What is free will? By Eugenio Trías

This post is also available in: Spanish

Is this also the case with free will?

Yes. We find ourselves with something similar, even though of a different species, because this takes us to the area of ethics. It’s a debate about whether we are the children of chance or the orphans of necessity. Whether it’s the wheel of destiny which guides us. Like that wheel of fortune in Fritz Lang’s movies. But, even in Lang’s films, one finds life may be marked by destiny, but there will always be this little but very important margin, through which we can make some choices maybe not about our destiny, since it is determined, but about our ethos, the attitude with which one may assume it. I think this is the summary of the wisdom about freedom one can draw from the tragic world, as some analysts have made us understand. It’s not a world of fatality but a world of free choice, branded by a previous determination respect to which one may have different attitudes. It’s not the same to assume a dark destiny with happiness and joy, in an affirmative way, than doing it with rage or fury or rebellion, which is perfectly legitimate. There are options, even in the most extreme of circumstances. Here I may mention again the sentence from Faust I quoted before, “He who strives on and lives to strive can earn redemption still.” As Joan Maragall put it in a beautiful aphorism, we must make ourselves strong in our will, even if destiny lies outside our influence. Both things are true. I think there’s freedom, but it’s a freedom with a pulsational pressure that controls us and a social pressure of our time, which also determines us. The social above all, which becomes more important in particularly difficult times, such as the one we are living.

Does that cause people to run away towards esoteric knowledge?

Every good thing has its deviation. There are many forms of esoteric knowledge. Some of them are stimulating. Great artists, such as Mondrian, have used esoteric traditions for inspiration. Sometimes, strangely, ways have been found to combine esoteric forms with impeccable traditions from the point of view of science. The popularization in a mass culture of these esoteric tendencies means an important loss of quality, of worth, which makes it important to transform the structures in the base of this mass culture. And I think it is possible and steps have been given in that direction. For example, in fields as unlikely as TV we can find today very good series, well thought and well built. It’s a step forward, even though it is frustrating to see the state of our TV, with reality shows and the like. We need to have a balanced vision, which does not mean an ambiguous one; we need to look at it in a serene way, in order to measure the worth of the things which are happening, and which are not all bad, as people sometimes want us to think.

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