Agonizomai: Determinism and Dabbling in Dabney

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Determinism and Dabbling in Dabney
Old controversies flared once more last December at the Pyromaniacs site when Arminianism was once more pitted against Calvinism in this article. The combox was alive with (one hopes) good-natured disagreement over the operation of the human will, of its knowability and its supposed freedom. I thought that the best comments were made by a blogger using the pseudonym "Strong Tower".

Below is an extract from R.L. Dabney's Systematic Theology in which he deals with essentially the same material.

Freedom What?

The student will perceive that I have not used the phrase, "freedom of the will." I exclude it, because, persuaded that it is inaccurate, and that it has occasioned much confusion and error. Freedom is properly predicated of a person, not of a faculty. This was seen by Locke, who says, B. 2, ch. 21, sec. 10, " Liberty is not an idea belonging to volition, or preferring, but to the person having the power." This is so obviously true, as to need no argument. I have preferred therefore to use the phrase, at once popular and exact: "free agency," and "free agent." Turrettin (Loc. x, Qu. 1) sees this objection to the traditional term, "Liberum arbitrium, " and hesitates about its use. But, after carefully defining it, he concedes to custom that it may be cautiously used, in the stipulated sense of the freedom of the Agent who wills. It would have been safer to change it.

I have also preferred to state and argue the old question as to the nature of free agency, in the common form it has borne in the history of theology, before I embarrassed the student with any of the attempted modifications of the doctrine. Locke, following the sensualistic definition, says that "liberty is the idea of a power in any agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind." But more profound analysts, as Reid and Cousin, saw that it consists in more than the sensualist would represent, mere privilege to execute outwardly what we have willed. My consciousness insists, that I am also a free Agent in having that volition. There, is the essential feature of choice; there, the rational preference first exhibits itself. The rational psychologists, consequently, assert the great, central truth, that the soul is selfdetermining. They see clearly that the soul, and not the objective inducement, is the true cause of its own acts of choice; and that therefore man is justly responsible. But in order to sustain this central point, they vacillate towards the old semi-Pelagian absurdity, that not only the man, but the separate faculty of will, is self-determined. They fail to grasp the real facts as to the nature and the power of subjective motive, the exercise of another set of faculties in the soul. Edwards saw more perspicaciously.

R.L. Dabney - Systematic Theology, Chapter 7 - Free Agency and the Will


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