What Determines the Will? (On Freedom of the Will: Part I, Section 2a)

On Freedom of the Will Index page

Online version of Freedom of the Will

Section II.

Concerning the Determination of the Will.

The phrase “determining the will” means making a choice regarding a particular thing. This is in the same sense as the phrase”determination of motion” which means causing motion in a particular direction instead of another. For the Will to be determined there must be a Determiner. In other words, the Will is an effect that must have a cause.

Two questions then arise: what determines the Will and does the Will always follow the last order/command of the understanding? Rather than delve into all the various answers to those questions, I think it is sufficient to say that the will is determined by the strongest motive of the mind. Allow me to explain what I mean.

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Motive is whatever moves or invites the mind to volition. It could be one thing or several things working together. By “the strongest motive” I am referring to whatever it is, whether one thing or many, that induces a particular act of volitions.

For something to be a motive in the way I use the term, it must be something that can actually be perceived. In other words, only those things that are in the mind’s view in some way are things that can induce the mind to will or to act. Anything outside the mind’s perception could not possible affect the mind at all.

I think most would agree that any true motive to a perceiving, willing agent has at least some tendency to move the Will prior to the act of the will itself. This prior tendency of the motive is what I call the strength of the motive (a motive with less tendency to move the Will would be a weaker motive). Whatever is most appealing to the mind and has the strongest prior tendency to induce the choice is what I call the strongest motive. It is in that sense that I say that the will is always determined by the strongest motive.

A thing may draw its tendency to move the Will from many different sources (the nature of the thing itself or the nature of the mind that views it). Listing all the possible sources would be difficult if not impossible. However, I do not think it would be controversial to say that in general whatever moves the will of a person (“an intelligent and voluntary agent”) is seen by that person as good; it moves a person to act only to the extent that it is viewed favorably. To say otherwise, would be to claim that things move the will by some means other “than by their appearing eligible to it.” That would be absurd. Therefore, in some sense it must always be the case that the will and the apparent greatest good coincide.

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