Unlocking the Deadbolt

Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.

Human Will

I want to consider the question “How strong is the Will of Man?” Basically, what I mean by this question is how capable is a man of doing something purely on the basis of his will. For instance, think about New Years Resolutions and the commonplace goal among older adults of losing weight. How many actually lose weight and how much weight do they lose? Another example could be drug addicts. Upon determining to quit a drug, how capable is the user of refusing to consume the drug again? Basically, how much control does one really have over oneself?

What is the human will? Will, in philosophy, refers to a property of the mind, and an attribute of acts intentionally committed. In general, “will” does not refer to one particular or most preferred desire but rather to the general capacity to have such desires and act decisively based on them, according to whatever criteria the willing agent applies. (Wikipedia)

The answer to this question bears enormous implications for building a philosophy because a person’s will is one of the most distinct parts of their mind, along with reason and understanding. Further, will is especially important in ethics because it must be present for people to act deliberately. Contemporary Christian philosophy stems largely from the conclusion that humans are fragile and weak in their ability to will themselves to do right things with sufficient frequency. Christianity assumes that the self-interest inclination in humans is too strong to follow God’s codes of morality and hence the “Holy Spirit” comes in to enable and guide the Christian to moral rightness. Further, it generally goes on to assert that humans won’t even desire “good” things apart from “God’s grace”. This is largely why Christians go humans need God and Christ in their lives so to speak.

This almost comes back around to the question of “Can morality exist without God?” because, (aside of the absolute truth aspect) it is thought that nobody will desire moral conduct since it constricts human self-interest. Or further that nobody will be even capable to deduce moral conduct. However, this completely misses the counterpoint that it can be within a human’s self-interest to act morally. In addition, a human’s will may not be entirely self-interested, but have inherent traits regarding different earlier stage environments.

When thinking of this question, I want to stress that the goals need to involve things that are generally in opposition to natural human inclinations, such as not eating when hungry, not drinking when thirsty, not doing some activity that one naturally desires to do. These become “choices” the agent decides to make.

I like to frame two kinds of choices, voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary means done, given, or acting of one’s own free will. Involuntary means done without will or conscious control or against someone’s will.  Of course, neither choice type is all of one of the types (meaning that choices carry degrees of voluntary vs. involuntary), but it can be useful to categorize the two.

Furthermore, in considering FAM thinking, its important to note that individual wills can be very different in nature. No person is the same. There is no “will of man” but rather individual wills of man, so it is important to keep this in consideration.

Benjamin Franklin did a personal test regarding this stuff. He describes this experience in his autobiography. He concocted 13 virtues and underwent a lifestyle so as to adhere to these virtues and document progress. He documents that the journey was very difficult, with order being the hardest virtue to abide by, although he also reflects similarly on pride (“I should probably be proud of my humility” Franklin). He frequently reflects on the difficulties in abiding to certain virtues as well as the high degree that the contextual environment influenced his ability.

  1. Franklin was raised a Puritan and an Episcopalian. But as an Enlightenment thinker, Franklin became a self-proclaimed deist later in life, though he was always kind and sympathetic towards Christianity.

Source: Ben Franklin’s religious views (hah sounds a lot like my religious views)

Anyhow, Franklin’s experience seems to hint that the human will in a moral sphere can be quite adaptable. While he writes that it was not an easy journey, Franklin writes as though it was a successful enterprise. It seems that Franklin shares the view that, given enough patience, certain moral goals are achievable.

What about cases of drug addicts?

Conventional wisdom tells people to avoid using certain kinds of drugs due to their addictive effects in the brain. Illicit drugs cause negative health effects, but allow a person to achieve different unusually high levels of temporary happiness through what is termed as a “high.” Essentially, anti-drug advocates declare that these drugs alter the chemical properties in the brain and as the brain becomes more used to the drug, the effects of the high subsequently diminish per use. This leads the individual to consume increasingly larger quantities of the drug to obtain the high, and rewire an individual to crave that particular drug even more.

How about statistics? Well, while there are several statistical sources that demonstrate relationships between drug use and harmful outcomes, there seem to be far less hard data on the addictive nature of illicit drugs (although there seems to be many stories on its addictive nature). Two things are important to note here. Firstly, there will be a large bias of stories that report the detrimental nature of drug addiction simply because people tend to report on negativity more often than positivity. I mean who wants to write an article demonstrating the “amazingness” of drugs? Secondly, in order to study agents in an effort to analyze addiction, this requires a long time horizon and certain information disclosure mechanisms that inherently require more work to perform.

I came across an article that I think describes the phenomenon of addiction quite accurately. While it notes that there certainly are cases of illicit drug that can turn into highly-destructive, chronic cases, that actually most cases of substance abuse demonstrate trends of use in cycles. This implies that there is actually an termination point for the drug’s use or rather abuse.

The average cocaine addiction lasts four years, the average marijuana addiction lasts six years, and the average alcohol addiction is resolved within 15 years. Heroin addictions tend to last as long as alcoholism, but prescription opioid problems, on average, last five years. In these large samples, which are drawn from the general population, only a quarter of people who recover have ever sought assistance in doing so (including via 12-step programs). This actually makes addictions the psychiatric disorder with the highest odds of recovery.

Source: Substance.com

Now, this article isn’t citing data from just one study, but from multiple epidemiological studies. For most users, drugs have a period of strong addiction, but often it does not last continually onward. Hmmmm…

Either way, human will seems to be more flexible than Christians are often willing to give it credit for.

“Free will and determinism are like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you is determinism. The way you play your hand is free will.” – Norman Cousins


2 comments on “Human Will

  1. Matthew Chiglinsky
    April 13, 2015

    Jesus and God never helped me quit porn. It was just a vicious cycle of feeling guilty then praying for strength and forgiveness from an imaginary force that doesn’t exist.

    Only when I decided to take responsibility for my own life and remind myself of the real, physical consequences of my actions was I able to decrease the frequency with which I watched porn.

    I find now that the easiest way to avoid porn is to condition my body so that I never feel the urge to watch. It’s not really will as much as a lack of physical and mental stimulus. This is why I criticize women who dress slutty in public, because they tempt me and every other male around them.


  2. hyperoptic
    April 15, 2015

    Hey Matthew, Thanks for commenting again. I originally did not think of this subject in the context of porn very specifically, but I really like your approach to that subject. I think its far more relevant to this topic than some of the things I even talked about.

    What you are describing seems to be a common occurrence with Christians from my personal experiences. That is, that Christian men cannot seem to escape “lustful urges” that end up acting out in porn. What is very interesting is that in your response, you seem to frame two different modes of response to this problem, that is of course assuming one sees porn as a problem. Another contentious subject. Anyways, your frame seems to point out a dichotomy of response. One is interaction with “God” in the Christian sense and the other is personal responsibility through rational “cause and effect” discovery. You seem to hint that they are opposed to each other.

    However, maybe “trusting God” through the actions of prayer may also manifest itself in taking personal responsibility for one’s actions. In other words, it seems that the two responses don’t have to be necessarily opposed, although they certainly can be interpreted that way for different people. “God” may want one to realize the consequences of certain “harmful” actions as it is commonly referenced from the Bible that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) and so on and so forth. Again in other words, many Biblical scholars and Christians believe the Bible teaches personal responsibility through logical means based upon Biblical philosophy so to speak.

    But, I think the crux of your comment, that faith and trust in God is not sufficient in itself to stop watching porn, is the highlight point of your comment. Many Biblical fundamentalists think that trust in God is in itself sufficient to overcome any sin, and maybe that is the point to really call into question. That is certainly a position that I am highly sympathetic towards.


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This entry was posted on April 12, 2015 by in Humanity and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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