An absolutely free will would be action without a motive, or motion without a direction, which are inconceivable; so that free will means the power of choice within certain restrictions. And since voluntary action must have some motive, the exercise of free will means the predominance of one motive over another; as when we follow the call of duty in opposition to a desire. If man has the power of choice, what determines his choice, if it be not love, fear, desire for the good or the true, or some other incentive? As the essence of human nature is the Divine Monad, a spark of Cosmic Divinity, his Will or his Destiny (which are the same thing) must be to fulfil the laws of the Universal Harmony; and any other purpose is but a temporary aberration therefrom. Man's will is restricted by the natural laws of his environment, by other human wills, and ultimately by the eternal laws of the universe; he has greater freedom of movement than any of the beings below him in the scale of evolution. Man is free to do what is right, but not free to set up his personal will in persistent opposition to every other will.
The controversy as to free will and destiny, whereby fatalism is often inferred, is due to undefined terms, muddy logic, the attempt to apply analogies drawn from physical science to matters to which they are not applicable, and similar confusions. Any chain of cause and effect which is rigid within the limits of its own system, may yet be interfered with by some agency from outside the system; and this principle may be applied indefinitely, so that a being may achieve continually greater degrees of freedom. The plant is free relatively to the stone; the animal relatively to the plant; and man relatively to the animal; and man himself achieves various degrees of freedom according as he lifts himself to higher planes. Yet in no case are the laws of Nature contravened; in no case is man's will uninfluenced by motive.
If our confused logic should lead us to the conclusion that free will is an illusion, we have but to try this as a working philosophy and see whither it leads us. It will be found to mean a surrender of ourselves to idleness and self-indulgence — that is, a subjection of our own will to other and hostile wills which are not subject to the same paralysis.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE