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Will as Commitment and Resolve

An Existential Account of Creativity, Love, Virtue, and Happiness

John Davenport

Publication Year: 2007

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

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-xiv


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. xvii-xxiv

Although it remains popular among educated readers of the general public, enthusiasm for the existentialist approach to personhood has been declining in academic philosophical literature since the late 1970s. In analytic philosophy, metaphysical writings on personal identity over time have dismissed...

I. The Idea of Willing as Projective Motivation

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-27

How far from both muscular heroism and from the soulfully tragic spirit of unselfishness that unctuously adds its little offering to the sponge cake at a kaffee klatsch is the plain, simple fact that a man has given himself completely to something he finds worth living for.1...

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2. The Heroic Will in Eastern and Western Perspectives

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pp. 53-46

The first chapter began by introducing the concept of ‘‘heroic’’ willing as a self-motivated effort to set goals and strive to pursue them; it distinguished this concept from other, thinner notions of the will. This distinction will be developed in more detail in chapter 3. But first, it will be useful to...

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3. From Action Theory to Projective Motivation

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pp. 47-85

It would be an understatement to say that ‘‘the will’’ was out of fashion in twentieth-century thought, especially in academic psychology and philosophy. The very term suggested to many leading theorists the idea of some scholastic faculty, a metaphysical fiction as outmoded as aether in physics...

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4. The Erosiac Structure of Desire in Plato and Aristotle

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pp. 86-121

The previous chapter concluded with the suggestion that the existential concept of the will as a form of second-order agency in Pink’s sense involves not only deliberation and decision-making but also a distinct kind of striving that generates new motivation either in setting new purposes or...

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5Aristotelian Desires and the Problems of Egoism

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pp. 122-168

The previous chapter concludes that by replacing Plato’s middle soul with his ‘‘intellectual appetite,’’ Aristotle embeds the Transmission principle into his moral psychology: all voluntary actions, including those emerging from prohairesis or practically rational choice, derive the content and strength of...

II. The Existential Critique of Eudaimonism

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6. Psychological Eudaimonism: A Reading of Aristotle

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pp. 171-200

In this chapter, I prepare the way for an existential critique of a eudaimonist view of human motivation, taking Aristotle as my focus. I begin by framing what I consider to be the most defensible version of eudaimonism consistent with the erosiac conception of human motivation. I show that this is a...

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7. The Paradox of Eudaimonism: An Existential Critique

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pp. 201-234

The A-eudaimonist system constructed in chapter 6 provides a clear basis for formulating several important criticisms that have been raised against the eudaimonist project. These include what I believe is the decisive criticism that A-eudaimonism cannot accommodate the kind of moral motivation implied by the very conception of virtues for which it was supposed...

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8. Contemporary Solutions to the Paradox and Their Problems

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pp. 235-284

In this chapter, I explore several other ways of trying to resolve the paradox of eudaimonism described in the previous chapter while hanging on to central features of the A-eudaimonist model of human motivation. My critique of these alternative proposed resolutions will help clarify both the...

III. Case Studies for the Existential Will as Projective Motivation

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9. Divine and Human Creativity: From Plato to Levinas

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pp. 287-325

In previous chapters, I have repeatedly suggested that an existential conception of striving will implies a kind of human motivation that (a) contrasts with erosiac desire, and (b) violates the Transmission principle (TP), since it arises only within what Pink calls volitional agency, that is, the activities...

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10. Radical Evil and Projective Strength of Will

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pp. 326-370

The idea that actions can be chosen purely for the sake of harm or wickedness has been rejected for different reasons in ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary philosophy. This chapter critiques such attempts to rule out such ‘‘radical evil’’ and confronts them with motives whose malice does...

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11. Scotus and Kant: The Moral Will and Its Limits

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pp. 371-417

The positive existential idea of volitional strength described in the previous chapter suggests the possibility of conceiving virtuous character in ways that, unlike Aristotle’s Apollonian conception of virtue (chap. 10, sec. 1), contrast directly with radical evil on its own volitional level. As accounts of the virtues of justice and charity developed in medieval philosophy, a...

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12. Existential Psychology and Intrinsic Motivation: Deci, Maslow, and Frankl

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pp. 418-457

The debate we have traced between egoistic, eudaimonist, and existential theories of human motivation can also be found in twentieth-century psychology and psychoanalysis, where we now find support for the existential model of striving will. I will focus in this chapter on only a few among...

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13. Caring, Aretaic Commitment,and Existential Resolve

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pp. 458-486

The previous chapters in Part III have advanced three main theoretical goals.
1. They have provided substantial evidence that the primary function of the striving will is the active projection of new motives. For they argued that virtuous motivation as Aristotle conceives it, Kant’s motive of duty, Levinasian agapēē, and vices involving radical evil cannot...

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14. An Existential Objectivist Account of What Is Worth Caring About

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pp. 487-538

This chapter concludes the argument for the book’s first main thesis by showing that the existential conception of the will is compatible with an objective account of practical reasons for willing and so escapes charges of arbitrariness or irrationalism. Against Harry Frankfurt’s subjectivist account...

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pp. 539-546

My defense of striving will as key part of the new existential account of personhood started with the contrast between ‘‘Eastern’’ and ‘‘Western’’ attitudes toward willing in its heroic sense. In fixing the concept of willing to be explained by the existential theory of projective motivation, I argued...


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pp. 547-656

Glossary of Definitions,Technical Terms,and Abbreviations

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pp. 657-664


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pp. 665-690


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pp. 691-706

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246861
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823225750
Print-ISBN-10: 0823225755

Page Count: 702
Publication Year: 2007