Hard Theological Determinism and the Illusion of Free Will: Sri Ramakrishna Meets Lord Kames, Saul Smilansky, and Derk Pereboom

Journal of World Philosophies 3 (2):24-48 (2018)
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This essay reconstructs the sophisticated views on free will and determinism of the nineteenth-century Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna and brings them into dialogue with the views of three western philosophers—namely, the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Lord Kames and the contemporary analytic philosophers Saul Smilansky and Derk Pereboom. Sri Ramakrishna affirms hard theological determinism, the incompatibilist view that God determines everything we do and think. At the same time, however, he claims that God, in His infinite wisdom, has endowed ordinary unenlightened people with the illusion of free will for the sake of their moral and spiritual welfare. Kames, I suggest, defends a theological determinist position remarkably similar to Sri Ramakrishna’s. However, I argue that Sri Ramakrishna’s mystical orientation puts him in a better position than Kames to explain why a loving God would implant in us the illusion of free will in the first place. I then show how certain aspects of the views of Smilansky and Pereboom resonate with those of Sri Ramakrishna.

Author's Profile

Swami Medhananda
University of California, Los Angeles


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