Peter Kreeft: The Meaning of Freedom in Aquinas; August 2019 (video)
This will be a bit disjointed; just trying to capture thoughts that resonated with me. Some of my thoughts are mixed in here. I suggest if something doesn’t sound quite right, it is likely my thought and not Kreeft’s.
Paraphrasing / summarizing Aquinas: The reason a thing is good is not simply because God wills it; rather, God wills it because it is good. In other words, the will of God is an absolute, and the intrinsic reasonability of the good is also an absolute.
An excellent argument for free will, from Aquinas (but also what C.S. Lewis uses in Mere Christianity): If there is no such thing as free will, then all moral language – all praising, blaming, rewarding, punishing, counseling, commanding, and the very concept of justice, are meaningless.
Aquinas would quote Augustine more than he did Aristotle. Two types of freedom: one, the liberty to arbitrate within yourself to make a choice between alternatives, and two, the freedom from everything that takes away from all your freedom – basically, the freedom from addiction. And the master addiction is to sin.
The whole point of free will is to gain something positive – happiness, joy, flourishing (beatitudo). In today’s world, we find many errors regarding freedom, and Aquinas offers many arguments to refute these. One error is determinism. If you don’t believe in free will, then you are left with determinism.
Another error is a higher determinism: fate, necessity – history follows that line. Then a view that has done enormous harm: voluntarism: the will doesn’t have to listen to the intellect, that authority doesn’t have to listen to reason. This started with William of Ockham and continued with Luther.
Another error is its politicization. You get this in every tyranny and in totalitarianism. Another error is the opposite of this error: pure individualism; I am responsible only to myself and no one else. Finally, a romanticism: feelings are the most powerful thing in us – ignoring reason and the will.
What would Aquinas say if he lived today about what we get wrong about freedom? Our culture’s attitude is paradoxical and ironic. On the one hand, we value freedom enormously – perhaps more than any society in history. But most of us feel that we have less freedom than we had before. How is it that we value something more but have less of it? Perhaps it is because we do not understand the meaning of the word freedom.
We also have this paradox regarding power: we have far more power over nature than we ever did before, yet most of us feel impotent in the face of this – as our technology becomes more important, we become smaller.
Freedom has become an idol, an addiction. Maybe we are all Gollum, and freedom has become our one ring. His was a ring of power. But freedom is also power – power to act.
We all repeat: all power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Why don’t we say the same about freedom? All freedom tends to corrupt, and absolute freedom corrupts absolutely.
So, how to sort out this confusion? We are confused in perhaps four ways about freedom. The first is the distinction between the church and the state as visible public institutions, thus the distinction between religious freedom and political freedom. The second is the distinction between the private and public sectors of life, thus the distinction between private and public freedom.
These two have been mashed together, causing confusion. Separating church from state (ineffective as it is, given the co-option of many religious institutions) – in other words, affording religious liberty to each individual – has grown into keeping the private religious voices out of the public political square. It is illegal to pray in public schools, but not illegal to blaspheme anywhere; it’s illegal to display the ten commandments on public buildings (but don’t tell the Supreme Court this); quoting St. Paul about homosexuality got an Australian rugby player banned for life. Believing some things in the Bible are now hate speech.