PHL 205 lecture 6 : The Divided Will – how is the weakness of will possible
- We’re getting to the high point of his life (his conversion to Christian)
- How can we account for our weakness of will
o In terms of gluttony, I shouldn’t eat too much, yet I can’t help it
- The way you account for it says about your moral psychology
There were two employees that he sees promoting God, but he himself can’t do it.
Traditional Explanations of Weakness of Will (Moral Conflict)
- Socrates (Protagoras 345e-358d):
o Moral conflict does not really exist. It’s merely an illusion. Nobody acts against what he or she
thinks best to do.
If he really knew he would do the action. “We think ought to act”, but we really don’t do
o There can be genuine moral conflict. Different conflicting motivations can be traced back to
different parts of the soul.
There are moral conflicts. Something we experience every day.
We have different paths of the soul
o There are in us “two minds with two distinct natures”. Moral Weakness is the conflict that results
from the motivations that happen to be in these two minds.
Moral conflicts are two minds with two distinct nature
From Plato’s Republic IV (tr. G.M.A. Grube)
“Then, let these two parts be distinguished in the soul. Now, is the spirited part by which we get angry a third
part or is it of the same nature as either of the other two? Perhaps it’s like the appetitive part. But I’ve heard
something relevant to this, and I believe it. Leontius, the son of Aglaion, was going up from the Piraeus along the
outside of the North Wall when he saw some corpses lying at the executioner’s feet. He had an appetite to look at
them but at the same time he was disgusted and turned away. For a time he struggled with himself …, but, finally,
overpowered by the appetite, he pushed his eyes wide open and rushed towards the corpses … I’ve heard that story
myself. It certainly proves that anger sometimes makes war against the appetites, as one thing against another”
- Augustine thinks that the problem is that we have a divided will
o If the other will (will to lust) is against the will you desired to do(will to talk about God), it makes
it harder to do the desired will.
What Augustine finds so puzzling about his particular moral conflict
- Willing something seems to be a lot easier than many other activities. No physical activity is involved:
o “It was not even necessary to go the distance I had come from the house to where we were sitting.
The one necessary condition, which meant not only going but at once arriving there, was to have
the will to go” (Conf. 8.8.19).
He finds his act weird: it’s supposed to be easy, because there’s no physical activities
- In physical activities, willing is different from acting. And therefore it can happen that we will something
but it doesn’t happen. But if the act is just to will something, then it seems impossible that I can fail to act.
o “For as soon as I had the will, I would have had a wholehearted will” (Conf. 8.8.20).
Conf. 8.8.20 – Augustine mentions that even if he willed something, his actions wouldn’t
follow through because his limbs didn’t possessed the power to obey
The (Paradoxical) “Monstrosity”
- It’s easier for the will to command a different thing (the body) than to command itself.
o He thinks he command his head. In order to have that thought, he should will it.
Going to exercise involves a will to exercise - But things even get worse: “Mind commands …that it should will, and would not give the command to will
if it did not will” (Conf. 8.9.