19 April 2012

The Significance of Free Will, Exegesis VII

After presenting a view of self-forming willings (SFWs) that involves "chaos, nonequilibrium thermodynamics, and neural networks," Kane presents a typology of such SFWs.

There are SFWs: of moral deliberation, where the indeterminacy lies between duty on the one hand and self interest on the other; of prudential deliberation; where it lies between long-term goals and present satisfaction; and the sustaining of attention, where it lies between the performance of an arduous task on the one hand and various “fears, inhibitions, aversions, and other countervailing inclinations” on the other.

I have to say I don’t see the point of this typology. From a psychological point of view, it may well be that the third type is the fundamental one, and the other two are only manifestations thereof. And why should the psychological point of view not also be that of the philosopher in such a matter? 

Take one of James’ examples: “The exhausted sailor on a wreck has a will which is obstructed. One of his ideas is that of his sore hands, of the nameless exhaustion of his whole frame which the act of farther pumping involves, and of the deliciousness of sinking into sleep. The other is that of the hungry sea ingulfing him. ‘Rather the aching toil!’ he says; and it becomes reality then, in spite of the inhibiting influence of the relatively luxurious sensations which he gets from lying still.”  

This example fits all the items that Kane wants kept distinct. The sailor is doing his duty to his fellow crew members, to the captain, to any passengers on board, etc. It would be selfish for him to fall asleep while he could continue to pump out water during this crisis – it would mean that if he lived it would be by the exertions of others, made more burdensome by his default. Thus, it fits Kane’s definition of an SFW of moral deliberation. Yet from the point of view of prudential deliberation, our sailor cannot be confident he would survive if he did not keep up his own efforts –he improves his own chances by doing so, however taxing it is. Thus, it fits Kane’s definition of prudential deliberation. Yet it was introduced by James into his great work on psychology specifically to illustrate the act of sustaining attention, which Kane lists as a third type of SFW.  Our sailor sustains his attention upon the “hungry sea,” and thus he keeps on with his pumping.

Assuming Kane is right about everything else (and I am at least sympathetic with him on everything else) why not just regard that matter of sustaining attention as the Ur-SFW? And others not as other types but as expressions or consequences thereof?  

We have nearly completed our project of summarizing Kane’s book, one that has required a more sustained focusing of attention on our part than is the custom for blogs, so far as I know the customs of this tribe.

Tomorrow, we shall complete this survey, with a view of Kane’s last two chapters. On Sunday, (after a Saturday diversion) we shall wrap it all up, summarizing our summary if you will.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.