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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Freedom and indifference

One of the main targets of Leibniz's criticism (directed to Bayle) in the third part of the Theodicée is the idea that freedom involves indifference. Both in the case of God's free (and wise) choice of one among infinite conceivable possible worlds and in the case of human freedom moved by reasons fully known by God. In paragraph 288 he considers that the three only necessary conditions for freedom are intelligence (distinct knowledge of the object of one's choice), spontaneity (absence of external imposition) and contingency (absence of a logical or metaphysical necessity conducting the course of action). (Incidentally, at least the two last conditions can be ascribed to any agent - or actant - that is not subject to further command either by other agents or by necessities.) Indifference, on the other hand, is both non-existent both for God and any substance (including Buridan's ass) and an anathema to wisdom - God acted wisely, this is why some potentialities were already given before creation which was strictly speaking not ab nihilo, see 335. To act freely is to have a purpose and to respond to preferences and not to be unbiased - which is to act randomly.

Contingency is therefore broader than accident. An accident is indifferent whereas a contingent choice is shaped by differences, by what other existing things provoke. In an ontology of agents, contingency could be the result of an agent's choice for a course of action (not shaped by necessity) or the unintended which is the result of many agents's choices. Still indifference is opposed to necessity, accident is a kind of contingency. Because contingency is understood in terms of compossibility, every agent is equally contingent on the others (and under the necessity of non-contradiction). Arguably, every agent has the elements to be free. Compossibility, on the other hand, is opposed to indifference. Here Leibniz's freedom can be compared to Whitehead's creative advance: both are grounded in the opposite of indifference. In Whitehead, creative advance is traced through the sense of importance for each agent (actual entity). Here again, there is no genuine creative advance in an indifferent scenario where nothing is important.

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