inferior forms of Nature”, with man it only occurs when we bring the “will and Eternal Laws together”
(2),and that is impossible without knowing yourself.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”
(Jesus, Jo 8:32).






(1) Franklin Leopoldo e Silva, in Felicidade. São Paulo: Claridade Publishing, 2007, page 47.

(2) Léon Denis, in O problema do ser, do destino e da dor. Rio de Janeiro: FEB, 2007, page 166.


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