Date of Award

Fall 1996

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Starr, William


The purpose of this dissertation is to elucidate the nature of commitment and its relationship to freedom. There is much philosophical literature on the problem of freedom, less on commitment, and little that deals specifically with the relationship between the two. The philosophical literature on commitment is often focussed on an epistemological or logical problem, such as, "If one is committed to Proposition X, what follows from this?" The literature that is on the nature of commitment with a metaphysical, moral, or epistemological focus is normally limited to the examination of one particular kind of commitment, for example, the promise. This dissertation asks the question of what the nature of commitment in general is, by beginning with particular types of commitment and discussing the way in which the term "commitment" is used in everyday language. The analysis proceeds in the spirit of phenomenological realism, that is, an attempt is made to allow the given to "speak for itself," rather than forcing the realities in question to "fit" into a preconceived structure or theory. The nature of commitment is brought into clearer focus by an examination of both the prerequisites to and effects of commitment. The true nature of freedom is then discussed, beginning with a definition of free will as stemming from man's nature as rational and as allowing a person to take up a meaningful position toward an object or to begin a new chain of causality, performing actions which are not made necessary by any cause. That a free action is one that is not determined is denied by the compatibilists, including Hume. While an exhaustive analysis of and response to compatibilism is not attempted here, a reply to Hume is given in terms of drawing a distinction between acting for a reason and being caused to act. Freedom is shown to be a prerequisite to making commitments, and to having and being committed to commitments which have an objective bond. The effects of commitment on freedom are then discussed, starting with the way in which commitment can limit freedom, and what type or dimension of freedom is limited. Freedom is then shown to be a possible fruit of commitment in two important senses. First, commitments can lead to freedom from selfishness and moral blame. Second, commitments can lead to freedom for the good.



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