The Battle of the Endeavors: Dynamics of the Mind and Deliberation in New Essays on Human Understanding, book II, xx-xxi

In Wenchao Li (ed.), “Für unser Glück oder das Glück anderer”. Vorträge des X. Internationalen Leibniz-Kongresses, Hannover, 18. – 23. Juli 2016. G. Olms. pp. Band V, 73-87 (2016)

Authors
Markku Roinila
University of Helsinki
Abstract
In New Essays on Human Understanding, book II, chapter xxi Leibniz presents an interesting picture of the human mind as not only populated by perceptions, volitions and appetitions, but also by endeavours. The endeavours in question can be divided to entelechy and effort; Leibniz calls entelechy as primitive active forces and efforts as derivative forces. The entelechy, understood as primitive active force is to be equated with a substantial form, as Leibniz says: “When an entelechy – i.e. a primary or substantial endeavour – is accompanied by perception, it is a soul” (NE II, xxi, §1; RB, 170). What about efforts, then? One is certainly the will. In NE, II, xxi, §5 Leibniz argues that volition is the effort (conatus) to move towards what one finds good and away from what one finds bad and that this endeavor arises from the perceptions we are aware of. As an endeavour results in action unless it is prevented, from will (which is always directed to the good) and power together follows action. However, this is not so simple. Leibniz argues that there is also a second class of efforts: “There are other efforts, arising from insensible perceptions, which we are not aware of; I prefer to call these ‘appetitions’ rather than volitions” (NE II, xxi, §5; RB, 173). Although there are appetitions of which one can be aware, usually these appetitions arise from the insensible petite perceptions and are consequently affecting us subconsciously. Now, although all minute perceptions are confused perceptions, they are always related to pleasure and displeasure and also to perfection and imperfection. From this follows that there can be different efforts present in the soul at the same time: the will which is directed to apperceived good and several separate appetitions which lead to different goals, both to those which bring about perfection and pleasure of the mind (joy) and those which bring about displeasure and imperfection (sorrow). These efforts are not only in conflict with each other but may also be in conflict with entelechy. A typical case is perceiving a sensual pleasure. Our entelechy which is always directed to final causes (perfection) may be in conflict with several different appetitions which are related in different ways to the sensual pleasure in question. If our understanding is developed enough, our will resists the temptation posed by the pleasure (agreeing with entelechy), but if the temptation is too strong, the appetitions outweigh the will and the resulting action bring about imperfection and sorrow as it is related to imperfection. In this paper I will argue that deliberation in the human soul is a battle of different endeavors described above: the entelechy in the soul strives according to its law-of-the-series towards its telos (perfection) and the will accompanies it by being automatically directed to the good. This thrust towards the apparent good is aided or hindered by the appetitions which can be thought as derivative forces in the Leibnizian dynamics. Depending on whether the predominant appetitions are related to good or bad desires, the deliberation succeeds or fails in achieving the real good which is the goal of human deliberation. The successs can be facilitated beforehand by developing our understanding so that we are less easily swept away by the derivative forces (NE II, xxi, §19). A central role in this task is played by strong willing. As Martha Bolton has noted in her recent paper, an essential feature of the basic, standing endeavors is that they are continuous – although the power balance in the soul changes from moment to moment, something lingers from our previous volitions. That is why Leibniz argues that we pave way for the future deliberations by our previous voluntary actions (NE II, xxi, §23). In contrast, the appetitions are temporary, fliegende Gedanken as Leibniz says in NE II, xxi, §12. Therefore there is a constant, always changing power balance between two kinds of endeavors in the soul: primitive active force versus derivative forces. I will argue that the behavior of the forces in the soul can be understood with a vectorial model which is related to Leibniz’s early ideas of calculus of variations and which was anticipated by Arnauld and Nicole’s Port-Royal Logic. The central idea in the model is that the options are in tension towards each other and the ratio between them at each moment determines the consequent outcome. The proper relationship between the endeavors is not a simple balance, two options which exhaust each other, but a case where different efforts complement each other: “Since the final result is determined by how things weigh against one another, I should think it could happen that he most pressing disquiet did not prevail; for even If it prevailed over each of the contrary endeavours taken singly, it may be outweighed by all of them together.” Leibniz continues : “Everything which then impinges on us weighs in the balance and contributes to determining a resultant direction, almost as in mechanics” (NE II, xxi, §40; RB, 193). The different endeavors can be understood as vectors leading to different directions and the end result is a certain direction that deliberation takes. The dynamical tension between the different endeavors presents a situation where everything affects everything and the following direction, the resulting volition follows more or less automatically. In Theodicy, §325 Leibniz describes the deliberation as follows: “One might, instead of the balance, compare the soul with a force that puts forth an effort on various sides simultaneously, but which acts only at the spot where action is easiest or there is least resistance” (Huggard, 322) This kind of dynamical tension can be understood in terms of the calculus of variations where there are several possible variations available but where the dynamics of the situation results in the decision taking the “easiest” route which is more or less objectively good depending on the level of the deliberator’s understanding. In his comments to Bayle’s note L of “Rorarius” Leibniz says: “The soul, even though it has no parts, has within it, because of the multitude of representations of external things, or rather because of the representation of the universe lodged within it by the creator, a great number, or rather an infinite number, of variations (Woolhouse & Francks (ed.), ‘New System’ and Associated Texts, 101). This kind of deliberation is comparable to God’s choice of the best world with the difference that God’s understanding is infinite which again results in the fact that the choice is the best possible. Whereas in nature the easiest route taken is always optimal as nature is God’s creation, in men the goodness or badness of men’s actions is dependent on their state of wisdom, that is, how developed their understanding is. The more wise men are, the more metaphysical goodness or perfection follows from their actions.
Keywords Leibniz  Moral Psychology  Decision-Making
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