Discuss in Light of his Treatment of Identity

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What is freedom? How is it exercised? Do we have it? If such questions were asked to people around the world, then the responses would vary. However, one commonality between the answers would be that the concept of freedom includes that one consciously acts on a decision made. Two philosophers, both considered to be compatibilist, will agree that determinism is true and the freedom of spontaneity exists, but the biggest difference between both understandings of freedom is what is needed in order for one to say they have freedom. Locke, a compatibilist, establishes three main components one must have that will enable them to say they are free; true happiness, desire, and choices. On the other hand, Leibniz, instead argues that in order for one to be considered free they must exhibit spontaneity, contingency, and intelligence. Although Locke also argues for the freedom of spontaneity, his argument differs from Leibniz. Overall, this essay aims to establish a full understanding of both philosophers’ arguments on freedom and to arrive at a conclusion as to which argument is better. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke generally defines freedom as the ability to act or not to act according to our choosing. In order to make a decision from our choices we must first grasp our desires and even before doing such, we have to understand pleasure and pain, true happiness, and misery.

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Locke writes, “As therefore the highest perfection of intellectual nature, lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation for our liberty [freedom]” (Book II. xxi. 266. 16-20). From Locke’s understanding, the foundation of freedom merely begins with our own pursuit of true happiness. True happiness exists and we will continuously search for it. True happiness, as Locke would define it to be, is beyond happiness itself; there is not misery or uneasiness and those who reach this true happiness would be so content that they would stay with it forever (II. xxi. 261. 11-13). As more of a general understanding, Locke considers happiness as temporary, is it given through multiple instants of pleasure; whereas true happiness can be brought upon by a single substance and this form of happiness as infinite as the substance itself. Pursuing true happiness is continuous primarily because we first must experience happiness it its most subtle form in order to distinguish whether we are feeling temporary happiness or true happiness, which is everlasting. What once brought someone a sheer onset of temporary happiness can now either bring misery or just not enough happiness which is why we then would consider it temporary: this is why we continue searching for that true happiness.

However, those moments of general happiness, according to Locke, is the motivation for our desires. Since we are constantly searching and experiencing the pleasures and miseries of life, we do it as a form of judgement for what can really bring us to that state of utmost happiness, true happiness. Our desires are strong emotions for the pleasures we believe are absent in our present lives. They have the ability to gravitate us to what can either bring us pleasure or pain. Our desires are guides that will lead us to our true happiness. As the search for true happiness unravels so does our new found desires. “If it be farther asked, what ‘tis moves desire? I answer happiness and that alone….Happiness then in its full extent is the utmost pleasure we are capable of, and misery the utmost pain.” (II. xxi. 258. 14-15 & 26-27). From this we understand that for Locke our desires originate from our own pleasures and pains; in other words, our own happiness and misery. For example, when an individual has a desire for a specific candy bar they have had before, then that individual understands that the candy bar had once brought them pleasure so in such a case they would pursue the candy bar to experience that sensation again. However, this is simply a form of happiness through a general view and we make decisions like this everyday in order to satisfy ourselves for the time being until we get to our true happiness.

True happiness is different for every substance and to provide an explanation for what making a choice between true happiness and temporary happiness may look like becomes very difficult. In spite of that, I would say making a choice for something that would grant one true happiness over temporary happiness would be a decision where the substance has no hesitation and understands the result of their decision would complete them for the rest of their existence; it would make them whole. When making a choice for temporary happiness it creates room for hesitation and a chance to suspend desire, this is what one can argue to be the greatest distinction between true happiness and general happiness. With this understanding, Locke also proposes the metaphysical argument that determinism is true; an example of that is that one’s past can lead to desire in which creates a problem with Locke’s claim.The problem that follows is if one’s past can lead to their desires then they are not free due to their desires being influenced by their past; there desire is not truly their own. However, Locke then writes that with our desires then comes choices. Choices are how we end up in the situation in which we can either suspend desire or not. The suspension of desire is an example of the freedom of spontaneity; in which the choices to suspend or not suspend are all up to the individual himself and that both choices are hereby compatible. Since the individual is doing the action themselves, then that is how they are considered to have freedom.

Locke would define the freedom of spontaneity as the power to act upon one’s own choices and that is how the choice of suspending desire or not fits into the freedom of spontaneity. The ultimate choices our desires give us are, 1) pursue the desire and satisfy your happiness 2) suspend your desires in which will suspend your happiness or 3) find a new desire to achieve happiness. No matter which you choose, at the end of the day it is the individual who has the power of choice. Locke touches on the thought of one having the power to suspend his or hers desires, To prevent this [Examination] we have a power to suspend the prosecution of this or that desire, as every one daily may Experiment in himself. This seems to me the source of all liberty; Free will. For during this suspension of any desire, before the will be determined to action, and the action (which follows that determination) done, we have opportunity to examine, view, and judge, of the good or evil of what we are going to do; (II. xxi. 263. 24-31). In this, Locke is describing how free will is an asset to freedom and yet freedom does not depend on the will. The will is forbearing, and exercises the power of perferring. For example, one can exercise their free will be preferring to voluntary suspend their desire. This is why Locke believes not doing an action is also considered a choice; it is you exercising your will. Choices are internal to us as they fall within the boundaries of our own individuality. Whether one chooses to suspend their desires or not, the action itself varies between person to person and that is how individuality is demonstrated. The passage mentions before we take action we have the opportunity to examine, view, and judge what we believe is best for ourselves, this is another aspect in which grants us to express our individuality.

It is through these components; true happiness, desires, and choices, such as the suspension of our desires, in which Locke considers to be the tools that show we are free. These three components lead to freedom because without understanding what brings us, individually, general happiness then we are unable to formulate desires then even the choice to suspend our desires would not exist and so we would not be able to do the action of our choosing because there were no choices to begin with. The way true happiness is incorporated into this domino effect is that it would never be found due to our inability to judge and act upon our own choices; our actions depend on the three components and due to Locke’s argument for all three existing is how he formulates the general argument that we have freedom. Leibniz would counter the majority of Locke’s arguments, but when it comes to argue for freedom, both philosophers have more moments in which they agree with one another than disagree; however, Leibniz uses the opportunity to expand on the ideas of Locke and provide a different argument for freedom. Leibniz believes, the same as Locke, that determinism is true, in which for example, ones past can lead to/influence their future desires, “They seek what they already know, (G.W. Leibniz. New Essays, II. xxi. Theo 14). This is the same way of saying we gravitate toward what is familiar to us. Returning back to the example of deciding to take the candy bar because of a former experience with it in which the individual experienced pleasure and understands that the candy bar can continuously provide that temporary happiness. The individual sought for the thing they already knew would bring pleasure. Leibniz argument for freedom incorporates determinism being true, but intelligence the first component one can say Leibniz focuses on more on in addition to freedom of spontaneity and contingency. For Leibniz, we, as monads, are conscious of our actions and can take full responsibility for them due to reason and understanding. Having consciousness can only come from monads who are intelligent and rational. Secondly, Leibniz agrees with the idea of the freedom of spontaneity, however, his interpretation of it is anyone’s actions are produced through himself and those actions must be spontaneous. Finally, Leibniz believes in contingency being part of the freedom of man. Contingency is the metaphysical aspect of freedom, it is what could have been otherwise. For example, the crimes we know and knowledge of the existence of this world could have been otherwise in which makes them contingent. Leibniz is much known to be in support of the argument for priori knowledge, knowledge gained before birth and not through experiences.

With this understanding, Leibniz counter argues Lock’s claim on true happiness with intelligence. When Locke discusses true happiness, one can conclude that he believes it exists and can be achieved. On the other hand, Leibniz argues that there is no such thing for one to achieve, true happiness does not exist, Theo: I doubt that a greatest pleasure is possible. I am inclined to believe that it can increase ad infinitum, for we do not know how far our knowledge and our organs can be developed in the course of the eternity which lies before us. So I think happiness is a lasting pleasure, which cannot occur without continual progress in our pleasures; (New Essays On Human Understanding. II. xxi. 195. Theo). The way that intelligence, knowledge, is incorporated into this is we must know what our pleasures and pains are in order to discover happiness in its most general form. With the quote above, Leibniz believes in a forever happiness that constantly changes because as we grow and search for new desires then that can alter what our “great happiness” is. For Locke, true happiness is already present, as in we already know it is out there which is why we try to reach it, but for Leibniz our true happiness comes along as we grow, even then it has the possibility of changing every time.

We are aware of many things, within ourselves and around us…and we understand then when we have distinct ideas of them accompanied by the power to reflect…So ‘understanding’ in my sense is what Latin is called intellectu, and the exercise of this faculty is called ‘intellection’, which is a distinct perception combined with a faculty of reflection… Any perception which is combined with this faculty is a thought; (II. xxi. Theo 173. s14). In a reference to Descartes, we are a thinking thing and a ‘thinking thing’ creates thoughts and ideas that derive from reason and understanding that all fall under the umbrella of knowledge. As monads we are able to understand our own actions through reason, so for Leibniz, since the concept of understanding and rational though are all properties of knowledge it then becomes so that intelligence is ? part of freedom that. That is so because, as Locke, Leibniz understands freedom to be “the power to do one wills or in the power to will as one should…[freedom] is a matter of having the use of things which are customarily in our power, and above all with the free to use our body” (II. xxi. Theo 174. s8). In order to even execute our actions and exercise this power, we have to first understand them just as we have to understand and compose thoughts of what will grant us happiness. In addition, using reason to make decisions of whether to suspend a desire or not. That is how intelligence is part of freedom. As previously mentioned, Locke believes we have the power to suspend desire in terms of our free will. Leibniz takes the idea of suspending our desires further and claims the cause of one suspending our desires is due to that desire not providing enough pleasure or even in order to act on that desire it can be uncomfortable. For Locke, the suspension of a desire is more so due to the desire holding one back from reaching true happiness in the long run.

For Leibniz, the suspension for a desire is due to what the desire can do the individual in the present moment, The execution of our desire is suspended or prevented when it is not strong enough to arouse us and to overcome the difficulty or discomfort involved in satisfying it…the desire is strong enough in itself to arouse us if nothing hinders it. It can be blocked by contrary inclinations, either consisting in a mere propensity,… or amounting to an actual desire. But as these contrary inclinations, propensities, and desires must already exist in the soul, it does not have them within its power; and consequently it could not resist then in any free and voluntary way in which reason could play a part; (Leibniz. New Essays…, Theo. 196). Leibniz explains that reasons to suspend a desire already exist within us even before we decide that the desire no longer arouses us. The issue is we cannot ensure our minds will turn away strong desires and that is something Locke never considered. For Locke, we may not always suspend our desires but the choice to do so is always there. In Locke’s views we are capable of suspending any desire it is how we exercise our free will without taking into considerations that some desires carry stronger emotions behind them that would affect whether or not we wish to suspend them. Later in the same paragraph, Leibniz comes up with the solution that in order to suspend a strong desire, the mind must be prepared in advance of already suspending the desire; so moving from one thought to another thought and applying reason behind them would be the best way in suspending desires so strong. Leibniz suggests that the best way we prepare the mind is by “occasionally withdrawing into oneself” and asking ourselves questions such as, “What am I doing here?” or “Why am I here?”. In other words, to train the mind to apply the intellectual skill of using reason as evidence for suspending desires. Both philosophers believe in the freedom of spontaneity, which

is that we have the freedom of choice in terms of our actions. With this freedom it must be understood that the actions produced by any substance are produced through themselves. However, a problem with this argument is how is the freedom of spontaneity present when in situations where our actions are cause by another substance. For example, if a person was held at gunpoint and asked by the perpetrator to let go of all valuables with in the luggage the person carries, then the individual would do the action solely because their choices are either 1) don’t and be killed or 2) do it and not be harmed or 3) do it and they still have the possibility of being harmed because it was never promised that no harm will come to them. Leibniz uses the word ‘constraint’ to argue this thought, As for ‘constraint’, it is useful to distinguish two sorts: physical, as when a man is imprisoned against his will or thrown off a precipice; and moral, as for example the fear of a greater evil, in which case the action, although in a way compelled, is nevertheless voluntary.

One can also be compelled by the thought of a greater good, as when a man is tempted by the offer of a too great benefit, although this is not usually called constraint”; (II. xxi. Theo 179. s14) The example of a person being asked to commit an action outside their will is an example of a moral constraint since the only possible and logical action one can make is to do what is being asked outside the freedom of their will in order to avoid being harmed from the greater evil. However, the action was not produced through the substance itself rather forced by another substance. This is the flaw of the moral freedom of spontaneity. Leibniz believes that because man would do what he must in order to be out of harms way and since the only option is to abide to what is being asked in order not to be harmed then the action is no longer voluntary, it is not spontaneous. Finally, Leibniz argues that contingency is the third part of human freedom. For Leibniz, contingency is what could have been otherwise. For example, we understand the crimes and the existence of this world but God could have possibly made another world or universe and in that other world such things like The Zodiac Killer crimes do not exist. The reason why Leibniz is incorporating contingency into his account of freedom is because as monads we can not be reduced to a single identity and that is due to the fact that we are continuously unfolding.

The constant unfolding is another reason as to why we are unable to achieve true happiness as I previously mentioned in this essay because as grow and change so does the substances that can give us true happiness.. Leibniz uses the motion of a ball in order to argue for contingency, “This conditional truth- If the ball is in motion in a smooth trajectory without any impediment, it will continue in the same motion-may be regarded as in a way necessary though fundamentally it depends not just on geometry but also on an assumption- but this non-conditional proposition- This ball is now in motion in this plane- is an entirely contingent truth, and in this sense the ball is a contingent unfree agent” (II. xxi. Theo 177-178. s9). With this, Leibniz is stating that under the first truth we are using an assumption to say that the ball will continuously be in motion whereas it can be otherwise that the ball is solely in motion in the plane and it is not in a continuous motion. What makes an action contingent is the possibility that the action could be done different in which can have a different end result. Contingency for Leibniz is a metaphysical necessity that is part of freedom. In conclusion, Locke and Leibniz have fairly similar thoughts on the freedom of man; however, I find Locke’s arguments and supporting evidence logically better the Leibniz. I can follow Locke’s understanding of the freedom of man as he build on true happiness, desire, and choices. Locke adds even so his thoughts of the freedom of spontaneity to further his argument; although Leibniz offers a counter argument to Locke’s evidence on true happiness, it is not enough to not consider his argument as being logically better. 

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Discuss in Light of His Treatment of Identity. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved October 5, 2022 , from
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