maanantai 6. lokakuuta 2014

Free to act

In previous post, I spoke of Wolff's general idea of the appetetive side of human mind and particularly of appetites based on unanalyzed information from perception, apperception and phantasms. Just like the move from lower to higher faculties of cognition happens through analysis of perceptions and phantasma, so does the move from lower to higher faculties of appetite, that is, from sensuous appetite to will. What distinguishes will from mere sensuous appetite or volitions from affects is that in case of volitions we can in general tell why we want or avoid something. In other words, volitions are based on conscious motives.

Although the existence of motives does characterize volitions, this doesn't mean that motives of our volitions would be completely transparent to us. Just like in case of concepts, the analysis of our motives could well be only partial and lead only to some gut feeling we couldn't really base on anything. Indeed, lack of reliable information could well lead us to volitions that we would discard at once, if we just knew better – for instance, we might follow a diet that we thought to make us healthy, even if more complete studies would reveal its inefficiency.

Furthermore, even if we knew well enough what was good for us, we might receive contradictory information from our senses that might be difficult to ignore due to its vividness, which might result in a mental conflict. Thus, we might well know that eating certain foods is bad for our condition, but the rich odours coming from grill might still seduce us to savour the taste of such detrimental nutrients.

Indeed, in actual decision making out motives are usually far from complete, and only in hindsight can we rationalize our actions and explain why we did them. This does not make us completely passive, because many impulses besides willing guide our activities. These other impulses also help Wolff solve the problem of Buridan's ass, that is, what to choose, when none of the options has a stronger motive than others. Wolff is of the opinion that we could choose in such cases, even if it would come about with great difficult. This choice could then be helped by other factors beyond motive. One of these is habit, which often takes the place of a motivated, reasoned choice. Thus, Buridan's ass might just prefer to pick out always a left hay stack, even if it had no reason to do this.

Wolff's account of Buridan's ass reveals that he doesn't think motives work in the same way as causes do – if two forces equal in quantity, but working in opposite directions would affect same object, no movement would occur, but two opposed motives do not prevent actions. Indeed, Wolff admits that motives do not so much determine actions, but give us a chance to choose some activity. Thus, humans cannot act without any motive at all, but they can still decide which motive to ignore and which not. This does not mean that we could choose what volitions and motives we do have, although Wolff admits that we could gradually teach ourselves to gain or lose some volitions. True liberty, Wolff concludes, lies actually in our ability to choose from given options the one pleasing us most. Because volitions are then not determined by the essence of the soul, this is enough to avoid Spinozistic conclusions, Wolff says.

Freedom to act is not restricted to choices within our own mind, Wolff argues further, because our actions do appear to have some effect on our bodies – if I decide to raise my hand, my hand is instantly raised. The power of mind over body is still not absolute, because we cannot just will our body to do physical impossibilities like flying. In addition, changes in body are instantly followed by changes in our mind, for instance, when light touches our eye. This is as much as we can empirically determine from their relation, that is, that they are dependent on one another. Real explanations of this interdependence will be offered in Wolff's Rational psychology, but now we are going to take a second look on Gottsched' philosophy.

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