Willing, Wanting, Waiting
This page provides abstracts for the chapters of my book, Willing, Wanting, Waiting, published by Oxford University Press,2009. [OUP website] [Amazon US] [Amazon UK]
Willing, Wanting, Waiting provides a unified account of the will, pulling together
a diverse range of phenomena that have typically been treated separately:
intention, resolution, choice, weakness and strength of will, temptation,
addiction, and freedom of the will. Drawing on recent psychological research,
it is argued that rather than being the pinnacle of rationality, these components
work to compensate for our inability to make and maintain sound judgments.
Choice is the capacity to form intentions even in the absence of judgment
of which action is best. Weakness of will is the failure to maintain resolutions
in the face of temptation—where temptation typically involves a shift in
judgment as to what is best, or, in cases of addiction, a disconnection between
what is judged best and what is desired. Strength of will is the corresponding
ability to maintain a resolution in the face of temptation, an ability that
requires the employment of a particular faculty or skill. Finally, the experience
of freedom of the will is traced to the experiences of forming intentions,
and of maintaining resolutions, both of which require effortful activity
from the agent.
Abstract: The Introduction presents the conception of the will that is to be developed, focussing on the idea that it provides an executive function that enables us to overcome deficiencies in judgment. This account of the will is contrasted with those that see the will present in all action; with those that see it as concerned with the straightforward implementation of judgment; and with those that aim to dispense with the will altogether.
- Chapter One: Intention
Abstract: This chapter presents an account of intention developed from the work of Michael Bratman: intentions are controlling and stable. It is argued that empirical work by Peter Gollwitzer supports this picture. The idea of a resolution is introduced and developed: that of an intention whose function is to hold firm against anticipated contrary inclinations. Future- and present-directed intentions are distinguished. Intentions are distinguished from actions performed intentionally. Reductive accounts of intention are rejected, and the motivation behind them is questioned.
- Chapter Two: Belief
Abstract: This chapter seeks to clarify the notion of intention by addressing the question of whether intention requires a belief that one will succeed. It is argued that the question has traditionally been badly posed, framed as it is in terms of all-out belief. We need instead to ask about the relation between intention and partial belief. An account of partial belief that is more psychologically realistic than the standard credence account is developed. A notion of partial intention is then developed in turn, standing to all-out intention much as partial belief stands to all-out belief. Various coherence constraints on the notion are explored. It is concluded that the primary relations between intention and belief should be understood as normative and not essential.
- Chapter Three: Choice
Abstract: Choices provide a key way of forming intentions. This chapter develops an account of choice based around three features: (i) choice is an action; (ii) choice is not determined by one's prior beliefs and desires; (iii) once the question of what to do has arisen, choice is typically both necessary and sufficient for moving to action. It is argued that choice is needed because of agents' inabilities to arrive at judgements about what is best. Nevertheless, choice differs from random picking: in choosing, agents frequently (though not always) deploy abilities that enable them to make good choices. In such cases, judgements about what is best will frequently follow the choice.
- Chapter Four: Weakness of Will
Abstract: Philosophical orthodoxy identifies weakness of will with akrasia: the weak willed person is someone who intentionally acts against their better judgement. It is argued that this is a mistake. Weakness of will consists in a quite different failing, namely an over-ready revision of one's resolution. A number of examples are then adduced showing how weakness of will, so understood, differs from akrasia.
- Chapter Five: Temptation
Abstract: Philosophers frequently draw a distinction between cases standard temptation, that does not impugn agency, and addictive temptation, that does. This chapter concedes that there is an important distinction between the two cases, but argues that it had been misconceived. First, following empirical work by Rachel Karniol and Dale Miller, it is argued that succumbing to standard temptation typically involves a judgment shift: by a cognitive dissonance effect, the agent comes to value the tempting alternative over the others. Second, it is argued that addictive temptations are not irresistible; rather, following, and developing, empirical work by Kent Berridge, it is argued that they involve a decoupling of judgment and wanting. The upshot is two-fold. First, that since both of these features may be present to a greater or lesser extent, the distinction between standard and addictive temptation is not an exclusive one: many cases may involve some of each. Second, in neither case will judgment be powerful to resist temptation. Resistance must come from some other source.
- Chapter Six: Strength of Will
Abstract: Most recent accounts of will-power have tried to explain it as reducible to the operation of beliefs and desires or of beliefs, desires and intentions. In opposition to such accounts, this chapter argues for a distinct faculty of will-power, that is effortful to employ, but that enables it, at least potentially, to overcome both judgment shift and the dissociation of judgment from desire. Considerations from philosophy and from social psychology (especially work by Mischel and Baumeister) are used in support.
- Chapter Seven: Rationality
Abstract: Empirical findings suggest that temptation causes agents not only to change their desires, but also to revise their beliefs, in ways that are not necessarily irrational. But if this is so, how can it be rational to maintain a resolution to resist? For in maintaining a resolution it appears that one will be acting against what one now believes to be best. This chapter proposes a two-tier account according to which it can be rational neither to reconsider the question of what one is going to do nor the question of what it is best to do; hence in the resolute agent the change in belief is not actual but merely potential. Various reasons are given for thinking that the resulting account is preferable to an alternative given by Bratman.
- Chapter Eight: Freedom
Abstract: This chapter argues that at least one source of our experience of freedom comes from forming intentions and sticking with them. First, choice is a real phenomenon, and, if the characterization offered in Chapter Three is correct, it is not determined by prior beliefs and desires: a claim that might easily be mistaken for the claim that it is not determined at all. Second, as Chapter Six showed, maintaining a resolution takes real effort: if a necessary condition on one's free will is that one be able to maintain one's resolutions, then awareness of the effort expended can be seen as a further source of the experience of freedom. This interpretation explains, and is in turn supported by, some studies showing that belief in determinism tends to undermine moral motivation. Determinism can be easily (but wrongly) interpreted as showing that effort will be futile. It is suggested that the subjects are prone to this mistake, so that belief in determinism undermines their self-efficacy.