Anselm on Free Will

anselm bookBy Ann Manser

Katherin Rogers particularly likes two aspects of her new book about free will — the way a monk who lived 900 years ago provides a useful perspective on a 21st century philosophical controversy, and the eye-catching cover illustration created by her daughter.

Rogers, professor of philosophy at the University of Delaware, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from UD in 1975 and 1976 before earning her doctorate at Notre Dame. She focuses her work on medieval philosophy and the philosophy of religion, with an emphasis on St. Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th century Benedictine monk, theologian and philosopher who applied reason in exploring the mysteries of faith.

Her new book, Freedom and Self-Creation: Anselmian Libertarianism, will be published next month by Oxford University Press. The illustration on the cover was drawn by her daughter, Sophia Rogers, also a UD alumna and an artist and graphic novelist whose professional name is Moro Rogers.

Katherin Rogers, who has studied Anselm for 40 years and published two previous books about his work, said she made a new discovery while rereading him not long ago.

“I realized that he had a lot to say about free will, which is a fundamental issue in philosophy — a super-important issue — and also happens to be a very hot topic right now,” she said. “It turns out that what he had to say has a lot to contribute to the current debate.”

Topics that attract a great deal of scholarship and debate in philosophy can be cyclical, Rogers said, and free will is an example. Although it has been an important issue since the fourth century, many philosophers in the mid-1900s considered the question settled.

“People said: If you can do what you want, then you’re free,” Rogers said. “So you have free will, even if what you want has been determined by your genes or other outside factors.”

But opinions shifted in the 1990s, and philosophers began questioning whether a person doing what he or she wanted was truly exercising free will if something was causing those actions.

Anselm, who wrote that human beings originate their own choices based on the tools that God gave them, worked out an ingenious theory to explain how a human being — a “free agent” — chooses between options, Rogers said. In the book, she defends and develops that theory.

“I never realized before that Anselm does this neat thing with free will that connects so well with what is being debated today,” Rogers said. “I don’t think anybody had noticed before how clever he was about free will. It’s always nice when someone from 900 years ago has something to contribute to the current debate.”

When Oxford University Press agreed to publish the book and asked her about possible cover designs, Rogers suggested a livelier look than what is used in many academic books. She offered some ideas and mentioned that her daughter is a professional illustrator.

The publisher took a look at samples of Moro Rogers’ work and selected her drawing for the cover. It features a monk, seen from behind, standing at a crossroads where each path extends into a fanciful kind of woodland.

“The guy at the crossroads was my mom’s idea to show choice and free will,” Rogers said. “I researched what a medieval monk might be wearing, and then I thought it would be cool to draw the vegetation so that it looks something like a [famed children’s book illustrator Maurice] Sendak drawing.”

Rogers, who earned her bachelor’s degree in English at UD and then graduated from the California Institute of the Arts’ character animation program, lives in California and works in animation and freelance illustration. She is the author of two graphic novels in her City in the Desert series, published by Archaia.

“I really like comic book art and animation,” she said. “So doing an academic book cover was certainly different, but it was a nice change.”

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~ our thanks to the University of Delaware’s Communications and Public Affairs for this article

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