A restrictive view of self-control identifies exercises of self-control with synchronic intrapsychic processes, and pictures diachronic and externally-scaffolded strategies not as proper instances of self-control, but as clever ways of avoiding the need to exercise that ability. In turn, defenders of an inclusive view of self-control typically argue that we should construe self-control as more than effortful inhibition, and that, on grounds of functional equivalence, all these diverse strategies might be properly described as instances of self-control. In this paper, I (...) take a fresh look at this debate by focusing on cases of addiction. I argue that addicted agents face a paradigmatic sort of self-control challenge, which makes addiction an important test case for theories of self-control. And I discuss evidence that highlights both the unreliability of synchronic intrapsychic strategies and the crucial role that is played by diachronic and externally-scaffolded strategies in successful attempts at achieving abstinence by addicted individuals. Abstaining addicts are a paradigmatic case of agents who successfully exercise self-control, and they mostly do so by relying on diachronic and externally-scaffolded strategies. This, I argue, lends further support to an inclusive view of self-control. (shrink)
An interview by Alex Thomson of UKColumn on Landgrebe and Smith's book: Why Machines Will Never Rule the World. The subtitle of the book is Artificial Intelligence Without Fear, and the interview begins with the question of the supposedly imminent takeover of one profession or the other by artificial intelligence. Is there truly reason to be afraid that you will lose your job? The interview itself is titled 'Where this is no will there is no way', drawing on one thesis (...) of the book to the effect that there will never be anything like the human will on the part of a machine. This is for mathematical reasons. AI is always and in every case a matter of algorithms; thus of applied mathematics. And algorithms are not the sorts of things that can want or desire or intend to do something. It is the human will of those who work at OpenAI or google or microsoft which have given rise to the new shiny objects of AI (ChatGPT and other Large Language Models). And it is the human will of the users of these shiny objects which gives them the resources and power to work their apparent miracles. (shrink)
Effort and the feeling of effort play important roles in many theoretical discussions, from perception to self-control and free will, from the nature of ownership to the nature of desert and achievement. A crucial, overlooked distinction within the philosophical and scientific literatures is the distinction between theories that seek to explain effort and theories that seek to explain the feeling of effort. Lacking a clear distinction between these two phenomena makes the literature hard to navigate. To advance in the unification (...) and development of this area, this article provides an overview of the main theories of the nature of effort and the nature of the feeling of effort, and then discusses how efforts and their feelings are related. Two key takeaways emerge. First, there is widespread agreement that efforts are goal-directed actions. Second, one of the main philosophical issues to be decided is whether feelings of effort should be defined by reference to efforts (effort-first approach), or whether efforts are defined by reference to the feeling of effort (feeling-first approach). (shrink)
This paper investigates, from a philosophical perspective, whether high functioning autists are legally responsible for the crimes they may commit. We do this from the perspective of the Croatian legal system. According to Croatian Criminal Law, but also criminal laws adopted in many other countries, the legal responsibility of the person is undermined due to insanity when two conditions are satisfied. The first may be called the incapacity requirement. It states that a person, when committing the crime, suffers cognitive or (...) volitional incapacities or limited capacities that are relevant for exculpation. The second, we may call the mental disorder requirement, which states that these exculpatory incapacities are due to the presence of a mental disorder. In this paper we focus on the incapacity requirement. The review of the studies on executive functions deficits associated with high-functioning autism suggests that many autists should not be held categorically responsible for the crimes they may commit. Nonetheless, we argue that these impairments in executive functions generally do not provide an unqualified excuse. (shrink)
Call it the Skynet hypothesis, Artificial General Intelligence, or the advent of the Singularity — for years, AI experts and non-experts alike have fretted (and, for a small group, celebrated) the idea that artificial intelligence may one day become smarter than humans. -/- According to the theory, advances in AI — specifically of the machine learning type that’s able to take on new information and rewrite its code accordingly — will eventually catch up with the wetware of the biological brain. (...) In this interpretation of events, every AI advance from Jeopardy-winning IBM machines to the massive AI language model GPT-3 is taking humanity one step closer to an existential threat. We’re literally building our soon-to-be-sentient successors. -/- Except that it will never happen. At least, according to the authors of the new book Why Machines Will Never Rule the World: Artificial Intelligence without Fear. (shrink)
Deep Self views of moral responsibility have been criticized for positing mysterious concepts, making nearly paradoxical claims about the ownership of one’s mental states, and promoting self-deceptive moral evasion. I defend Deep Self views from these pervasive forms of skepticism by arguing that some criticism is hasty and stems from epistemic injustice regarding testimonies of experiences of alienation, while other criticism targets contingent features of Deep Self views that ought to be abandoned. To aid in this project, I provide original (...) naturalistic analyses of “Self” and “internality” that replace the view’s metaphorical language with common-sensical concepts that make clear their usefulness. (shrink)
It is tempting to think (1) that we may sometimes have hopelessly utopian duties and yet (2) that “ought” implies “can.” How might we square these apparently conflicting claims? A simple solution is to interpret hopelessly utopian duties as duties to "pursue" the achievement of manifestly unattainable outcomes (as opposed to duties to "achieve" the outcomes), thereby promising to vindicate the possibility of such duties in a way that is compatible with “ought” implies “can.” The main challenge for this simple (...) solution is to say what the relevant “duties to pursue” are supposed to involve. We survey several existing candidates (duties to try, duties to approximate, duties to do our part, and dynamic duties) and argue that none of them succeeds in delivering on the promise of the simple solution. We then propose a previously untheorized class of duties that we call "duties to devote ourselves" to achieving an outcome, and argue that such duties provide us with an interpretation of hopelessly utopian duties that is up to the task. (shrink)
In the present article, I introduce Husserl’s analyses of ‘natural causality’ and ‘volitional causality’, which are collected in the volume ‘Wille und Handlung’ of the Husserliana edition Studien zur Struktur des Bewußtseins. My aim is to show that Husserl’s insight into these phenomena enables us to understand more clearly both the specificity of, and the relation between, the motivational nexus belonging to the sphere of the will in contrast with the causal laws of nature. In light of this understanding, in (...) the last part of the article I reflect on whether and to what extent there is, in fact, an ontological and epistemological compatibility between volitional causality and natural causality. (shrink)
Practical cognitivism is the view that practical reason is the self-conscious will and that practical cognition is self-conscious volition. This essay addresses two puzzles for practical cognitivism. In akratic action, I act as I understand is illegitimate and not as I understand is legitimate. In permissible action, I act as I understand is legitimate and also do not act as I understand is legitimate. In both types of action, practical cognition seems to come apart from volition. How, then, can practical (...) reason be our will and practical cognition be volition? Practical cognitivists can solve these puzzles because the claims that practical reason is our will and that practical cognition is volition are about the nature of a capacity, and the nature of a capacity establishes standards of correctness for its exercises. Akratic action is a type of erroneous exercise of practical reason as tripping is an erroneous exercise our capacity to walk. Permissible action is a successful exercise of practical reason as stepping first with my right foot rather than my left is a successful exercise of my capacity to walk. The puzzles of akratic and permissible action do not refute practical cognitivism. (shrink)
The leading reductive approaches to shared agency model that phenomenon in terms of complexes of individual intentions, understood as plan-laden commitments. Yet not all agents have such intentions, and non-planning agents such as small children and some non-human animals are clearly capable of sophisticated social interactions. But just how robust are their social capacities? Are non-planning agents capable of shared agency? Existing theories of shared agency have little to say about these important questions. I address this lacuna by developing a (...) reductive account of the social capacities of non-planning agents, which I argue supports the conclusion that they can enjoy shared agency. The resulting discussion offers a fine-grained account of the psychological capacities that can underlie shared agency, and produces a recipe for generating novel hypotheses concerning why some agents do not engage in shared agency. (shrink)
How homogenous are the sources of human motivation? Textbook Humeans hold that every human action is motivated by desire, thus any heterogeneity derives from differing objects of desire. Textbook Kantians hold that although some human actions are motivated by desire, others are motivated by reason. One question in this vicinity concerns whether there are states such that to be in one is at once take the world to be a certain way and to be motivated to act: the state-question. My (...) question here is different: whether passion and reason constitute distinct sources of human motivation: the source question. In this essay, I defend an affirmative answer to the source-question while remaining neutral on the state-question. I distinguish between what I call orectic desires, which are associated with the appetites, and anorectic desires, which are associated with judgments of the good. I argue that the two sorts of desires constitute distinct sources of motivation initially on the basis of their differing epistemological profiles. Specifically, self-attributions of anorectic desires are governed by the transparency condition, self-attributions of orectic desires are not. It emerges from this discussion that the motivation for performing an action arises in very different ways from each sort of desire. This difference, in turn, is explained by their differing relations to the will. Roughly, an orectic desire influences the will, but an anorectic desire is the will. The motivation to perform some of our actions derives simply from the determination that they are to-be-done—from reason. (shrink)
This morning I intended to get out of bed when my alarm went off. Hearing my alarm, I formed the intention to get up now. Yet, for a time, I remained in bed, irrationally lazy. It seems I irrationally failed to execute my intention. Such cases of execution failure pose a challenge for Mentalists about rationality, who believe that facts about rationality supervene on facts about the mind. For, this morning, my mind was in order; it was my action that (...) apparently made me irrational. What, then, should Mentalists say about the phenomenon of execution failure? The phenomenon of execution failure, and the puzzle it raises for Mentalists, have rarely been discussed. This paper addresses the puzzle in two parts. First, it argues that execution failure is a real phenomenon. It is possible for agents to irrationally fail to act on their present-directed intentions. It follows that Mentalists in the philosophy of action must solve the puzzle of explaining what is irrational about cases of execution failure. Second, this paper begins the search for such a solution. It considers six possible resolutions to the puzzle, arguing that none is obviously the most attractive. These resolutions include a requirement of overall conative consistency, an appeal to the norm of intention consistency, a form of Volitionalism, an appeal to factive mental states, and a proposal due to Garrett Cullity, and a novel requirement of proper functioning. (shrink)
Analyzes Seneca's conception of friendship as an innovative adaptation of Stoic eros to accommodate Roman social norms of equality and reciprocity and to define a form of non-defective friendship for fools who are making progess. -/- Also provides a new answer to the conundrum of "will" in Seneca by connecting it to the impulse types epibole ("effort," also the impulse type of eros) and prothesis attested in Greek Stoic sources, and shows the connection between progessor friendship as an effort to (...) become a friend and philosophy as an effort to become a good person. (shrink)
This article (in German) explores divine activity, human passivity, and the role played by grace in the medieval image-and-verse program "Christ and the Loving Soul". After discussing the historical context and target readers and laying out the story of CMS, I show how this popular piece of late medieval devotional literature expresses complex theological and philosophical ideas that central to understanding the narrative. I argue for a new way of reading CMS that places emphasis on movement and the notion of (...) volitional "turning points" ("Ke(h)rmomente") - a reading that sheds new light on medieval understandings of divine acts of grace and human autonomy. (shrink)
In re-examining the concepts of desire, intention, and trying, David K. Chan brings a fresh approach toward resolving many of the problems that have occupied philosophers of action for almost a century. This book not only presents a complete theory of human agency but also, by developing the conceptual tools needed to do moral philosophy, lays the groundwork for formulating an ethics that is rooted in a clear, intuitive, and coherent moral psychology.
In order to make sense of Scotus’s claim that rationality is perfected only by the will, a Scotistic doctrine of truth is developed in a speculative way. It is claimed that synthetic a priori truths are truths of the will, which are existential truths. This insight holds profound theological implications and is used on the one hand to criticize Kant's conception of existence, and on the other hand, to offer another explanation of the sense according to which the existence of (...) things is grasped. (shrink)
In Romans 7:14-25, Paul declares, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want, is what I do" (KJV). St. Paul's statement is a universal truth for all human beings; humans--whether Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or atheists--are prone to committing free actions that are not "good." Furthermore, and irrespective of how we might construe the notion of "good" (whether as acting in accordance with some religious or spiritual precept or simply doing what (...) is in one's best interest), we often knowingly and freely choose actions that may, or in fact do, harm us. There is a name given to such actions. We call them "weak-willed." "Weakness of will," or akrasia, has perplexed philosophers, theologians, and laypersons alike for centuries. This book reveals why the idea has caused so much bafflement and consternation for so many. The main thrust of the work, however, is to illuminate and inspire: Lightbody seeks to demonstrate, concretely, how and why we are weak-willed. By extracting an "alchemical touchstone" from Plato's middle period philosophy, Lightbody, in addition, reveals how we may transmute harmful appetites into life-edifying passions. (shrink)
Das Verb „anfangen“ lässt sich sowohl mit einem Akteur an Subjektstelle als auch subjektlos verwenden. Sogenannte subjektlose Sätze wie „Es fängt zu regnen an“ haben freilich ein grammatisches Subjekt, aber auf die Rückfrage „Wer oder was fängt zu regnen an?“ ist die einzig mögliche Antwort „Es“ unbefriedigend. Das grammatische Subjekt fungiert in solchen Sätzen lediglich als synkategorematischer Ausdruck. Menschliche Akteure können in gehaltvollerem Sinn etwas anfangen, zum Beispiel Streit, oder, wie es bei Kant heißt, „eine Reihe von Begebenheiten“. Mit dem (...) emphatisch beschriebenen Vermögen, „eine Reihe von Begebenheiten ganz von selbst anzufangen“, bestimmt Kant das Anfangen einer Handlung als Vermögen der Erstverursachung und verschafft ihm so die gebührende Fallhöhe. Diese beiden Verwendungen von „anfangen“ markieren die Spannung zwischen dem bloßen Beginnen eines subjektlosen Naturprozesses und dem Vermögen, ein Geschehen aktiv in Gang zu setzen. Ich möchte in diesem Beitrag vier klassische Modelle des Anfangens einer Handlung diskutieren, um ihre wichtigsten Vorzüge und Nachteile miteinander zu vergleichen: die kausale Handlungstheorie, die Theorie der Akteurskausalität, die des mentalen Steuerimpulses und die der noumenalen Kausalität. Klassisch sind die vier Modelle, insofern man sie philosophiehistorisch wie folgt verorten kann: (1) Das humesche Modell: kausale Handlungstheorie, (2) Das aristotelische Modell: Akteurskausalität, (3) Das cartesische Modell: mentaler Steuerimpuls, (4) Das kantische Modell: noumenale Kausalität [...]. (shrink)
This paper defends the action-theory of the Will, according to which willing G is doing F (F≠G) in order to make G happen. In a nutshell, willing something is doing something else in order to bring about what we want. -/- I argue that only the action-theory can reconcile two essential features of the Will. (i) its EFFECTIVITY: willing is closer to acting than desiring. (ii) its FALLIBILITY: one might want something in vain. The action-theory of the will explains EFFECTIVITY (...) by claiming that each time one wants G, one accomplishes the action of doing F ( it is argued following Von Wright that every action has a result as a proper part, here F). And the action-theory explains FALLIBILITY by claiming that although willing G entails making some F happen –the result of the action of willing–, it does not entail that G –the intended consequence of our willing– will happen. -/- By contrast, behaviorist accounts of the will (which merely equate willing with an action) captures its EFFECTIVITY but loose its FALLIBILITY. And volitionist accounts (which introduce naked volitions lacking any essential results) capture the FALLIBILITY of the will, but loose its EFFECTIVITY. -/- I consider disjunctivist accounts of trying (such as O'Shaughnessy and Hornsby's ones) as an alternative way to reconcile EFFECTIVITY and FALLIBILITY. I argue that though the view manages to reconcile these two constraints, it does so only at the price of gerrymandering the concept of willing (or trying): failed tryings end up having nothing in common with successful ones. -/- I then address three objections to the action-theory of the will, to the effect (i) that not all actions have a result (ii) that total failures are possible (iii) that willing is more fundamental than acting. I argue in answer (i) that all actions have results (results which can be irrelevant to the production of the goal, or which can be merely mental images), (ii) that total failures do not correspond to acts of will, but to mere desires or wishes, and (iii) that given the possibility of basic actions, acting has to be more fundamental than willing (and trying). (shrink)
Ellen Furlong and Laurie Santos helpfully summarize a number of fascinating studies of certain influences on both human and monkey behavior. As someone who works primarily in philosophy, I am not in a position to dispute the details of the studies themselves. But in this brief commentary I do want to raise some questions about the inferences Furlong and Santos make on the basis of those studies. In general, I worry that they may be overreaching beyond what their own data (...) suggests. (shrink)
Deliberation issues in decision, and so might be taken as a paradigmatic volitional activity. Character, on the other hand, may appear pre-volitional: the dispositions that constitute it provide the background against which decisions are made. Bernard Williams offers an intriguing picture of how the two may be connected via the concept of practical necessities, which are at once constitutive of character and deliverances of deliberation. Necessities are thus the glue binding character and the will, allowing us to take responsibility for (...) our characters. Intriguing though the picture may be, it did not receive a thorough elaboration in Williams’s work. My aim here is to work out and defend what I take to be the most valuable aspect of Williams’s view of agency: its model of the way character and the will can jointly determine agency through mutual constitution. However, I argue that Williams’s attempt to use this model to ground his attack on Kantian morality does not succeed, because the primacy Williams accords to character over the will cannot yield the appropriate kind of normative authority, even from the perspective of the agent. I urge that we retain Williams’s model of the interaction between character and the will, modified to allow the will an authority that is not derived from the necessity of character. (shrink)
Does 'Person P tried to A' entail that there is some particular, whether a mental act or a brain state or whatever, that is a trying? Most discussions of trying assume that this entailment holds. There is no good reason for holding that this is a valid inference. In particular, I examine one 'Davidsonian' argument that might be used to justify the validity of such an inference and argue that the argument is not sound. See: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/IxsuPqt7rvdzqMxpFiTv/full.
Discussions of the account of judgment offered in the Fourth Meditation tend to focus on its role in Descartes' epistemology and his response to skepticism. The main focus of the Fourth Meditation is the true and the false, and it completes the discussion conducted in the Second and Third Meditation about truth and falsity and the proper use of the truth rule. This chapter summarizes Descartes' view of the nature of judgment before examining more closely the account of the will (...) unfolding in the Fourth Meditation, and the kind of indifference Descartes appeals to in defending his controversial doctrine of free choice. Descartes' problematic account of the will and its freedom is developed in an epistemological and theodical context, the aim being to warrant the truth rule and, perhaps even more importantly, to draw a line between God's and our own responsibility for our cognitive errors. (shrink)
In § 6 of his General Psychopathology (1st edition 1913) Jaspers distinguished between drives, wants and volitions as three different and irreducible kinds of motivational phenomena which are involved in human decision making and which may lead to successful actions. He has characterized the qualitative differences between volitions in comparison with basic vital drives and emotional wants such as being (a.) intentional, (b.) content-specific and (b.) directed towards concrete objects and actions as goals. Furthermore, Jaspers has presented and discussed three (...) kinds of pathological problems about motivation and willing. (1.) The first kind is impulsive action or impulsive behaviour, as e.g. in psychoses or personality disorders, which he compares with instinctive action which are both without any previous hesitation, deliberation and reflection of any presumable consequences, but still very different with respect to their motivational content. (2.) The second kind of pathological problems about motivation and willing are the inhibitions of the will and Jaspers is discussing two major kinds of them: (a.) the energetic or motivational inhibition of the will which is an inability of willing due to the mere lack of any drives and motives, as in the case of any severe and pathological depression; (b.) the cognitive inhibition of the will which is due to the pathological inability to be aware of and understand properly the complexity and difficulty of real life situations in order to solve some given tasks by appropriate decision making, as e.g. in some cases of schizophrenia. (3.) The third kind is a pathological weakness of the will which is extraordinary and not familiar to normal human adults. This pathological kind of weakness of the will consist in the complete causal ineffectiveness of the subjectively felt impulse of willing which is not leading to any inward and outward observable action, such as e.g. as a movement of the limbs or some verbal utterance. This pathological weakness of the will is a complete ineffectiveness of the volitional impulse and therefore different from what philosophers discuss under the heading of weakness of the will which presuppose some evaluation of the intended resp. realized action as ethically, morally or religiously right or wrong. Finally, there are three kinds of normal or non-pathological weakness of the will, as discussed by philosophers: (A.) ethical weakness of the will as in Aristotle’s disagreement about akrasia with the Platonic Socrates; (B) moral weakness of the will as in Kant’s analysis of the absence or failure of any specific moral reasoning by pure practical reason as opposed to mere strategic and pragmatic reason or as the occurrence of a self-deceptive “dialectics of the exception“; (C.) religious weakness of the will as in Pauls personal insight about the incoherence between his high spiritual aspirations and his factual ethical achievements. (shrink)
This paper summarizes my contributions to a talk with the above title given together with Jeffrey Schwartz at UCSF Cole Hall, May 5, 2009, to an audience of research post-doctoral fellows. The full presentation is available at URL saa49.ucsf.edu/psa/themind.wmv.
On Hume’s account of motivation, beliefs and desires are very different kinds of propositional attitudes. Beliefs are cognitive attitudes, desires emotive ones. An agent’s belief in a proposition captures the weight he or she assigns to this proposition in his or her cognitive representation of the world. An agent’s desire for a proposition captures the degree to which he or she prefers its truth, motivating him or her to act accordingly. Although beliefs and desires are sometimes entangled, they play very (...) different roles in rational agency. In two classic papers (Lewis 1988, 1996), David Lewis discusses several challenges to this Humean picture, but ultimately rejects them. We think that his discussion of a central anti-Humean alternative – the desire-as-belief thesis – is in need of refinnement. On this thesis, the desire for proposition p is given by the belief that p is desirable. Lewis claims that ‘[e]xcept in trivial cases, [this thesis] collapses into contradiction’(Lewis 1996, p. 308). The problem, he argues, is that the thesis is inconsistent with the purportedly plausible requirement that one’s desire for a proposition should not change upon learning that the proposition is true; call this the invariance requirement. In this paper, we revisit Lewis’s argument. We show that, if one carefully distinguishes between non-evaluative and evaluative propositions, the desire-asbelief thesis can be rendered consistent with the invariance requirement. Lewis’s conclusion holds only under certain conditions: the desire-as-belief thesis conflicts with the invariance requirement if and only if there are certain correlations between non-evaluative and evaluative propositions. But when there are such correlations, we suggest, the invariance requirement loses its plausibility. Thus Lewis’s argument against the desire-as-belief thesis appears to be valid only in cases in which it is unsound. (shrink)
This essay puts forward a theory of existence that takes its cue from both contemporary physics and Indian Vedanta. The quantum statistics of indistinguishable particles strongly suggests that the “ultimate” constituents of matter, considered out of relation to each other, are identical in the strong sense of numerical identity. This makes it possible to identify each fundamental particle with the vedantic brahman, which relates to the world in a threefold manner: as a substance constituting it (sat), as a consciousness containing (...) it (chit), and as an infinite quality/delight expressing and experiencing itself in finite forms and movements (ananda). The fundamental identity of sat with chit makes it possible to understand how anything material can exist for anything material. The fundamental identity of sat with ananda holds the clue to the free will conundrum. A discussion of a series of vedantically possible worlds solves these problems by showing how they arise and how they become hard. An examination of our place in the vedantic scheme of things at this particular juncture of the drama of evolution is followed by a speculation about the drama’s dénouement. (shrink)
The unitary description both of the thing and of the other allowed to the Husserlian phenomenology to overcome the classical distinction between representation and will and to treat the volition and action as specific objects. In the following paper we shall investigate the basic concepts of a phenomenology of will and action comparing it with Kant's position in this respect. Our research will focus on the phenomenological description of the passage from the inchoative moment of the action to the action (...) to the ethical action and on the manner in which normativity arises in the milieu of the interaction. Korsgaard's concept of reflective endorsement will be our main reference in this field. (shrink)
Ainslie is correct in arguing that the force of commitments partly depends on the predictive role of present action, but this claim can be supported independently of the analogy with interpersonal bargaining. No matter whether we conceive of the parties involved in the bargaining as interests or transient selves, the picture of the will as a competitive interaction among these parties is unconvincing.
In this paper, it is examined how neuroscience can help to understand the nature of volition by addressing the question whether volitions can be localized in the brain. Volitions, as acts of the will, are special mental events or activities by which an agent consciously and actively exercises her agency to voluntarily direct her thoughts and actions. If we can pinpoint when and where volitional events or activities occur in the brain and find out their neural underpinnings, this can substantively (...) aid to demystify the concept of volition. After first discussing some methodological issues regarding whether it is possible to locate volition in the brain, various approaches by which neuroscientists and psychologists explore the neural correlates and substrates of volition are examined. Although different psychological conceptualizations of volition shape different perspectives toward understanding the functions of volition, the explorations of the neural basis of volition converge on certain common brain areas and structures. A unifying conception of volition that helps to make better sense of recent empirical findings is then suggested. (shrink)
The concept of volition has a long history in Western thought, but is looked upon unfavorably in contemporary philosophy and psychology. This paper proposes and elaborates a unifying conception of volition, which views volition as a mediating executive mental process that bridges the gaps between an agent's deliberation, decision and voluntary bodily action. Then the paper critically examines three major skeptical arguments against volition: volition is a mystery, volition is an illusion, and volition is a fundamentally flawed conception that leads (...) to infinite regress. It is shown that all these charges are untenable and the arguments are far from decisive to dismiss the concept of volition. In addition, it is suggested that a naturalistic approach, which takes philosophical inquiry as continuous with the scientific study of volition, is a promising way to demystify volition. (shrink)
What is the will? And what is its relation to human action? Throughout history, philosophers have been fascinated by the idea of 'the will': the source of the drive that motivates human beings to act. However, there has never been a clear consensus as to what the will is and how it relates to human action. Some philosophers have taken the will to be based firmly in reason and rational choice, and some have seen it as purely self-determined. Others have (...) replaced the idea of the human will with a more general drive uniting humans and the rest of nature, living and non-living. This collection of nine specially commissioned papers trace the formulation and treatment of the problem of the will from ancient philosophy through the scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages, to modern philosophy, and right up to contemporary theories. Philosophers discussed include Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. (shrink)
This work is an attempt to restore volition as a respectable topic for scientific studies. Volition, traditionally conceived as the act of will, has been largely neglected in contemporary science and philosophy. I first develop a volitional theory of action by elaborating a unifying conception of volition, where volitions are construed as special kinds of mental action by which an agent consciously and actively bridge the gaps between deliberation, decision and intentional action. Then I argue that the major skeptical arguments (...) against volition are untenable. Volition can be a suitable object of empirical studies, and we can substantially demystify the notion of volition by exploring when and where volitions occur in the brain. On the basis of recent findings in psychology and neuroscience, I show how volitions can be localized in some regions of the brain. The classical notion of volition as action initiator, which is essential to the commonsense image of human agency that underlies our ordinary understanding of free will, moral responsibility and human dignity, can be preserved in face of the challenge from recent experimental studies in neuroscience. Contrary to a widely received misconception, I argue that volitions cannot be reduced to intentions. Furthermore, I show that a volitional theory of action can surpass its rivals, especially the causal approach, which is the dominant position in contemporary action theory, to provide a more plausible and richer account of human action and agency. (shrink)
In the first edition of the Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke claims that human beings have freedom of action - that is, that some of their actions are free - but that they do not have freedom of will - that is, that none of their volitions are free. Volitions themselves are actions for Locke; they are operations of the will and hence acts of willing. And volitions give rise to other actions: an action that follows and is caused by (...) a volition is thereby a voluntary action. But volitions are not subject to the will; they cannot be caused by acts of willing and so cannot themselves be voluntary actions. This doctrine, that acts of willing cannot be voluntary, is one of Locke’s reasons for thinking that they are not free. (He also has a reason for holding this doctrine, and a second reason for thinking that acts of willing cannot be free, both of which I’ll be considering later on.) Locke follows not only the scholastics but also Descartes and Hobbes in holding that being voluntary is a prerequisite for being free. But unlike Descartes and Hobbes, though not unlike the scholastics, Locke does not make voluntariness sufficient for freedom. In addition to being voluntary, a free action must be one its agent can avoid - avoid, that is, merely by willing, whether by willing not to do it or by willing to do something else that is incompatible with doing it. (shrink)
In this innovative study of the relationship between persons and their bodies, E. J. Lowe demonstrates the inadequacy of physicalism, even in its mildest, non-reductionist guises, as a basis for a scientifically and philosophically acceptable account of human beings as subjects of experience, thought and action. He defends a substantival theory of the self as an enduring and irreducible entity - a theory which is unashamedly committed to a distinctly non-Cartesian dualism of self and body. Taking up the physicalist challenge (...) to any robust form of psychophysical interactionism, he shows how an attribution of independent causal powers to the mental states of human subjects is perfectly consistent with a thoroughly naturalistic world view. He concludes his study by examining in detail the role which conscious mental states play in the human subject's exercise of its most central capacities for perception, action, thought and self-knowledge. (shrink)
This book, first published in 1987, investigates what distinguishes the part of human behaviour that is action from the part that is not. The distinction was clearly drawn by Socrates, and developed by Aristotle and the medievals, but key elements of their work became obscured in modern philosophy, and were not fully recovered when, under Wittgenstein’s influence, the theory of action was revived in analytical philosophy. This study aims to recover those elements, and to analyse them in terms of a (...) defensible semantics on Fregean lines. Among its conclusions: that actions are bodily or mental events that are causally explained by their doers’ propositional attitudes, especially by their choices or fully specific intentions; that choice cannot be reduced to desire and belief, and hence that the traditional concept of will as intellectual appetite must be revived. (shrink)
This book presents an events-based view of human action somewhat different from that of what is known as "standard story". A thesis about trying-to-do-something is distinguished from various volitionist theses. It is argued then that given a correct conception of action's antecedents, actions will be identified not with bodily movements but with causes of such movements.
In a recent paper Lawrence Davis has argued that the difference between an arm raising and someone raising his arm is that in the latter case a volition causes the arm to rise. In this paper I will show that Davis's theory is faulty and that certain obvious ways of repairing his theory do not work.Davis proposes the following as an account of Sam's raising his arm: Sam raises his arm if he willed to raise his arm and this caused (...) his arm to rise.According to Davis the volition — Sam's willing to raise his arm — need not be interpreted psychologically. Volitions could be ghostly mental events, but they might not be. He leaves this open. He also leaves open the question of whether volitions are introspectable events. Davis allows that in some cases Sam's arm rising can be caused by a volition different from the volition to raise his arm. For example, Sam might will to step on a pedal. (shrink)
The purpose of this paper is to defend the view that the bodily actions of men typicaly involve a mental action of voliton or willing, and that such mental acts are, in at least one important sense, the basic actions we perform when we do things like raise an arm, move a finger, or flex a muscle.