Wednesday, November 22, 2017
On Will And Wilful
The Nature of Will and the Difference Between Will and Wilful
We so often speak of will without thinking carefully about what it means even as it is such a fundamental idea in understanding ourselves. In my own thinking about will I have ultimately conceptualized it as determination in the merging of two different ideas of determination: the singling out of something as a kind of judgment as in “I have determined that…” or “it is my determination that…;” and the single minded implementation of that determined judgment.
What I have in my own mind added to that conceptualization is that that determination must struggle—the more, the greater the exercise of will—against what stands in its way. Without straining against difficulty will does not operate; it doesn’t have to because it doesn't emerge. So I would add to the second meaning of determination-- "the single minded implementation of that judgment"—"against difficulty."
That addition needs refinement. Difficulty need not be external obstacles; it may inhere in the very project which is will’s object. So if a formidable man blocks my way to my destination and I need to steel myself to the difficulty of overcoming him, that is one mode of will. If my project requires great discipline in achieving it—practice, training, rehearsal, physical effort, exertion, creative effort and the like—that is another mode of will. The first may be thought of as self against the world; the second may be thought of as self against self.
These thoughts also lead me to want, as well, to distinguish between will and willful. The latter may be understood as “the unrelenting intent on having one's own way; being headstrong, obstinate; being habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition.” Determination is common to these meanings.
The dividing line between will and willful is transgression.
Will is determination in relation to accomplishment or achievement. Willful is determination in relation to what is disapprobative.
If every morning I get up at 5:00 am to train for a marathon, that is an exercise of will. If in the course of my morning runs I cut through my neighbor’s flower beds after having been asked not to that is willful.
So will involves self overcoming self in doing what is difficult to a purpose; whereas willful involves self succumbing to self in wrong doing. In this sense, will and willful can be seen as antitheses