Human Will, Values, And Personality

Frankl wrote about “The Will To Meaning” in one section of his “Logotherapy In A Nutshell.”  He explained that what he meant is what I would call the Meaning Principle as opposed to Freud’s Pleasure Principle.  The way he described it, the will to meaning is a deep existential need of meaning for man.  I think I could hardly disagree.  However, I am interested in some further considerations. I want to address the nature of will in relation to values, motivation, and meaning.  In addition I want to address the nature of will and meaning to personal identity or personality.  Ultimately I want to also address free will and its characteristics.  If I am right, this examination will clear up some deterministic nonsense as well as unify both philosophy and psychology.

What is the idea of will in general?  Most definitions seem to say that human will is that part of our mind which, using my terms, chooses and pursues values, from our own personality, rather than some external factor.  A specific motivation to pursue a specific value, say x, is often expressed as an intention or will to get x.   A useful contrast to this context is someone under duress.  The person is threatened by a negative value or harm from another person unless some dictate is followed.  We say that the person is not acting on their own free will.  Generally, such a distinction is used in relation to the will of others who impose their values on that person, in contrast to someone who says he has a will to fly, but gravity prevents it.  We would tend to view the would-be flyer as expressing his desire to fly in an eccentric way, rather than consider it the context for free will.

We also encounter issues of determinism when discussing actions in regard to morality.  The position held by determinists is that we are not truly free because the universe caused us, ultimately, to do anything and everything we do and therefore we do not have free will.  I will pick this topic up again, but now will discuss personality or the self as such.

In much of philosophy, a central question is: “Who Am I?”  One aspect of this question is to determine just how far “I” extend and what is or is not a part of me.  Who I am can be addressed as the way that can I be distinguished from everyone else.  It also is at issue when someone performs an act and we seek to determine just what or who is the cause of that act.  If we want to refer to what I am essentially, we can look at a number of possible answers, such as I am a male or I am an American, or I am an adult, or I am a computer programmer.  We could in fact deliver an endless stream of such answers and still be unsatisfied as to what constitutes a full answer to the question.

I think to settle on a final answer, we must say what we are in essentials.  I say that our birth place, our eye color, our job, or our family do not necessarily determine who we are essentially.  As Rand demonstrated in her groundbreaking “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” essence in fact is epistemological.  It is that description of one or more characteristics which best accounts for everything we know about some class of thing or existent  As a species, we are defined as rational animals.  As members of that species, we presume that definition of man as a broader category of who we are, but that is not to define us as individuals.

While we are concrete individuals, as conceptual beings, our concepts determine who we essentially are.  What concept or concepts determine most of what we do, where we go, how we communicate, what people think of us, and so forth.   I believe it boils down to what our highest meaningful values are, how those values are related to each other, and how we choose to pursue those values.  This is our character and it distinguishes us from all other human beings because no one has identical values and styles as integrated with our concrete existence.  This is who we are – our character.  The sum of our motivation within a moral system is our will and our values contain the meaning of our lives.

Now about determinism.  We might well make the point that, given different factors in our makeup, we might necessarily make different choices.  Does this invalidate our free will? Not at all.  A free will is one not under duress, but is the expression of our own values.  If we choose differently, then we have different values and therefore are actually different personalities.  In any eventuality, we express ourselves and we are beings of free will.

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Computer Geek and philosopher.
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