Vexations With Wittgenstein is a new Wittgenstein blog presided over by Megan. Here is a sample from Megan’s latest post on Action and the Will:

Wittgenstein’s discussion of the will is particularly interesting because of the way he addresses the common assumption that willing is a kind of act. I would like to expand upon Wittgenstein’s claim that “‘Willing’ is not the name of an action” (137) and what this statement might mean about language.

As Wittgenstein points out, it simply does not make sense to talk about willing as an action. Perhaps, he says, it is something that I can “bring about” when I jump into water; however, it seems that the only action is jumping into water, and there is nothing separate that we can call “willing”. So is willing simply the completion of other actions, Wittgenstein asks, or is it something else?

My answer to this question is that the will is the manner in which a human being performs actions rather than an action in itself. In other words, the will is more of an adverb than a verb. The way that we use the verb “to will” in English supports this claim. We would never say, “I willed to jump in and then I jumped in,” but we might say, “I willed to jump in but I was unable to jump because my legs were paralyzed.” What these two examples show is that we only say that we willed something when we were unable to do it, so it seems that we use the verb ‘to will’ as a sort of euphemism for failure. As a further illustration of this point, consider the common response to someone who said only, “I willed to jump into the water”: we would ask, “Well, why couldn’t you actually jump?” because it is clear that the speaker must not have succeeded. Clearly we do not use the verb ‘to will’ to describe some sort of action that a human must perform in order to perform any other action.

–Read my comment on Megan’s post here.

Advertisements