Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Will

     I wanted to talk about the will. But I don't know what to say about it. I would never have thought there was such a thing as the will, had I not read in some philosophy book (when I was first starting out — it could have been John Hospers Introduction to Philosophical Analysis) that there isn't such a thing. It's a myth. WHAT is a myth? that's the question I wanted to ask.
     I know doing. I am doing it now. Doing 'doing'. Typing these words is doing. Thinking about what I'm going to write is doing. Rubbing the sore spot on my forearm is doing. Recalling half-forgotten memories of books I read long ago is doing. Listening out for the postman is doing.
     This morning, I went through the usual rigmarole of trying to get myself to get out of bed. It's a common experience with many people, so maybe you know what I mean. I thought, 'Now is the time to get up,' but I didn't get up. I had this thought a few more times. Then, I had the feeling, that increased very gradually, in very tiny steps, that maybe I really was about to get up. Then I just got up. I didn't make the decision to get up, because I'd already made that decision maybe 20 minutes ago, but I didn't act on it. I didn't do anything.
     What happened? What was it that made me get up? Well, maybe there was something, something 'noumenal' (Schopenhauer), behind the scenes. But how would that work? We're talking about a second, 'self', unknown to me or anyone else, maybe unknowable in principle, behind or beneath my conscious self. But if per impossible we could take a look at this unknowable 'self' and its actions, wouldn't the same problem arise? How does it get me to get up?
     This all looks rather similar to 'homunculus' theories of perception. We're heading for a vicious regress, or seem to be.
     So, better to say what theorists of perception say, that there is no mental intermediary that 'makes me do'. I just do. Just as there is no mental intermediary between my mind or self, and the external things I perceive.
     However, I'm not trying to analyse the will or action. That's what analytic philosophers do, or did. (Things are changing, times have moved on since Hospers wrote his book. A philosopher is more likely these days to talk of a 'theory of X' rather than an 'analysis of X'.) I could stop at this point and read all the articles on the philosophy of action by Jennifer Hornsby, or maybe re-read Brian O'Shaughnessy The Will (1980) which I've almost completely forgotten after nearly four decades, but that's not the way I work.
     What is there to do, if not analyse?
     On a neo-Humean analysis of agency and causation, things just happen, and we imagine some extra connection. Or as Wittgenstein puts it in the Tractatus, 'the only necessity is logical necessity'. The idea that my 'willing' to get out of bed has some necessary connection to my getting out of bed is a myth. Agency is simply the fact that events in the world related to movements of my body happen after, or immediately after, an event of my trying to make them happen. Anyone who's suffered sleep paralysis knows what it is like for the connection between "trying' and 'moving' to break down. It's only contingent connection, but luckily reliable for the most part.
     My response to that would be that nothing exists and there are no facts. There is only the doing. Of course we talk about existing 'things' and 'facts', but that is just at the level of talk. (As Heraclitus would say.) At the deepest level, doing is the only reality. I mean, my doing — not just what the world does or what people do — because without 'I', the one asking the question, the question wouldn't even arise.
     As Heraclitus would say, or maybe Gorgias? (On What Is Not). Now, there's something...
     Another thought came to me, a rather more prosaic thought, remembering an oft quoted remark by Bishop Butler, 'Everything is what it is and not another thing.' As I seem to recall, Butler was talking about futile attempts to analyse personal identity. What a philosopher would typically say is, 'Oh, you mean that X is not analysable because it is sui generis.' It's a familiar move. But I'm not just 'making a move'. This seems to be the very point and essence of the claim that doing is the ultimate reality.
      But it's not enough to say that. Because I know that there is something I don't know. I don't know what it is, it's an 'unknown unknown'. Otherwise, why would I be searching? What's driving this? Where is this going?
     Maybe not down but up. Instead of digging, or diving, I should be flying. Looking down on all of this. Seeing it for what it is. Doing is all there is, it's all about the doing. And yet, for some reason, we don't want to see it that way. We'd much rather there was some story about 'what is really going on', hidden workings buried deep, or even a cunning conspiracy that keeps us all ignorant and confused.
     Why not just look and see. It's all there, right in front of your eyes!

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