On Wanting and Doing: A Conversation with CriSpin Sartwell

by Daniel A. Kaufman


In this episode of Sophia, I talk with Crispin Sartwell of Dickinson College about my essay, “Wanting and Doing.” [https://theelectricagora.com/2021/05/25/wanting-and-doing/] We discuss action, desire, and powerlessness as understood in Christian theology and contemporary addiction discourse. 


4:04 Wanting and doing in Christian and Addiction Discourse. 36:54 Overeating and the Problem of Conflicting Desires. 47:43 Habits. 49:48 Actions and Events.


210 responses to “On Wanting and Doing: A Conversation with CriSpin Sartwell”

  1. Peter Smith

    Very enjoyable.


    Just a small typo, I presume that should be Crispin Sartwell.

  2. Thank you. Will fix.

  3. Great discussion. One point: The free will vs. no free will (e.g. “addiction”) is a matter of degree and context: in which contexts does some ONE thing about the individual have autonomy/control, and how much? Recognizing I can’t do something without help is a small amount of the conditions necessary for acquiring more autonomy. How much external structure is required for me to change my property X? (How much autonomy is desirable/good is ALSO variable and unclear– can maximally autonomous persons fall in love?). One CAN put this in terms of desires, but then it’s a question of whether a longer-term desire can overcome other, short term desires. Either way, a major deficit in the capacity for ONE internally consistent nexus of desires/decisions to regulate others, can be pretty damn clear.

  4. DK: almost nobody (regular folks don’t have the words, and PhDs are too socially self-righteous) is honest enough to say: I am totally committed to X and totally committed to not-X. So I’m fucked.

    Being able to say this is very admirable. (Which doesn’t help, I realize..)

  5. A good conversation.

    Toward the end, I’m inclined to agree with Crispin in being skeptical of your view that there is a reason behind these habits (such as addictions).

    Here’s how I currently (and tentatively) look at it. At one time I had a reason for a particular behavior. And that reason was strong enough that I frequently practiced the behavior. The brain then turned that into a habit, which no longer required conscious control. I think we probably agree to this point. But it seems to that, thereafter, the behavior is controlled by the habit, and it is a mistake to say that the reasons are still there but backgrounded. The reasons might no longer be there, but the habit persists. To overcome that habit, I would need reasons to consciously practice a different behavior, and practice it often enough that the new behavior becomes the habit.

  6. It seems clear to me that there is a wide continuum between excessive substance abuse and other habits we would like to stop but enjoy doing as in Dan’s example of eating at night.

    For one thing, Dan expressed that he enjoyed the eating prior to the point that his desire to remove that activity exceeded the pleasure of the eating. For a drug addict the intial reasons may be multiple, but pleasure is certainly among those reasons. That reason recedes has the habit ensues, the activity often ceases to be pleasurable at all. Some habits can initiate physiological changes that increase the desire for the activity, and reduce our capacity to control the impulse. Some of the reasons that initially drove the activity may no longer exist. There may also be new reasons that are very difficult for the individual involved to identify, and may not have ever been part of the intentional process.

    So I do think this is a very different scenario from continuing an activity where the initial reason for the activity is still driving the desire, but just not present as we engage in the activity.

    On the flip side, when I am trying to develop habits that I think are positive, I don’t find force of will very effective. What I do find effective is taking the meta steps to make the positive activity more likely, and not to an easy exuse excuse to avoid the activity. I wanted to establish a regular morning exercise routine. I made it part of my commute to work, didn’t purchase a parking pass. I had to run or at least walk some distance to get to and from work. Presto, now I want to do my regular runs, and the desire is both intrinsic (from habit) and extrinsic from the positive effects.

    I think the force of habit is a lot stronger than force of will, but we can have a fair amount of control over the habit formation.

  7. First the man takes a drink
    Then the drink takes a drink
    Then the drink takes the man
    Then the drink takes a vacation and hangs out in a cheap motel room watching old Hawaii-Five-Oh reruns on cable television
    Then Steve McGarrett takes a drink
    Then the man passes out, wakes up, and forgets everything
    Then McGarrett remembers nothing, because he’s a fictional character
    Then the drink writes an angry comment on an article at the Electric Agora and gets moderated into oblivion – fare-thee-well, drink!
    Just a reminder – always write with respect, or drink with Steve McGarrett.

    Sorry for the humorous verse, haven’t had anything to drink, just in a mood today; this was what was rattling around in my brain while listening to this interesting and challenging conversation.

    There is one thing that bothers me, not only in this conversation, but in most on this topic.

    Drunkenness involves a serious personality change. It is not the same personality change with every drunk, nor is it a ‘flipped switch’ but a matter of degrees. Nonetheless, a switch can flip, for instance in a black-out. Does Drunk Personality enjoy the same agency as Sober Personality? Perhaps a trick question, since one reason for getting drunk may be to enjoy a different sense of agency than one has sober.

    The reason why we hold Sober Personality responsible for Drunk Personality’s (mis)behavior is because we recognize that drinking-to-inebriation is itself risk-taking behavior. (Even if not under-the-influence, driving way above the speed-limit means allowing for the risk, hence responsibility, of accidentally slamming into another car and injuring or killing the other driver; under-the-influence only adds to the degree of risk involved.)

    However, if we’re discussing agency, especially as pertains to the relationship between “wanting” and “doing,” the altered personality condition of Drunk Personality raises some interesting problems. Sober Personality wants to drink, perhaps to the point of drunkenness. Drunk Personality may want to continue to drink possibly to remain in control of the person; possibly to enact behavior Sober Personality never would (like driving way above the speed-limit).

    Is the chemically induced transition from Sober Personality to Drunk Personality, since it seems to have been decided by Sober Personality in engaging in drinking, the result of ‘true’ desire, that is, a desire for an enjoyment, for a pleasing sensory or psychological experience? or is it the result of an unconscious drive to ‘become’ Drunk Personality, determined by character flaw? or by genetic pre-disposition? or by bio-chemistry? Or perhaps there’s something in the amygdala in all humans? Is there a Drunk Personality in all of us, trying to find a way to reveal itself, and doing so more successfully in some rather than others?

    I don’t think we have any answers to these questions yet, even from the sciences, and I don’t think we have yet framed the matter in such a way that we can answer such questions. The bias in the West is that the Person and the Personality are identical, and that they form one unified entity, that remains relatively unchanged at the core, despite variance caused by unconscious urges, or physiological changes, mental illness (however defined), or adverse experience. I think that’s not the case. The Romantics were wrong to think that well-informed and creative individuals could re-invent themselves whole cloth; but they recognized that the cultural and social fragmentation that preceded them, and in which they participated, and which continues even now, indicates something rather unnerving about the very notion of Self-hood. It is not the comforting blanket cut of whole cloth we wear for life. It is a quilt patched together out of old rags we’ve been given by parents and peers, or which we beg, borrow or steal.

    At any rate, I think Crispin is onto something in suggesting there is some grey area between action and event is the processes of some addictive behaviors.

    But this thinking could change after a couple of beers….

  8. Interesting discussion with Dan and Crispin on the fundamental point of whether people always do what they want. The short answer is that for all voluntary acts people absolutely do what they want. They also often have conflicting impulses to not do what they are doing and just as often may very much want to do something yet not do it (e.g., because of shyness, fear, lack of self-confidence, self-interest or any number of other reasons).

    If a person wants a cigarette yet wants to stop smoking and therefore not have a cigarette it is absolutely the case that that person is doing what he wants to when he has a cigarette even though he may not want to smoke. There is in fact rarely a time that people act completely without ambivalence about what they are doing. A husband may want be faithful to his wife and yet at the same time want desperately to sleep with a girl he met at a party. If he cheats on his wife he is very much doing what he wants. Yet if he refrains from cheating he is also doing what he wants. It is the action he takes that decides what he wants more. His action trumps his desire not to commit the action. But having slept with the girl he may decline the opportunity to do so again thinking that he made a mistake and will now be faithful. In fact, he may have just satiated his interest in the girl. In any event, in both cases he is doing what he wants.

    On addiction and alcoholism, Crispin is hopelessly confused as Dan points out. Part of AA’s dogma is that to participate in AA you have to admit that you are powerless before alcohol and therefore must stop completely and forever. Admitting your powerlessness then, in AA dogma, allows you to surrender yourself to the power of “god” who being omnipotent can then help you quit drinking which you yourself lack the power to do.

    Of course this is errant nonsense. There is no “god” and if we had no control over our alcoholism we should not even bother to go to AA because it won’t help us at all. The whole point of AA is that it can help alcoholics stop drinking. If it can’t, it should close down. So alcoholism is not at all like epilepsy. It can be controlled, as difficult as that may be. And therefore, as Dan notes, people can also be alcoholics who can control their drinking. People may strictly limit their drinking through iron discipline for example to three drinks an evening. Crispin is very naive and vulnerable to traditional dogma and religious illusions of all kinds. Perhaps his AA experiences have caused him to want to believe in the god delusion. That’s his privilege because he can always do what he wants. Belief in god, like controlling alcoholism, is not like epilepsy. It is choice he can make.

  9. You know that I agree with you, but I think Crispin’s views here are more deeply grounded than you give credit. I suspect that his religious commitments go relatively deep and predate his AA experience.

  10. Azin

    In light of what you say, I’ve always been puzzled by the “mean” and abusive drunk. Ostensibly most people drink for a pleasurable experience. A hardworking, loving family man repeatedly drinks to the point of terrifying and traumatizing his children and assaulting his wife. The next day he couldn’t feel worse, more loving and apologetic. Yet he will not refrain from once again picking up the bottle. What is going through his mind when he decides it’s time for a drink?

  11. Conflicting desires. Seems as clear a case as any.

  12. Peter Smith

    I think Crispin’s views here are more deeply grounded than you give credit. I suspect that his religious commitments go relatively deep and predate his AA experience.

    That kind of well tempered reasoning does not sit well with atheist fundamentalism.

  13. To be fair, it wasn’t obvious from what he said in the dialogue.

  14. Peter Smith

    I just think we should be aiming for more respectful and well considered dialogue. This is a message that I would hope that your interlocutor would absorb. But I doubt it. Fundamentalism seems to be quite immune to respectful and reasoned dialogue.

  15. Azin

    That seems to be at the heart of this dialogue. But, I don’t think the desires are obvious to the individual.
    I don’t think we can eliminate or disregard consciousness and free will. The “self” appears to be a two part entity, the subconscious where all originates and the cerebral conscious – the subjective self – that sits atop and ponders what emerges from the step one impulse of the unconscious working of the mind and which registers on brain scans before a conscious thought or action takes place and is often cited (mistakenly I think) as evidence of lack of free will – agency.
    So, decisions are already made before one is even aware of them which impedes putting on the breaks for behaviors the cerebral cognitive brain deems as, “maybe this isn’t such a good idea. If I dood it, I get in trouble, I dood it), as the old Red Skelton skit use to go.

  16. Azin

    I think by definition an alcoholic can not limit their drinking. I’ve lived with one for 3 years and have known others. They all try and fail. The few that can, if they can, would not meet the AA’s definition of negatively impacting their lives with drink, and I imagine would in any case represent a number so insignificantly small that their particular experience would be moot to the conversation.

  17. Peter Smith

    In light of what you say, I’ve always been puzzled by the “mean” and abusive drunk.

    Perhaps PTSD will shed some light on the manner in which the mind reacts to triggers.
    The term ‘PTSD’ is much bandied around but I always get the impression that there is little appreciation of the awful intensity of the real experience. So let me try and describe what it is really, really like.

    The mind stores episodic memories encoded semantically. The experience itself is not stored but only the semantic description of the experience is stored. That is a good thing. I need to remember that I burnt my hand in the flame so that I can profit from the experience. But I most definitely do not want to recreate the burning experience every time I remember burning my hand in the flame. And especially I do not want to re-experience that burning sensation every time I see the flame.

    In this way the mind is mercifully forgiving, protecting us from the repetition of the actual experiences. Although it would be nice to be able re-experience sex just by thinking about it. From an evolutionary perspective that would be a bad idea since procreation would stop!

    But here is the problem. The PTSD sufferer is not just exposed to the memory of the experiences, instead the actual experiences present themselves again with the same awful intensity and reality. But now there is a double jeopardy. He also spends his life in fear of the triggers that will re-expose him to the original experiences.

    For me it is guns. I cannot describe to you the awful reality that originated this. But when I see a gun, for example, on the waist of a policeman, I re-experience that same awful reality once again. It is a disabling experience that transcends anything you can imagine. It is not just a semantic recall of a memory that I had had of that experience. It is instead a replay of the actual experience itself And every time it is replayed the horror is amplified.

    Returning now to your comment “I’ve always been puzzled by the “mean” and abusive drunk“, the mind is highly susceptible to triggers, in the main, for good reasons related to survival imperatives. But, as my example has shown, this trigger response can become disorderd and even pathological. Medicine just does not understand what is going on and I can assure that treatment strategies hardly work at all.

    I suggest that something similar is going on in the mind of a “drunk”. A trigger, whatever it is, is arousing such intense memories of desirable experiences that it is beyond his power to resist them. It is a pathological quirk of the mind that, for the time being, we do not understand and so cannot treat it with conventional medicine, just as is the case of the PTSD sufferer.

    Instead we resort to a programme of intensive conditioning that suppresses the trigger responses. This is quite successful with alcohol dependency but the pain of conditioning is so great that many PTSD sufferers abandon treatment.

  18. I have to strongly disagree with Kaufman’s presumptions about both part of the AA model and the notion of God. There is a whole minority Protestant tradition in which God is not a person who condemns anyone to either Heaven or Hell, sometimes called universalism, and in which God is entirely outside of space, time and personhood and thus categories like good or evil do not apply to God; they are limited human conceptions. That Christianity is filled with all sorts of errors and mistakes, even in Augustine and Calvin, does not render Christianity invalid, meaningless, or the villain that materialists and atheists think it is.
    Also, there are remarkable similarities between Christianity and Buddhism: namely both deal with the essential problem of human suffering and have rather similar recommendations concerning human desire and suffering. My argument for similarity rests of course on a reading of the New Testament wildly at odds with the mistaken ones commonly propagated in historical Christianity. I think the split between secular humanism and Theism is tragic and is partly the fault specifically of evangelical Protestantism which his a mess as well as the fault of scientific positivism. The bottom line is that the take home message of AA is entirely in keeping with the Christian, Buddhist and Vedatic traditions. (Judaism too I would argue). Of course all of these traditions do have their profound differences but they all are on the same page when faces with the forms of scientism and materialism that want to disparage or dismiss attempts of human beings to improve their lot in life and understand themselves.

  19. Your last paragraph bears no resemblance to anything I’ve said or argued, and I’d appreciate not being misrepresented. Also, there is absolutely no counterpart in Judaism to the powerlessness and lack of agency that accompanies the Christian notion of the fall. None.

  20. Belief in god is itself an addiction; the question is whether it is healthier or more harmful than drug addiction. In general, the manner in which it inspires violence, intolerance, brutality suggests that it is more harmful, at least to the general population. But there’s no doubting that certain individuals find some kind of peace or even pleasure from it.

  21. s. wallerstein

    I agree with Crispin there’s a gradation in human behavior between epilepsy and, say, deciding to comment on a blog.

    I’ve known some alcoholics, but never well enough (I avoid them) to understand to what extent they can control their behavior, but I have known well people who are severely depressed and someone with bipolar disorder.

    When you’re around someone who is severely depressed all day, there’s a tendency to blame them and to think that they need to “get their act together” or “put their shoulder to the wheel”, but they can’t, they really are not to blame.
    On the other hand, they do respond to talk therapy if done by a good psychologist in combination with medication, which indicates that they can “unlearn” some of their depressive mentality, never entirely in my experience, but to a certain extent, they can learn to see life less darkly, to take a bit more responsiblity for their condition, to feel less helpless and beaten down.

    All of the above indicates that the question of responsibility for our desires, mental states and ensuing actions is incredibly complex and is not solved by a binary distinction between being responsible or not being responsible. I understand that for legal purposes we must make their distinction, but it’s generally a bit artificial.

  22. jofrclark

    A thought from a doctor ….

    We have a naturally created mind that is based on our bodies and all the anatomic neurophysiochemistry associated with it. This given neurobiochemical architecture to our bodies and our mind was produced through evolution to be functional in relation to our environments (historically a resource poor environment on Earth). When we do certain things (e.g. hug a loved one) our mind does certain neurophysiological things that encourage functional/survivalistic behavior (i.e feel love and stay with them). Much of this is instinctual and guides the will, though these instinctual urges can be overridden by will. Natural philosophy is based on this relational functionality of the natural mind and its effect on choice.

    Addiction short circuits this neurophysiology by adding an external substance that stimulates our anatomic neurophysiology (in a pleasureful way) but completely divorced from any real life relational circumstance that would naturally stimulate it in that way. Thus the addicted mental experience is abstracted form real life and dysfunctional. The pleasure created from imbibing the substance has no relational meaning. It is not alethic and naturally unreasonable. To apply natural philosophy to this circumstance is incoherent. In particular, to consider the value of either our spontaneous/instinctual/appetite selves or our willful selves through the lens of addiction makes no sense.

    Thus Daniel’s example of his being conflicted around his parents can’t be informed by addiction but rather must be informed by natural philosophy and the dilemma of competing needs/values and the mental experience associated them ( in his example love/compassion for loved ones on the one hand vs. psychic pain/annoyance illicited by them on the other).

    The only thing that overcomes the (dysfunctional) choice to giving oneself over to the unnatural foreign influence of the substance is the (functional) choice to give oneself over to a natural influence of a higher power, namely the natural order in the universe that created our natural minds/selves in the first place.

  23. As I said in the dialogue, I have no interest in blame. My sole interest is in whether one can genuinely *act* without wanting to. I have yet to hear anything remotely persuasive that one can. My interest here — and questions — are a part of my interest in the theory of action and have nothing to do with being able to blame alcoholics, drug addicts, morbidly obese overeaters, etc.

  24. This all sounds quite dualistic, and given the turn you take in the last paragraph, there really isn’t much here I’m inclined to accept.

    Again, I am willing to allow that the “genuine” addict doesn’t really act, but rather, engages in involuntary motor movements much like an epileptic. But then, the entire conversation around it makes no sense, and even the AA philosophy makes no sense.

    I still have heard nothing to suggest that one can actually *act* absent wanting to. That my muscles spasm or someone can hypnotize me to engage in various motor movements don’t really touch this point. And nothing I’ve seen in the addiction discourse does either.

  25. s. wallerstein

    Have you ever been around a severely depressed person?

    Their wants are the product of their depression and thus, on a certain level, they want to act in a depressed way, but on another level they want to be happy. They want to be happy, but they can’t be happy.

    We are very complex beings and I believe that Crispin is trying to communicate that.

  26. I am in therapy for anxiety myself. And my wife has battled depression as long as I’ve known her. My mother too. I see no relevance of any of it to the view I’m advocating for.

    Again, if you want to say addicts and mentally ill people don’t act, that’s fine. The trouble is, it makes a nonsense of most of the discourse, as I pointed out to Crispin several times in the dialogue.

  27. It is worth adding that CBT the only evidenced treatment for anxiety and depression, presupposes the full agency of the patient.

  28. Now my cousin is bipolar and schizophrenic. Entirely different, and I would argue that he does not act when he hallucinates or is in manic phases.

  29. Azin

    Sorry for your experience. It is hard to fully appreciate reliving a traumatic experience over and over again, being at the mercy of a sensory cue. One of the more lurid Black Mirror episodes explores this type of torture by having an accomplice of a child’s murder relive the scenario over and over again as the victim. As horrendous as the actual murder was, one could only feel sorry for the perpetrator by the end of the program.

    When I said I could not understand how an outwardly normal husband and father could “willfully” pour scotch into a glass, knowing that it will result in a night of pure Hell, I was being partially rhetorical. I could readily appreciate that something very deep and disturbing was residing in the inner troubled depths of such a man’s mind. Something not given true justice or empathy by the mere characterization of dueling desires. I wouldn’t speculate any further as to cause. So many people need help and so little resources are spent. So little prevention and so much retributive “justice”.

    Your posts are wonderful.

  30. s. wallerstein

    No, what I want to say is that between acting (answering you in this blog) and not acting (epilepsy) there is an incredible complex gradation and that much of life is found in that “between” space.

    Most of everyday discourse about our motives and actions is based on a very simplistic psychology, which has very little to do with what contemporary psychology and honest introspection tells us about our behavior.

  31. Where did I ever suggest we are not complex? My whole account depends on it.

  32. s. wallerstein

    From what I’ve seen, CBT is a bit of a pep talk. For severely depressed people pep talks don’t work.

    In my experience, not of myself, but of people close to me, therapy which “works” with severely depressed people is a therapy which starts from their own experience of themselves, from a phenomenology of their depression so to speak and strives, little by little, to get them to resignify that experience. It’s a long, slow process and has to be done in conjunction with the right medication.

  33. s. wallerstein

    To be frank, you simplified more than Crispin did.

  34. Well, then you don’t know what it is.

  35. Nope. Afraid not. The trouble is that Crispin really didn’t have any substantive reply to the main thread. And no, “it’s complicated” is not a substantive reply.

  36. You are also wrong about medication.

  37. If I understanding Dan’s framing, involuntary movements are events, while most everything else a person does can be put in the category of actions, and generally results from some desire or some set of desires prevailing over other competing desires.

    But is the involuntary component always all or nothing?

    What if an addicts situation is driven 60% by a compulsion they have no longer have any control over given a certain environmental context,19% by some pleasure they expect to receive, and resisted by a want to stop that only carries an 21% weight.

    Would the compulsion part be considered a want? If not, the addicts wants to stop more than he/she wants pleasure but acts based on the strength of the compulsion.

    But maybe this same addict has very different weights due to much lower compulsion if the environmental context is different. So in the case the same addict might be able to assert their agency. The latter situation is an action, but is the first?

  38. Since a number of my interlocutors are pushing me on this, let me say a bit more about it.

    In the Scientific Image, there are only events. These include the motor movements of organisms.

    In the Manifest Image, there are actions. These are motor movements conceived under various representations. This is why actions have a normative dimension that mere events lack. There are no norms or values in the Scientific Image.

    That is why I keep saying: I’m happy to allow that “genuinely” addicted people do not act. But if that is the case, it makes a nonsense of much of the addiction discourse.” The moment you engage with people’s motor movements normatively, you are treating them as actions, and this presumes agency, by which I mean that one’s representations of ends are the reasons for one’s actions.

    A good part of the purpose for the extended Prolegomena I published was so that people could see the etiology of my views on these more practical questions.

  39. s. wallerstein

    That’s irresponsible on your part. Lots of people read your blog and may take you at your word about medication not being necessary for severely depressed people. Of course medication has to be prescribed by a psychiatrist, but today they have developed very effective anti-depressant medication, which saves lives and enables severely depressed people to live relatively “normal” lives.

  40. Remember that in my “system,” agency is not defined in terms of free will, but in terms of acting for reasons.

  41. It’s not irresponsible at all. Some people benefit from — or need — medication while others do not. Medication did not help me overcome crippling, life-interrupting panic attacks. Cognitive behavioral therapy did.

    My mother has been fighting depression with medication and it has not succeeded. Indeed, she has reached the point where none of them work any more, she’s been on so many for so long.

    Again, we are not talking about psychoses, which are an entirely different matter and for which medication is the only solution.

  42. s. wallerstein

    Your mother is a holocaust survivor, I believe. That is an experience which leaves psychic scars which will forever haunt the person. Even if as a busy adult that person manages to ostensibly transcend that unspeakable experience, in old age as adult defense mechanisms and the engagement in the busy world of normal adult life no longer work their magic, those psychic scars reappear.

    I have a woman friend, also a holocaust survivor, who has tried everything: all known mainstream and alternative therapies, medication, years of Buddhist meditation and she’s still fragile, broken, depressed, overly sensitive,
    constantly hurt.

    All my solidarity with your mother…

  43. I hear you man. And seriously, my work on this has nothing to do with blaming people. It’s really just about the ontology of actions/events. This is just an application of the view I advanced in the Prolegomena.

  44. Azin

    “Hello everyone, my name is Azin and I only do what I want.” [Azin’s first night at the local WWWW (we only do what we want) Anonymous meeting.] He wants not to do what he wants and hopes others want to help by convincing him, that like themselves, he really does not have to want to do what he wants by changing his hierarchy of wants.

  45. That is absolutely 100% correct and is the key to the whole conversation. We cannot commit so called “voluntary” acts (ie not an epileptic fit) without wanting to do them, and that is true regardless of how destructive the act is that we are committing and how many and how strong are the conflicting impulses we may have against committing the act.

    An alcoholic taking a drink wants that drink. A suicide wants to kill himself. An unfaithful spouse wants to cheat. So it is meaningless to say that an alcoholic is powerless not to drink, or an unfaithful spouse unable to resist adultery because of sex addiction. As beings we are agents and act for ourselves. As we have evolved to survive by pursuing our own interests, this could not be otherwise. And that does mean we have some level of responsibility for our actions (Greg Caruso and his ilk notwithstanding).

  46. Azin

    An alcoholic or drug addict don’t in the normal sense of volition chose to be addicted when there is physical and mental withdrawals. If you have ever been cursed with anxiety or clinical depression you’d know there are times the brain chemistry hi jacks control of what in a healthy mind would be considered agency. If you are not of a healthy and “sound” mind talking of “wants” and agency is functionally meaningless. The organic brain effects the quality of output and only with a repetitive regimen can the reverse occur as a reconstructive, repairative “rewiring” to better mental health. Or so it is reported.

    You can say we only do what we want to do, I do, but, what does that really mean? I mean whose in charge here, a tautology?

  47. I suffered crippling panic attacks for years. The only way out of it was through the exercise of the healthy mind, with the help of cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves working to identify and reduce cognitively distorted thinking, which is what causes panic attacks. And depression. It also happens to be the only evidenced therapy that works.

  48. jofrclark

    Wants are internal mental events. Actions (doing) are external bodily events. – classic mind-body dualism. Agency mediates between the two. What overcomes this dualistic divide is the fact that all (appetite, agency, and action) are bound (at least in part) physically in terms of neurophysiology.

    “Mood altering” substances affect natural neurophysiology in unnatural ways abstracted from the real word circumstances our minds were designed evolutionarily to act functionally in.

    I would agree that what overcomes the dilemma of acting against wants is the idea of choosing between competing/conflicting natural wants. In the addiction case, agency still has a choice, but it’s between vacuous pleasure from easier to obtain unnatural neurophysiologic stimulation (without reason) and harder to obtain meaningful pleasure derived naturally from real world experience (with reason).

    What I wonder is wether the mood altering substance also affects the neurophysiology of agency. It probably does which would make make addiction a special case in which traditional natural philosophic formulations incorporating reason and autonomy in agency does not apply. How do you philosophically handle an agency altering substance that alters the capacity for choice, the very foundation of the self?

  49. Peter Smith

    This is a fascinating discussion and I see that many are uncomfortable with Dan’s line of thinking. So am I. Let me explain.

    I agree with Dan that at the moment of the action we are doing, at that very instant, what we want to do.

    However this seems to me to be so trivially true that it is tautological and really not worth the fuss of arguing about, or as Shakespeare put it, much ado about nothing. The problem is that it ignores completely the complex reasoning, emotional and intuitive forces that preceded and shaped that moment of decision.

    Let me give another analogy that hopefully may make the process clearer.

    I am the victim of many corporate and board meetings. They were invariably contentious and hotly argued with far more heat than we see in these posts. That was because the decisions had real, substantial and far reaching consequences for the health of the company. That was because the parties to the decision had strong vested interests in the allocation of power, resources and rewards. It mattered to the participants in a deep, visceral way because they were often putting their own career on the line.

    And so the meetings became battle grounds between internal company vested interests. The debates were hot, vicious and mean as each person strived to advance his own interests, understanding and point of view.

    But finally this was resolved when a single point of view prevailed and the meeting accordingly so decided. As good, loyal company men, we left the meeting and with one voice implemented the decision by conveying it to our subordinates. From our subordinates perspective(the people who would action the decision) this was a single, unitary decision. We did not want them to know otherwise because it would weaken our authority. And anyway we quickly internalized the decision as our own. Yes, the mind does interesting things.

    And so we acted as one disciplined unit, one body, as if that was what we all wanted. But it wasn’t, which the board minutes would have shown if we had not sanitized them.

    I suggest that this analogy reflects what happens in our own minds, as individuals, whenever we are confronted with important decisions, even to the point where we sanitize the records we keep in our own mind.

    Given all this, the point that finally we do what we want just seems hopelessly trivial. The process that preceded it is what is interesting, as is the fact that our memories tend to sanitize the minutes of the board meeting.

  50. Peter Smith


    In the Scientific Image, there are only events. These include the motor movements of organisms. In the Manifest Image, there are actions.

    I know that you are married to this scientific/manifest image dichotomy as an explanatory idiom. But I think this is where you start to go wrong in this debate because you are using a defective idiom.

    When you use the word “image” you are stating that you are looking at exactly the same thing, but from two different perspectives thus resulting in two different images. But nevertheless you believe they are images of the same thing, the same underlying reality, just ‘seen’ different ways.

    This kind of thing is a necessary consequence of reductive scientific materialism which recognizes no other kind of reality. The scientific/manifest image idiom is an attempt to say that the manifest image is somehow reducible to and coincident with the scientific image, if only we knew how.

    But we don’t know how to make the two images coincident nor is there even any imaginary prospect that we can.

    And the reason is startlingly simple. We possess free will. Free will partially decouples our mind from the strict determinism of scientific laws. And thus the operation of our mind cannot be wholly explained by looking at our brain. And from this it follows that the manifest and scientific images cannot be wholly congruent.

    Now I know our mind is hemmed in and restricted by all kinds of limits. But within these limits we can still exercise free will. Consider the shackled prisoner in some medieval dungeon. He is wholly at the mercy of his captors, lacking the freedom to do anything. But his mind roams free. He recalls with fondness his family of loving wife and children. His mind roams over the landscape as he imagines his freedom and he imagines fields of flowers with their attendant butterflies. He longs, in his imagination, to once more embrace his wife and children. Perhaps he imagines the vengeance he will wreak on his captors should he escape. To while away his time he imagines the extensions that he will one make to his home castle. He creates in his mind the paintings he will execute. He creates in his mind the poetry he may one day publish. Perhaps he develops arguments that refute those of Duns Scotus, rehearsing them in his own mind.

    This is where true freedom of will resides, in our creative imagination of future possibilities. It is limitless and we see it in the massive and exponentially increasing creative output of our species.

    This exponential and limitless growth of our creative imagination is powerful evidence that our minds are operating, at least partly, independently of rigid scientific determinism. It is powerful evidence that we possess free will.

    We cannot even begin to explain, even in principle, how the determinism of the material world, with its limited number of possibilities, can result in the infinite, the unlimited products of our creative imagination. And so we must accept that we possess free will, even if cirumstances restrict the tangible outcomes.

  51. Peter Smith

    To continue with my boardroom analogy.

    The regular attendants at our board meetings were the powerful men who controlled the company. These was the Managing Director, who made the final decisions, and the Production, Sales, Marketing, Service, Research and Quality Directors, all representing the different interests in the company.

    In the same way, board meetings of the mind are also regularly attended by powerful representatives of its different, constituent interests. They are, in addition to the Managing Director(we might call him the Cognitive Director),

    1) The Feelings Director – reporting on physical sensations, tactile, temperature, etc
    2) The Desires Director – reporting on appetites of all kinds, lust, hunger, etc
    3) The Needs Director – reporting on emotional drives, fear, love, hope, anticipation, etc
    4) The Impulses Director – reporting on things that require immediate action (whip your hand away from the flame!)
    5) The Intuitions Director – reporting on and conveying information. For example I recognise the meaning of a word.
    6) The Creative Director – supplies reports on imagined creative possibilities.
    7) The Narratives Director – who manages the narrative store containing narratives of the past and narratives of future, desired goals, purposes and values.

    And, just as in the boardroom of our company, this boardroom of the mind debates issues until finally the Cognitive Director makes a decision. And that decision might recognise any one or more of the reported feelings, desires, needs, impulses, intuitions , narratives, and creative possibilities, according to their strength and urgency.

    Which one predominates depends on the circumstances but finally the Cognitive Director makes the call and takes responsibility. He may deny the needs of several of the directors to favour one of the most needy directors. He may feel conflicted by this necessary choice and execute it but with the regretful feeling that some other choice might have been the better one.

    The Cognitive Director may even call a special board meeting where not all of the directors are present. In this case there are no rules for a quorum. An awful lot of ill-considered decisions result from doing this.

  52. Azin

    You have said nothing that can’t also be explained or rationalized as deterministic since what can be thought or imagined is dependent on the antecedent condition of previous thought, information and memory. I’m not a stickler for what is claimed to be or not to be free will. We can call it whatever we want and it doesn’t change a single thing in the real world and I feel neither inhibited nor liberated by either descriptor.

    I think we may find common ground in the stonewall that befuddles all attempts at objective understanding of our brains by “looking” at them. The endeavor is fraught from the onset by the seemingly unparalleled condition of our brains studying themselves. How can thought understand thought; how can the brain understand the brain other than morphologically and schematic responsive scannings? We can’t explain the genesis of states of thought, consciousness or free will. We can barely even agree on what descriptive and definitional language to use in discussion.

    This whole thread about only doing what we want to do is beset by we don’t even know or agree on what it means to “want”. Poor Dan has been trying to herd cats on his singular contention that we only do what we want to do and, it’s been off to the races helter skelter. No one has the answer and may never have.

  53. Azin

    Yeah, the subject is mind boggling difficult to begin with and with the injection of alcohol and drugs it’s hopeless. You put sand in the gas tank and then complain the car doesn’t “want” to start.

  54. Azin

    You had me with tautology. Meeting adjourned:)

  55. Azin

    I rarely have panic attacks. That just come on for no apparent reason. But, without meds for anxiety and depression I would literally curl up and die. I could never appreciate before my illness how one can have very limited control over ones thoughts, actions and perceptions when the brain wiring and chemistry goes awry.

  56. I had them for years. Meds did not help at all. Only cbt worked. And now, the cbt acts as a prophylactic. I am much more aware of the things I am telling myself than I was before and can stop, before a panic attack ensues.

  57. I didn’t watch the discussion – too much work at the moment – so I apologize if I ask a question Crispin and you dealt with.

    But is it possible there’s a certain circularity in your framework? The way you make the difference between mere events and actions doesn’t seem to refute the idea that we sometimes do what we don’t want to do (like eating too much etc.). In a certain sense it “defines away” the possibility that such things happen. Assuming they can happen, would lead to a logical contradiction in your framework, if I’m not mistaken.

    For someone thinking within this framework, it’s hard to be convinced by the arguments in this discussion because they don’t make sense in the framework. If actions by definition involve agency, reasons, intentions, teleological thinking etc., then of course we ate too much because we wanted to eat that third sandwich (at least when we were staring at that third sandwich, perhaps not the day after).

    To put it very crudely: if you didn’t want to do what you did, you wouldn’t have done it (because people always do things because they want to do them).

    For me – but that’s just me – that’s an example of circularity. It doesn’t explain why I did the thing I did. It merely says what follows from a definition.

    I can see why you like you framework. It’s logically pretty consistent (in this case), and has a logically unassailable answer to the objections raised. If it accurately explains reality, is less clear to me (not claiming that other theories about free will etc. etc. are better, by the way).

  58. Again, as people seem to keep missing it, actions belong to the Manifest Image. That means that they exist within the space of reasons and ends, rather than the space of causes and effects. Agency is the state in which we find actors, and to act is to do something for reasons.

    The main problem with the “free will” discourse is that it conflates actions and events and consequently, is based on a fundamental category error. I have explained all of this in depth across multiple essays. That doesn’t mean I’m correct, of course, but if people want to debate the matter they will have to find out what the arguments are and engage with them. I can’t repeat them all every time the issue comes up.

  59. I just posted a comment on this.

  60. Before I entered this discussion, I re-read a few of your prolegomena. I found them pretty convincing back then (with a few exceptions), but this discussion suggests to me that your framework has some structural weaknesses too in some areas.
    Again, not claiming that other frameworks are superior.
    Perhaps there is a “definitions tell you the way it is”-school and a “definitions are convenient ways to order your thoughts”-school.
    The difference probably is not so clear-cut as I suggest here, but let’s say I tend to belong to the latter.

  61. Mine is most certainly not a definitions led enterprise.

  62. “… actions belong to the Manifest Image. That means that they exist within the space of reasons and ends, rather than the space of causes and effects. Agency is the state in which we find actors, and to act is to do something for reasons.”

    If this is not a definition and an explanation of what it means, then what is it?

  63. jofrclark

    It is dizzyingly complex. This is where epiphenomenalism gets it wrong …

    Human consciousness is less a linear train of nerve impulses and thinking and more a multidimensional whirlwind of interrelated cyclic sensuality and thought. Each moment’s neurophysiology is inherently impinged upon from multiple metacognitive directions by the whole of consciousness past. Consciousness is the product of a complex dynamic mental cycling that has been ongoing since the womb. These mental cycles constitute dynamic relationships of the mind with the environment as well as with itself. In regard to the minds cyclic relationship with itself, these metacognitive cycles are not only supraliminal but transliminal, subliminal, and pancorporal. In order to apprehend the meaning in all of these swirling, interrelated cycles, they must be regarded wholistically. Furthermore, all such cyclic neurophysiological mental activity by nature animates substantive human experience. Human motivation and choice does not derive from any one of these nerve impulses or tracts but from the whole of them all at once.

    The Scientific Image (i.e. neurophysiology) is more reductionist while Dan’s Manifest Image is more wholistic – and thus, I would say, more practical.

  64. Dan: You are right, people do keep missing this point. And — I agree — reasons are very different from causes, because reasons respond to other reasons, whereas causes cannot respond to other causes. Reasons are articulate, causes are dumb.

    It remains a problem, however, to explain how desires fit into this story. Desires can be very dumb. The brute desire for X has no rational properties. True, the things we desire normally fit into the range of things we would rationally value. When we are thirsty, we desire water. When we are thirsty, we normally have good reason to drink water. But the brute desire for a drink is not always a good reason to have a drink. A pregnant woman’s desire to eat charcoal isn’t a reason to eat charcoal.

    Desires seem to be events, not reasons. But Humean naturalism, to which you are strongly committed, draws from this a troubling conclusion. Here’s Hume:

    “A passion [or desire] is an original existence, or, if you will, modification of existence, and contains not any representative quality, which renders it a copy of any other existence or modification. When I am angry, I am actually possest with the passion, and in that emotion have no more a reference to any other object, than when I am thirsty, or sick, or more than five foot high. ’Tis impossible, therefore, that this passion can be oppos’d by, or be contradictory to truth and reason; since this contradiction consists in the disagreement of ideas, consider’d as copies, with those objects, which they represent.”

    For Hume, desires cannot enter into logical relations. They exist entirely outside the space of reasons. Therefore, it seems, they cannot inform our actions, which are located in the space of reasons.

    Even Peter’s “Desires Director” will have a problem here. What he will report on will be brute facts, not potential reasons for action. How will he show that his report has relevance?

    Is there, in your view, a solution to this problem?


  65. Azin


    Sorry for inserting this ouot of continuity, where I could reply. Thought you might get a kick out of this article about CBT bots. I hope the link takes.

  66. Peter Smith


    My sole interest is in whether one can genuinely *act* without wanting to. I have yet to hear anything remotely persuasive that one can.

    As I said before, this is an obviously true statement, at the instant of action.

    But what preceded that instant and what followed it? Could you have wanted different things prior to and following that instant? Of course one can. Because what happens, as my analogy was intended to demonstrate, the other powerful dramatis personae in the mind are clamoring for attention and can sway the final decision in their favour. And so the Cognitive Director makes an ill advised decision. This happens routinely and the Narrative Director protests at the violation of the historical narratives and the future narratives, making the Cognitive Director feel regret and guilt.

    This happens routinely in my household as my family clamour for the satisfaction of their own interests and, under pressure, I make a decision that, even moments later, I feel was ill advised. Of course, at that very moment I wanted to do it. I wanted to satisfy their immediate needs because, in some way it made me feel good about myself.

    The problem, in your reasoning, is that you insist on this single dimensional, one moment in time, view of what happens. But this is myopic. We have to drop this single moment in time viewpoint and instead adopt a viewpoint that aggregates those moments of time into a larger, more complete picture. When that happens it is quickly apparent, from the larger perspective, that I have done what I did not want to do.

    And that is my dilemma. My larger judgement is overwhelmed at a certain point, by the other dramatis personae in my mind that clamour insistently for the satisfaction of their own needs. And, at a particular moment I do what I did not want to do according to my larger judgement.

    Let’s call these things my larger judgement(or want) and my instant judgement(or want). When we make this distinction it becomes immediately obvious that my larger judgement(want) can be different from my instant judgement(want), for obvious reasons.

    Now we have a useful distinction. The problem becomes one of how I can ensure my larger judgement prevails over my instant judgement. As addicts(to food, alcohol, drugs, etc) will tell you, this can be very difficult. It requires training, conditioning, repetition and reflective insights to make the larger judgement prevail over the instant judgement, because the other dramatis personae in the mind are so powerful. When the instant judgement prevails over the larger judgement we say we did what we did not want to do. And that is actually true when we drop the monochrome, single moment in time point of view. And of course we should, because these monochrome, single moments in time are not representative of us.

    And so St. Paul is absolutely right whan he says
    For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

    This is a true statement of his larger judgement. He is saying that quite often his instant judgement prevails over his larger judgement. But his larger judgement represents what he truly wants and he judges himself, as a person, according to this larger judgement.

    Animals possess this myopic, momentary view of life. They lack episodic memories and they have no creative imagination that can conceive of the future. But we are not such animals and so characterizing us by instant judgements, of the type that animals possess, is false.

  67. Sean McAleer

    Thanks for a really interesting discussion.

    I suspect that one reason “I’m doing what I don’t want to do” is attractive from the first-person point of view is that for the drinker trying to stop or moderate, the desire to drink is at odds not just with their desire not to drink but also with a second-order desire: they want to want not to drink, and this second-order desire isn’t yet very efficacious. If the agent thinks the desire not to drink is “better” in various ways than the desire to drink — they see the problems drinking is causing them, etc. — it’s not implausible that their aspirational, second-order desire expresses for them what they *really* want to do, so it seems to them that they’re doing want they don’t want to do. But I think you’re right that at a basic level they drink because they want to drink more than they want not to drink.

    Re: the agency issue, it seems to me that the scope of “powerlessness” is pretty narrow. You’re definitely right that a lot of agency and self-mastery is required to meaningfully participate in a 12-step program. But some people find that with respect to certain choices regarding alcohol (or cocaine or cigarettes, etc.) their agency is compromised by a kind of irrationality (or “insanity” as the AA literature puts it) that leads them to not act on sincere intentions to, say, not drink today or to stop at three (or six or whatever limit they’ve set). There certainly are people who recognize that their drinking is producing really bad consequences overall and decide to stop or moderate on their own and successfully do so. But there are people who can’t (or don’t think they can) successfully do so on their own, and some of these people find that something like AA helps them get and stay sober (by harmonizing their first- and second-order desires?). Someone with a track record of failing to stay sober or to drink moderately might reasonably conclude that they lack a certain kind of power (efficacious agency) where alcohol (or whatever) is concerned, despite plenty of efficacious agency in many (most) other areas of their life. (I suspect that this limited powerlessness is what makes them so baffling to themselves and others, esp. when it’s a glaring exception to their otherwise effective agency.)

  68. jofrclark

    Emotions are not unreasonable. They may be irrational and illogical, but not unreasonable. Rational thoughts represent willful intellectual evaluations and conclusions of perceptive input. Emotions represent spontaneous intuitive evaluations and conclusions regarding perceptive input. Each is doxastic and has the capacity to be epistemic. It’s just that the nature of the beliefs and knowledge produced by each is of a fundamentally different kind. They are each radically different from each other and complimentary. Reason is the tense, conflicted dynamic interaction of both working in tandem. Hume again…

    “As the emotions of the soul prevent any subtile reasoning and reflection, so these latter actions of the mind are equally prejudicial to the former.”

    and …

    “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

    Thus an appetite is a perfectly good reason to do something, Hunger is a perfectly good reason to eat, although one can willfully choose to eat without feeling hunger. This later choice may be unreasonable. Addiction falls into the this later category of unreasonable choices based on wants (for pleasure). It is based on a short-circuiting of the natural neurophysiological architecture of our mind created through evolution – an architecture whose functionality has been tested and proved through 3.5 billion years of survival of life on earth and is thus generally reasonable in relation to this context/environment. Addictive pleasure (and the want for it) is abstracted from any relation to our environment and thus generally unreasonable.

  69. No!

    Peter is on the right track, though he perhaps might have simply left matters off earlier before digging in with his explications about free will, which though illustrative, invite too many points of irrelevant attack and misunderstanding. (Azin exemplifies this, in that he cannot place aside the physicalist paradigm long enough to grasp what a different image — in the sense of vantage point — implies.)

    The onus is on the defender — or in your case the amplifier — of Sellars framework to speak about the exact point Peter begins with: how is it that two different images of supposedly the same thing do nothing to get us closer to this underlying thing? Further why should anyone accept that any attempt, out of completely understandable natural curiosity, to cross the boundary lines of these so-called images (which in my view have been far too sketchily and conveniently drawn) is committing a category error and must therefore be summarily dismissed from further intercourse?

    If several people are negotiating about the situation in Palestine and Israel, each inhabits their own image of the sitrep and its etiologies. The only conceivable route towards deeper mutual understanding is to be open to hearing crossover points where an element within one image illuminates or clarifies or removes a blinder from an element within a different image.

    Strictly delimiting thought and discourse within their appropo silos is artificial and basically just a way to justify not having to deal with questions which do not interest you and which you would rather they be eliminated from the litany of human inquiry.

    Within Peter:s refutation of Duns Scotus example inside the prisoner’s thinking, are his constructed syntheses and analyses events or actions? If Evariste Galois, aged 21, had not the opportunity to scribble down his hastily brilliant conceptions of mathematical group theory, the world would not have received these pregnant breakthroughs because he died in a duel next morning. Was his pure thinking an event or an action? Or nothing?

    It was most certainly an impressive demonstration of the reality of exerted will. You have stated on two occasions I am aware of that there is no such thin as the will. This is because you resist all interiority and lean instead towards a strictly behavioral account of social events.

    This, finally, reminds me of something I heard earlier on during discussions with Massimo. It was stated and agreed that the scientific image was there from the outset and that the manifest image only arose later on once humanity began to be conscious entities within the cosmos. This shows the silliness and poverty of the idea very clearly. The scientific only began to arise in the 15th or 16th century, as Thomas Nagel demonstrated and Phillip Goff partially echoed, when incipient science, as a cultural intellectual force, moved to deliberately exclude from its domain of consideration anything interior to the human being: subjective impressions of any sort. Before that there was no scientific image unless one is so beholden to the creed that he insists upon the presence of an image in which no person or sentience is imagining it. There is a straight line between this and the purely externalized absurdity of behaviorism.

    It also shows how we are quite apt to fall upon a 3rd or 4th image which could take hold of intellectual culture if only enough of us are yielding enough to be open to it. Sure hope that happens before it is too late.

  70. This strikes me as an eminently reasonable take.

  71. As I explained, I worked through all of this in the Prolegomena I published. Indeed, that’s why I wrote them.

  72. David Riceman

    You might want to look at Rabbi Dessler’s posthumously published sermons for a discussion of the model of conflicting desires. For example in vol. 1 of מכתב מאליהו see the index references to עישון and יצר.

  73. Thank you! Will check it out!

  74. Azin

    Life was certainly, in a sense, more simple on the Pleistocene plains. Paleopsychology may explain why the brain finds itself sputtering in the era of drugs, wide mate selection and overabundance of carbs but I don’t see how that brings us any closer to answering the $64,000 question; can we do what we actually don’t want to do?

  75. Azin

    Yes more practical in every sense except perhaps at getting to the correct answer. I don’t think anyone would discount a holistic approach. It doesn’t contradict a temporal paradigm of input and consolidation of internal and external stimuli and recursive thought. What is remarkably astounding, is that the rudimentary neuron can conglomerate into an organ that can accomplish reason in the real world and be aware that it is doing so. All from the simple approach avoidance reactivity of chemical/electro gradient sensitivity, i.e., in a bacterium. And now we are ruminating about eating a Homer Simpson hoagie in bed. Amazing.

  76. Just to be clear, neurology has zero relevance to what *I’m* talking about in the dialogue. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s not relevant to other subjects. Just not to the question of wanting and doing.

  77. Indeed the whole ‘powerless’ hack is to get the alcoholic on to the plane of action again, paradoxical as that may appear. The shame and wounded pride of the addict is due to his sense of not being able to do what normal people do. He pits his will against his compulsion thinking that this time he will succeed in controlling it. He cannot and unless he hits rock bottom and achieves a sense of that impossible goal he will continue on in that cycle of trying and failing. The only freedom he has left is to admit that before this compulsion he is powerless. Surrender is the only action that is open to him.

  78. Azin

    Of course. I went off on a tangent in response to jofrclark’s post.

  79. Yes, and I very deliberately said to Crispin that if it is a kind of strategic fiction, I have no criticism of it.

  80. I think this is mainly protestant Christians that take this sort of view. I don’t think most Christians take this view. I think Catholics and Orthodox think we do have enough self mastery to accept the grace.

    I think Christians agree we did not earn salvation and we do not *earn* everything God offers. But that we don’t earn it is a different matter than simply accepting it. Just like some rich MF can offer his kid a new Tesla and tell him if he doesn’t accept it he will sell it to someone else. The kid didn’t actually earn the tesla in any real sense. But he might still have to accept it. In this way God offers us more than we *earn* but we still need to accept it.

    But I would ask Dan about desires. Sorry this goes more directly to his video with Spencer but it still ties in here with desires and their nature and doing what we don’t want.

    I think some desires are good and some desires are bad. I remember thinking I am glad I am not like Jeffrey Dahmer who desired terrorizing and torturing people. I think it would be fair to say I desire to not desire what he did. Now I don’t want to desire that in part because I don’t want to desire things that will put me in prison. But that is not the only reason even if I could get away with it with no punishment I am still glad I do not desire to do that. I’m also glad I don’t desire that because I find it revolting. But again if I desired that I guess I wouldn’t find it revolting and in any event I don’t think even that completely explains why I don’t want to have the desires of Jeffrey Dahmer. I think I am glad I don’t have those desires because they would be a temptation to act in a morally evil way. Without including that last bit about it being morally evil my desire not to want to have those desires is not fully explained.

    Now perhaps someone could potentially explain why they do not desire the desires of a Mass Murderer without resorting to moral realism. But I wonder if this wouldn’t at least give some content to the appeal of the notion.

    Let me ask this on a related note. Do we want to desire everything that happens? I understand that we are not entirely in control of our desires. But even if you think we have no control lets just use it as a hypothetical and say you could. If it is all about fulfilling our desires then should we desire there to be another major catastrophe in the world that kills hundreds of innocent people? There almost certainly will be so if you are just about fulfilling your desires then that would be a good desire to have. It seems to me that we can not fully explain our desires to desire certain things (and desire to not desire others) without an appeal to moral realism.

  81. Peter Smith

    I have been trying to understand what it is you are really trying to get at. Why really did you wtite this essay? What was your purpose? And what really was your conclusion?

    You said
    My sole interest is in whether one can genuinely *act* without wanting to. I have yet to hear anything remotely persuasive that one can.

    That seems to sum up everything. My reply, and I have seen no refutation, was yes, you can, if you abandon the myopic single instant in time viewpoint and and instead see the willing agent as the sum of his viewpoints before and after that single instant.

    I maintain it is eminently reasonable to see the agent in this way and indeed it is unreasonable to consider, in a myopic way, only a single point in the stream of points that make up his intentional consciousness surrounding the moment of action. So I think your point has been refuted.

    But even so, what was the real point you were trying to get at? Why did you write this essay to get at such a simple, but narrow conclusion? What was the point? I think we need some explanation.

  82. henryharlow

    Clarifying a few things from the perspective of a retired addictions professional’s perspective…here goes:

    • Indeed, I had no idea if what I was doing was philosophically rigorous or not. I was primarily concerned with what worked for individuals within what was known about treating addictions and what were the “practice standards” that licensing boards would deem permissible since one could keep one’s license and if malpractice arose one was not going to lose the case.

    • It would be useful to understand that the type of person considered “alcoholic” by the founders of AA in the 1930s and 1940s and the type most all would agree were alcoholic in that time were what came to be called “low bottom” alcoholics. The key symptoms of a middle to low bottom alcoholic was “loss of control” and physical dependence evidenced by if the person does not get alcohol they will feel physically sick and shaky and/or evidence other symptoms of physical withdrawal from no alcohol. In short, they could not just drink one drink without it leading to becoming drunk and basically could not stop without feeling sick with withdrawal symptoms.

    • In the late 1940s and early 1950s E. Morton Jellinek did extensive scientific work including studying members of AA and published the results coining the term “disease concept of alcoholism” thus there were early, middle and late stages of alcoholism. See the stages/symptoms he developed for more detail here:


    • The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) began in 1952 and continues today with the DSM-5. The DSM–4 (1994) had two categories for Alcohol issues: Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence. With the DSM-5 (2013) there are now only one disorder called Alcohol Use Disorder with a classification of mild, moderate, and severe. Thus, I think before one talks about philosophical issues around “free will” or “choice” or “wants vs. don’t wants” I think you have to consider what stage of Alcohol Use Disorder you are talking about. If you want more details on the whole DSM situation then go here:


    • Finally, my perception of how AA works it is at the level of “take what you need and leave the rest”. Today you can find AA groups that are atheist/agnostic groups in most cities or online even. Indeed some people in the early to middle stages of the disease process can stop on their own. They may not be, shall I say, comfortable with himself or herself as someone who goes into treatment or gets into AA but they are not drinking. Additionally, they might be more at risk for relapse since addictions are a disorder that is very much one of relapse. In AA terms, they are “dry” but they are not “sober” because sober is more than just about being dry.

    • I certainly do think “recovery” or stopping use requires agency in the matter at least at some level with the proviso for the late middle/late stage person once one is detoxed from their alcohol/drugs if they are in the late middle to late stage addiction process now they have agency in the matter. I also see the causes of addictions are a complex interaction among biological, psychological, family and social causes. We still have not sorted it out completely but we have tons more tools than when I “got into the business” of addictions in 1980.

    Well enough. More than anyone probably wants to know.

    PS: I resolved all of my issues with my parents by getting into acceptance that they were human beings doing the best they could, given who they were and how they were raised. I stopped thinking of them or speaking of them as mother or father. I started to only think of them or speak of them by their first names. That took a ton of charge off the situation and enabled me to create some element of objectivity about them as well. I actually developed some empathy and even compassion for them as a result of this change in my thinking and speaking.

  83. jofrclark: My comment was really about the Humean framework that is nowadays taken as the best expression of “naturalism”. Hume, I think, holds that desires and passions cannot enter into logical or rational relations. He also holds that reason must be a slave to our desires and passions. Therefore, it seems, reason cannot adjudicate between our desires and passions. It has to take them to be all equally reasonable. But we of course know that they are not. So this is a problem for Humean naturalism. I’m not a Humean naturalist, so it’s not a problem for me.

  84. Peter Smith

    As I have said at least twice, the conscious mind(the cognitive director)presides over a boardroom occupied by some powerful board members, the feelings, desires, needs, impulses, intuitions and narratives. Whenever a decision is made the board members joustle for advantage, striving to shape the decision in their favour. And the cognitive director, under the pressure of the moment, may unwisely to accede to one or more of these demands, leaving him feeling he has done what he did not want to do(and I often saw this in the corporate world). And if we judge him by the aggregate of his concious intentions that surrounded that single, unwise intent, it is evidently true that he did what he did not want to do.(and St. Paul was certainly correct)

    Understanding this, the interesting question is how to strengthen the cognitive director’s resolve so that he does what he truly wants to do when at the sharp end of making a decision. It is an ancient problem of course and so many strategies have been developed. It all revolves around understanding, conditioning and reinforcement.

    The main steps are, when confronted with questionable decisions:

    1) Delay
    Give your feelings time to settle, allow your intuitions the space to rise to the surface, lower the temperature and urgency.

    2) Reflect
    Examine and understand your feelings and goals, weighing them up in the balance.

    3) Rehearse
    Consider the impact and consequences of your decision, replaying them in your mind.

    4) Reconsider
    Think again in light of your reflections and rehearsal of likely outcomes. Is it really worth it?

    5) Realize, not rationalize
    Act, but with full awareness of how you are realizing or betraying your goals, with complete honesty. Strive to avoid rationalization.

    6) Rememer
    After the event, think back, do a post mortem, understand what went wrong(or right)

    7) Repent
    Feel sorrow, guilt or regret at doing the wrong thing.

    8) Resolve
    Make up your mind to do the right thing next time, learning lessons from what happened this time.

    9) Reinforce
    Recognize, reward and thus reinforce the times you did it right.

    10) Relate
    if you have a trusted significant other it can be very helpful to share this process and get a third party view. We are social animals and realize ourselves most fully by relating to others.

    Success is not immediate. It comes from reflection, repitition and conditioning. The other dramatis personae in the mind are powerful and persistent.

    Dan, I am sure, will recognize this as a form of cognitive behavioural therapy. It is training for the Cognitive Director!

  85. Azin

    I’m not sure philosophers “need” a point to mull over what comes to mind.
    If I understand your point about agency at a moment in time, the crucial question becomes, not the choice itself but, the at that instant *reason* for the choice. Said reason not necessarily under one’s control. IOW, someone may not really want to do what he is about to do but at a particular point n the chain of thought and behavior, a “switch” in the continuum of competing- urges/desires is thrown which precipitates the behavior and subsequent regrets. He honestly would have preferred not to take that first or second drink but succumbed all the same.

  86. Peter, I am traveling and it is hard to write long answers on my phone. I will reply as soon as I can get on a computer.

  87. jofrclark

    On the subject of powerlessness …

    Does not the idea of the inherently absurd limitations of the Scientific Image, with its controlling objective reductionist physical mechanistic focus, argue for the limitations of the human intellect since science is an attempt at pure intellectual assessment? Does that not mean that human intellect alone is often powerless in the face life experience?

    Does not the idea of the Manifest Image, with its manifest subjective wholistic emergent economic (value based) focus, argue for a different and complimentary method of human assessment that empowers the human mind beyond intellect? Does not this method of obtaining knowledge of manifest reality give us knowledge of aspects of reality we are powerless to control?

    Does not this inherent complimentary nature between these two forms of assessment mean that at some level we are all, as human beings, epistemically conflicted? Is this not a conflict between knowledge of out power and knowledge of our powerlessness? Could not this conflict lead to such things as “acting against wants”? Does not the sterotopic way that these two forms of assessment work together and give us a more complete image of our existence argue for a peace and harmonizing in this conflicted internal mental relationship? Would not this peace of mind resolve the conflict and thus the problem of “acting against wants”?

    What then shall we call this internal method of assessment that gives us a view to the Manifest Reality of our existance that we are powerless to change ….?

  88. I don’t think there is a conflict. Like Sellars, I think the Manifest and Scientific images together form a complete image “stereoscopically.”

  89. jofrclark

    What then explains the strident historical neglect in philosophy of the Manifest Image in favor of the Scientific Image if not an implied (if not expressed) antipathy of the later for the former due to their divergent, complimentary, and mutually exclusive, frames of assessment? Does not this devaluation of the Manifest Image imply a mental suppression of it …. conflict?

  90. No, it simply reflects analytic philosophy’s idiot scientism.

  91. Peter Smith

    And moreover this scientism has permeated our culture in general, distorting our values. One readily observed example of this has been the widespread adoption of consequentialism. Consequentialism can be seen as the moral derivative of cause and effect from science.

  92. Peter Smith

    I think the Manifest and Scientific images together form a complete image “stereoscopically.”

    I know this is a popular idiom but, politely, I must disagree. To start with, there is only one thing that actually, really exists, that could possibly be a complete image, and that is the tangible world of particles and fields. Take us away, destroy us completely and utterly and the tangible world of particles and fields is unconcerned, carrying on serenely as if we had never existed. This is the real, complete thing, the thing in itself.

    But, for the time being we do exist, Not only that, we observe and we experience. We communicate our observations and experiences and in that communication we create an imaginary world that could not have existed if we did not exist and will cease to exist when we cease to exist. This imaginary world is continually sustained by us as we communicate our experiences and observations.

    Now this imaginary world has two parts which represents the two different ways we describe(observe) the world and perceive(experience) the world.

    The first part is what we call the scientific image. It is our attempt to describe it in as objective a manner as possible, by using person independent observation. It is not the thing in itself but our least subjective description of the thing, derived from person independent observations and expressed in the main, mathematically.

    The second part is the so-called manifest image. It is our description of the way we experience the world and this cannot be done by person independent observation. That is because the observations originate in our minds and not our instruments. And moreover, our instruments cannot penetrate our minds.

    Thus these are not two images of the same thing at all and thus cannot be rendered to “form a complete image “stereoscopically.”“. That is because the one is our best effort image of the world and the other is our best effort image of the contents and working of our mind. They are not the same thing and cannot be the same thing, perceived two different ways because the so-called manifest image is the result of our creative, free willing imagination while the other is the result of careful, disciplined observation.

    Let me illustrate this with an example. I can readily perceive surface roughness by running my fingers lightly over a surface. I may variously describe it as satiny, smooth, glossy, slippery, rough, coarse, textured, crepe, uneven, flat, resilient, hard, flexible, brittle, etc. I can also run a sensitive diamond stylus over it, tracing the profile and calculating various numbers that represent its surface properties. The first is the manifest image and the second is the scientific image.

    Now compare these two and you will find it very difficult to relate the subjective ‘feel’ to the measured properties. They use two different languages, two different measures and two different kinds of understanding. How do you merge them to form a complete stereoscopic image? It can’t be done because there is no complete stereoscopic image. This is trying to create something that cannot exist.

    Of course this is an attractive idiom that appeals directly to our experience of fused stereoscopic vision, which is why this faulty idiom persists. But attractiveness does not equate to correctness.

    We can retain the terms ‘scientific and manifest images’ because they are quite useful but we must abandon all talk of a ‘fused, steroscopic image’. Such a thing is just not possible in this subject domain.

    And we must understand that the ‘scientific and manifest images’ are both properties of our mind, with no independent existence. A supernova will obliterate both accounts and the Universe will continue as if we had never existed.

    Mary in the monochrome room beautifully describes the gap between observing and experiencing.

  93. There is only one world, but because it includes people and the logical/discursive/representational/normative space we make, it can only be completely described with two images working stereoscopically. Otherwise one winds up with reductive or eliminative materialisms or dualisms, both of which are untenable in my view.

  94. You asked for the motivation for my project and this is it. To reject materialism and dualism and all that they entail

  95. s. wallerstein

    What do you mean by “materialism”? I imagine that you would call yourself a “naturalist”. Sometimes “materialist” and “naturalist” are used interchangably and you aren’t using “materialist” that way, I assume.

  96. Peter Smith

    completely described with two images working stereoscopically

    But that does not happen, now does it? You are describing a wish, not a reality. And moreover you are making this wish so that you can preserve your ideological presuppositions.

  97. Peter Smith

    I think that the only way for you to reject dualism in a coherent, consistent and logical way is for you to argue for reductive or eliminative materialisms.

    The only two possible logical possibilities are dualism and reductive/eliminative materialisms. You argue for a third possibility which leads you into all sorts of strange positions.

  98. Nope. It is the others that produce strange positions. I spent a good amount of time in the Prolegomena pointing them all out.

  99. Wrong, but I obviously won’t persuade you, so I’ll let it go.

  100. I mean either reductive or eliminative materialism.

  101. Yes, broadly speaking, I am a naturalist

  102. Peter Smith

    The problem you face is the massive confirmation of the effectiveness of the laws of nature. They are all powerful, acting everywhere, all the time, completely without exception. Accept this and reductive/eliminative materialsm is the only possible position for you. There is no other game in town.

  103. Peter Smith

    You could at least try. Like Anthony Flew, I followed the evidence before I became a theist. So lead me down the evidential trail.

  104. s. wallerstein

    I understand now. Thanks.

  105. So say you. As I said, we obviously aren’t going to persuade one another. How many times should we go around and around? Life is too short

  106. Try? I wrote like six or seven essays as part of those Prolegomena, not to mention a bunch of essays before.

    I think I tried plenty

  107. You are most welcome.

  108. Azin

    Both you and Peter have me sitting on the edge of my seat. This is really getting captivating. Any chance of doing a podcast together?

  109. Peter Smith

    So say you.

    And the whole of science says this. Our entire scientific enterprise is predicated on this assumption, that the laws of nature are all powerful, acting everywhere, all the time, completely without exception. Every scientific advance is further confirmation of this.

    There is no need to persuade me. You would need to persuade the vast body of science that my statement is untrue.

  110. I have no objection. But I suspect it will just be a repeat. No harm in it though.

  111. Ok. Sellars knew a little bit about science, but nvm.

    Gonna’ get back to enjoying the first vacation we’ve had since before covid.

  112. Peter Smith

    I hope you enjoy your vacation. I think you deserve it. I greatly enjoy our conversations and look forward to more of the same when you come back well refreshed from your holiday. Cheers.

  113. Peter Smith

    Hi Azin, it would take a brave soul to go head to head with such a polished orator as Dan.

  114. Azin

    Well, you have my vote. Things tend to get fleshed out and better nuanced understandings and more illustrative examples come to the forefront with the spoken more immediate word.

  115. Back at you, my friend! Would you like to do a dialogue for the podcast?

  116. Azin

    Anthony Flew over the cuckoos nest, poor chap.

  117. s. wallerstein

    I’d love to see that dialogue.

  118. Azin

    It’s hot and humid. Miami awaits.

  119. Azin

    At heart I’m of the scientism persuasion as the road to ultimate reality, yet , I’m torn between the two arguments since the elemental particles that Laplace’s Demon would connect the dots with, would have little meaning to the human condition without some resort to the manifest image. So you’ll be my stalwart champion but I’ll be rooting for both of you from the stands.

    If your sword is as might as your pen, you should fear not milord.

  120. It’s not only the idiot scientism. There are serious failures on the part of those who wish to defend the Manifest perspective (I include myself in this camp).

    The best discussion I know is by Bernard Harrison, in many papers but easily accessible in his essay “Reality and culture”, here: https://utah.academia.edu/BHarrison

  121. Peter Smith

    The best discussion I know is by Bernard Harrison, in many papers but easily accessible in his essay “Reality and culture”, here: https://utah.academia.edu/BHarrison

    Thanks for that reference. It is a worthwhile read.

  122. Peter Smith

    I found this very interesting(from your Bernard Harrison reference)

    …the idea that interest, per se is, intrinsically and necessarily, opposed to morality per se. Some such contrast seems to follow indeed, from the obvious fact that morality per se involves restraint; whereas it is surely conceptually broken-backed – so the argument goes –- to imagine that an individual agent could conceivably be constrained by his or her interests. For the notion of interest is, surely, we tell ourselves, as conceptually tied to the notion of freedom as that of morality is conceptually tied to the notion of constraint. The notion of interest is, surely, simply the notion of what an individual agent would prefer to have or to do, and would have or do if were not for the range of constraints – of intelligence, charm, money, social position – under which he or she labours; constraints including, among others, all those imposed by morality.

    Another way of framing the same supposed insight would be to say that interests seek, as a matter of conceptual necessary, solely the advantage of the agent whose interests they are; whereas morality seeks to advance, not the interests of this or that particular agent, but those of ‘society’, or of individuals in general.

    That in turn promotes the idea, which rose to dominance among secular intellectuals in the Enlightenment and remains largely dominant today, that morality, or sometimes ‘the highest morality’, involves relationships, not between individual persons, but between each individual person taken singly and some supra-personal entity: the (Kantian) community of all Rational Wills, the totality of beings capable of experiencing pleasure or pain, society in general, the Human Race, the Aryan Race, the Nation, the Proletariat, the Party, and so on.

    To this last part I would add that we have a new ‘supra-personal entity‘, the Woke Will. It is the natural successor to the community of Rational Wills, as understood by Kant. What is new about the Woke Will is its uniquely compelling power, exceeding even that of the Party.

  123. Peter Smith

    The emergence of the Woke Will marks the arrival of a genuinely new moral order that will sweep across the world. This is a landmark moment in the history of moral thought. It is unique in that it is a spontaneously generated, crowd-sourced moral order. It is quickly developing its enforcement mechanisms and source texts as well as its priming and sensitization methods. Unlike previous moral orders it is likely to have a hegemonic hold on the popular imagination. That is firstly because it is crowd sourced and secondly because it is fluid and responsive to the memes of the moment. And thirdly because of its monopoly power over the mechanisms of sensitization and enforcement.

    This can be seen as the end of moral history because no other moral order could conceivably displace it, unless imposed by extreme necessity.

    The role of moral philosophers will be reduced to that of following the bandwagon and making sycophantic noises. Some have started practising this.

    There will be small pockets of dissenters, mainly Stoics, because they are trained to endure adversity. With the emergence of the Woke Will, Stoicism will finally have discovered a reason for existence. Pace, Massimo Pigluicci.

  124. Peter Smith

    Dan, thanks for your generous offer but I must say that the prospect of going up against the Cicero of podcasts is a most daunting one. I feel more comfortable sniping from my hide in the African Bushveld.

  125. Peter Smith

    And finally we will have become a moral species!

  126. Ok. I understand!

  127. Harrison is a very good philosopher. Will check it out.

  128. jofrclark

    I would answer yes under three circumstances,
    1. There is another want of greater value that supersedes the first want that we consciously (semiconsciously?) choose to act on.
    2. We instinctually/reflexly act apart from choice against a conscious want based on the functional architecture of our mind given to us at birth. This would imply that the unconscious survivalistic “wisdom” expressed in this spontaneous instinctual architecture has reflexly assessed a value/want contrary to our conscious want.
    3. The ability to have agency and choose is impaired by drugs or disease – witness the drunk or the demented.

    What I wonder is if (non-inebriated) addiction falls into this last category and thus is a kind of madness and outside of natural philosophy that implies a state of mental health. This is what medicine has suggested in defining alcoholism/addiction as an illness rather than a moral failure. I myself am ambivalent about such a diseased diseased notion in the absence of intoxication.

  129. jofrclark

    Thanks. I just tire of the ubiquitous conflation of rationality and reason (as Hume does above) with its attendant exclusion of emotion from the realm of reason. So obviously wrong. I think it’s ultimately what’s behind the strident scientism that promotes the Scientific Image over the Manifest Image that Dan highlights in his Perlegomena.

  130. Azin


    Number 1) just kicks the can down to another “want”, thus, still confirms the premise that we are doing what we really want to do in a hierarchy of competing wants.

    2) I addressed this further up on the thread. The whole architecture of the brain as I see it, is the subconscious self, where the real work is done and the more recently evolved cerebral cortex rides on top and through self awareness only secondarily becomes “aware” of the decisions already made which might then feed back into the subconscious where again “we” only learn about the new decision or, “want”, in this case. (This explains the brain scans lighting up in the appropriate areas fractions of seconds before agency is expressed.) So who is to say if we are really not doing what we want to do because we say we think so in retrospect? I don’t think there is an easy answer to this. If we are not under duress, or even so, how do we do what we don’t want to do? It’s a contradiction in terms and logic – a paradox. And the converse is but a tautology.

    3) I believe I made some mention of this earlier on, also. Whether intoxicated, high or, down and craving a fix, we are talking about impairment and I don’t understand why this wrench was thrown into discussion early on. A pregnant woman who hits the crack pipe or shoots up heroine is both not doing what she wants and doing exactly what she wants to her unborn child. If that isn’t some sort of mental disease, I don’t know what is. Ironically I think the intoxicated drunk is more likely to be unfettered in doing what he really wants to do as opposed to when he’s straight and Jonesing in desperation to relieve his withdrawals.

    As to whether craving for food, sex, power, gambling should fit into the same paradigm, I don’t know. You can say all of humanity pines for the good old Cro-Mangnon days of natural and wholesome homeostasis with nature but I think by the time we reached sapiens status we were definitely out of the Garden of Eden and prone to headaches just the same.

  131. Peter Smith

    With Dan enjoying his vacation I should not launch another provocation. But I do want to note some things for future debates. When questioned, he described the central theme of his thinking as the rejection of both materialism(eliminative or reductionist) and dualism.

    Fair enough. I think this position is the consequence of being both an atheist and a Jew. Another time I will enlarge on this thinking except now to say that as a Jew he is especially allergic to ideas tinged with Christian concepts. This is neither to blame nor praise him, but merely an attempt to understand the sources of his thinking.

    This is most evident in his visceral rejection of dualism. Why? Because, as a Jew, he cannot admit the Christian concept of a soul, whereas I do, and this lies at the heart of our frequent disagreements(which I rather enjoy, by the way).

    So I will enlarge, just a little, on my understanding of this concept. First it should be understood that source religious writings depend heavily on metaphor, analogy and allegory, inevitably, because difficult subjects, which transcend our experience, could not be conveyed, in earlier times, in any other way.

    Therefore we traditionally think of the soul as a thing, a nebulous object of some difficult to define kind. This is a useful metaphor for the unquestioning kinds of ordinary folk in the street. However, the metaphor, when taken literally, is easily attacked. And atheists love strawman targets. But there is a much better way to think of the soul, and this is resistant to all the traditional attacks of atheist philosophers.

    We now know the operation of the brain is electrical in nature. This line of thinking has been taken so far that many seriously think that we can eventually duplicate our minds in computers that model the way our brains work. OK, this is really futuristic thinking, but it is the imagined possibility that matters.

    With that background, the brain can be said to have, at any instant, an information state, that completely describes it at that instant. Some people(serious scientists and philosophers, by the way) believe that if we capture that information state and insert it into a brain modelling computer, our consciousness will continue in that computer.

    I hope not. I feel rather attached to my body! It has served me well, apart from a painful hiccup in my youth.

    But, since I believe that God really does exist(cue howls of outraged protest), that has a very interesting consequence. Let the howls of anguished protest die away and, just for the sake of argument, indulge in some “what-if” thinking(philosophers occasionally do this). Well, if an all-knowing God does indeed exist, then he can be said to know the information state of our brains at every instant of our lives. And we can also presume that our ‘presumed all-knowing God‘ remembers every instant information state of our brain. Thus, when I die, all the information states of my brain will still reside in God’s memory.

    And this, from a sophisticated, thinking Catholic’s perspective, is what the soul really is. It is the information state of the brain preserved in God’s memory. Quite what happens to the information state preserved in God’s memory is a whole other debate which need not bother you, since, in any case, you do not believe in God’s existence. Some of the questions are, does the information state of the brain become re-animated? How? When? But you need not bother with these questions.

    The important thing about this modern, sophisticated concept of the soul is that it completely invalidates all traditonal arguments against dualism, because we accept completely, the modern accounts of the brain and mind. Of course this concept is only possible if God exists, and that is the real debate. To show that my concept of dualism is false you will have to show that God does not exist(good luck with that). At least we can stop wasting our time with the traditional and false arguments against dualism.

    Dan, no need to respond. I wish you to continue enjoying your vacation(safely I hope). These are subjects for future debates, and even a podcast, if I am ever so misguided and foolish as to take up your offer and debate Dan Cicero Kaufman, the master orator/rhetorician.

    – from his hide in the African Bushveld, sheltering from outraged atheist fundamentalists.

  132. This is not a provocation at all. It is wise and true in many ways. I don’t know if you remember, I wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek piece on “Jewish” philosophy where some of these issues were raised, albeit indirectly.

  133. Peter Smith

    Thanks. I would love to read your piece if you can point me to it.

  134. Peter Smith


    Oh my gosh, I really enjoyed this essay.

    From your last paragraph of the second reference:
    There is, in Christianity, a far greater inclination towards abstraction, universalism, perfectionism, Manicheanism, utopianism, and a fixation with the transcendent than there is in Judaism.


    Then you say:
    Christianity also is the victor in the Western narrative, while Judaism is the loser

    No, no and no again.
    As I have said before, Jesus Christ is a Jew, his disciples were Jews, his teachings were refinements of Jewish teachings and the writings of the early disciples were by Jews for Jews. Paul was a highly educated Jew. The victor, and decisively so, is Jewish philosophy, which has completely and absolutely transformed Western culture. It is beside the point to argue about which flavour of Jewish philosophy won. The fact of the matter is that Jewish philosophy won and that is a most extraordinary fact which has no equal in history.

  135. I should have said “Christendom is the victor.” And it spent much of the last 1000years driving the point home through institutionalized persecution and mass murder across Europe and Russia. The Catholic Church didn’t drop the blood libel and charge of deicide until the 1960’s and Vatican 2.

  136. Peter Smith

    You are right but the term “Christendom” is an unfortunate misnomer. What you are describing is aggressive European nationalism, which was the outgroth of the feudal state and newly discovered national identity. Today we are seeing the re-awakening of that condition, accompanied by horrible anti-Semitism in places such as Germany.

  137. I’m afraid the Christian dimension of this cannot be removed. The charge of deicide goes back to the text of the New Testament and the earliest church fathers and long predate the nation state. In the Middle Ages, the celebration of Easter routinely involved anti-Jewish violence and the Blood Libel. None of this is controversial among historians, but quite well established.




    My mother was forced to attend a Christian school in Hungary after the Jewish schools were closed, before the Second World War. She and her classmates were routinely abused and beaten by the nuns.

  138. Peter Smith

    Let me give you an example of the modern day anti-Semitism which is beginning to flourish:

    Here the inflammatory allegation is that the Israelis “captured” the British Foreign Office. I wonder which of the Israeli special forces carried out this daring operation? Kudos to them.

    But the truth is much more mundane. The Israelis, like all foreign countries, lobby for their important interests. But let an Israeli do this and immediately sinister overtones are implied, with colourful military images of capture. This, of course, is anti-Semitism writ large. And this is a growing phenomenon.

  139. Peter Smith

    What I am trying to say to you is that anti-Semitism does very well indeed without the alleged Christian underpinnings. Hitler and his cabal were not in the least religious and you should never for one moment believe what that charlatan, Dawkins, said in this regard.

  140. Well that is certainly true. I am simply speaking of its historical roots.

  141. s. wallerstein

    I went to elementary school in New Jersey in the 1950’s and from time to time I was accused by one or another of the Catholic kids of “having murdered our Lord Jesus Christ”. That inevitably led to a fist fight which I did not seek or desire. My father told me that the anti-semitic bullying from the Catholic kids was worse in the 1920’s when he was a child.

  142. There was a 5 year period in which I was giving papers at Oxford University every year at an annual conference. One of my favorite things to do was to attend Evensong services at Christchurch Cathedral, because of the gorgeous music and atmosphere. I stopped going because I could no longer listen to the viciously anti-Jewish portions of The Gospel According to Matthew, which commonly featured in the service.

  143. Peter Smith

    Dan, I am not going to continue because some of my thoughts will sound critical and that will certainly, in some way, fuel anti-Semitism. As you know, I am a huge admirer of the Jewish people and every Christian should be. But right now, something much larger than this debate is going on that will deeply harm the Jewish people. It is urgently necessary that every decent person should stand, side by side, with the Jewish people, to overcome this onslaught.

  144. Peter, you can alway say what you think to me. Our friendship is not compromisable.

  145. Peter Smith

    Thanks, I appreciate that.

  146. Azin

    IF this and IF that. You’ve set the rules, definitions, premise, hi jacked science to your bidding and allowed that one cannot disprove your metaphysical contentions. Debating you would be like playing your card game where you always hold the wild card of – god – god can do whatever I say he can and be any card that favors my hand. Who can win against that, short of getting up and running for the door, hopefully with one’s wits still intact.

    You sound like you may actually be one of those rare theists that try to live an exemplary good life. I laude that. What I will never understand is why inner faith is not enough for some. Why you and others feel compelled to try to explain the unprovable in terms of pseudo natural evidentiary science and attempts at reason and logic in debates that depend on word cleverness and at best virtually always end in a draw.

    As long as science cannot answer every imaginable question, fill in all the gaps and promise eternal existence, theism will always flourish and it’s practitioners will always try to rationalize why they believe, since, in an ever scientifically humanistic world, faith is embraced as an inadequate predicate and an embarrassment that must be eschewed for a more rigorous rationale.

  147. s. wallerstein


    I understand the problem between you and Dan (and myself).

    You say that Christianity comes from Judaism. No doubt about that, but it came from one current of Judaism of over 2000 thousand ago. With time it incorporated Greek philosophy and whatever other currents of thought it came across, and the current variety of Christianity has little or nothing to do with Judaism today.

    What’s more, Judaism today has also changed from what it was over 2000 years ago. Judaism and Christianity have grown more and more distant over the years, so they don’t have much in common these days.

    In addition, the current of Judaism which grew into Christianity never was the hegemonic current within mainstream Judaism, so even in the early days of Christianity most Judaism and early Christianity were not all that similar.

  148. Azin

    The Jewish experience in Europe is foundationally based one thing. Jews were viewed as non Christian Christ killers. The rest is garnishing.

  149. Azin

    I can assure you of one thing, Peter, we will not be passively getting into cattle cars or taking showers.

    That said you should feel free to voice your opinion or observations of what you sense in the zeitgeist. I for one do not condemn the messenger as being complicit. Honest perspective about “Jewishness” and its place in the world is fair game and not to be assumed antisemitic. Don’t hold back, old chap.

  150. Christianity is the product of a mixture of apocalyptic Judaism, Greek mystery religions and later, neo-Platonism. Judaism is the product of the Pharasaic tradition as filtered through the Mishnah and Gemara (Talmud). Christianity is universalist, while Judaism is tribal — the religion of a specific people. The two religions bear very little relation to one another other than a shared original text which they interpret entirely differently

    Just as an example: the Hebrew scripture is divided into three sections — law, prophets, wisdom literature — which represent an order of authority. Nothing in the prophets or wisdom literature can override anything in the law. Where there is apparent conflict, law always overrides. The idea then that some character like Paul, in some extra canonical text — the NT — could override anything in the law is simply a non starter in Judaism.

  151. jofrclark

    Azin – Regarding scientific humanism – But isn’t that the modern (epistemic) scandal in what Dan is proposing regarding the Scientific Image and the Manifest Image – that over-reliance on science to know (I think “idiot scientism” was his term) has become ineffective and led us into absurdity in philosophy. This would argue for the inherent limits of scientific inquiry as a category and imply that there is a knowing beyond science in another category. If faith (in God) is an embarrassing predicate to rigorous rationality, then rational science has become an embarrassment to something else – something Manifest in Dan’s framing. What are we then to have “inner faith” in?

  152. It is casually – if unwittingly and unwillfully – anti-Semitic to assert that Christianity “extends” and by implication improves Jewish ethics. It is also so to assert that a Christian can interpret Tanakh with greater clarity than the tradition of Talmud, Mishna, and more than two thousand years of Jewish scholarly research. One can “admire” Jews as much as one likes, but what is the point if they aren’t allowed to be Jews and to know their own religion and their own history?

    The question of Israeli politics is a political question with cultural issues deeply entangled and entwined, and in my opinion with no resolution in the immediate future. due to vested interests and a history of serious missteps on all sides, both within Israel and surrounding nations and on the part of supporters and subversive outsiders. It’s a mess, and cannot be reduced to simplistic expressions of support or of outrage on any side of it.

    There are indeed anti-Semites who oppose Israeli policies. There are also avowed anti-Semites (among Christian Fundamentalists, for instance) who support the policies of Israel. And there are dedicated supporters of Jewish causes who oppose Israeli policies. A nuanced expression of whatever opinion is welcomed, and none such should be discounted without due consideration. However, one should give such opinions due consideration before expressing them, the discourse on Israel specifically and the Mid-East generally is appallingly sloppy, and has been for five decades now.

    On a side issue, I will note that I have no problem being considered an “atheist Fundamentalist” if the alternative is to accept the dictates of a cruel and violent Mr. Sky Magic and submit my ethical choices to his notoriously whimsical disregard for human life.

    “I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.” ― John Stuart Mill

    Without the threat of Hell, believers have nothing left but some form of Pascal’s Gambit. And I would rather bet on the horses, there’s greater profit in it, and one doesn’t need to die before realizing it.

    My ethical choices are my own, and dependent on my character, not some list of values out there in Mr. Sky Magic’s universe based on (mis)interpretations of texts written thousands of years ago. That is virtue ethics. And if it isn’t , if I’ve misinterpreted the term, so be it, let it be simply that I have empathy for others and wish to “enter my own house justified,” as Sam Peckinpah put it.

    At any rate, the notion that the triumph of Christendom over Europe – undeniably a fascinating and even sometimes beautiful civilization in itself, but also shot through with episodes of barbarity – somehow represents the triumph of “Jewish philosophy” indicates an ignorance of history, of philosophy, of culture, that beggars imagination.

    “[In} On the Jews and Their Lies, [Martin Luther] denounced [the Jews] and urged their persecution.
    In the treatise, he argues that Jewish synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes burned, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and “these poisonous envenomed worms” should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. He also seems to advocate their murder, writing “[W]e are at fault in not slaying them”.
    The book may have had an impact on creating later antisemitic German thought. During World War II, copies of the book were held up by Nazis at rallies, and the prevailing scholarly consensus is that it had a significant impact on the Holocaust.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Jews_and_Their_Lies

    ‘Charlatanism’ indeed.

  153. Azin

    “What are we then to have “inner faith” in?”

    For an atheist as myself there can be only one answer: our selves. Surely not the stars or the supernatural. For believers such as Peter, I’m not sure what it means in any practical sense to have faith, other than the assumption of purpose, prescriptions and the avoidance of oblivion. Revealed religion may as well be Deism as far as the history of the world has shown. Benevolent divine intervention seems to be sorely lacking. The Bard’s Cassius knew this well. I can’t recall which Christian father of yore understood that some men where not disposed to believe in a god. Obviously many more were. That’s all I have to say on religion lest it try to impose itself.

    It’s time for my usual disclaimer of ignorance. I have absolutely no knowledge of the discipline of philosophy. I’m just opinionated and enjoy the dialogue and participate selectively where I think I can make some headway with my way of reasoning. I respect the pros and amateurs steeped in their philosophical expertise on how to conduct such inquiries. But I think a little laymen input, like chicken soup, couldn’t hoit.

    Science can only advise on the matters of metaphysics, the world of thought. There will never be a devise or discovery that will take the place of human inner dialogue and living in a society with other minds. The buck stops here. It can not be farmed out to any other entity or enterprise other than ourselves. The final decision will always be based on the final human consensus even if it is only to acquiesce to a software program.

    The scientific image has it’s own value within an agreed upon given context. For example one might with scientific information conclude that free will is an illusion, that it doesn’t exist. All that is expressed and witnessed is but the end of a chain of preceding events that could not be altered. Big deal, how does that inform or move the ball forward. It is absolutely meaningless to the world and the human condition, though, if truly accepted, on some objective if not psychological level, it might make us more amenable to greater sensitivity, mercy and compassion to those of us less fortunate or deemed defective.

    I guess in a sense, then, that would mean the manifest image is also the product of predetermined materialism and reductionism even though by necessity the manifest would have ironically but logically preceded and nurtured the advent of the scientific image. Well, then, maybe that’s how reality works and what difference does it make accept to philosophers? If I want to know the spin and momentum of a particle I will supplicate to the scientific image if I want to decide what to eat I’ll be glad enough to call it the manifest and put down the slide rule and pick up a fork.

    Remember this whole vying of the two conceptions is the playing field of philosophers and if you Goodgle the controversy it is not for the feint of heart and can only be addressed in it’s most plain distinctions by the likes of me. And as you quote Dan as saying it makes an absurdity of his notion of philosophy but, exactly how it has any real world effects I don’t know. Even if one could find a practical application for the scientific image for say, mental health, I don’t know how it could be applied outside the realm and reasoning of the manifest image. That is the language and framework of mid sized primates with large genitalia that would rule the world and visit the stars.

    I don’t think “rational” science is an embarrassment to anything. Science deals with the natural, religion with the supernatural. Anything can be misused or misunderstood. Religious philosophy and thought can be useful to the fuller understanding of mankind’s progression, on its own merits with or without a god.

  154. Peter Smith

    Thanks for the invitation but today(Sunday) I am sheathing my sword and shortly I will be going to Mass. This is a quiet day of contemplation of the most holy of holies when one should consider God’s purpose, what he requires from us and refresh the spirit. As has been spelled out in many places, he requires us to pursue wisdom in a spirit of humility and compassion. That can be difficult, but we must try. Which of course goes back to our core discussion of Doing and Wanting.

  155. Peter Smith

    Back to the scientific and manifest images. I will repeat what I said before. The stereoscopic fusing of the two is a false idiom. It cannot be done and has not been done. We have fallen into the trap of mistaking the elegance of an idiom for the truth.

    Science, has so far, been the best method available of arriving at the truth of the world around us. It has been stunningly successful, no matter what envious philosophers say in their futile rearguard actions.

    The most astonishing thing about science is that it has revealed a fundamental truth about the world that is unexplainable in terms of both its operation and its origins. This truth is that the world operates according the laws of nature everywhere, all the time, without exception, and it always has. Nothing, absolutely nothing defies the laws of nature, neither now nor in the past. Every advance of science confirms this most fundamental fact of reality. It is gobsmacking, it is mindbogglingly extraordinary.

    On the one hand it is reassuring because we want and need a predictable universe capable of being understood. But on the other hand it is deeply unsettling. To understand why, consider Brian Greene’s statement(Hidden Reality)

    Tell me how the particles making up the earth, the sun, the galaxy, and everything else are arranged, and you’ve fully articulated reality. This reductionist view is common among physicists

    Now here’s the thing. The way those particles move and are arranged is fully determined by the laws of nature, completely without exception, in the past, in the present and in the future. The laws of nature cannot be varied. Now if this view is true(and nothing shows it to be false) then we are all puppets dancing on the ends of strings controlled by the laws of nature and we have no agency whatsoever. Everything we do is calculable and predictable, given a powerful enough computer. You might consider it the scientific version of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.

    But none of us like that idea. We all like to think we have full agency. But it is not possible if the laws of nature hold everywhere, all the time, without exception, and they do. But if we trust our powerful intuitions that we have agency then something has to give. What could that be?

    The clue is consciousness. Now if we really are fully determined puppets then there is no need for consciousness. The many large programs I have written are, at the bottom, automatons and they don’t have the slightest need for consciousness. Why then do we possess consciousness? Clearly, in evolutionary terms, it must have provided a large benefit to compensate for the high cost and thus evolve to its present complex level.

    So what was that large benefit that stimulated its arrival, evolutionally speaking? The answer is that it allowed us to exercise high levels of choice and creative foresight, independently of the dictates of circumstance, giving us an enormous evolutionary advantage. Now our survival was no longer just determined by our genetic fitness but also by our mental fitness.

    We call this free will and it has been a game changer. But how could our mind possibly have broken free from the rigidly deterministic laws of nature? We don’t know the answer to this question and we may never know it. It might be, as David Chalmers suspects, that there is an as yet completely unknown law of nature that makes this possible and thus our free will does not abrogate the laws of nature. But whatever it is, somehow our mind has acquired an escape clause, allowing it, on the mental plane, to transcend the laws of nature. We can’t even guess how that is possible.

    Returning now to the manifest and scientific images. If Brian Greene is right, there can only be a scientific image. If my view of free will is correct there will also be a manifest image, produced by our free-willing imagination, breaking free of the bonds of the laws of nature. But it is futile to fuse these images together since they are inherently incompatible. Of course our free-willing imagination remains, in many respects tied to some aspects of physical reality, producing a rough and imperfect correspondence between the two. We have to be content with that.

    If somebody tells me he has no free will I will immediately grant his point. After all he knows himself best and in any case it is pointless arguing against an automaton whose behaviour is fully predictable. It must be very comforting know that you are not responsible.

  156. Azin

    Your definition of antiSemitism is very loose and expansive that would include any difference of opinion or critique of Judaism or the Jewish people, rendering it reflexively defensive and a useless term much like today’s “racism “.

    Then you go on to excoriate Christendom. Which I can’t say I disagree with but does that then equate with an antichritianism; the mirror image of antiSemitism? In neither case has anyone suggested or evoked innate inferiority, bigotry or discrimination , truly the real stuff of anti-isms.

  157. Peter Smith

    Your definition of antiSemitism is very loose and expansive that would include any….Then you go on to excoriate Christendom.

    You should know there is a very long history of comments made by him, directed, in one way or another, at what I say and what I believe in, usually in quite intemperate terms.

    I routinely ignore him and never reply to him. But I do permit myself an amused chuckle. In its own way, it is a lot of fun.

  158. Peter Smith

    Hi Azin,
    “What are we then to have “inner faith” in?”

    For an atheist as myself there can be only one answer: our selves. Surely not the stars or the supernatural. For believers such as Peter, I’m not sure what it means in any practical sense to have faith

    This is actually an important question. The word “faith” is bandied around so much in so many different contexts that there are many possible answers.

    But I can answer for myself. Let’s say I ask you to perform a task, and end by saying “I have faith in you”. Here I am saying that I trust you to perform that task well. So when I say I have faith in God I mean that I trust his message, I trust God and I have trust that things will all workout well, in the end.

    This is not about belief in God. In fact I think there exceedingly good reason to believe that God exists. To my mind, belief in God’s existence is eminently rational and very well justified so there is no “faith” involved in believing in God’s existence.

    You of course think differently and I respect that.

  159. Azin


  160. Peter Smith

    other than the assumption of purpose, prescriptions and the avoidance of oblivion

    Actually this has nothing to do with “faith” as I understand that. There is a body of teachings and from this we can derive a sense of purpose. Prescriptions? No. At the heart of Christianity there is virtue ethics. Avoidance of oblivion? No. We are no more concerned with end of life issues than any other person in the street.
    Read the following prayer of St. Francis(No, it wasn’t written by St. Francis)
    When I converted from atheism to Catholicism this is what I found the prevailing ethos to be. It beautifully expresses an important component of the purpose we find in religion.

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
    where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    where there is injury, pardon;
    where there is doubt, faith;
    where there is despair, hope;
    where there is darkness, light;
    where there is sadness, joy.

    O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
    to be consoled as to console,
    to be understood as to understand,
    to be loved as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive,
    it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

  161. Peter Smith

    This expresses very clearly the purpose we find in Chtistianity
    The Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila

    Christ has no body but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    Compassion on this world,
    Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
    Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
    Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
    Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
    Christ has no body now but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    compassion on this world.
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

  162. ‘But Azin, I know you better than you know yourself! My thinking is that of a ‘perfected Azin,’ we must say. I admire you greatly, because I know that what you say would completely agree with what I have to say, if you simply accept the truth of Perfected Azin philosophy. Don’t you come close to admitting this when you write that my thinking here is “expansive” – that is, inclusive of anything you had to say in the past? Now you know where your thinking is leading you – to me, your perfected self?’

    – Rather an annoying, arrogant appropriation on ‘my’ part, isn’t it? A way of disempowering any self-assertion on your part, anything you could say would be encapsulated within my interpretation of it.

    One cannot assert “innate inferiority” or discriminate accordingly without first identifying members of a class as exhaustively defined by descriptors of the class. Individuals dissolve into the class. Then it’s simply a matter of deciding whether all members of the class are worthy of respect, or whether the class as a whole – and thus every individual member of it – poses a threat. But “worthy of respect” is a balancing act predicated on complex criteria which must eliminate any conflict with descriptors of the class. Threats are simply and easily assigned to class differences; why bother learning to treat individuals as such when with a wave of a hand all class members are reduced to a class posing threat to one’s own class or class aspirations.

    I did not excoriate Christendom, the civilization of pre-modern Europe – I wouldn’t even know how to do that. I did not even excoriate Christianity as a religious faith or practice. I simply responded to bigoted remarks about “atheist fundamentalists” by asserting my own refusal to believe in god, and one of the many reasons why, which is that I find no need for justification for my ethical choices by some divine law coming from either ancient texts or some mysterious something from “on high.” And this is entirely in keeping with my rejection of the implicit assertion that Christian ethics somehow subsumed Jewish ethics. That could be true on only two bases: 1, that Christian thinkers engaged a depth analysis of the whole of Jewish ethical thought over the centuries and redefined their own ethics accordingly while clarifying Jewish interpretations of Jewish traditions; or, 2, ‘god says so,’ according to another ancient text and its institutionalized interpretations over the centuries. The first condition never happened, the second depends on belief in god, which I reject.

    One final note, on a matter you didn’t reply to, but which was again implicit in previous comments by others on this thread – I wrote that the problem of Israeli politics was a political issue. Sounds redundant, so let me restate with emphasis: the problem of the situation in Israel-Palastine and surrounding invested interests is a political issue and *not* a religious issue. The confusion of religious interests as somehow dominant over political interests (and their potential resolutions) is exactly what got us into the present mess, which is why resolutions will not be shortly forthcoming.

  163. Ira Glazer

    Are you referring to ‘nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn’ ?

  164. jofrclark

    Its all predicated on two fundamental observations:

    1. We exist
    2. Existence is ordered

    Such realities are given us from beyond ourselves. One can observe and characterize the order in terms of “Divine Laws,” “Laws of Science,” “Laws of Nature,” or what you like but this is a mere labeling of observed manifest reality that we don’t own but must submit to. It is this evident order of existence that we can have faith in. Humanistic faith in ourselves is essentially a faith in that order as expressed in our given created human nature and thus inherently leads one through and beyond the self.

    Discussion of such things inevitably take us to the rough conflicted border between ourselves and things beyond us, between the controlled and the uncontrolled, between choice and acceptance, internally between our willful controlled self and our spontaneous uncontrolled self … in what started this discussion – between actions and wants.

    The philosophic question is epistemic – how is it that we come to know of the order of manifest existence and use that knowledge to guide our (inherently constrained) choices? What I find interesting in the discussion is that science/intellect/rationality gives us a certain category of knowledge – reductionist, objective, mechanistic. Exclusive reliance on such knowing is demonstrably dysfunctional (Dan’s point which I agree with). This leaves us with the quandary of what method are we to employ to garner knowledge of the converse category – wholistic, subjective, economic – in order to give us a more thorough/complete (“stereoscopic”) knowledge of existence.

    I would submit that mental acumen resides, of necessity, in our spontaneous selves, our instinctual/emotional/intuitive selves. It is through this given assessment system of the human mind that humanity is given knowledge beyond the self. Witness the real world effects of our feelings for others – human compassion (we need more of it!). Both mental systems/acumens need to work together in equality/balance for us to be truly wise.

  165. Azin

    You’ve confirmed my intuition.

  166. Peter Smith

    This is very insightful.

  167. Azin

    Peter, I feel guilty and complicit in your doing what you don’t want to do, namely typing away on the board instead of indulging in planned and desired contemplative equanimity, reflection and recharging of your spiritual batteries on this lovely Sonday:) This makes me an enabler, oh, the shame.

    I didn’t think it necessary to specify the different connotations of the word – faith. Knowing the Sun will come up tomorrow, that your dog will be waiting eagerly at the door upon your return or that you will trust your life to your spouse is a faith in the common parlance that, like everything else in the Universe, is without absolute certainty yet, is quite different from what most honest brokers would claim to be the faith of believing in that which has all the hallmarks of human artifice and fancy and of special pleading to the supernatural. A far cry from that which science proclaims is provable and reproducible and hypotheses based on accumulated evidence and observation. Intercessory prayer, miracles, unanswered questions have as much credence as UFO sightings in the swamps of the Ozarks or under the transvaal sky. Proving your faith in that which is unseen, by pure logic and clever rhetoric sans detectable evidence solely by the earnestness of your belief (faith). is a completely different proposition and I fear only a more sophisticated expression of the common pedestrian sophistries and transcendental rationale. As Bill Maher sometimes quips in his shtick, I can’t prove it but I know it’s true.

    I suppose you find refuge in how one is to interpret such scientific “facts” and what is meant by evidence of a non-spectral nature. The world is not the only thing that spins. Are you saying you are an evidentiary induced theist? That you had no predilection before a detailed analysis of comparative religions to select and succumb to Jesus and the Christian fathers? I always thought the ones that felt compelled and so inclined to search for a god/spirituality, were always primed from the get go to find what they were looking for. The commonality of all religions is surely a giveaway that man is inclined to invent religions and gods in their own image and virtually everyone’s religion is that of family or culture.

    I apologize for running on. I often go on without thinking. You’ve obviously heard all this before. No doubt you will also presage my responses to whatever proofs you think abet your, the Sun will rise tomorrow, faith of the existence of a god. You will assert your definitions of facts and evidence contrary to the conventional consensus and will declare yourself victor in your eyes only. What is the most fascinating is how the human minds is so constituted that we can differ on something so fundamental. The more intellectual founding fathers were mostly Deists and then along came Darwin and kicked the stool out from under the ignorance of perceived intelligent design. I wonder my friend on what pedestal you stand upon to meet even the greater burden of proving the existence of a personally involved Creator with a troubled users guide?

    I trust you will find none of this offensive. It certainly wasn’t meant to be.

  168. s. wallerstein

    We Jews (not necessarily the state of Israel) are pretty nice, generous people. Imagine that a white guy appears in a blog run by a black guy and says that he knows more about how it is to be black, about black history and black culture than the black guy does. He would be accused of being a “racist”, might be fired from his job if he were an academic in the U.S., might get banned from social media, etc.

    Peter Smith, with probably the best intentions in the world no doubt, claims to know more about what it means to be a Jew than Dan, a Jew who has studied Jewish culture and religion and the other Jews who comment on the blog, including myself. We try to reason with him, to show him that he is mistaken, etc.

    I’m not saying that we Jews should be more like blacks, just that we are pretty nice people. And I think that one could make the claim that Jews have suffered as much or more from Christians over the course of history as blacks have from whites. And I’m leaving out the Holocaust because the Nazis weren’t Christians.

    As EJ points out above, the conflict in the Middle East is not a religion conflict, although able demagogues use religion to manipulate people on both sides. Many Jews, including myself, are very critical of Israeli foreign police and its continued occupation of the land seized during the 1967 War. In fact, some of the most vocal critics of Israel are Jews, for example, Noam Chomsky.

  169. Azin

    Yes, it is very beautiful and can bring tears to one’s eyes as does Shakespeare’s enjoinment to let mercy “…droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.” My favorite tearjerkers from the Bible are: Father forgive them… and As you treat the least of you… But, what need of a god to proclaim what can be written by the hands of men who can put away the better demons of their heart? What is written in the Bible as revealed from on high, cannot and has not been thought of by mortal man? What revealed truth has the creator of the Universe enlightened us with that we cannot know ourselves and without a contractual levy of foreskins?

    I don’t taunt or mock you. You speak as a saint and only if your fellow theists thought, felt and acted in the same way. But they don’t, and I’ve always thought of myself as the better Christian, Jew, Buddhist etc., than the self proclaimed adherents; I an atheist. The believer always ever fail to impress me with their judgement and hypocrisy and the obvious need for divine intervention that never materializes in them outside of the few minutes in the wee kirk.

  170. Azin

    Ich nicht verstanden.
    Never heard of this one. Looked it up an now know more than I need to and still not sure exactly what to make of it, other than it would have probably gotten me thrown down a well in Borat’s home town if understood by the good townspeople.


  171. Just as it is very hard to be confronted with some of the terrible things my people have done, it is hard for good, decent Christians who love their faith to be confronted with what their Church has done.

    What Christendom — in all of its major forms, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant — has done to the Jewish people is one of the worst examples of villainy in human history, and there is mo way to absolve the church and even many of its foundational texts for it, as they are at the heart of it.

    But there are billions of Christians. Some of the finest, most morally upright people I know are Christians; some devout. I see no reason to shove the sins of the Church in their faces. If the topic comes up, I will say what I know and I think about it. But I have no interest in trying to make good people — some of whom are my friends — feel like crap about the religion that matters so much to them.

  172. I’m going to ask everyone to get back on topic. The dialogue was not about Christianity and anti-Semitism.

  173. Azin

    Jesus Christ! So, there never was two sets of footprints in the sand. Now, the weight of the world is upon me. On all of us. Jesus is along for the ride and the Devil may be a symbiotic parasite adding to the gravitational mass. No wonder my arches and back are killing me. It’s all pretty words my dear friend, and I’m glad you find comfort in them. Maybe I should just call my conscience, Yashua and not worry about the lake of fire. I never needed an outsourced spirit to guide me. I’ve always been blessed with a sense of compassion, mercy and a strong imperative to mediate contretemps. So now I find myself being subliminally buffeted between you and your nemesis ejwinner. He thinks you , one would think, uncharacteristically in opposition to your stated faith, cast the first stone at his godless head.

    I like both of you in each of your non-overlapping magisteria.

  174. Yes, that was what spiked my irritation. I apologize for getting involved with that.

    Atheism does not target Christianity especially; non-theist Buddhists argued against Hindu theism for 1500 years before both sides grew exhausted by it all and moved on.

    The thread began going off topic when someone remarked that SelfishWizard’s comment lacked “well-tempered reasoning” because of his “atheist fundamentalism.” I think Selfish Wizard was missing a beat, because I think the surrender of seeming control is beneficial to some who follow a 12-step path; but I don’t think his atheism had much to do with that. Whatever harm belief in god has caused throughout history, there’s no doubt it has presented us with possibilities of healing for individuals. The question is, are such leaps of faith needed to bridge the divisions within the personality? William James suggested that they are. That he also advocated a personality model based on habit is also suggestive here. Is something like a religious conversion experience necessary for at least some people to be able to change their habits, even radically? That’s really the question, isn’t it? (And of course conversion experience leading into atheism or some other non-theistic framework cannot be denied.) But would not such a conversion experience be an event? could it be prepared for by an individual? But in what way?

    Anyway, this distills some of my thinking about the original conversation, that I think might be helpful, rather than continued ax-grinding concerning religions.

  175. s. wallerstein

    Off topic, but not about Christianity or anti-semitism and I thought it might interest you and other readers.

    Kathleen Stock in the Brain in a Vat podcast. They push her quite a lot, but she defends her position well.

  176. Ira Glazer

    > just that we are pretty nice people.

    I have to acknowledge, alas, that I have my bad days

  177. No more on this ok?

  178. Azin

    “(And of course conversion experience leading into atheism or some other non-theistic framework cannot be denied.) But would not such a conversion experience be an event? could it be prepared for by an individual? But in what way?”

    That is … a novel thought. To gain power and will over an addiction one would have to marshal one’s will at its lowest ebb by not surrendering to a higher supernatural power, or as some would say, a transference of one crutch for another, but by throwing over one’s spiritual belief simultaneously with an addiction they have been previously powerless to overcome. That would certainly be a counterintuitive event , upending the conventional wisdom. Expecting labors of Herculean dimensions from a mere mortal, and, without the help of the gods.

    But, one never knows what chemical and psychological interventions may yield in the future. I can see the shingle now, hanging in front of a medico building in a futuristic landscape: Doc T. Leary’s one stop center to cast off all your addictions – detox, de-addict & de-convert – Methadonetheox – to cleanse the body and soul. (Turn off * tune out * drop in)

  179. Azin

    Only a nice guy with a trimmed schmeckle would admit that.

  180. Azin

    Sorry, it was posted before i read your subsequent admonition.

  181. Azin

    Peter Smith says:
    June 6, 2021 at 7:27 am

    Back to the scientific and manifest images. I will repeat what I said before. The stereoscopic fusing of the two is a false idiom. It cannot be done and has not been done. We have fallen into the trap of mistaking the elegance of an idiom for the truth.

    Science, has so far, been the best method available of arriving at the truth of the world around us. It has been stunningly successful, no matter what envious philosophers say in their futile rearguard actions.

    The most astonishing thing about science is that it has revealed a fundamental truth about the world that is unexplainable in terms of both its operation and its origins. This truth is that the world operates according the laws of nature everywhere, all the time, without exception, and it always has. Nothing, absolutely nothing defies the laws of nature, neither now nor in the past. Every advance of science confirms this most fundamental fact of reality. It is gobsmacking, it is mindbogglingly extraordinary.

    On the one hand it is reassuring because we want and need a predictable universe capable of being understood. But on the other hand it is deeply unsettling. To understand why, consider Brian Greene’s statement(Hidden Reality)

    “ Tell me how the particles making up the earth, the sun, the galaxy, and everything else are arranged, and you’ve fully articulated reality. This reductionist view is common among physicists”

    Now here’s the thing. The way those particles move and are arranged is fully determined by the laws of nature, completely without exception, in the past, in the present and in the future. The laws of nature cannot be varied. Now if this view is true(and nothing shows it to be false) then we are all puppets dancing on the ends of strings controlled by the laws of nature and we have no agency whatsoever. Everything we do is calculable and predictable, given a powerful enough computer. You might consider it the scientific version of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.

    But none of us like that idea. We all like to think we have full agency. But it is not possible if the laws of nature hold everywhere, all the time, without exception, and they do. But if we trust our powerful intuitions that we have agency then something has to give. What could that be?

    The clue is consciousness. Now if we really are fully determined puppets then there is no need for consciousness. The many large programs I have written are, at the bottom, automatons and they don’t have the slightest need for consciousness. Why then do we possess consciousness? Clearly, in evolutionary terms, it must have provided a large benefit to compensate for the high cost and thus evolve to its present complex level.

    So what was that large benefit that stimulated its arrival, evolutionally speaking? The answer is that it allowed us to exercise high levels of choice and creative foresight, independently of the dictates of circumstance, giving us an enormous evolutionary advantage. Now our survival was no longer just determined by our genetic fitness but also by our mental fitness.

    We call this free will and it has been a g ame changer. But how could our mind possibly have broken free from the rigidly deterministic laws of nature? We don’t know the answer to this question and we may never know it. It might be, as David Chalmers suspects, that there is an as yet completely unknown law of nature that makes this possible and thus our free will does not abrogate the laws of nature. But whatever it is, somehow our mind has acquired an escape clause, allowing it, on the mental plane, to transcend the laws of nature. We can’t even guess how that is possible.

    Returning now to the manifest and scientific images. If Brian Greene is right, there can only be a scientific image. If my view of free will is correct there will also be a manifest image, produced by our free-willing imagination, breaking free of the bonds of the laws of nature. But it is futile to fuse these images together since they are inherently incompatible. Of course our free-willing imagination remains, in many respects tied to some aspects of physical reality, producing a rough and imperfect correspondence between the two. We have to be content with that.

    If somebody tells me he has no free will I will immediately grant his point. After all he knows himself best and in any case it is pointless arguing against an automaton whose behaviour is fully predictable. It must be very comforting know that you are not responsible.

    First, my congratulations on your artful dodge of not mentioning the G word. You present a cogent and robust case for determinism with the evolutionary escape clause of consciousness and its side car, free will. The big problem I always have with these considered musings is definition. It’s quite probable that the countless particles within and without ourselves are of such a magnitude and unpredictable interplay with each other that even if it where possible to track them all through time and circumstance, the probable odds of predicting anything that would significantly differ from our conception of free will would be ridiculously moot. And what is free will? Philosophers and thinkers alike have been at loggerheads with each other ever since the conception was born. As Hitchens chided, I believe I have free will, I have no choice. And that’s probably where the argument should lie other than it’s fun to talk about and makes not a bit of difference in our manifest lives. And we shouldn’t get so anthropomorphically chauvinistic about it either. We may be less the prisoner of reflex arcs and instincts than the other critters but there is no doubt that a dog and others higher up in the phylogenetic tree are exercising their own degree of free will and for the same rationale of fitness.

    “But how could our mind possibly have broken free from the rigidly deterministic laws of nature? We don’t know the answer to this question and we may never know it.”

    Here, my friend, you assume more than should be allowed. What does rigidly determined mean in any cognizant or practical meaningful way? You make it sound that it could have been predicted that from the moment of the big bang it was destined I would be sitting here writing this sentence. Where can that possibly get us and to what end. Is is possible? As possible as any thing that can be imagined by the mind of man or pulled out from his arse. And then there is the added problem of consciousness and free will being some kind of dualistic entity that has not only allowed us to think we know what we are talking about in these matters but have also managed to escape like Athena from the head of physicality and hover above the mechanistic brain from whence it emerges. A paradox there if there ever was one. The deterministic, emanates non deterministic inner waves that we intercept as some how free of temporal precedent. Pure unadulterated thought formulated only be sensory observation, memory and spontaneity bu,t independent all the same. A bipedal Bolzamann brain.Somehow the neurons and the configurations have taken on miraculous (sorry Dan) powers that have short circuited the non defyable laws of nature. The humble little neuron, dumb as a bag of doorknobs, by itself, but a freeing revelation that sticks it’s finger to mother nature, in fact itself, when joined with its brothers and sisters in a neural web.

    Do I dislike the idea that I might not have free will? I don’t know whether to scream or eat a banana. If the headlines read tomorrow morning science proves no such thing as free will, the eight billion people of earth would get up and yawn and go about their routine. (Hmmm, that doesn’t sound right:)

    As to the manifest and scientific image, they both serve their purpose if for no other reason than meaningful communication between isolated minds seeking consensus in understanding our social place in the world. Maybe I don’t understand what is meant by manifest image. I can’t imagine how one would navigate life without it. I caress my wife with a loving touch, must I consider that it is just force fields produced by electron clouds floating around an atomic nucleus of matter that are repulsing each other from like charge? Brian Green must be a real Lothario in the lab.

    I trust my acerbic and irreverent wit has not been too offensive. It’s late and my circadian rhythm is running down. Good night.

  182. Peter Smith

    Dan, you said

    My interest here is not in making some sense of the concept of addiction.

    Yes, that has been an unproductive diversion.

    Indeed, I am fast coming to the view that it is primarily a moral and even a political concept rather than a genuinely medical or psychotherapeutic one.

    Many people disagreed with you but let’s leave it at that.

    Instead, I am interested in coming to some greater clarity regarding the intersection of desire and action.

    Indeed, this is the key issue.

    Do I do what I do not want to do, as Saint Paul said? Is that possible? Dan thinks not and I disagree, maintaining that Saint Paul is correct.

    The short answer, as I have said before, is that the ‘wanting’ me is more representative of ‘me’ than is the ‘failing’ me. Dan is taking an instantaneous snapshot of the person’s decision making mind whereas I am considering the person’s decision making mind from a broader perspective that represents the continuum of his mind before and after that bad decision.

    My approach, I maintain, is the better one, but I grant his point that at the very instant of making that decision, that is what the decision maker wanted at that very instant.

    Both approaches are necessary when one considers the problem of avoiding performing undesired actions. How does the continuum of my mind avoid being overwhelmed by an instantaneous moment in my mind? This is where I think Dan’s essay has failed in his stated intention of “coming to some greater clarity regarding the intersection of desire and action.“. Surely the most important question is not that my decision making failed, but why my decision making failed in realising my internal intent. You don’t address this at all.

    To understand why this is, we can do no better than turning to James Rest and his four component model of moral decision making. This is now a well accepted model for moral decision making. Moral decision making requires the following five key components

    1) Moral sensitivity

    2) Moral judgement

    3) Moral motivation

    4) Moral character

    5) Moral habit

    To which I have added a sixth element, which refreshes and further develops these five elements.

    6) Moral priming

    A well formed moral decision requires all of the first five elements to be well developed. Philosophers think about only one thing

    0) Moral knowledge

    which is astonishingly shortsighted.

    I have purposely numbered Moral knowledge as zero because moral knowledge, by itself, has zero impact. Moral knowledge we must extend by developing moral sensitivity, augment with moral judgement, ignite with moral motivation, give teeth with moral character and reinforce with moral habit, finally keeping alive with moral priming.

    Deficiencies in any of these five steps can result in a failure of moral decision making. Note that I have added moral habit and moral priming to Rest’s four component model. Some people would consider moral habit as being part of moral character. I have brought it out separately because I consider moral habituation as being different to moral strength of will.

    Of course this leads to a further question – how do we develop these five components of moral decision making? I would love to see the answers to that question.

  183. “Back to the scientific and manifest images. I will repeat what I said before. The stereoscopic fusing of the two is a false idiom. It cannot be done and has not been done. We have fallen into the trap of mistaking the elegance of an idiom for the truth.

    Science, has so far, been the best method available of arriving at the truth of the world around us. It has been stunningly successful, no matter what envious philosophers say in their futile rearguard actions.“


    The first paragraph is incorrect and as there is no argument to engage with, that’s all I can say about it.

    As for the rest. Physics/chemistry/biology — i.e. science — tell us nothing about parking regulations, national borders, my responsibilities to my parents, or any of the other dimensions of social reality that are of the Manifest Image and are the reason for my exploration of these areas.

    I went to the trouble of writing 9 Prolegomena in which I carefully laid out the arguments for the views I have presented in the dialogue with Crispin and elsewhere. Until those arguments are engaged with and credibly refuted, I really don’t have anything more to say on these foundational issues, so I am bowing out.

  184. Peter Smith

    I really don’t have anything more to say on these foundational issues, so I am bowing out.

    Fair enough, so I will leave the matter alone. Thanks for the discussion.

    The essay was really about a different matter than this. My last comment deals the core of your essay. Do you have any response to this?

  185. s. wallerstein

    For those who are unclear about the manifest image, I recommend the dialogue between Dan and Massimo on the subject. I had to go back and resee it in order to understand what we are discussing better. I tried to watch one of
    Dan’s older dialogues with Crispin on the subject, but it was hard to follow without technical knowledge of philosophy, which I lack. On the other hand, any normally educated person can follow and profit from the dialogue with Massimo.

  186. Azin

    I appreciate your aggravation. There is apparently a disagreement on what is meant by manifest image. Thankfully in this case I’m on the side of the expert, you. Either everyday life exists or it is an illusion shrouding the reality of the quantum foam. Either our common thoughts matter and have consequences or they don’t. I have a hard time imagining the alternative scientific image playing any part in life other than as a tool that puts everything under a microscope for reflective consideration. For the life of me I don’t know why both images cannot be complimentary to the human condition and a more complete understanding of our place in the cosmos than only one vision could hope to offer.

  187. This is exactly the point. Without something like the framework I am suggesting, we are forced into ridiculous positions like “tables don’t exist, they’re just lattices of particles” or “countries don’t exist, they’re just fictions” etc.

  188. Azin

    Dan asks – can and you ask – why.

    “Do I do what I do not want to do, as Saint Paul said? Is that possible? Dan thinks not and I disagree, maintaining that Saint Paul is correct.”

    “My approach, I maintain, is the better one, but I grant his point that at the very instant of making that decision, that is what the decision maker wanted at that very instant.”

    Your two statements are at odds with each other. Assuming your second quote is the more deliberative one we can at least put to rest Dan’s contention that it isn’t possible to do what one doesn’t want to do at least at the point of doing it. That’s the – CAN – question.

    You wish to broaden the discussion to the – WHY – the – Can – happens. That’s a completely different and more complex concern and I think you make some important headway by using morality as one example of the complexity of desire and competing choices or let’s say competing wants. It’s the age old conundrum of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both whispering into one’s ears. It is human nature that all of us will succumb to temptation and poor decision at some junctures of our life, making us feign, eschew or agonize over regret depending on the outcome and fulfillment of expectation. I agree with you that it isn’t necessarily the full measure of the man at these moments of lapse.

  189. Azin

    ej or do you prefer win?,

    Even if everything you said was sincere I would not consider you as an antiAzinist. Since the rest of your entertaining comment managed to touch on some aspects of the now verboten religion, I fear I will be excommunicates if I comment further.

  190. Azin

    Your comment reads like poetry. It’s metaphorical language has an ephemeral dimension about it that keeps me from planting a definitive finger on all the aspects of the human condition that you lay out. I keep rereading and keep reinterpreting and discovering new assertions and nuance formerly misunderstood or overlooked. But, I get the gist and for all intents and purposes I think you’ve pretty much pinned the tail on the donkey. (How’s that for poetry?) The only problem I foresee is for some philosopher to come along and muck it all up. Well and beautifully done.

  191. Marc Levesque


    “whether one can genuinely *act* without wanting to.”

    Taken as an abstract proposition, I think the incoherence can easily add more confusion on a situation that might already be problematic. But speaking of persons, along with their desires and actions, ‘in the real world’, I think it can be an accurate description of what’s going on, like it might be in the context of substance abuse, though in no way do I mean that unpacking the contradiction isn’t useful.

    In other words, I get the impression that to make a proposition like “I don’t want to do X, but I do X anyway” invariably false we have to first abstract the terms one, want and do, away from how we commonly understand persons, their desires and behaviors in all their complexity.

  192. Peter Smith

    Hi Marc,
    But speaking of persons, along with their desires and actions, ‘in the real world’, I think it can be an accurate description of what’s going on,

    Yes. We all routinely experience this.

    The confusion, in this case is caused by taking an issue in the psychology of the mind and using a philosophy toolset in an attempt to understand what is going on in the mond., This is what I think you are saying in your second paragraph. Dan is using the wrong toolset. To a plumber all tools look like a wrench.

  193. Peter Smith

    In other words, I get the impression that to make a proposition like “I don’t want to do X, but I do X anyway” invariably false we have to first abstract the terms one, want and do, away from how we commonly understand persons, their desires and behaviors in all their complexity.

    This is exactly right.

  194. Azin

    Instead of thinking in terms of – why do I do what I don’t want to do – it might be helpful to consider, how is it possible to do what I don’t want to do? How can you reach for a cup of coffee simultaneously not wanting to? The reason, motivation or impulse even under duress are inconsequential to the instant of action when the arm is activated. (Peter concedes to this fact)

    Complexity and abstraction are a distraction. If you fractally distill the chain or hierarchy of vying wants, only one wins out at the moment of doing. Further considerations pose different questions as to, why and not how. Then, as you suggest, complexity and abstraction become indispensable to the project.

  195. Marc Levesque


    “If you fractally distill the chain or hierarchy of vying wants, only one wins out at the moment of doing”

    If a person’s wants can be referred to as a structure, I think it’s a structure that involves more complex relations than a hierarchy.

    On the moment of doing I’d say it’s possible in some situations, using Dan’s terminology, that what best describes what’s going on is to refer to it as an event rather than an action.

  196. Marc Levesque

    Hi Peter,

    “Dan is using the wrong toolset”

    I think he’s pointing out inconsistencies at the intellectual level I agree with, but I get the impression I disagree with what that means or whether more than trivial inferences can be made from there.

  197. Marc Levesque

    “actually doing something – acting – when one in no way wants it and in fact, wants its opposite”

    When I look at persons, their reasons and actions, I don’t see actions and events as completely separate kinds. Any actions will include events, the proportion varies, and I understand the idea of ‘pure’ actions as described verbally only as intellectual abstractions. Between haling a taxi and musculature reflexes there’s a lot of behaviors that sit somewhere in between. Likewise between reasoned action and psychosis, e.g. performance and OCD.

  198. Azin

    I have no problem using the metaphor, structure, if you think that better describes the complex nature of mental machinations though, one would think that the trigger of an “event” had somehow taken precedence, had won out, over competing inclinations (triggers). We do have to simplify the problem to try to get a straightforward unambiguous understanding and conclusion. I think the initial predicate of only being able to do what we want to do is plain enough if not viewed as some kind of trick question. It is, in my opinion, a tautology that stimulates discussion but only presents an illusion of complex concerns. If we accept free will or even if we only hold a body responsible for its actions (events) than there can only be one perpetrator of the event and, assuming no illness or impairment, they are doing what they want at the moment of doing it, no matter any inner conflict. So far, the only disagreement with this has been, qualifications and excuses that were not implied or encouraged in the original question. WHY, someone may do what he doesn’t want to do is a different question that Can he do what he doesn’t want to do. I think a useful analogy is saying you can make yourself believe something that you don’t believe. You can’t do it and you cannot do what you don’t want to do. Someone holds a gun to your head and orders you to kill a friend. Understandably you don’t WANT to die and you don’t WANT to murder your friend. Still and all, whatever transpires will be your doing. Call it hierarchy or structure. Your event, will be to pull the trigger or have your own brains blown out. No doubt you prefer neither but the outcome will depend on one WANT or the other. One could freeze into indecision and immobility but that would only delay the inevitable choice.

    About “event”. Seems strange to me to refer to reaching out for a cup of coffee as an event and not, considering the nature of the discussion, a willful action. A frantic mother grabs her child out of the road while a car narrowly whizzes by and slaps her child. Is that an event? Maybe so if looked at as a research observation, I suppose. So, did the mother in any sense, want to slap the child or was it only an emotionally driven reflex that required no actual conscious volition? I admit, I’ve just stumped myself on this one.

  199. Peter Smith

    what best describes what’s going on is to refer to it as an event rather than an action.

    Yes. But it starts earlier than that with intent. An intent is realized by an action and is evidenced by an event. Intent -> Action -> Event

    What we should be talking about then are intents. Now the question becomes, is it possible to hold more than one intent in the mind at one time? Yes, says George Miller, the originator of the famous saying “One can hold seven plus or minus two ideas in the mind at the same time”

    Here is the original paper by George A Miller. It is a classic in psychology literature.

    Then, according to Miller, we can hold in our mind about seven intents at one time. One of these intents wins out and is realized as an action and the evidence for that is an event.

    But, and this is the crucial question, was the realized intent the one we wanted the most? It need not be because we are prone to acting impulsively under the pressure of desires, circumstances, needs, etc. Thus the realized intent need not be the one we, when we exercise judicious consideration,, truly want.

    And that is because our mind has a highly variable cone of concentration. This cone of concentration is broad when we are not under pressure and thus we take a judicious, all things considered approach. But as the pressure of our needs or circumstances increase we involuntarily narrow the cone of concentration, discarding all other intents to only realize the intent that emotions have placed foremost in our consciousness.

    But once the event has passed and the pressure has eased, our cone of concentration relaxes and enlarges to encompass the remaining intents. Then we understand that we have realized the wrong intent.

  200. Peter Smith

    In terms of Miller’s Law, the pressure of needs, circumstances, desires, etc, greatly reduces the number of intents we can hold in the foreground of our mind, from about seven to eventually one. And this can be the wrong one. And that is because choosing the right intent is a process that balances the merits of all the intents. But if great emotional, or other pressure, has made it impossible for us to hold multiple intents in our mind, this balancing of merits process cannot take place increasing the possibility that we act injudiciously.

  201. Azin

    That makes good sense.

  202. Marc Levesque

    Hi Azin,

    I’m using ‘event’ as it’s defined for behaviors that aren’t intentional and ‘actions’ for those that are.

    But I see them as at the ends of a continuum, while we often use them as if they were two distinct kinds, actions with intent and reasons and events automatic and caused, when in fact they are intertwined.

  203. Marc Levesque


    “And that is because our mind has a highly variable cone of concentration. This cone of concentration is broad when we are not under pressure and thus we take a judicious, all things considered approach. But as the pressure of our needs or circumstances increase we involuntarily narrow the cone of concentration, discarding all other intents to only realize the intent that emotions have placed foremost in our consciousness.”

    I think that is a good picture of what can happen in the context of recovery from various trauma. I’d add that some of our motivations or needs can also be hidden to various degrees even when we are relatively relaxed, and can be more felt than thought and can be easily misinterpreted.

  204. Azin

    Hi Mark,

    From Peter’s post: “Yes. But it starts earlier than that with intent. An intent is realized by an action and is evidenced by an event. Intent -> Action -> Event.”

    I think this is a more useful framework. Action and event are inconsequential other than as observable indirect indicators of the thought process; the trigger that initiates the cascade. The rub is what is the genesis that influences the intent?

    It’s easy to lose sight of the original question: can we do something we ultimately do not want to do? As I mentioned about the mother that “reflexively” slaps her child under stress, we may be so constituted that certain relatively immediate and simple behaviors are more reflexive that volitive. Other than that type of scenario I cannot think of an example where we are not by definition in charge. I think you call this pushing someones buttons and getting an explosive response. Only in this limited sense can I accept a comparison to an involuntary muscle twitch or contraction.

    I think the law may recognize such aggravating factors and fighting words and assign mitigation.

  205. There is an interesting discussion of these topics in Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, chapter 2. He quotes Ovid, saying much the same as St Paul:

    “I am dragged along by a strange new force. Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.”

    Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

  206. Marc Levesque

    Peter wrote: “Intent -> Action -> Event”

    “The rub is what is the genesis that influences the intent?”

    If we stay at the level of actions, it’s things like reasons or other intentions: I raise my arm because I intent to take a taxi, I do that because I intend to visit my sister and so on.

    “It’s easy to lose sight of the original question: can we do something we ultimately do not want to do?”

    I’m thinking it’s things like the way we pose that question, set context, along with the terms we use and how we define them that together tend to frame or imply what a sensible answer will be.

  207. “Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. ”

    Ovid is more on point than Paul here. How would we really know what we “do not want” unless we reason the matter through? And isn’t that what we’re really saying, that desire guides us in one direction and reason in another? But reason is a poor motivator. Ultimately, if it is to provide the force of motivation, it must provide a desire for that enforcement.

    Desire wins; desire always wins. That’s what comes of being an animal and neither robot nor spirit.

  208. It seems to me that people’s behavior is is often a better indication of what they want than introspection and self reporting. That is a consequence of a framework that includes the subconscious and unconscious.

    The view I’ve presented is also consistent with positions I’ve staked out regarding self and identity and with certain of my Wittgensteinian commitments.

  209. Marc Levesque

    Hi Azin,

    I replied to your comment in the wrong place, below, it starts “Peter wrote…

    In the mean time I remembered an example for your question:

    “Other than that type of scenario I cannot think of an example where we are not by definition in charge.”

    Before I quit smoking, while working at my desk with a quota of one cigarette per hour, there was a couple of times when my quota was spent and I’d already reached for a cigarette, put it in my mouth and lit it before I realized what I was doing and put it out. I was doing what I didn’t want to. It wasn’t a reasoned action or a ‘neurological event’ but somewhere in between the two. I’m guessing a lot of a person’s behavior is in this area.