Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards


Is the human will in bondage to sinful motives, to the point that people cannot make truly free decisions? Daniel D. Whedon, a prominent nineteenth-century Wesleyan theologian, takes aim at this central thesis of the famed theologian Jonathan Edwards.In this new edition of his widely admired 1864 work, Whedon offers a step-by-step examination of Edwards's positions and finds them lacking in Biblical and logical support. Within his position against Edwards, he argues that the difference between natural ability and...

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Is the human will in bondage to sinful motives, to the point that people cannot make truly free decisions? Daniel D. Whedon, a prominent nineteenth-century Wesleyan theologian, takes aim at this central thesis of the famed theologian Jonathan Edwards.In this new edition of his widely admired 1864 work, Whedon offers a step-by-step examination of Edwards's positions and finds them lacking in Biblical and logical support. Within his position against Edwards, he argues that the difference between natural ability and moral ability is meaningless, that Edwards's deterministic "necessitarian" argument makes God the author of sin, and that people frequently act against their strongest motives.He concludes that, without a free will, "there can be no justice, no satisfying the moral sense, no moral Government of which the creature can be the rightful subject, and no God the righteous administrator."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556359811
  • Publisher: Wipf & Stock Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2009
  • Pages: 364
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) was a prominent university professor, theologian, and author. He served as Professor of Ancient Languages at Wesleyan University in Connecticut; as Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Michigan; and as editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review from 1856 to1884. He authored numerous books including Commentary on the New Testament (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1860); Commentary on the Old Testament (New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1873); What is Arminianism? (Toronto: W. Briggs, 1879); and Essays, Reviews, and Discourses (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1887)About the Editor:John D. Wagner, a Biblical Studies student at Trinity Theological Seminary, is the editor of Redemption Redeemed: A Puritan Defense of Unlimited Atonement by John Goodwin. He has a master's degree in Journalism from University of Arizona and has studied and debated the Calvinism vs. Arminianism controversy for many years.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Part First The Issue Stated

Chapter I Will Isolated and Defined 3

Chapter II Freedom of the Will Defined 11

Chapter III Volition Not Always Preceded by Emotion 28

Chapter IV Freedom of Will Causationally Presented 32

Chapter V Edwards's Synthesis of Definitions Reviewed 42

Chapter VI Conditions and Limitations of Will's Free Action 49

Chapter VII Anterior Standard of Accordance 55

Chapter VIII Schematism of Conscious Free Will 60

Part Second The Necessitarian Argument Considered

Section I The Causational Argument

Chapter I The Necessitarian Paralogism 67

Chapter II Cause of Particular Volition 70

Chapter III Boundary Lines of the Unknown 83

Chapter IV Freedom Involves Not Atheism 86

Chapter V What Is the Use? 91

Chapter VI That Alternative Volition Is Chance 94

Section II The Psychological Argument

Chapter I Self-Determination, Infinite Series 101

Chapter II The Nature of Motive Influences 107

Chapter III Commensurability of Motives: Volition as Greatest Good 120

Chapter IV Motives No Necessitative Cause of Volition 128

Chapter V Uniformities of Volition 135

Chapter VI Double Volition 146

Chapter VII Activity No Passivity 148

Chapter VIII Determination from Indetermination 151

Chapter IX Choice between Equal Alternatives 157

Chapter X Equality of Divine Motives 161

Chapter XI Useless Modifications of Necessity 169

Chapter XII Invariable Sequences or Spontaneous Necessity 178

Chapter XIII Counter Choice a Prodigy 197

Chapter XIV Volitional Powerlessness or "Moral Inability" 198

Chapter XV "Moral Ability" as Treated by Edwards 202

Chapter XVI "Moral Ability" as Homiletically Treated 213

Chapter XVII "MoralInability" as Expressed in Ordinary Phrase 216

Section III The Theological Argument

Chapter I Foreknowledge and Predestination 223

Chapter II Reconciliation of Free Agency and Foreknowledge 227

Chapter III Edwards's Argument for Necessity from Foreknowledge 236

Chapter IV Calvinistic Predestination: An Unnecessary Hypothesis 244

Chapter V Christ Not Necessitated, but a Free Moral Agent 250

Chapter VI Non-Necessitation of the Divine Will 259

Chapter VII Freedom Limits Not Omnipotence 265

Chapter VIII Freedom Exalts Man and Dishonors God? 268

Chapter IX Responsibility of Impenitents and of Fallen Man 272

Chapter X The Free Appropriation of Our Depraved Nature 281

Part Third The Positive Argument Stated

Chapter I The Argument from Consciousness 289

Chapter II Argument from Possibility of Divine Command 295

Chapter III Distinction between Automatic Excellence and Moral Deserts 300

Chapter IV Created Moral Deserts Impossible 311

Chapter V The Maxim of Responsibility 317

Chapter VI Necessitarian Counter Maxim of Responsibility Considered 322

Chapter VII Edwards's Direct Intuitional Proof of Necessitated Responsibility 327

Chapter VIII Responsibilities of Belief Demonstrates Freedom of Will 333

Chapter IX Coaction and Necessitation 340

Chapter X Argument from God's Non-Authorship of Sin 343

Chapter XI Freedom the Condition of a Possible Theodicy 351

Index of Names 353

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  • Posted December 3, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Edwards Refuted

    John D. Wagner has edited and republished another classic and yet little known work on the freedom of the will by Methodist Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885). It is extremely significant as the discussion over the freedom of the will has intensified greatly with the resurgence of Calvinism in mainstream Christianity. Many Calvinists today still point to the classic book by Jonathan Edwards (The Freedom of the Will) as an irrefutable work firmly establishing the Calvinist doctrine of necessity and compatibilism. Whedon brilliantly takes on the arguments of Edwards and his contemporaries in this excellent refutation of the "necessitarian" position.

    Whedon covers every significant argument of Edwards and other "necessitarians" in this book and dismantles them piece by piece. He points out that many of the necessitarian arguments amount to question begging, bare assertions, or intricate sophisms, often riddled with embarrassing contradictions and absurdities. He explains that there simply aren't any sufficient arguments against the possibility of a single causative power in the agent capable of producing a variety of effects (volitions). He refers to this as "alternative power" in the Will and demonstrates that it is itself a full and adequate cause needing nothing else to put forth one effect just as well as another (alternative effect). In other words, nothing causes the Will to act a certain way since the Will is itself a full and adequate cause. He would classify Edwards' view of the Will as "unipotent" while calling his own view "pluripotent" (in contemporary discussions Whedon would be considered a "wide source incompatibilist")

    He effectively takes on Edwards' argument from motive force; his argument based on natural versus moral ability; his argument based on foreknowledge; his argument based on a so called infinite series (or infinite regress); his argument based on chance, and numerous others. It is my opinion that Whedon's section "Reconciliation of Free Agency and Foreknowledge" definitively demonstrates the compatibility of foreknowledge with libertarian free will. It should be read and carefully considered by Calvinists and Open Theists alike (who both deny that foreknowledge is compatible with free will).

    But Whedon is mostly concerned with the troubling and unavoidable implications of Edwards' necessitarianism: the impossibility of a just moral government and the damage done to God's holy character. It would be as unjust and absurd for God to hold a necessitated being morally responsible for his volitions and actions as it would to hold a clock hammer responsible for its movements. In the end, Whedon concludes that necessitarianism is in no way compatible with the freedom necessary for upholding a just moral government and providing the conditions for an adequate theodicy:

    "From all this, there results the conclusion that without free volition there can be no justice, no satisfying the moral sense, no retributive system, no moral Government, of which the creature can be the rightful subject, and no God, the righteous Administrator.If there is a true divine government, man is a non-necessitated moral agent." (352)

    At times the book presents very tough reading. Whedon is a very careful philosopher and takes great pains to develop his arguments and carefully define his terms in order to dispatch with the ambiguity that often clouds the topic and makes debating the subject nearly impossible. At times a

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Freedom of the Will

    "Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards" is the second installment from John Wagner, in recovering past theological treasures from the Arminian perspective. John Wagner's first installment was the classic work by Puritan, John Goodwin, "Redemption Redeemed: A Puritan Defense of Unlimited Atonement." In this, his second installment, Methodist theologian, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) responds to famed Calvinist, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Although this volume is not an easy read, when carefully studied, it reveals itself to be another masterpiece.

    In addition to the reviews already stated, Whedon also addresses the theology of Open Theism, p.229. Whedon painstakingly parses through the logic of Edwards on an array of theological controversies, including, but not limited to, the nature of man's Will and God's Foreknowledge.

    As a sample, Whedon writes: "Edwards continues to say, `Now it must be answered, according to the Arminian notion of freedom, that the Will influences, orders, and determined itself thus to act. And if it does, I say it must be by some antecedent act.' (65) But, we reply, as our `notion of freedom' requires no anterior causing or ordering of the Will to act, as we hold the Will in its condition to be a complete cause acting uncausedly, there is no requisite for any `antecedent act.' And so again the necessitarian cobweb is broken." (p.105)

    In other words, while yes, there are always external influences, including God's influence of Prevenient Grace, man, being a self-volitional being, is therefore of himself, one of those influences, and thus acts freely and uncausedly in his choices.

    Speaking on Foreknowledge:

    Whedon writes: "If God's omniscient foresight of all that is or is not in the future is the effect of God's determination, then an *attribute* of God is created by an *act* of God. ... If God's foreknowledge depends on his determination, and must wait until after its existence, then he can have no foreknowedge of his own acts, and must wait for present or *post-knowledge* of them." (pp.225-226)

    Whedon writes: "If by the absolute perfection of God's omniscience that one train of free events, put forth with the full power otherwise, is embraced in his foreknowledge, it follows that God foreknows the free act, and that the foreknowledge and the freedom are compatible." (p.229)

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  • Posted May 6, 2009

    Whedon on the Will

    John Wagner recently edited and republished Daniel Whedon's Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan response to Jonathan Edwards. The book is an outstanding refutation of Edward's Inquiry into the Will. Whedon seeks and engages top authors and arguments like Hobbs' argument (latter adopted by Locke and Edwards) that free will is incoherent, because it either amounts to a causeless cause or infinite regression of causes. Whedon responds by pointing out 1) the will is the cause of choice (74), 2) defining indeterministic causes (38-39) and 3) explaining that indeterministic causes account for either choice (71-72). In other words, indeterministic causes explain the goal of our choices (or reason for our choices), but in the will is the cause we choose this goal, not that goal. This is essentially agent causation.

    Whedon's discussion of foreknowledge is fascinating. His refutation of Edwards' God's foreknowledge rules out freewill argument is solid. I like his pointing out that we don't know how God knows the future (229). I really like his moderate use of Molinism (245, 256). He enters an interesting discussion about the difference between certainty and necessity. Apparently Calvinists split in reaction to Hobbs. Some (like Edwards) argued the future is necessary. Others said it is not necessary, but it's certain. Whedon argues that certainty is equal to necessity if in every possible world the thing never happens (190-191).

    Whedon's response to Edwards is devastating. He points out that Edwards view of freedom is post-volitional, not freedom of the will (17). Edward's notion of freedom is accurate, but incomplete and irrelevant to the Calvinist/Arminian debate. Whedon explains that that the three types of necessity (causal, logical and temporal) are all necessity. (33) Edwards attempts to split necessity into various categories is one of the ways he goes way off course. Whedon argues that saying "I can do X" implies "I can choose to do X" (209). Whedon exposes Edwards error of attempts to split them and then usurp the common notion of freedom based only on "I can do X". Whedon explains that choice makes the strongest motive and the last judgment of reason strongest and last (57).

    I am glad John brought Whedon back. It's good to see such as strong Arminian response to Edwards, as I have often heard the claim that Edwards is unanswered.

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