The Will as Expectation
by James Martin
I could do that if I really wanted; there's nothing holding me back
I don't need your money, time or morbid energy;
I can do that without a doubt a moron's job in tow:
These things move too slow
I don't have to keep promises you know
I'm not going to let you down that way;
and would rather will a splendid day.
It is one thing to write about a generous-giving idea like The Will from a set of standard references that by necessity history and its philosophic keepsakes have provided us it is quite another task to personally legitimatize the study of Will by some vague attempt to document the basic elements of 'perception' that belong to such an elusive 'quality of being' as the organic make-up of 'The Will that component of the psyche that provides us with a variety of desire and intent to carry on with our lives in a reasonably motivated way on a semi-regular basis. (my own definition of sorts). Nonetheless, let me try:
Free Will, no Will, the Will to Power, Willing it so, Weak Willed, Strong Willed... 'Shut up, Will yaw's. I think this last act of willing makes great sense at times. Because words are metaphors and represent an elusive quality for any precise definition, I can't enter the intellectual debate or realm of real philosophers. I only have my paltry subjective life as it is to conspire with this time. Maybe my last time.
Over the years, I had a reoccurring dream in which my personal environment house, family and friends were gone. All that remained was my solitary self looking down at the carpet in a small dingy house, thinking: god, that's bad taste. Why am I living here? in this dingy, subpart abode with worn, faded carpet and alone? Followed by great sense of disillusionment in a half conscious state: was I at last 'found out' discovered as living a fraudulent, undeniably shameful existence and in an instant been made to pay for a life gone wrong? This was my punishment.
But I wake up, and for several minutes my drowsy states fluctuates between a dream world and the one supposedly not a dream. And I feel a sense of loss, confusion, and bewilderment for not participating in a robust life any longer that it had been taken from me in an unguarded moment while fast asleep only to wake and realize all the missing elements of a life once complete was not gone after all. The meter was still running. Life as I know it and live it was still in tack as best can be planned and executed. There was joy and relief a plenty it was only a dream you know my own human and physical belongings and values surrounds me, embraces me, motivates me and yes, 'wills' me the energy to leap out of bed and face the day once more. I can't tell how relieved I was.
Have you followed that route? Or has your dream of loss been in other forms: the loss of parents, family members, job, and all things you hold precious in you life? Then you know what I am talking about. I hope. Because it is at that moment shuffling between two states of mind, one conscious, one not, that I was without the desire 'to Will' or move my life forward. The burden of perceived sudden loss was too great and overwhelming to do anything more, but 'sit and spin'. Of course, I did have that dream a dozen times or more over twenty-some years and the impact was never diminished or lost over time. It was as though that day would come, deserving or not, eventually. And as some of us know by now, the days of loss and bewilderment do come.
Today happens to be the third anniversary of my wife's early death at 54 (although I don't think she would be celebrating it). In one way or anther, we all can relate to loss. But what has loss to do with the Will? Or a bad dream? Or bad luck which I now refer to as 'our fates'. I've been stuck here. This dilemma of 'willing' my life go in a certain, pointed, realizable direction dictated by me has been lost somewhere along the way. The 'me' that was independent, semi-dynamic and sure of everything and nothing.. Eleanor Roosevelt once told us believe in the beauty of our dreams. I realized that is exactly what I had done over my life thus far...believed in my dreams. I did. But is it the events in our life that dictate our direction, or simply the Will to pursue them regardless of the results? Or are we threatened by bad choices that end as bad decisions based on an original-sounding set of ideas we determined would fit our desires and goals in the journey ahead. That's what haunts me now.
We do make choices on the basis of our own desire to be fulfilled. And sometimes, the deliberate choice of desires and values takes us to a place we want to go. And sometimes, we never get there. But when we do get there, we say: "'what a good boy am I'. When financial, and personal goals are achieved to some degree we have enjoyed a measure of success by most standards. Some have more than others, but on the whole, each of us revels in the choices we make that actually work out as planned. Our self-mastery of Will based on our choosing our own direction (vs. it being chosen for us). We have achieved a sense of control in our lives. The element of self-guidance comes into play. All the events and incidents leading up to the end goal we realized were caused by our initial desire to succeed. And fate did not intervene enough in a negative way to cause to change direction. Hence, we followed our dreams. And were not beat up, shot or murdered in deed or process. Did we, or did we not will it all to be so. And it was. And is. Therefore, however we define 'will', it worked out for us in the short or long run for now.
Some of us might say: It was the Will of theology and its god-forms. Hence, we have no legitimate first will. Ours in second-hand you might say. If we are in good standing with the deities, we really don't need to Will it our way or another. A higher order owns us. We can pass over this life without 'fighting' too hard for it because the one to come is going to be so terrific. And the lights never go out (although I am told there is not water or sex in heaven which makes sense because we wouldn't be able to clean up afterwards).
In trying to determine the source and use of my own Will, I have spent enormous bits of time in the past four months researching and noting the many definitions and forms of debate that history and its philosophers have contributed. I have added some of these readings at the end of this piece to let you know I did not wing my understanding of Will so easily. Although I wish it were so.You see, I have come to terms with the notion with the possibility our lives 'come and go' by a routine necessity, all the while our fates are eventually flattened and bruised by our experiences whether we Will them so or not. Most of us pay a price. The higher the expectations, the greater the price paid to achieve them it seems.
One dark December evening last year, I thought it relaxing and necessary to trace my life from its origins to the present time which meant from birth to this moment, as I lay dying from a heart disease I was not aware of at the moment. I only mention this because it was through this experience I took the journey ' past to present'. Actually, it didn't take long to list major life-shaping and altering life events, both healthy and disastrous. I did not include the mundane increments all that remained were a handful of willed by acts by others, and me.
Like so many discoveries, they come unattended, with little fanfare or warning. Yet from the beginning of a journey from past to present, I stumbled on the idea that whatever occurred or was acted upon me, from potty training to philosophy training, were the acts of expectation from other, myself and often both. In the beginning it was our parents who lead us. Even 'trained' us to take responsibility, perform in school, socially and personally. The list is really endless. And for the most part we did not disappoint them. Their rational expectations of me became my motivation to continue on to the next level. They expected me to perform because it was civil requirement to engage in a credible, even morally-stressed acts of participation. I then expected myself to perform honorably end fairly in hopes would eventually motivate my self.
The result of this last-minute review: I recognized some individuals determined or instigated what my thinking and feeling acts should and could be friends, teachers and parents and my mind and body acted appropriately or not, based on my motivation and beliefs. I accepted the will of others initially, acted either positively or negatively eventually on the issues of morality, theology, psychology...then finally forming and reforming on-going acts of philosophy to either justify or not a lifetime of events and decisions I and others made for me. Whether or not I willed them or they were willed on me makes little difference at this point (although it appears I and others did the 'willing'). Trying to understand their influence over a lifetime means everything. I concluded for the most part, I was a product of choices, from inception to near-death, some made by humans, others issued by fates unknown. That's all. I was satisfied my life-ending was not so bad after all. I was only partly in control of it. My free will was limited to judgments made by limited experience and an incomplete 'immoral character' as I was taught to believe. Or nothing at all Chaos rules the day. Interestingly enough, it really didn't matter at that point of departure.
I would say part of me I own, part of me was prepared by all the influences surrounding me. Some choices were made by institutional policy, others on the desires and value of family. The mix interwoven over time and circumstance. Yet each from an act of willing. The philosopher Henry Frankfurt suggested the difference between humans and animals is our ability to reflect on our desires and beliefs on more than one level. The thing I am attempting now. A sort of self-determinism takes hold that allows for our us to deliberately originate our thoughts and prioritize them based on of desire and need.
And Descartes once wrote 'the will is by nature so free that it can never be constrained'. And we exercise that freedom in every decision. John Paul Sartre believed in an 'absolute freedom' that no limits can be found except freedom itself. That we as humans have no choice but the choice to 'choose'.
Of course in Western philosophy, there is the argument that theology wills us quite completely that is, God has the answers and references on how to Will our lives correctly. He (or She) determines what is right or wrong. We just have to avoid the temptations that confront us every day. The 'choice' is ours. Problem is, we're in big trouble when we make the wrong choice. But at least we know what we should be doing. Moral theology (manmade no doubt?) tells us. It is expected of us. Without the expectations from theology that stresses moral character, 'would he have seven wives and four lovers between the ages of 18-64?'
Do we ever do something for nothing where no physical in intangible reward is involved? And can we honestly control or determine our behaviors by a deterministic menu of choice? Or are we simply pummeled by random options of awkward feelings and desires until we are forced to do something? Or nothing. Do we really determine anything or is it all the randomness of a nature act?
If only I knew for sure what to expect next. Will I ever?
Geoffrey Klempner Pathways to Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind units 10-12
Thomas Aquinas, Basic Writing of Saint Thomas Aquinas
Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Henry Frankfurt, Freedom of the Will an the Concept of a Person
Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness
Arthur Schopenhauer, Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will
© 2003 James Martin