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Sulzer, J.G. (2004). Explanation of a Paradoxical Psychological Proposition: That We Sometimes Act Not Only Without Motive or a Visible Cause, But Even Against Compelling Motives and Despite Fully Convincing Reasons (1759). Am. Imago, 61(3):291-304.

(2004). American Imago, 61(3):291-304

Explanation of a Paradoxical Psychological Proposition: That We Sometimes Act Not Only Without Motive or a Visible Cause, But Even Against Compelling Motives and Despite Fully Convincing Reasons (1759)

Johann George Sulzer

Translated by:
Nicholas Rand

In the notorious debates about freedom, both sides agree that no moral act can occur without the help of the will. The opponents of freedom concede this to their adversaries because they save their view with the argument that willing is no free act at all, and that an act can be free without being voluntary. Further, neither side seems to doubt that acts are voluntary when either real or imagined freedom is ascribed to them.

Now, there are plenty of acts that occur not only without the participation of the will but against both its sanction and all its efforts to hinder them. There are also acts that depend on the soul's whim alone and not on the will, no matter how hard it may try to make them happen. Such irregularities can be observed in the case of judgments as well. People claim that it is impossible to deny anything when obvious grounds exist for affirming it. Yet the opposite occurs. These paradoxical propositions seem very important to me and worthy of a thorough investigation, to which I will now proceed in the essay. My intention is not to revive debates over freedom. I feel that they are inconsequential and of little use because there is nothing to be gained whether victory falls on one side or the other. The decision over this question will not change the lot of humans. Free or not, they will always be that which the confluence of circumstances makes them. My only aim is to shed somewhat more light on the physics of the soul. I expect that my investigation will do as much.

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