Will as Commitment and Resolve: An Existential Account of Creativity, Love, Virtue, and Happiness

Will as Commitment and Resolve: An Existential Account of Creativity, Love, Virtue, and Happiness

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 702
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    Will as Commitment and Resolve: An Existential Account of Creativity, Love, Virtue, and Happiness
    Book Description:

    In contemporary philosophy, the will is often regarded as a sheer philosophical fiction. In Will as Commitment and Resolve, Davenport argues not only that the will is the central power of human agency that makes decisions and forms intentions but also that it includes the capacity to generate new motivation different in structure from prepurposive desires. The concept of projective motivationis the central innovation in Davenport's existential account of the everyday notion of striving will. Beginning with the contrast between easternand westernattitudes toward assertive willing, Davenport traces the lineage of the idea of projective motivation from NeoPlatonic and Christian conceptions of divine motivation to Scotus, Kant, Marx, Arendt, and Levinas. Rich with historical detail, this book includes an extended examination of Platonic and Aristotelian eudaimonist theories of human motivation. Drawing on contemporary critiques of egoism, Davenport argues that happiness is primarily a byproduct of activities and pursuits aimed at other agent-transcending goods for their own sake. In particular, the motives in virtues and in the practices as defined by Alasdair MacIntyre are projective rather than eudaimonist. This theory is supported by analyses of radical evil, accounts of intrinsic motivation in existential psychology, and contemporary theories of identity-forming commitment in analytic moral psychology. Following Viktor Frankl, Joseph Raz, and others, Davenport argues that Harry Frankfurt's conception of caring requires objective values worth caring about, which serve as rational grounds for projecting new final ends. The argument concludes with a taxonomy of values or goods, devotion to which can make life meaningful for us.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4686-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  4. Preface The Project of an Existential Theory of Personhood
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)
  5. Part I: The Idea of Willing as Projective Motivation
    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-27)

      Like many of key terms in philosophy, the word “will” is used in many different ways, and it has a complex etymology (connected towillain Old English andvoluntasin Latin). In his attempt to bring this term back into psychotherapy, the psychologist Irwin Yalom lists several prominent senses of “willing”:

      It is the mental agency that transforms awareness and knowledge into action, it is the bridge between desire and act. It is the mental state that precedes action (Aristotle). It is the mental “organ of the future”—just as memory is the organ of the past (Arendt). It...

    • 2 The Heroic Will in Eastern and Western Perspectives
      (pp. 28-46)

      The first chapter began by introducing the concept of “heroic” willing as a self-motivated effort to set goals and strive to pursue them; it distinguished this concept from other, thinner notions of the will. This distinction will be developed in more detail in chapter 3. But first, it will be useful to address a fundamental objection to pursuing this concept of willing: namely, that the heroic striving will is biased toward dubious Western values, and so any existential conception developed from it risks valorizing precisely the kind of ambition and self-assertion that prevents peace, enlightenment, and salvation from suffering. The...

    • 3 From Action Theory to Projective Motivation
      (pp. 47-85)

      It would be an understatement to say that “the will” was out of fashion in twentieth-century thought, especially in academic psychology and philosophy. The very term suggested to many leading theorists the idea of some scholastic faculty, a metaphysical fiction as outmoded as aether in physics. During the heyday of behaviorism in psychology, Gilbert Ryle taught a whole generation of philosophers that “the language of ‘volitions’ is the language of a para-mechanical theory of the mind” with no basis in ordinary language.¹ Such was Ryle’s influence that in the 1960Encyclopedia of Philosophythere was no entry on “Will,” and...

    • 4 The Erosiac Structure of Desire in Plato and Aristotle
      (pp. 86-121)

      The previous chapter concluded with the suggestion that the existential concept of the will as a form of second-order agency in Pink’s sense involves not only deliberation and decision-making but also a distinct kind of striving that generates new motivation either in setting new purposes or in executing a standing intention or plan. As I argued, this is distinct from striving in the sense of “trying” to carry out a formed intention, where the motivation for such an effort is entirely derivative of the motivation for forming the intention in the first place. Now, this existential concept of willing challenges...

    • 5 Aristotelian Desires and the Problems of Egoism
      (pp. 122-168)

      The previous chapter concludes that by replacing Plato’s middle soul with his “intellectual appetite,” Aristotle embeds the Transmission principle into his moral psychology: all voluntary actions, including those emerging fromprohairesisor practically rational choice, derive the content and strength of their motives from preexisting desire-states of one sort or another. In this chapter, I argue that Aristotle’s psychology commits him to the weak erosiac thesis: all the prepurposive motives that can move us to voluntary action have the erosiac structure first described by Plato.

      In its broad outlines, Aristotle’s psychology also recognizes a hierarchical order of different motivational states,...

  6. Part II: The Existential Critique of Eudaimonism
    • 6 Psychological Eudaimonism: A Reading of Aristotle
      (pp. 171-200)

      In this chapter, I prepare the way for an existential critique of a eudaimonist view of human motivation, taking Aristotle as my focus. I begin by framing what I consider to be the most defensible version of eudaimonism consistent with the erosiac conception of human motivation. I show that this is a plausible reading of Aristotle, although I am primarily concerned about the implications of the most defensible form of psychological eudaimonism itself, whether it is properly attributed to Aristotle or not. Since my goal is to describe the best version of eudaimonist moral psychology and then critique it, I...

    • 7 The Paradox of Eudaimonism: An Existential Critique
      (pp. 201-234)

      The A-eudaimonist system constructed in chapter 6 provides a clear basis for formulating several important criticisms that have been raised against the eudaimonist project. These include what I believe is the decisive criticism that A-eudaimonism cannot accommodate the kind of moral motivation implied by the very conception of virtues for which it was supposed to provide the objective rational foundation. Together, as we saw, the Transmission principle and the weak erosiac thesis provide the psychological basis for Aristotle’s eudaimonism. Yet when he tries to work out a conception of virtue, Aristotle describes forms of ethical motivation that cannot ultimately cohere...

    • 8 Contemporary Solutions to the Paradox and Their Problems
      (pp. 235-284)

      In this chapter, I explore several other ways of trying to resolve the paradox of eudaimonism described in the previous chapter while hanging on to central features of the A-eudaimonist model of human motivation. My critique of these alternative proposed resolutions will help clarify both the nature of the central problem and why postulating the possibility of projective motivation (and thus abandoning the eudaimonia thesis) provides a more elegant solution to the relevant motivational paradoxes. I begin with analyses by John Cooper and Paula Gottlieb, which directly address the paradox of eudaimonism, and I add to the list of possible...

  7. Part III: Case Studies for the Existential Will as Projective Motivation
    • 9 Divine and Human Creativity: From Plato to Levinas
      (pp. 287-325)

      In previous chapters, I have repeatedly suggested that an existential conception of striving will implies a kind of human motivation that (a)contrastswith erosiac desire, and (b) violates the Transmission principle (TP), since it arises only within what Pink calls volitional agency, that is, the activities in which intentions, plans, or purposes are set by the agent. Although decision is the paradigm of such activity, forming and executing intentions is not the only function of volitional agency. However, as I note in chapter 4, contemporary theories of motivation in analytic philosophy are usually committed to TP, and they usually...

    • 10 Radical Evil and Projective Strength of Will
      (pp. 326-370)

      The idea that actions can be chosen purely for the sake of harm or wickedness has been rejected for different reasons in ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary philosophy. This chapter critiques such attempts to rule out such “radical evil” and confronts them with motives whose malice does not consist in the mere absence of the appropriate goodness or justice.

      It is famously one of the implications of eudaimonist moral psychology in its classical forms that vice or ethical corruption of the psyche consists primarily in either ignorance of the good (Plato) or inordinate desires for external goods resulting from intemperate...

    • 11 Scotus and Kant: The Moral Will and Its Limits
      (pp. 371-417)

      The positive existential idea of volitional strength described in the previous chapter suggests the possibility of conceiving virtuous character in ways that, unlike Aristotle’s Apollonian conception of virtue (chap. 10, sec. 1), contrast directly with radical evil on its own volitional level. As accounts of the virtues of justice and charity developed in medieval philosophy, a fundamental shift away from the Apollonian conception occurred; it became clearer that to will the good wholeheartedly requires something more than the right disposition of sense appetites. A radically good will is not just a corrective to strong or misdirected passions and habits that...

    • 12 Existential Psychology and Intrinsic Motivation: Deci, Maslow, and Frankl
      (pp. 418-457)

      The debate we have traced between egoistic, eudaimonist, and existential theories of human motivation can also be found in twentieth-century psychology and psychoanalysis, where we now find support for the existential model of striving will. I will focus in this chapter on only a few among several areas of important work in contemporary experimental psychology. For the theories behind these experimental approaches often uncritically take over the Transmission principle and focus mainly on the etiology of long-recognized states of prepurposive motivation—for example, whether altruistic or sympathetic feelings could be evolved responses. As Edward Deci says, the fundamental disagreements between...

    • 13 Caring, Aretaic Commitment, and Existential Resolve
      (pp. 458-486)

      The previous chapters in Part III have advanced three main theoretical goals.

      1. They have provided substantial evidence that the primary function of the striving will is the active projection of new motives. For they argued that virtuous motivation as Aristotle conceives it, Kant’s motive of duty, Levinasian agapē, and vices involving radical evil cannot adequately be understood except in terms of projective motivation and the corresponding existential conception of volitional strength.

      2. These examples, along with others from existential psychotherapy, suggest that projective end-setting and striving are always responses to strong evaluative judgments concerning intrinsic values. Like D3 desire, projective willing...

    • 14 An Existential Objectivist Account of What Is Worth Caring About
      (pp. 487-538)

      This chapter concludes the argument for the book’s first main thesis by showing that the existential conception of the will is compatible with an objective account of practical reasons for willing and so escapes charges of arbitrariness or irrationalism. Against Harry Frankfurt’s subjectivist account of practical normativity, I argue that when caring is understood in terms of projective commitment, it always depends on objective (and even, in a weak sense, “universalizable”) grounding value-judgments. Nor are these reasons for caring entirely derivative from already-existing cares or loves. There must always be grounds for the projection of any goals, yet these grounds...

  8. Conclusion The Danger of Willfulness Revisited
    (pp. 539-546)

    My defense of striving will as key part of the new existential account of personhood started with the contrast between “Eastern” and “Western” attitudes toward willing in its heroic sense. In fixing the concept of willing to be explained by the existential theory of projective motivation, I argued in chapter 2 that it is possible to formulate a moderate version of the positive “Western” attitude toward heroic willing, which the subsequent existential analysis clarifies and supports. We can now ask whether that analysis has shown that heroic willing can play a positive role in the formation of robust practical identity...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 547-656)
  10. Glossary of Definitions, Technical Terms, and Abbreviations
    (pp. 657-664)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 665-690)
  12. Index
    (pp. 691-706)