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Free will and belief in God: SVC’s Thomistic Institute has second guest speaker

By Elizabeth Van Pilsum, Arts and Culture Editor

Originally Published February 20, 2024

Since the founding of Saint Vincent College’s (SVC) Thomistic Institute chapter in 2023, the chapter has aimed to host guest speakers. On Feb. 6, the chapter welcomed its second lecturer, Dr. Joshua Hochschild, philosophy professor at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Hochschild’s research primarily focuses on medieval logic, metaphysics, and ethics, and he also is widely consulted on matters of Thomism, which is the study of Thomas Aquinas. He frequently travels across the country to give lectures on these topics, and SVC was one such college that provided him with a platform. Sophie Bringman, junior philosophy and politics major, is the co-president of SVC’s Thomistic Institute chapter and said that the Institute provided the chapter with a list of approved speakers that give lectures from Thomistic perspective. It is the chapter’s job to select speakers that will generate the most interest on campus, and they have been planning on hosting Hochschild since 2023.

Dr. Hochschild visited SVC from Mount St. Mary’s University to speak on free will and belief in God. (SOURCE: BRINGMAN)

“As our second lecture, it means a lot that we were able to schedule him and that we got such great turnout as well,” Bringman said. “We send attendance reports back to our supervisor at the main branch, so being able to report such a successful event is important for our stability at SVC.”

Hochschild’s talk was titled “Free Will and Belief in God: Understanding Human Action and Divine Providence.” He opened with discussing how mankind has a love of desirable things that is planted into our nature. Mankind cannot stop ourselves from wanting things, but the fact that we can control our behavior when we want things points to the ability to exercise free will. Hochschild said that he thinks the will’s orientation to good is from God, freedom is the power to fulfill the orientation to good, and that judging what is good depends on exercising reason.

This lecture was SVC’s Thomistic Institute’s second lecture ever and it had a good turnout. (SOURCE: BRINGMAN)

Hochschild indicated that there are problems modern thinkers take up with free will. Thinkers like Sam Harris consider the notion of free will incompatible with reality because for him, free will would imply that we could control our thoughts and actions as well as all their influences. Hochschild considers perspectives such as those to be reductionistic, and that classical questions of free will create a richer discussion. In classical thought, free will and human reason were thought to come from God.

“Once we attend to human rationality, it is a natural step to assume there is a divine rationality which bestowed us with reason,” Hochschild said.

“Is free will compatible with belief in God? Historically, a conception of God has made it easier, not harder, to conceive of human beings as having free will because it allows a notion of causality which is shared or participated in and according to reasoning is a distinct kind of power,” Hochschild said. “Without this conception of reality, the only imaginable metaphors for human agency diminish us to amoral animals [or] passive puppets.... Freedom of will depends on intelligibility of action. When action is no longer intelligible there is no place for free will, only for randomness and the illusion of choice.”

Hochschild’s final point was to touch on Aquinas’s view of free will, as viewed through the lenses of scholars. Scholars concluded that Aquinas believed free will and human reason work together. Hochschild concluded by reiterating that having a conception of causality where free will is compatible with God allows for more interesting understanding of human nature where we participate in free will as opposed to being mere puppets.

“I think the event went well,” Bringman said. “We had a great turnout, an active ‘Q and A’ period after the lecture, and we received a lot of positive feedback from the attendees.”

Those interested in attending future Thomistic Institute events may visit thomisticinstitute.org for more information. To be involved in SVC’s chapter, one can email sophia.bringman@stvincent.edu or silvana.rocco@stvincent.edu.

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