Volition

Volition came up at the Objectivism Online forum. It’s only a matter of time before it comes up when there’s enough objectivists (like, at least 3) in the same conversation.

Well, of course, I had to throw my two cents in. Read on to read my post.

Skeptic, I’m a determinist, in a sense, and yet, at the same time, I’m certain that either I have free will or I’ve chosen to believe that I do (haha.)

Stop assuming that there must be a dichotomy, and try to find where the dichotomy really comes from. (Really, I think that this is one of the only points where Rand kinda missed the mark, the other being her distaste for rock music.)

There can be no dichotomy between metaphysical and epistemological truths. Volition is axiomatic because it is a root-level function of epistemology, of saying “I am conscious.” In grasping that “existence exists,” one also must admit two correllary axioms: “There is a something that exists, and I am choosing to grasp the fact.” Ie, identity and consciousness.

The break between pre-determination or so-called determinism and volition is an example of the mind-body dichotomy. If we exist (and I believe that I do,) then we exist in reality, as a part of Nature, obeying Her laws in every way.

Concepts like “possible,” “choose,” “predict,” and “probable” all stem heirarchically from the fact that human knowledge is limited to “less than the sum total of the facts of reality.” (As far as Nature is concerned, there is no “possible.” For Nature, there is only what is and what isn’t - and Nature doesn’t care about what isn’t.) Even some actions that you might someday take, though they are determined solely by your nature (read: by you,) are not always known to you. A “choice” is the act of determining your future action.

Unpack that a bit. The act of determining your future action.
That means that agent A is faced with two (or more) possible things to do - call them X and Y. (The “possible” is that which is not contradicted by any knowledge one posesses, and is supported by at least some knowledge that one posesses.)That is, as far as A knows at this point in time, he might do X or he might do Y. As we know from the law of causality, the actions of entities are determined by their nature. Therefore, the action of A will be determined by A’s nature. If you properly adopt an Aristotelian metaphysics “all the way down,” then you’ll realize that an entity is the sum of its attributes. In other words, A = A’s nature. Therefore, “determined by the nature of A” and “determined by A” are two ways to say exactly the same thing. (They’re really not even a little tiny bit different, except in style and focus. Semantically, they’re 100% identical statements.)

So, A doesn’t know what he is going to do, because he doesn’t know what the nature of all the relevant entities involved in X and Y will be. He doesn’t know if he’ll learn some more information about X or Y, or find out that Y is no longer possible, or maybe he’ll simply introspect until he solves the problem - but he hasn’t solved it yet. When he “makes up his mind,” he determines, “I will do X” or “I will do Y.” There is no longer any ambiguity.

Did A make the choice? Or did his nature somehow make the choice for him?
Translate the philosophobabble out of that, and you get:
Did A make the choice? Or did A make the choice for him?

Determinists and indeterminists both posit a false dichotomy. The nature of the world today was set in stone (well, not stone, but set in something) at the moment of the big bang. That’s not to say we don’t have any choice in the matter. In fact, if not for the law of causality, our actions wouldn’t be determined by us, and there would be no way to choose anything at all!

Volition is “axiomatic” because there is no way to argue against it without stealing a concept. (Even the concept of “proof” or “disproof” relies on the concept of volition.) Likewise, there is no way to argue for it without begging the question. That makes it an axiom.

One Response to “Volition”

  1. On March 1st, 2004 at 22:31:55, Schlueterica Said:

    You Control YourselfA man’s actions are the direct and necessary consequence of his character. In making any choice, he declares, “This is what I am.” Every action is an expression of self.

    The man who condemns his own actions belies his own self-hatred and inner turmo…

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