"Volition in Absolute Terms", by David G. McDivitt

The nature of choice can be a difficult subject. Who is responsible for a given action? There are two views on this, first being the individual who performs the act, and second being society, or some force beyond the individual.

A good example to illustrate volition is a prison camp. One day a new prisoner is brought in and tortured. After about six hours he told them what they wanted to know, then was sent back to the barracks. The other prisoners berated him severely, calling him a traitor. Some had undergone torture numerous times without giving in. They felt he could have lasted more than a few hours, at least.

The point here is not to say whether the prisoner should have held out better than he did. The point is to illustrate responsibility of behavior. Can coercion be blamed for the fact the prisoner gave in so quickly? If yes, then why did others not give in so easily as well? If no, then why didn't coercion work on all the prisoners, allowing their captors to get what they wanted?

Another example is a convenience store clerk. One day a robber put a gun to his head and demanded all his money. The clerk gave him the money. Was it the clerk's choice to do so? On the one hand, yes. Pursuant to his own sense of health and well being, he made a willful choice to hand over the money, because at the time it was the best option so far as he was concerned. On the other hand, no. He was forced to do it. Socially, it is not considered willful choice because the action was the result of force. So here we have two views of volition.

Absolute volition would seem to be the fact each person is responsible for, and chooses behavior. In an absolute, reductionistic sense, behavior and individual people have a one-to-one correspondence. To prove this out, if necessary follow neurological predisposition, nerve impulses, and finally the motion of a hand or mouth. As social beings however, some degree of individuality is ceded away. Some aspects of personal identity are ceded away. Socially, people are not always held absolutely accountable for their actions. There are extenuating circumstances. Forces beyond self, are said to cause actions done by self, be it the weather, the economy, or someone else. The concept of volition is therefore dualistic and convenient.

Language cannot be spontaneously rewritten, simply because ambiguity is found on occasion. Rather, common usage of words should be accepted, by what function and meaning a given word has in society. For instance, if the subject of volition is ambiguous, that ambiguity therefore serves a purpose in society, else it would not exist. So why is volition not meaningful to people in absolutist terms, except that people seek to avoid the harshness of reality or responsibility? If one man lived alone on a desert island, there would obviously be no question regarding his volition, ever, so the existence of society therefore does more than provide simple social interaction for each of us.

For the purpose of analysing self, and the interaction of self with society, surely it is necessary to entreat some absolutist view of volition, though that view may not be expedient at other times, nor useful in other circumstances. Often times people talk past each other, possibly because one desires to keep his foot in the door of society, so to speak, and the other does not. The usefulness of a sought after truth may not be equivalent between them.

David G. McDivitt

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