Papers from the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology Conferences

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A cross-cultural comparison of how constructs overlapping with cause, will (human cause), and free will (human cause of a controversial kind) have evolved from concrete origins reflected by Chinese pictographs and the Indo-European etymologies of Greek written words. Cause-related constructs compared are Zhang Dainian’s 元 (yuán), 因 (yīn), 故 (gù), and 所以 (suóyǐ) and the Greek terms aitia (αιτια; “cause”), archē (αρχε; “origin”) and genesis (γενεσις, “genesis”). 因 (yīn) is said, for example, to show a man enclosed (by determinants, possibly prison walls), while aitia (“cause”) is said to be related to aisa (“fate”) and ultimately to the Indo-European root *aito- (“share,” “allotment,” what fate has—concretely, it is contended here—allotted to a person). Reflections on cause lead to interpretations of the more specific cause called will, encountered as 志 (zhì) and 意志 (yìzhì) in Mandarin. Whether the ancient Greeks relied on a construct like will has been debated, but volition in some sense underlies the hekusion (εκούσιον), the voluntary. Volition immediately raises the much debated issue of whether the will is “free.” i.e., whether there is a subset of willed acts without antecedents, spontaneous, emerging ex nihilo. Examination of the etymologies of the characters used to translate the term free will into Chinese—自由的意志 (zìyóu de yìzhì, “freedom of the will”)—and of the Indo-European etymologies of Greek terms like hekusion and prohairesis (προαιρεσις, “deliberated choice”), suggest that neither the Chinese nor the ancient Greeks postulated the existence of free will.

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