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15 LOCKE, HUME AND THE NATURE OF VOLITIONS 1. The concept of a volition plays a key role in the theories of mind that both Locke and Hume devise. It is central to the views each develops on the nature of action and of explanations of actions, on the character of practical reasoning, on the nature of desire, on the ways in which, most usefully, to categorize the several kinds of mental states and events. Without attending closely to their concepts of volition, one cannot get quite clear about the views of each, and the considerations thought to support those views, on the vexed questions of free action and of responsibility. Whether it be Locke or Hume, then, there is good reason to scrutinize what he says of volitions. Why take them together? The principal reason is that the views of each, when considered closely, throw a quite considerable light on those of the other (or so I hope to show). But there is a philosophical point as well. A theory of volitions more adequate than either proposes must borrow from each. What is amenable to being borrowed, and what ought to be borrowed, are fairly readily seen when the two theories are put face to face. I concentrate on three central issues: the question whether volitions are thoughts; the relationship of volition to practical reasoning; the links between volitions and their effects. Hume's views on these topics are to be found chiefly in the Treatise and the first Enquiry; Locke's, of course, in the Essay. Locke's recently published correspondence with the Dutch theologian Philippus van Limborch is, however, essential reading here, and I have made extensive use of it. 16 2. Locke and Hume agree that volitions are indefinable psychological primitives that must be invoked in an analysis of voluntary action (T 399, EHU 69, E 249). They agree, too, in a number of the things that each says in his efforts to characterize volitions. They differ, however, on a fundamental point, Hume's volitions are 'internal impression[s]' (T 399); Locke's are 'thought[s] of the Mind' (E 235). As internal impressions Humean volitions are feelings akin to, but not 'properly speaking' (T 399) instances of, passions. They are like the 'direct passions' (desire and aversion, grief and joy, hope and fear) in two respects: they are 'immediate effects of pain and pleasure' (T 399); they are 'propense and averse motions of the mind' (T 574), and thus bear a special relation to action. Though they are not thoughts they have causal, thus contingent, links to thoughts, including in particular thoughts whose content specify the so-called 'immediate object of volition' (E 66). As 'distinct impression[s]' (T 625) volitions do not modify the thoughts of their objects in the logically intimate way in which, in Hume's view, the feeling essential to belief 'modiffies] the conception' (T 625) of what is believed. Hume frequently compares volitions to commands (T 623, 629, 632; EHU 48, 64, 65, 67, 68). He also, not surprisingly, denies them truth values: because they are not capable of 'an agreement or disagreement either to the real relations of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact' it is 'impossible ... they can be pronounced either true or false' (T 458; compare T 415). Locke's volitions are thoughts, not feelings; and they have their own contents and objects. '[T]he proper and only object of the will', he writes, 'is some action of ours' (E 258); in forming a volition one 17 'wills to number', say, or 'wills to walk' (C 405). Locke never says as much, but his overall theory is best read as requiring volitions to be thoughts without truth values. He contrasts 'Will' or 'the Power of Volition1 with 'Understanding' or 'the Power of Thinking' (E 128). Since 'Volition' is as much a 'Mode ... £f thinking' as is 'Reasoning' or 'Judging' (E 227), however, the contrast is most plausibly taken as one between thoughts that do and thoughts that do not purport to represent the way the world is. Locke's distinction, to be examined below, between volitions and 'last judgements of the understanding' suggests the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 15-51
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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