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Here is an excerpt from the October 2 post The Metaphysics of Thought which I hope to comment on shortly.
When we say to each other “I have a thought,” what do we mean by this? We do not mean that we are in possession of a tangible item; rather, we mean that we are prepared to talk or act in a situationally appropriate manner. (Examples: brainstorming about bicycle commuting). (At issue, fundamentally, is what it is like to be an “agent”a rational and social creature engaged in ordinary human activities.)
Compare: I have a belief, reason, joke, idea, dream, desire, secret, wish, opinion, etc. Possession plays out in “demonstration” there is no “having a joke” unless there is also “telling a joke”. If a friend tells us, out of nowhere, that he has a dream, but leaves it at that, we do not know exactly how to react; we expect that he will tell us about his dream and what effect it might have had on him. Sometimes we “make a wish” and it is supposed to remain silent, else we might jinx the wish: this is a behavior we expect, under appropriate circumstances. If a friend said, “I have a secret”, then went on to tell us the intimate details, we would think that something had gone wrong with how they treat secrets.
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.