Do we have free will?

Oh, there is freedom, for otherwise there could not be any rational nature…Human souls are more free when they persevere in the contemplation of the mind of God, less free when they descend to the corporeal, and even less free when they are entirely imprisoned in earthly flesh and blood. (V, ii, p. 150)

If God is the “tiller” that steers everything in the world, are humans capable of controlling their own actions, or are they simply and perpetually under God’s control?

Free Will. Without the notion of free will, Boethius’ entire dialogue regarding the punishments for evil and the rewards for the good would be rendered null and void. If free will does not exist, then there are no voluntary actions. If there are no voluntary actions, how could one be blamed for committing an evil action or praised for carrying out a good one? Boethius says that if there were no free will, “there [would be] no virtues or vices anymore, but only a jumble of rewards and punishments of merits and faults that cannot be distinguished from one another” (V, iii, p. 156).  The absence of free will would render obsolete the rules that supposedly govern society, therefore Boethius is, overall, in favor of the concept of free will; he believes it exists, and he believes humans have it.

By Boethius’ logic, we exercise free will only when we use reason and rational thought to come to our decisions. If we are making rational decisions, we are acting in our own best interests—we are pursuing happiness. On the contrary, if our decisions are motivated by external factors, such as the desire for things that are not good for us, then we are not exhibiting free will, as we are pursuing the bad instead of the good. No rational, reasonable person would willingly seek the bad.  Essentially, Boethius is suggesting that we cannot freely seek the bad and that the only time we are exercising our free will is in pursuit of the good.  Consequently, the only people who truly have free will are those who consistently seek happiness, the goodness that is God, through rational and reasoned thought.

Reflection. 

According to Boethius’ explanation, we are capable of exercising the coveted free will only when we pursue the good.  His logic is ostensibly paradoxical, for it dictates that if we are only free to choose when we choose good, forcing us to question whether our choices are really free. Under further examination, however, we realize that Boethius is operating under a different definition of freedom, which states that freedom is not about having the most choices but the best ones.