"Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”
- Arthur Schopenhauer in "On The Freedom Of The Will" (1839)
My own ideas on the quote:
I personally understand this marvelous sentence by Arthur Schopenhauer as explaining that we have a free will to a limited degree. We are driven but also restrained by our instincts. However, we are guided most of all by the existing customs and codes of morality that are current in our part of society.
These customs and codes of morality that will tie down an individual free will need not be the ruling ones. An ethnic, political or religious minority does can create an even more binding and even suffocating framework of allowed and forbidden actions than any ruling class.
We are normally really free to choose only the things which are available within the framework that is presented to us by accidents of birth. It really depends on your definition of 'free' when you think that somebody has a free will or not on a given situation. There just is no absolute truth for even this problem.
A person can have a definite freedom of will in some question and issues and lesser or no freedom of action in some others at the same time. I have a little string-theory of my own that is based on the idea that we have countless of little mental "strings". They are attached constantly to every individual when they live their lives. Some new ones will add up. Some others will be lost during the whole duration of our lives.
These invisible strings may pull the person to also different directions at the same time. However, the sum of the forces of these "strings" largely decides what we will decide to want as Arthur Schopenhauer says. In the end, it all boils down to the question of what we want to 'will' and from where do these ideas come from.
On the other hand, philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his 'Meditations' this:
The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it."
We can break free from some of the models of thought that will always try to tie down our thinking. As humans are most of all social animals no person will ever have a completely free will, even if a person can create even a quite perfect illusion of having one.
We can still at least strive for more intellectual freedom. However, this can happen only after we understand the limits for exercising free will that being part of a human society will always set.
(This piece was refurbished on 26th of December, 2012)
"Arthur Schopenhauer (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal world. Schopenhauer's most influential work, The World as Will and Representation, claimed that the world is fundamentally what humans recognize in themselves as their will. His analysis of will led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fully satisfied."