Cosma Shalizi quotes Gilbert Ryle in his defence:

Excerpt from Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind, Ch. III, sec. 2, pp. 63-9 of the Barnes & Noble edition. Not for the copyright-squeamish. Any errors in spelling or punctuation are, of course, mine, and should be discounted appropriately. [Ditto comments in square brackets. -CRS]

Volitions have been postulated as special acts, or operations, 'in the mind', by means of which a mind gets its ideas translated into facts. I think of some state of affairs which I wish to come into existence in the physical world, but, as my thinking and wishing are unexecutive, they require the mediation of a further executive mental process. So I perform a volition which somehow puts my muscles into action. Only when a bodily movement has issued from such a volition can I merit praise or blame for what my hand or tongue has done. It will be clear why I reject this story. It is just an inevitable extension of the myth of the ghost in the machine. It assumes that there are mental states and processes enjoying one sort of existence, and bodily states and processes enjoying another. An occurrence on the one stage is never numerically identical with an occurrence on the other. So, to say that a person pulled the trigger intentionally is to express at least a conjunctive proposition, asserting the occurrence of one act on the physical stage and another on the mental stage; and, according to most versions of the myth, it is to
express a causal proposition, asserting that the bodily act of pulling the trigger was the effect of a mental act of willing to pull the trigger.

According to the theory, the workings of the body are motions of matter in space. The causes of these motions must then be either other motions of matter in space or, in the privileged case of human beings [or aliens? -CRS] thrusts of another kind. In some way which must forever remain a mystery, mental thrusts, which are not movements of matter in space, can cause muscles to contract. [Or, presumably, cause nerves to fire, which then cause muscles to contract. -CRS] To describe a man as intentionally pulling the trigger is to state that such a mental thrust did cause the contraction of the muscles of his finger. So the language of `volitions' is the language of the para-mechanical theory of the mind. If a theorist speaks without qualms of `volitions', or `acts of will', no further evidence is needed to show that he swallows whole the dogma that a mind is a secondary field of special causes. It can be predicted that he will correspondingly speak of bodily actions as `expressions' of mental processes. He is likely also to speak glibly of `experiences', a plural noun commonly used to denote the postulated non-physical episodes which constitute the shadow-drama on the ghostly boards of the mental stage.

The first objection to the doctrine that overt actions, to which we ascribe intelligence-predicates, are results of counterpart hidden operations of willing is this. Despite the fact that theorists have, since the Stoics and Saint Augustine, recommended us to describe our conduct in this way, no one, save to endorse the theory, ever describes his own conduct, or that of his acquaintances, in the recommended idioms. No one ever says such things as that as 10 a.m. he was occupied in willing this or that, or that he performed five quick and easy volitions and two slow and difficult volitions between midday and lunch-time. An accused person may admit or deny that he did something, or that he did it on purpose, but he never admits or denies having willed. Nor do the judge and jury require to be satisfied by evidence, which in the nature of the case could never be adduced, that a volitions preceded the pulling of the trigger. Novelists describe the actions, remarks, gestures and grimaces, the daydreams, deliberations, qualms and embarrassments of their characters; but they never mention their volitions. They would not know what to say about them.

By what sort of predicates should they be described? Can they be sudden or gradual, strong or weak, difficult or easy, enjoyable or disagreeable? Can they be accelerated, decelerated, interrupted, or suspended? Can people be efficient or inefficient at them? Can we take lessons in executing them? Are they fatiguing or distracting? Can I do two or seven of them synchronously? Can I remember executing them? Can I execute them, while thinking of other things, or while dreaming? Can they become habitual? Can I forget how to do them? Can I mistakenly believe that I have executed one, when I have not, or that I have not executed one, when I have? At which moment was the boy going through a volition to take the high dive? When he set foot on the ladder? When he took his first deep breath? When he counted off `One, two, three -- Go', but did not go? Very, very shortly before he sprang? What would his own answer be to those questions? Champions of the doctrine maintain, of course, that the enactment of volitions is asserted by implication, whenever an overt act is described as intentional, voluntary, culpable or meritorious; they assert too that any person is not merely able but bound to know that he is willing when he is doing so, since volitions are defined as a species of conscious process. [Are they always? -CRS] So if ordinary men and women fail to mention their volitions in their descriptions of their own behaviour, this must be due to their being untrained in the dictions appropriate to the description of their inner, as distinct from their overt, behaviour. However, when a champion of the doctrine is himself asked how long ago he executed his last volition, or how many acts of will he executes in, say, reciting `Little Miss Muffet' backwards, he is apt to confess to finding difficulties in giving the answer, though these difficulties should not, according to his own theory, exist. If ordinary men never report the occurrence of these acts, for all that, according to the theory, they should be encountered vastly more frequently than headaches, or feelings of boredom; if ordinary vocabulary has no non-academic names for them; if we do not know how to settle simple questions about their frequency, duration or strength, then it is fair to conclude that their existence is not asserted on empirical grounds. The fact that Plato and Aristotle never mentioned them in their frequent and elaborate discussions of the nature of the soul and the springs of conduct is due not to any perverse
neglect by them of notorious ingredients of daily life but to the historical circumstance that they were not acquainted with a special hypothesis the acceptance of which rests not on the discovery but on the postulation of these ghostly thrusts.

The second objection is this. It is admitted that one person can never witness the volitions of another; he can only infer from an observed action to the volition from which it resulted, and then only if he has any good reason to believe that the overt action was a voluntary action, and not a reflex or habitual action, or one resulting from some external cause. It follows that no judge, schoolmaster, or parent ever knows that the actions which he judges merit praise or blame; for he cannot do better than guess that the action was willed. Even a confession by the agent, if such confessions were ever made, that he had executed a volition before his hand did the deed, would not settle the question. The pronouncement of the confession is only another overt muscular action. The curious conclusion results that though volitions were called in to explain our appraisals of actions, this explanation is just what they fail to provide. If we had no other antecedent grounds for applying appraisal-concepts to the actions of others, we should have no reasons at all for inferring from those actions to the volitions alleged to give rise to them.

Nor could it be maintained that the agent himself can know that any overt action of his own is the effect of a given volition. Supposing, what is not the case, that he could know for certain, either from the alleged direct deliverances of consciousness, or from the alleged direct findings of introspection, that he had executed and act of will to pull the trigger just before he pulled it, this would not prove that the pulling was the effect of that willing. The connection between volitions and movements is allowed to be mysterious, so, for all he knows, his volition may have had some other movement as its effect and the pulling of the trigger may have had some other
event for its cause.
[!!! -CRS]

Thirdly, it would be improper to burke the point that the connection between volition and movement is admitted to be a mystery. It is a mystery not of the unsolved but soluble type, like the problem of the cause of cancer, but of quite another type. The episodes supposed to constitute the careers of bodies have another sort; and no budge-status is allowed. Transactions between minds and bodies involve links where no links can be. That there should be any causal transactions between minds and matter conflicts with one part, that there should be none conflicts with another part of the theory. Minds, as the whole legend describes them, are what must exist if there is to be a causal explanation of the intelligent behavior of human bodies; and minds, as the legend describes them, live on a floor of existence defined as being outside the causal system to which bodies belong.

Fourthly, although the prime function of volitions, the task for the performance of which they were postulated, is to originate bodily movements, the argument, such as it is, for their existence entails that some mental happenings must also result from acts of will. Volitions were postulated to be that which makes actions voluntary, resolute, meritorious and wicked. But predicates of these sorts are ascribed not only to bodily movements but also to operations which, according to theory, are mental and not physical operations. A thinker may ratiocinate resolutely, or imagine wickedly; he may try to compose a limerick and he may meritoriously concentrate on his algebra. Some mental processes, then can, according to the theory, issue from volitions. So what of volitions themselves? Are they voluntary or involuntary acts of the mind? Clearly either answer leads to absurdities. If I cannot help willing to pull the trigger, it would be absurd to describe my pulling it as `voluntary'. But if my volition to pull the trigger is voluntary, in the sense assumed by the theory, then it must issue from a prior volition and that from another ad infinitum. It has been suggested, to avoid this difficulty, that volitions cannot be described as either voluntary or involuntary. `Volition' is a term of the wrong type to accept either predicate. If so, it would seem to follow that it is also of the wrong type to accept such predicates as `virtuous' and `wicked', `good' and `bad', a conclusion which might embarrass those moralists
who use volitions as the sheet-anchor of their systems.

In short, then, the doctrine of volitions is a causal hypothesis, adopted because it was wrongly supposed that the question, `What makes a bodily movement voluntary?' was a causal question. This supposition is, in fact, only a special twist of the general of the general supposition that the question, `How are mental-conduct concepts applicable to human behavior?' is a question about the causation of that behavior. Champions of the doctrine should have noted the simple fact that they and all other sensible persons knew how to decide questions about the voluntariness and involuntariness of actions and about the resoluteness and irresoluteness of agents before they had ever heard of the hypothesis of the occult [=hidden] inner thrusts of actions. They might then have realised that they were not elucidating the criteria already in efficient use, but, tacitly assuming their validity, were trying to correlate them with hypothetical occurrences of a para-mechanical pattern. Yet this correlation could, on the one hand, never be scientifically established, since the thrusts postulated were screened from scientific observation; and, on the other hand, it would be of no practical or theoretical use, since it would not assist our appraisals of actions, depending as it would on the presupposed validity of those appraisals. Nor would it elucidate the logic of those appraisal-concepts, the intelligent employment of which antedated the invention of this causal hypothesis.

Before we bid farewell to the doctrine of volitions, it is expedient to consider certain quite familiar and authentic processes with which volitions
are sometimes wrongly identified. People are frequently in doubt what to do; having considered alternative courses of action, they then, sometimes, select or choose one of these courses. This process of opting for one of a set of alternative courses of action is sometimes said to be what is signified by `volition'. But this identification will not do, for most voluntary actions do not issue out of conditions of indecision and are not therefore results of settlements of indecisions. Moreover it is notorious that a person may choose to do something but fail , from weakness of will, to do it; or he may fail to do it because some circumstance arises after the choice is made, preventing the execution of the act chosen. But the theory could not allow that volitions ever fail to result in action, else further executive operations would have to be postulated to account for the fact that sometimes voluntary actions are performed. And finally the process of deliberating between alternatives and opting for one of them is itself subject to appraisal-predicates. But if, for example, an act of choosing is describable as voluntary, then, on this suggested showing, it would have in its turn to be the result of a prior choice to choose, and that from a choice to choose to choose... The same objections forbid the identification with volitions of such other familiar processes as that of resolving or making up our minds to do something and that of nerving or bracing ourselves to do something. I may resolve to get out of bed or go to the dentist, and I may, clenching my fists and gritting my teeth, brace myself to do so, but I may still backslide. If the action is not done, then, according to the doctrine, the volition to do so is also unexecuted. Again, the operations of resolving and nerving ourselves are themselves members of the class of creditable or discreditable actions, so they cannot constitute the peculiar ingredient which, according to the doctrine, is the common condition of any performance being creditable or discreditable.

Articles from the Philosophical Dictionary of Arouet de Voltaire (a.k.a. Francois Marie Arouet), first published 1764. The first three concern the free will thread, and more or less state my position better than I could hope to. The fourth is a special bonus, brought on by Derek Abbott's paen to blind faith in his post-before-last. [Comments in square brackets are mine, as r all speling , grammar & punctuation errors. -CRS]


Of all the books of the Occident which have come down to us, the most ancient is Homer. It is there that one finds the customs of profane antiquity, the gross heroes, the gross gods, made in the image of men; but it there among dreams and inconsequentialities, that one finds too the seeds of philosophy, and above all the idea of that destiny which is master of the gods, as the gods are masters of the world.

When the magnanimous Hector is determined to fight the magnanimous Achilles, and with this object starts running away at top speed, thrice making the circuit of the city before fighting, in order to have more vigor; when Homer compares fleetfooted Achilles who pursues him, to a sleeping man; when Madame Dacier goes into ecstasies of admiration over the art and mighty sense of this passage -- then Jupiter wishes to save great Hector who has made so many sacrifices to him, and he consults the fates; he weighs the destinies of Hector and Achilles in the balance (Iliad, liv, xxii), and he finds that the Trojan must indubitably be killed by the Greek. He, Jupiter, cannot oppose it; and from this moment, Hector's guardian genius, Apollo, is forced to abandon his hero. The point is not that Homer is often prodigal - notably in this passage - of quite contradictory ideas, but that he is the first in whom one finds the notion of destiny. This notion, therefore, must have been much in vogue in his time.

The Pharisees, among the little Jewish people, did not adopt destiny until several centuries later; for these Pharisees, who were the first literates among the Jews, were very newfangled. In Alexandria they mixed a part of the Stoic dogmas with the old Jewish idea. St. Jerome even claims that their sect is not much anterior to the Christian era.

The philosophers needed neither Homer nor the Pharisees to persuade themselves that everything happens through immutable laws, that everything is arranged, that everything is a necessary effect. This is how they argued. Either the world exists by its own nature, by its physical laws, or a supreme being has formed it according to his supreme laws: in both cases, these laws are immutable; in both cases everything is necessary; heavy bodies tend towards the center of the earth, without being able to rest in the air. Pear trees can never bear pineapples. A spaniel's instinct cannot be an ostrich's instinct; everything is arranged, geared, and controlled.

Man can have only a certain number of teeth, hair and ideas. There comes a time when he necessarily loses his teeth, his hair and his ideas.

If you could disturb the destiny of a fly, there would be nothing to stop you from controlling the destiny of all other flies, of all other animals,
of all men, of all nature. You would find yourself in the end more powerful than God.

Imbeciles say: "My doctor has saved my aunt from a mortal malady; he has made her live ten years longer than she ought to have lived." Others who pretend to wisdom say: "The prudent man makes his own destiny." [Cf. Pasteur: "Chance favors the prepared mind." -CRS]

But often the prudent, far from making their own destinies, succumb to them; it is destiny that makes them prudent.

Profound students of politics affirm that if Cromwell, Ludlow, Ireton and a dozen other parliamentarians had been assassinated a week before Charles I's head was cut off, this king might have lived longer and died in his bed. They are right. They might add that if the whole of England had been swallowed up in the sea, this monarch would not have perished on a scaffold near Whitehall; but things were so arranged that Charles had to have his neck severed. Your doctor saved your aunt, but in doing so he assuredly did not contradict nature's order: he followed it. It is clear that your aunt could not stop herself being born in such and such a town, that she could not step herself having a certain malady at a particular time, that the doctor could not be elsewhere than in the town where he was, that your aunt had to call him, that he had to prescribe for her the drugs which cured her, or which one thinks cured her, when nature was the only doctor.

A peasant thinks that it has hailed on his field by chance; but the philosopher knows that there is no chance, and that it was impossible, in the constitution of this world, for it not to hail on that day in that place.

There are persons who, frightened by this truth [Are you listening, Derek? -CRS] admit only half of it -- like debtors who offer half to their creditors, and ask respite for the rest. "There are," they say, "some events which are necessary, and others which are not." It would be laughable if one part of the world were arranged, and another part were not; if a part of what happens had to happen, and another part of what happens did not have to happen. If one looks closely at it, one sees that the doctrine opposed to that of destiny is absurd; but there are many people destined to reason badly, others not to reason at all, and others to persecute those who do reason.

Some say to you: "Do not believe in fatalism; for then, everything appearing inevitable, you will work at nothing, you will wallow in indifference, you will love neither riches, nor honors, nor glory; you will not wish to acquire anything, you will believe yourself as devoid of merit as of power; no talent will be cultivated, everything will perish through apathy."

Be not afraid, gentlemen, we shall always have passions and prejudices, since it is our destiny to be subjected to prejudices and passions: we shall know that it no more depends on us to have much merit and great talent, than to have a good head of hair and beautiful hands: we shall be convinced that we must not be vain about anything, and yet we shall always have vanity.

I necessarily have the urge to write this, and you have the itch to condemn me. Both of us are equally fools, equally the toys of destiny. Your nature is to do harm, mine is to love truth, and to make it public in spite of you. The owl, which feeds on mice in its hovel, says to the nightingale: "Stop singing under your beautiful, shady trees. Come into my hole, that I may eat you." And the nightingale replies: "I was born to sing here -- and to laugh at you."

You ask me what will become of liberty? I do not understand you. I do not know what this liberty is of which you speak; and you have been disputing about its nature for so long that you assuredly cannot be acquainted with it. If you wish -- or rather, if you are able -- to examine peaceably with me what it is, pass on to the letter "L."


Either I am very much mistaken, or that great definer, Locke, has well defined liberty as "power." I am mistaken again, or Collins, the celebrated London magistrate, is the only philosopher who has really sifted this idea; and Clark's answer to him was merely that of a theologian. But of all that has been written in France on liberty, the following little dialogue seems to me the clearest.
A: There is a battery of guns firing in your ears. Have you the liberty to hear them or not to hear them?
B: Obviously, I can't help hearing them.
A: Do you want this cannon to carry away your head and the heads of your wife and daughter, who are walking with you?
B: What are you talking about? As long as I am of sound mind, I cannot want such a thing; it is impossible.
A: Good. You hear this gun necessarily, and you wish necessarily that neither you nor your family shall die from a cannon shot while you are out for a walk. You have not the power neither of not hearing or of wishing to remain here?
B: Clearly.
A: You have consequently taken some thirty steps in order to be sheltered from the gun; you have had the power to walk these few steps with me?
B: Again very clearly.
A: And if you had been paralytic, you could not have avoided being exposed to this battery, you would necessarily have heard and received a gun shot; and you would be dead necessarily?
B: Nothing could be truer.
A: In what then does your liberty consist, unless it be in the power that you have exercise in performing what your will required of absolute
B: You embarrass me. Do you mean that liberty is nothing but the power
of doing what I want to do?

A: Think about it, and see if liberty can be understood otherwise.
B: In that case my hunting dog is as free as I am; he has necessarily the will to run when he sees a hare, and the power of running if he has not a pain in his legs. In that case, I am in no way superior to my dog; you reduce me to the state of the beasts.
A: What poor sophistry from the poor sophists who have taught you! You are certainly in a bad way if you are merely free like your dog! Do you not eat, sleep and propagate like him, almost in the same positions? Would you smell other than through your nose?
[V. evidently never tried acid or DMSO, but let that pass. -CRS] Why do you wish to be free in a way that your dog is not?
B: But I have a soul which reasons a great deal, while my dog reasons hardly at all. He has only the simplest of ideas, and I have a thousand metaphysical ideas.
A: Very well, then, you are a thousand times freer than he is; that is,
you have a thousand times more power of thinking than he has. But you do not
think otherwise than he does.
B: What! I am not free to wish what I wish?
A: What do you mean by that?
B: I mean what everyone means. Isn't it a proverb that wishes are free?
A: A proverb is not a reason; explain yourself more clearly.
B: I mean that I am free to wish as I please.
A: Begging your pardon, that is nonsense. Don't you see that it is ridiculous to say, I wish to wish? You wish necessarily, as a result of the ideas that have offered themselves to you. Do you wish to be married? Yes or no?
B: But what if I tell you that I wish neither the one nor the other?
A: You will be answering like someone who says: "Some believe Cardinal Mazarin to be dead, others believe him to be alive, but as for me I believe neither that one nor the other."
B: Well, I wish to be married.
[Evidently, B is a Muslim. -CRS]
A: Ah! that is an answer. Why do you wish to be married?
B: Because I am in love with a beautiful, sweet, well-bred young girl,
who is fairly rich and sings very well, whose parents are very nice people, and
because I flatter myself I am loved by her, and very welcome to her family.

[Evidently, B is a lucky Muslim. -CRS]
A: That is a reason. You see that you cannot wish without reason. I declare to you that you are free to marry; that is, that you have the power to sign the contract, have your nuptials, and sleep with your wife.
B: What! I cannot wish without reason? And what will become of that other proverb: Sit pro ratione voluntas; my will is my reason, I wish because I wish?
A: That is absurd, my dear fellow. In that case, there would be an effect without a cause.
B: What! When I play at odds and evens, I have a reason for choosing evens rather than odds?
A: Yes, undoubtedly.
B: And what is the reason, if you please?
A: The reason is that the idea of even rather than the opposite idea presents itself to your mind. It would be absurd if there were cases in which you wished because there was a cause of wishing, and cases in which you wished without any cause. When you wish to be married, you are obviously conscious of the dominating reason. You are not conscious of it when you are playing at odds and evens, and yet there certainly must be one.
B: But, I repeat, this means that I am not free.
A: Your will is not free, but your actions are. You are free to act, when you have the power to act.
B: But all the books I have read on "the liberty of indifference..."
A: What do you mean by "the liberty of indifference?"
B: I mean the liberty of spitting to the right or to the left, of sleeping on my right side or on my left, of taking a walk of four turns or five.
A: That would certainly be a wonderful sort of liberty! God would have given you a fine gift! It would really be something to boast of! Of what use to you would be a power which was exercised only on such futile occasions? But the fact is that it is ridiculous to assume the will to wish to spit to the right. Not only is this will to wish absurd, but it is certain that several trifling circumstances determine you in these acts that you call "indifferent." You are no more free in these acts than in others. But, I repeat, you are free at all times, in all places -- as soon as you do what you wish to do.
B: I suspect you are right. I will think about it. {1}
1: See "Free Will."
[Voltaire's footnote; I obey. -CRS]


Ever since men have been able to reason, philosophers have obscured the question of free will; but the theologians have rendered it unintelligible by absurd subtleties about grace. Locke was perhaps the first man to find a thread in the labyrinth, for he was the first who, instead of arrogantly setting out from a general principle, examined human nature by analysis. For three thousand years people have disputed whether or not the will is free. In the Essay on the Human Understanding, Locke shows that the question is fundamentally absurd, and that liberty can no more belong to the will than can color or movement.

What is the meaning of this phrase "to be free"? It means, "to be able," or else it has no meaning. To say that the will "can" is as ridiculous at bottom as to say that the will is yellow or blue, round or square. Will is wish, and liberty is power. Let us examine step by step the chain of our inner processes without befuddling our minds with scholastic terms or antecedent principles.

It is proposed to you that you mount a horse. You must absolutely make a choice, for it is quite clear that you either will go or that you will not go. There is no middle way. You must wish yes or no. Up to this point it is clear that the will is not free. You wish to mount the horse. Why? An ignoramus will say: "Because I wish it." This answer is idiotic. Nothing happens or can happen without a reason, a cause; so there must be one for your wish. What is it? It is the agreeable idea of going on horseback, which presents itself in your brain as the dominant idea, the determinant idea. But, you will say, can I not resist an idea, which dominates me? No, for what would be the cause of your resistance? None. Your will could "resist" only by obeying a still more despotic idea.

Now you receive all your ideas; therefore you receive your "wish," you "wish" by necessity. The word "liberty" does not therefore belong in any way to your will.

You ask me how thought and wish are formed in us. I answer you that I have not the remotest idea. I do not know how ideas are made any more than how the world was made. All we can do is to grope in darkness for the springs of our incomprehensible machine.

Will, therefore, is not a faculty that can be called free. A free will is an expression absolutely void of sense, and what the scholastics have called "will of indifference," that is to say, willing without cause, is a chimera unworthy of being combated.

In what, then does liberty consist? In the power to do what one wills. I wish to leave my study, the door is open, I am free to leave it.

But, you say, suppose the door is closed, and I wish to stay where I am. Then I stay freely. Let us be explicit. In this case you exercise the power that you have of staying; for you have this power, but not that of going out.

Liberty, then, about which so many volumes have been written is, when accurately defined, only the power of acting.

In what sense then must one utter the phrase: "Man is free"? In the same sense that one uses the words, "health," "strength," and "happiness." Man is not always strong, always healthy, nor always happy. A great passion, a great obstacle, may deprive him of his liberty, his power of action.

The words "liberty," and "free will," are therefore abstract words, general words, like beauty, goodness, justice. These terms do not signify that all men are always beautiful, good, and just; similarly, they are not always free.

Let us go further. If liberty is only the power of acting, what is this power? It is the effect of the constitution and the actual state of our organs. Leibnitz wishes to solve a geometrical problem, but he has an apoplectic fit, and in this condition he certainly is not free to solve his problem. Is a vigorous young man, madly in love, who holds his willing mistress in his arms, free to tame his passion? Undoubtedly not. He has the power of enjoying, and has not the power of refraining. Locke, then, is quite right when he calls liberty "power." When can this young man refrain despite the violence of his passions? Only when a stronger, contradictory idea determines the activity of his body and his soul.

But does this mean that the other animals have the same liberty, the same power? Why not? They have senses, memory, feeling, perceptions, as we have. They act with spontaneity as we act. They must also have, as we have, the power of acting by virtue of their perceptions, by virtue of the play of their organs.

Someone cries: "If all this is true, all things are only machines, everything in the universe is subjected to eternal laws." Well, would you have everything subject to a million blind caprices? Either everything is a necessary consequence of the nature of things, or everything is the effect of the eternal order of an absolute master. In either case we are only cogs in the machine of the world.

It is a foolish commonplace to assert that without the pretended liberty of the will, all pains and rewards are useless. Reason, and you will come to a quite contrary conclusion.

If, when a brigand is executed, his accomplice who sees him expire has the liberty of not being frightened at the punishment; if his will is determined by itself, he will go from the foot of the scaffold to commit murder on the broad highway. But if his organs, stricken with horror, make him experience an unconquerable terror, he will abandon crime. His companion's punishment becomes useful to him, and an insurance for society, only so long as his will is not free. [I recall Spinoza making a similar point about more humane forms of education, but as I don't recall where, the extension is left as an exercise for the reader. -CRS]

Liberty, then, is only and can be only the power to do what one wills. This is what philosophy teaches us. But if one considers liberty in the theological sense, it is a matter so sublime that profane eyes dare not look so high. [Read, roughly, "A tissue of nonsense, but one which would get me imprisoned or killed to attack." -CRS.]


(We have long been uncertain whether or not we should print this article, which we found in an old book. Our respect for St. Peter's see restrained us. But some pious men having convinced us that Pope Alexander VI had nothing in common with St. Peter, we at last decided to bring this little piece into the light, without scruple.) [Voltaire's note. -CRS]

One day Prince Pico della Mirandola met Pope Alexander VI at the house of the courtesan Emilia, while Lucretia, the holy father's daughter, was in childbed. No one in Rome knew who the child's father was -- the Pope, or his son the Duke of Valentinois, or Lucretia's husband, Alphonse of Aragon, who was supposed to be impotent. The conversation was at first very sprightly. Cardinal Bembo records a part of it. "Little Pic," said the Pope, "who do you think is my grandson's father?"
"Your son-in-law, I imagine," answered Pic.
"Eh! how can you believe such nonsense?"
"I believe it through faith."
"But don't you know that an impotent man cannot have children?"
"Faith consists," returned Pic, "in believing things because they are impossible. And, besides, the honor of your house demands that Lucretia's son shall not be considered the fruit of incest. You make me believe even more incomprehensible mysteries. Do I not have to believe that a serpent spoke -- since when all men have been damned -- that Balaam's she-ass also spoke very eloquently, and that the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of trumpets?" Pic then ran through a litany of all the admirable things he believed. Alexander collapsed with laughter on his sofa. "I believe all that stuff, just as you do," he said, "for I know that only by faith can I be saved, and that I shall not be saved by my works."
"Ah! Holy Father," said Pic, "you have need of neither works nor faith.
They are good for poor profane people like us, but you who are God's regent on earth can believe and do whatever you choose. You have the keys of heaven, and there is no chance of St. Peter shutting the door in your face. But for myself, who am only a poor prince, I admit that I should need potent protection if I had slept with my daughter, and if I had used the stiletto and the cantarella as often as your Holiness." Alexander could take a joke. "Let us talk seriously," he said to Prince della Mirandola. "Tell me what merit one can have in telling God that one is persuaded of things of which in fact one cannot be persuaded? What pleasure can that give God? Between ourselves, saying that one believes what is impossible to believe is lying." Pico della Mirandola made a great sign of the cross. "Eh! God the
father!" he cried. "May your Holiness pardon me, but you are not a Christian."
"No, by my faith," said the Pope.
"I thought as much," said Pico della Mirandola.

(Special bonus article, not really connected, but I couldn't resist:)


Have there ever been incubi or succubi? Our learned juriconsults and demonologists admit both the one and the other. It is pretend that Satan, always on the alert, inspires young ladies and gentlemen with lascivious dreams, that he gathers the result common to such masculine dreams, and that he carries it neatly and still warm to the feminine reservoir for which it is destined by nature. It is this process which produced so many heroes and demigods in the days of antiquity. The devil took a great deal of superfluous trouble in this matter; he had only to leave the young people alone, and the world would have been sufficiently supplied with heroes without any assistance from him. An idea may be formed of incubi by this explanation of the great Delrio, of Boguets, and other writers learned in sorcery; but they do not account for sucubi. A female might pretend to believe that she had communication with and was pregnant by a god, the explication of Delrio being very favorable to the assumption. The devil in this case has deposited in her the essential substance taken from a young man's dream; she is pregnant and gives birth without reproach; the devil has been her incubus. But if the devil wishes to be a succubus, it is quite another matter. He then has to become a she-devil, and a man's seed must enter her. It is this she-devil who is then bewitched by a man, and she who bears the child. The gods and goddesses of antiquity acted much more nobly and decorously; Jupiter in person was the incubus of Alcmena and Semel; Thetis in person, the succubus of Peleus, and Venus of Anchises, without having recourse to the various contrivances of our extraordinary demonism.

Let us simply observe, that the gods frequently disguised themselves, in their pursuit of our girls, sometimes as an eagle, sometimes as a pigeon, a swan, a horse, a shower of gold; but the goddesses assumed no disguise: they had only to show themselves, to please. It must however be presumed, that whatever shapes the gods assumed to steal a march, they consummated their loves in the form of men. Jupiter could not take his pleasure of Danae while we has only gold, and he would have been very much embarrassed with Leda -- as she would have been also -- had he been only a swan; but he became a god again, that is to say, a handsome young man, and all was well. As to the new manner of rendering girls pregnant by the ministry of the devil, it is not to be doubted, for the Sorbonne decided the point in the
year 1318.

"Per tales artes et ritus impios et invocationes et demonum, nullus unquam sequatur effectus ministerio demonum, error." -- "It is an error to believe, that these magic arts and invocations of the devils are without effect." This decision has never been revoked. Thus we are bound to believe in sucubi and incubi, because our teachers have always believed in them. [In fact, I believe the Church still considers sorcery a possible sin. Who says the dark ages are over? -CRS] There have been many other sages in this science, as well as the Sorbonne. Bodin, in his book concerning sorcerers, dedicated to Christopher de Thou, first president of the Parliament of Paris, relates that John Hervilier, a native of Verberie, was condemned by that parliament to be burnt alive for having prostituted his daughter to the devil, a great black man, whose semen was icy cold. This would seem contrary to the devil's nature, but our jurisprudence has always admitted that the devil's sperm is cold, and the prodiious number of sorcerers which it has burned in consequence will always remain a proof of its accuracy. The celebrated Picus of Mirandola -- a prince never lies -- says he knew an old man of the age of eighty years who had slept half his life with a female devil, and another of seventy who enjoyed a similar felicity. Both were buried at Rome, but nothing is said of the fate of their children. Thus is the existence of incubi and sucubi demonstrated. It is impossible, at least, to prove to the contrary; for if we are called on to believe that devils can enter our bodies, who can prevent them from taking kindred liberties with our wives and daughters? And if there are devils, there are probably she-devils; for to be consistent, if the demons beget children on our females, it must follow that we do the same thing on the bodies of the female demons. Never has there been a more universal empire than that of the devil. What has dethroned him? Reason. [Voltaire was for once too optimistic, and should have lived to see Berkeley. -CRS]