Quand Vouloir, c'est Faire [How to Do Things with Wants]

In R. Clot-Goudard (Dir.), L'Explication de L'Action. Analyses Contemporaines, Recherches Sur la Philosophie Et le Langage N°30, Paris, Vrin 30 (2014)
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This paper defends the action-theory of the Will, according to which willing G is doing F (F≠G) in order to make G happen. In a nutshell, willing something is doing something else in order to bring about what we want. I argue that only the action-theory can reconcile two essential features of the Will. (i) its EFFECTIVITY: willing is closer to acting than desiring. (ii) its FALLIBILITY: one might want something in vain. The action-theory of the will explains EFFECTIVITY by claiming that each time one wants G, one accomplishes the action of doing F ( it is argued following Von Wright that every action has a result as a proper part, here F). And the action-theory explains FALLIBILITY by claiming that although willing G entails making some F happen –the result of the action of willing–, it does not entail that G –the intended consequence of our willing– will happen. By contrast, behaviorist accounts of the will (which merely equate willing with an action) captures its EFFECTIVITY but loose its FALLIBILITY. And volitionist accounts (which introduce naked volitions lacking any essential results) capture the FALLIBILITY of the will, but loose its EFFECTIVITY. I consider disjunctivist accounts of trying (such as O'Shaughnessy and Hornsby's ones) as an alternative way to reconcile EFFECTIVITY and FALLIBILITY. I argue that though the view manages to reconcile these two constraints, it does so only at the price of gerrymandering the concept of willing (or trying): failed tryings end up having nothing in common with successful ones. I then address three objections to the action-theory of the will, to the effect (i) that not all actions have a result (ii) that total failures are possible (iii) that willing is more fundamental than acting. I argue in answer (i) that all actions have results (results which can be irrelevant to the production of the goal, or which can be merely mental images), (ii) that total failures do not correspond to acts of will, but to mere desires or wishes, and (iii) that given the possibility of basic actions, acting has to be more fundamental than willing (and trying).



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Olivier Massin
Université de Neuchâtel

Citations of this work

Towards a Definition of Efforts.Olivier Massin - 2017 - Motivation Science 3 (3):230-259.

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References found in this work

Studies in the way of words.Herbert Paul Grice - 1989 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
On Action.Carl Ginet - 1990 - Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Three Faces of Desire.Timothy Schroeder - 2004 - New York, US: Oxford University Press.
Truly understood.Christopher Peacocke - 2008 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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