Will in Western Thought - Historico-Critical Survey

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Will in Western Thought - Historico-Critical Survey

Table of contents :
What does will mean? -- Intellectual preferences and will -- Will as rational appetite -- Freedom as the genus of volition -- Will as dynamic power -- Heart, affection and will -- The will of the people -- Will as the source of law -- Will as reality -- A core meaning of will.

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An Historico-Critical Survey by VERNON J. BOURKE


Preface Tms BOOK TOOK its origin in a long-standing personal con­ viction that the meaning of will in the history of Western philosophy is not as simple and uniform as many writers take it to be. In a graduate seminar in philosophy at St. Louis University, during the academic year 1960-61, twenty­ seven students investigated various theories of volition from the rime of the Greeks to the present. Their studies frankly amazed me and I should like to acknowledge their contri­ bution to this book by giving their names: Father J. P. Assion, Mr. W. M. Biehl, S.J., Mr. J. F. Britt, Father H. R. Burns, S.J., Mr. M. J. Carella, Mr. D. J. Carville, S.J., Father T. P. Casper, Mr. D. J. Collins, S.J., Mr. C. A. Corr, Mr. T. A. Duggan, S.J., Sister Dorothy Ann Dunn, I.H.M., Sister Thomas Marguerite Flanigan, C.S.J., Mr. J. A. Haas, Mr. P. Heinbecker, Sister M. Angele Hotze, Mr. A. A. Keith, Mr. G. J. Koob, S.J., Mr. J. Mace, S.J., Father P. McLaugh­ lin, Brother C. Parrick McMahon, F.S.C., Mr. R. Miller, S.J., Father E.W. Rioly, C.PP.S., Mr. B. Roy, S.J., Father J. T. Schuett, S.J., the Rev. Mr. E. Stahlnecker, Mr. E. C. Toomey, and Brother Cosmas G. Vreeland, F.S.C. Needless to I have not been able to utilize all of the material on philosophical and psychological theories of voli­ tion which was uncovered in this seminar. From this re-


Preface search, however, I was enabled to pinpoint what seemed to be the most si,,anificant views, as a guide to my own reading. The presentation of this material is my own, as is the intecpre­ canon. In 1962, Boston College celebrated its Centenary and in­ vited me to give a series of twenty leccures on this subject during November of that year. This provided an opportunity to organize the thousands of pages of notes which I had as­ sembled into a more compact and, it is hoped, understand­ able form. My special thanks are due to the Reverend Fred­ erick J. Adelmann, S.J., Chairman of the Deparnnent of Philosophy at Boston College, and to the various officers of the administration of that University for their invitation and encouragement. Finally, the editors of Sheed & Ward, Inc. indicated an interest in bringing out the lectures in book form. With some revision, what follows is the resultant. It only remains to express my gratitude to Mr. Philip Scbatper, Mr. James P. Haughey, and their associates at Sheed & Ward, for their interest, their valuable suggestions for the revision, and for their assistance in seeing the book through the press. VERNON




Preface I What Does Will Mean?

II Intelleccual Preference and Will




III Will as Rational Appetite


IV Freedom as the Genus of Volition


V Will as Dynamic Power


VI Heare, .Affection and Will


VII The Will of the People VIII Will as the Source of Law

IX Will as Reality



A Core Meaning of Will

149 169 191

217 241

WE PROPOSE TO STUDY the chief meanings that have been given to will in Occidental philosophy and then try to deter­ mine whether there is one univocal way of using will, a mean­ ing that would seem most appropriate for contemporary philosophical work. There would be at least one other method of handling this problem: this would entail starting with a certain notion of what will means and then going through the history of philosophy in search of those who have given this preconceived meaning to will. It might even include criticisms of such a meaning. One could, for instance, begin with the view that will means "rational appetite" ( as it does for Thomas Aquinas) and then investigate the various explana­ tions of rational appetition that have been offered in the course of Westem philosophical thought With this method, it would not matter whether a given thinker used the language of will, provided he discussed the points included in the in­ itial definition. This would be an interesting and profitable study but it is oot what we are going to do. Such an investiga­ tion would exclude, by vittue of the initial definition, much interesting material oo the subject. Io one sense, what we shall do is a word study, an essay in historical semantics. The English word, will, has cognates in most of the languages of theWestem world. One has only to look briefly at an etymological dictionary to see that will is


Will in Western Thought

connected with a group of very similar words in the north European lan=o-es that have the root "wil" or "vil" with the b b variants ''wol" or "vol" Thus the Anglo-Saxon noun is willa, the German Wille, the Danish ville. These forms re­ semble the Latin infinitive velle but are not derived from it. In Russian, the noun is volya (Bomi); in German the verb form is wollen; in English we have corresponding forms such as volition and voluntary. These resemble the Latin noun volumas, from which are derived many of the south European forms: French volonte, Italian volonta, Spanish voluntad, and so on. Classical Greek has boulesis (f3ov>..�cr«) which is pro­ nounced voulesis in modem Greek, and verb forms in which the root "boul" is obviously related to the Latin "vol." Erymologists trace these forms back to a Sanskrit root "vri" and further to a basic Aryan root "WAR" (WAL) which, they say, meant "to choose, to like, to will."1 It is fascinating ( though not perhaps philosophically valuable) to investigate the variants in such a family of words. Irish Gaelic, for ex­ ample, has the form "TOIL" in which the initial "T" be­ comes silent and the word sounds much like the English, will.2 Arabic has irada for will, a form which may be related to the Sanskrit root.3 In short, the preceding is sufficient to indicate that most of the languages of Westem philosophy, ancient, medieval and modern, have words that are morpho­ logically related to our word, will. Dictionary definitions of these "vol-wil-vri" words under­ line their similarity of basic meaning. This may be illustrated by reference to two commonly used English dictionaries. Webster's Collegiate defines will, first, in terms of a set of activities: wish, desire, inclination, pleasure, choice, intention. Later, it mentions "the power of choosing • . . and of acting in accordance with choice."4 On the other hand, a typical small British dictionary opens its entry on will by saying that

What Does Will Mean?


it is, "the faculty or power of mind by which we decide to do or not to do," and later it gives the meaning in terms of activities! Of course, we do not expect technical philosophi­ cal explanations from general dictionaries, but we may note the American emphasis on the activity, or functional meaning, and the more traditional British stress on the faculty meaning. Turning to one of the most recent philosophical diction­ aries in English, we find two entries on will. One written by Ledger Wood starts off by saying: 'Will: a) in the widest sense, will is synonymous with conation. See Conation." Then it proceeds to· analyze an act of willing into the envisaging of alternative courses of action, deliberation, and decision or choice. When one looks at conation, in this dictionary, . one finds Vergilius Ferm neatly completing the circle by saying: "Referring to voluntary activity."• There is a second entry by Rudolf Allers which gives the Scholastic meaning of will as, "one of the .two rational faculties of the human soul.'' A more formal Scholastic definition is offered in Wuellner's Dictionary: "the rational appetite; that power of the human soul or of a spititnal substance which tends toward a good apprehended by the intellect, or away from an evil recog­ nized by the intellect." He adds that will also designates any act of this appetite! A comparable French dictionary of phil­ osophy lists will (volonte) as the faculty of activity.• Perhaps these examples are sufficient to suggest that we cannot learn what will really means by consulriog philosophical diction­ aries, either. Nor is much precise information to be found in the usual histories of philosophy. As a rule, such works treat the views on logic, theory of knowledge, reality and ethics of the thinkers in a given period, or in the whole of Westem phi­ losophy. Speculation on the problems of volition is only oc­ casionally treated and that in cases (such as Schopenhauer)


Will in Western Thought

where will is =emely basic to a man's thought. Much the same is true of histories of psychology. There are some psy­ chological monographs on the activities of willing but these are restricted to very limited problems and techniques of ob­ servation and usually presuppose some philosophical meaning of will.• It would be valuable to study the use of will-l.at\,o-uage in the great classics of Westem literature: in the Greek drama­ tists, in the Roman essayists and poets, in medieval poetry (secular and religious), in Dante, Shakespeare and the Rus­ sian novelists. Obviously, this would be a lengthy task. It will not be undertaken here. Instead, we shall limit our field to the views of will that be found in the philosophical literature of the ancient, medieval and modern periods. Philosophy is here taken in a broad sense, so as not to ex­ clude theology in centuries when these disciplines were closely associated. Nor shall we ignore modem psychological wnnngs. One way of making this investigation would be to write a history of philosophy, taking will and volition as a central interest and treating the various thinkers in schools or in chronological order. I must confess that this is what I had in mind originally. However, such a detailed and necessarily repetitive history of will theories does not now appear to be the best instrument for understanding what will has meant to Western philosophers. In effect, I have assembled such a chronological account, in preliminary research notes, and it is a welter of materials which requires further organization.10 A survey of this collection of notions on will suggests that Westem thinkers have taken eight distinctive views of the subject. These divisions are not exhaustive, nor are they en­ tirely exclusive of each other, but they are sufficiently char­ acteristic of different ways of looking at will.


What Does Will Mean? Will Means Intellectual Preference

Philosophers in a :first group either identify, or associate very closely, the notion of willing with the act of intellectual judgment. These are people who tend to be classified as "in­ tellectualises" in histories of ethics. Broadly speaking, when they talk about will or volition, they mean an act of intelligent preference. Obviously, they are the kind of men who say that virtue is practical knowledge. To thinkers of a different temperament or persuasion, these intellectualises appear to have sacrificed will to the all-consuming maw of cognition. Yet they do use the language of volition and at times offer quite thorough explanations of activities such as intending, choosing and enjoying. Chapter Two will attempt to show that this association of willing with intellectual or rational preference is characteristic of Greek philosophy up to and including Aristotle. It is, in­ deed, one important aspect of the Greek cult of reason. Moreover, we shall observe that some medieval thinkers understand will in this way. In modem philosophy, thinkers as dissimilar on other matters as Spinoza and Hobbes share something of this intellectualist approach to will. We shall even see that Kant, in one of his ways of understanding will, is an intellectualise. Will Means Rational Appetite

A second way of looking at will is to regard it as a special kind of appetite. In this sense, appetite means a power or . tendency to incline toward objects that are apprehended as good and away from objects that are known as not good. Appetite is taken, usually, as a power or faculty of a generic character which may be subdivided into several species.


Will in Western Thought

Thinkers in this second group somerimes sharply distinguish sensory appetition from rational appetition. Thus psychic appetites may be either: ( 1) sensory ( which incline toward or away from individual objects known through sense per­ ception) or (2) intellectual (whose functions are inclinations toward or away from universal objects apprehended through intellect or reason). The latter, intellectnal appetite, is also called will. In the case of the Stoics, however, we have a rational ap­ petite theory of will char does not entail a sharp differentia­ tion of will from sensory appetition. It is in Plocinus, John Damascene, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas that will comes to be more and more identified with intellectual ap­ petite and progressively more �