CT 76: Freedom of Choice in Intellectual Substances

Thomas has established that there are incorporeal beings, and that these beings are intellects. In Chapter 76, he shows that they must have free will.

This fact shows that such beings have freedom of choice.

That is, that such beings are intellects.

The intellect does not act or desire without forming a judgment, as lifeless beings do, nor is the judgment of the intellect the product of natural impulse, as in brutes, but results from a true apprehension of the object. For the intellect perceives the end, the means leading to the end, and the bearing of one on the other. Hence the intellect can be the cause of its own judgment, whereby it desires a good and performs an action for the sake of an end. But what is a cause unto itself, is precisely what we call free. Accordingly the intellect desires and acts in virtue of a free judgment, which is the same as having freedom of choice. Therefore the highest substances enjoy freedom of choice.

In other words, unlike animals, which are more-or-less programmed to act in ways that are good for them, intellects can perceive a good, can perceive what steps to take to achieve that good, and can then will to take take those steps based on its judgement. It can thereby cause itself to take those steps; and as I emphasized in the passage above, that’s precisely what it means to be free: to be able to cause oneself to do one thing or another.

Furthermore, that is free which is not tied down to any one definite course. But the appetite of an intellectual substance is not under compulsion to pursue any one definite good, for it follows intellectual apprehension, which embraces good universally. Therefore the appetite of an intelligent substance is free, since it tends toward all good in general.

In other words, there are many goods to choose from, and the intellect is free to choose from among them.

This is an interesting point. Peter Kreeft points out that we must have free will, even in Heaven; which means that we must have choices, all of which are good. Where there is only one good choice, and with sin being entirely in the past (thus eliminating the ability to make bad choices), there can be no free will. So we will have choices of good things in Heaven.

You’ll hear people say, “God has an amazing plan for your life.” I’ve always taken this to mean that God has some particular path He wants me to follow: not just in general, to Him, but in every specific. And that, if I were to truly turn to Him and obey all His promptings, that’s the path I’d follow. But apparently that’s not the case. All good roads lead to God, and Christ is the Way; but Christ is God and God is infinite. There are apparently many ways I can choose to serve God, all of which are good. I must follow God, no matter what way I go, but it’s neat to think that it isn’t all scripted, and that He lets me participate in it in a very real way.

But I digress.

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