Towards an understanding of will

Will has the potential to be turned into a fundamental concept through which ethics, epistemology, art, life and politics might be understood. How can we define the idea of will?

I’m sure I’ll find a lot of answers to this in the philosophical literature in time (maybe I should read Schopenhauer). But what I came up with myself, as a preliminary definition, is this:

A system can be said to have will if it makes progress towards some goal state in a wide array of circumstances, circumnavigating obstacles (including other systems with will) to some degree.

Here, progress doesn’t need to be an achievement - progress in the form of maintaining some state should also qualify.

This definition is dependent on definitions of states, progress, circumstances and systems. An intuitive conception of all of these should suffice for the time being.

One of my friends suggested that instead of trying to define will as an intrinsic property of something, it should instead just be understood as a human heuristic, a cognitive tool that we use as a lens through which to view the world. These two views are not incompatible, since the question here becomes: what is the minimal set of attributes that something must have for us to view it through the conceptual lens of “will”?

Comments 3

  1. Fri intellektuell wrote:

    Does will really have to be seen as an idea? It could also be perceived as an object. After all, our will is something we perceive. Material objects are perceived through the senses, will is perceived through introspection.

    Posted 18 Jan 2012 at 10:11 pm
  2. johan wrote:

    Actually I didn’t mean to pin down will as an idea. Let it be an entity, an object, a concept, or whatever you feel is the most appropriate ontological root category :-)

    So then, what is it that we perceive when we perceive will?
    And also, if we perceive our own will through introspection, are we deluding ourselves when we identify something external (like an animal) as having will? Are we simply projecting our own will-experience onto an external object and assuming it’s analogous to ourselves?

    Posted 19 Jan 2012 at 1:28 pm
  3. fri intellektuell wrote:

    Maybe one could assume that will exists everywhere, but can only be expressed by those who have the power to perceive and express it. Humans have a lot of such power, maybe some humans have more than others, animals have a little such power, some animals have more than others, while stones and water have no such power.

    Posted 22 Jan 2012 at 12:52 am

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