or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad,|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
“”Mr. President, the technology required is easily within the means of even the smallest nuclear power. It requires only the will to do so.
|—Dr. Strangelove, on why someone would want to build a doomsday device|
Will is the desire to get something done. It is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition to accomplishing pretty much anything; however, on the right-wing, there has long been a belief that having the will to do something will pretty much ensure that it gets accomplished; if you do not succeed, you just didn't want it enough, or lack will power.[note 1] Those with a less militaristic, authoritarian, or pigheaded stance prefer terms like prosperity gospel or affirmations or the Law of Attraction, but those are basically just lazy versions of the same thing.
In philosophy, will typically stands opposed to rationality and/or morality. Depending on how pessimistic you are, it's either the cause of all that is wrong in the world, or what enables us to triumph over boring, effete reason and logic, and exert ourselves upon the world.
If human beings were always perfectly rational and followed the best, most moral course of action, like Mr Spock, then there would be no space for will. However it's clear there is a big difference between realising something is moral and actually doing it - the problem of moral motivation. And beyond that, people are often unable to do what is best for them, like quitting heroin. This is sometimes called weakness of will.
St Augustine introduced the concept of good will and bad will to attempt to solve one version of the problem of evil, how free will is incompatible with God's control over past and future. Essentially, he decided that human beings had the power to choose whether to be good or bad, which somehow happened independently of the causality which governed the rest of the universe, and their good will or bad will was the cause of any bad thing that happened, so God was not to blame.
Philosophers once believed that human actions were ruled by three forces: reason, desire, and will. There was a thought experiment known as Buridan's Ass, in which a donkey would be placed exactly midway between two bales of hay. Supposedly, reason and desire would dictate that both bales were equally good to eat and would require the same effort to reach, and the donkey would be unable to choose between the two and would starve to death. Since it would choose one or the other, this was said to demonstrate a third force that broke the stalemate, will. Although there are alternative solutions to the problem, such as suggesting that no two choices are equally weighted, or that in time the weight of reason for one choice will change (e.g. the food on one side goes rotten).
The popular conception of will, and its role in right-wing politics, developed out of nineteenth century philosophy, and some otherwise very different thinkers who found will to be central to human beings, including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Max Stirner. Schopenhauer conceptualised will as a blind, everlasting force driving human beings, somewhat similar to later theories of unconscious drives like that of Freud. However while Schopenhauer viewed the will-driven human as a nightmare, for libertarian and right-anarchist thinkers like Stirner it was a much more positive thing.
The Nazis liked the idea of will. One of the greatest technical film masterpieces of all time was Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, a frightening propaganda piece documenting one of Adolf Hitler's biggest party rallies, that represented the Nazis' apparent success in transforming Germany according to their will. Hitler's will led to the collapse of Germany as a world power, its utter humiliation in war, the deaths of tens of millions, and a 45-year partition that it still hasn't completely recovered from.
Failure of will
The War on Drugs, founded by Richard Nixon with ideological input from G. Gordon Liddy and others, was based heavily on will, and Liddy to this day believes that the fact that the war has not been won has been due solely to a "lack of will" among the American people. Why, precisely, personal freedom and the desire of humans to intoxicate themselves are not considered factors in this failure is a little bit hard to explain; what is true is that Liddy is weirdly obsessed with will[note 2] and has mentioned engaging in self-harm to enhance that will.[note 3]
From this we can learn, as previously stated, that will is a condition for accomplishment with many limitations. One must also be correct, or all that will shall be for nought.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, who forced the more dangerous aspects of the term on the general public
- Wishful thinking
- Moral Motivation, Connie S. Rosati, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2016
- Weakness of Will, Sarah Stroud and Larisa Svirsky, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019
- Augustine: Advocate of Free Will, Defender of Predestination, Brandon Peterson, i: Theology 5, 1-13
- Why Buridan’s Ass Doesn’t Starve, Michael Hauskeller, Philosophy Now, issue 81, 2010
- Arthur Schopenhauer, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Max Stirner, David Leopold, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019
- Der Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), Museum of Modern Art, New York, accessed 9 Jan 2023