Aquinas's Account of Freedom
Intellect and Will
It is difficult to develop a comprehensive and satisfactory account of Aquinas's views of the nature of human freedom.
For one thing, contemporary discussions of free will tend to belong to an older, non-Thomistic tradition of thought about the topic. In this tradition, human freedom is a property of just one component of human mental faculties, namely, the will; and freedom consists in an agent's ability to will autonomously in general and independently of the intellect in particular. The influence of this tradition persists in contemporary discussion, both for libertarians and for their opponents, with the result that Aquina's account tends to be interpreted by its lights. Consequently, the lineaments of his theory are obscured. For Aquinas, freedom with regard to willing is a property primarily of a human being, not of some particular component of a human being. Furthermore, the will is not independent of the intellect. On the contrary, the dynamic interactions of intellect and will yield freedom as an emergent property or a systems-level feature.
Another reason why interpreting Aquina's account is difficult is that he gives a complicated analysis of the several acts of will he takes to be associated with a free bodily action. Scholars sometimes pick out a subset of these acts or even just one of them as if for Aquinas freedom of the will were lodged in that sort of act of will alone. So, for example, it is some times said that Aquinas has a particularly full treatment of free will in De malo q.6 because in that text he discusses at length liberum arbitrium. 1 But there is something anachronistic about trying to identify liberum arbitrium with free will in our sense; 2 volitions characterized by liberum arbitrium are associated for Aquinas with only one sort of voluntary act, namely, the sort he calls electio. De malo q.6 is therefore not about freedom of the will as a whole but only about one of the acts of will, namely, electio, in which such freedom is exemplified. (In order to avoid confusion, I will leave both 'liberum