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Why is Free will an axiom?

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The original discussion by Ayn Rand (in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Chapter 6) held that the term "axiomatic" actually applies only to certain concepts, not to propositions. Propositions are reducible to concepts and, hence, are not axiomatic.

On further reflection (and review of what the literature of Objectivism actually says), I find that I must clarify and amend the above formulation. Ayn Rand's context in discussing axioms was always the specific axiomatic concepts of existence, identity and consciousness. Her discussions were published in Galt's Speech (Atlas Shrugged, 1957) and ITOE Chap. 6 (first published in 1966). Those discussions clearly were concerned specifically with existence, identity and consciousness. "The Objectivist Ethics" (first presented as a lecture in 1961) described the nature of volition and its position at the foundation of ethics, but not of epistemology. This was the basic state of the Objectivist literature throughout the entire period from 1957 up until the publication of OPAR in 1991 -- some 34 years.

With OPAR, however, there was a significant new development. OPAR discusses both axioms and axiomatic concepts (as in Ayn Rand's writings), and adds "the principle of volition" as "a philosophic axiom." OPAR explains exactly why volition is axiomatic, even though Ayn Rand herself never presented volition as an axiom in any published writing of hers that I know of. The preface to OPAR explains the relation of OPAR to Ayn Rand's published works as well as the many private discussions Dr. Peikoff had with her, emphasizing that OPAR is absolutely intended (scrupulously and conscientiously) to reflect Ayn Rand's philosophy as she understood it.

I now understand, therefore, that "axiomatic" does, indeed, apply to the proposition (principle) that man has free will, as explained in OPAR (Chap. 2), and this is not contrary in any way to the discussion of axiomatic concepts in ITOE Chap. 6. Axiomatic statements, propositions or principles are a separate topic from axiomatic concepts (though closely related, as in the case of existence, identity and consciousness). It also appears, if I understand the issues correctly, that "volition" as a concept is not axiomatic. What is axiomatic is the basic fact which the principle of volition names, i.e., the fact that man's consciousness is volitional. Volition (as an attribute of man's consciousness) is axiomatic mainly because one cannot deny it without relying on it; its axiomatic status is readily demonstrable in any attempt to deny it. However, "volition" as a concept is the choice to focus one's consciousness (or not). If I understand this correctly, "volition" as a concept is not an irreducible primary, but is reducible to the concepts of "choice" and "focus." (OPAR Chap. 2 describes the principle of volition as "a corollary of the axiom of consciousness.")

Note also (if anyone needs to be reminded) that "axiomatic" in Objectivism is not an arbitrary starting point. The claim that a proposition or concept is axiomatic requires validation, and (as part of the validation) is readily observable in any attempt to deny it.

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If these scientists are correct, and we have no free will, then (by their reasoning) their conclusions are not open to choice. They cannot choose to accept that what they think, is correct. That "choice" has already been determined for them according to pre-determined factors.

Validation of any theory requires that one is free to choose what evidence supports, or doesn't support conclusions.

Without free will, 'truth' ceases to exist, since one must be free to choose between the false and the truth.

All this aside, just as it is obvious that you don't have to prove you are alive, since proof requires one to be alive, so it is with free will. To prove it, requires it.

I don't think this is a good argument for free will. Our conclusions are not open to our choice. They result from a process of reasoning, from which we draw certain inferences based on our understanding of the evidence. One can no more understand the evidence and reject the conclusion than one can recognize the sum of two twos and refuse to believe that it is four.

One's understanding of the premises and their implications determines one's conclusion. One does not freely "choose" which evidence supports a given conclusion and which does not; one's recognizes which evidence supports it and which does not. Nor, after having made that recognition, does one decide whether or not to accept it. The recognition is the acceptance. Although one does choose to focus on and to think about a given issue, whether that choice is free or determined has no bearing on the validity or reliability of the conclusion to which it leads, which is affected only by one's understanding of the evidence and its implications. Therefore, I don't think that volition is axiomatic or that one cannot question or deny it without relying on it.

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I second bborg's question (and premise) about "coming to a decision."
First thing that occurred to me too.
An additional point can be important to emphasize in some contexts, also. There is a difference between the following two claims: (a) it is an axiom that man has free will, and (b ) "free will," i.e., volition, is an axiomatic primary concept. The original discussion by Ayn Rand (in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Chapter 6) held that the term "axiomatic" actually applies only to certain concepts, not to propositions. Propositions are reducible to concepts and, hence, are not axiomatic.

Are you saying that volition is a proposition and not a concept? A proposition must be a complete sentence. It has to have, at minimum, a noun and a verb, e.g. existence exists. Volition isn't a complete sentence, it's a noun, a concept, and it's axiomatic. So I don't see what else it can be aside from an axiomatic concept.

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I second bborg's question (and premise) about "coming to a decision."
First thing that occurred to me too.
An additional point can be important to emphasize in some contexts, also. There is a difference between the following two claims: (a) it is an axiom that man has free will, and (b ) "free will," i.e., volition, is an axiomatic primary concept. The original discussion by Ayn Rand (in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Chapter 6) held that the term "axiomatic" actually applies only to certain concepts, not to propositions. Propositions are reducible to concepts and, hence, are not axiomatic.

Are you saying that volition is a proposition and not a concept? A proposition must be a complete sentence. It has to have, at minimum, a noun and a verb, e.g. existence exists. Volition isn't a complete sentence, it's a noun, a concept, and it's axiomatic. So I don't see what else it can be aside from an axiomatic concept.

Apologies. Didn't get as far as the amendment, so let me read and think about that for a while.

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I think I see what is being said now, i.e.

'Man's consciousness is volitional' is an [implicit?] axiom, which is a corollary of the axiom 'consciousness is conscious.'

and

Volition is not an axiomatic concept, but is reducible to choice and focus.

Following is the entry on volition from the Glossary of Objectivist Definitions by Ayn Rand, with additional entries by Leonard Peikoff and Harry Binswanger. The bracketed marterial is part of the entry:

Man's volition is an attribute of his consciousness (of his rational faculty) and consists in the choice to perceive existence or to evade it.

[Axiomatic concept: not a definition.]

AR, "The Metaphysical vs. the Man-Made," PWNI, 25.

[same as "free will." See Free Will.]

The quotation, from "The Metaphysical vs. the Man-Made," in Philosophy: Who Needs It does say that volition is a choice to perceive (rather than focus), but then volition is stated to be an axiomatic concept.

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If these scientists are correct, and we have no free will, then (by their reasoning) their conclusions are not open to choice. They cannot choose to accept that what they think, is correct. That "choice" has already been determined for them according to pre-determined factors.

Validation of any theory requires that one is free to choose what evidence supports, or doesn't support conclusions.

Without free will, 'truth' ceases to exist, since one must be free to choose between the false and the truth.

All this aside, just as it is obvious that you don't have to prove you are alive, since proof requires one to be alive, so it is with free will. To prove it, requires it.

I don't think this is a good argument for free will. Our conclusions are not open to our choice. They result from a process of reasoning, from which we draw certain inferences based on our understanding of the evidence. One can no more understand the evidence and reject the conclusion than one can recognize the sum of two twos and refuse to believe that it is four.

One's understanding of the premises and their implications determines one's conclusion. One does not freely "choose" which evidence supports a given conclusion and which does not; one's recognizes which evidence supports it and which does not. Nor, after having made that recognition, does one decide whether or not to accept it. The recognition is the acceptance. Although one does choose to focus on and to think about a given issue, whether that choice is free or determined has no bearing on the validity or reliability of the conclusion to which it leads, which is affected only by one's understanding of the evidence and its implications. Therefore, I don't think that volition is axiomatic or that one cannot question or deny it without relying on it.

Your argument is rational, but I question it's premise, which is that knowledge is possible without volition. Reason is not determined.

Without the 'choice' to reason, one can never claim knowledge, since there is no way to validate it.

All "knowledge" would consist of determined conclusions that varied according the the particular individual.

How to arrive at the truth in this scenario of determined conclusion, involves choosing to question assumptions, data, reasoning etc.

Without 'choice' (volition), how does one resolve the determined conclusion that there is no free will, with the opposite 'determined' conclusion, that there is.

To consider:

Asking one to prove free will exists, makes the assumption that he may choose whether or not to do it.

To say that one cannot prove free will, implies that the claiment had no choice in that statement, and is not free to validate it.

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Our conclusions are not open to our choice. They result from a process of reasoning, from which we draw certain inferences based on our understanding of the evidence. One can no more understand the evidence and reject the conclusion than one can recognize the sum of two twos and refuse to believe that it is four.

One's understanding of the premises and their implications determines one's conclusion. One does not freely "choose" which evidence supports a given conclusion and which does not; one's recognizes which evidence supports it and which does not. Nor, after having made that recognition, does one decide whether or not to accept it. The recognition is the acceptance. Although one does choose to focus on and to think about a given issue, whether that choice is free or determined has no bearing on the validity or reliability of the conclusion to which it leads, which is affected only by one's understanding of the evidence and its implications. Therefore, I don't think that volition is axiomatic or that one cannot question or deny it without relying on it.

Your argument is rational, but I question it's premise, which is that knowledge is possible without volition. Reason is not determined.

Without the 'choice' to reason, one can never claim knowledge, since there is no way to validate it.

All "knowledge" would consist of determined conclusions that varied according the the particular individual.

How to arrive at the truth in this scenario of determined conclusion, involves choosing to question assumptions, data, reasoning etc.

Without 'choice' (volition), how does one resolve the determined conclusion that there is no free will, with the opposite 'determined' conclusion, that there is.

Reasoning is certainly a choice, but the choice does not have to be free in order for the reasoning to generate knowledge. For example, the choice to engage in a reasoning process could be determined by one's interest in a particular subject. If one's reasoning is valid, it will generate knowledge, regardless of whether the choice to initiate it is determined or free.

As for choosing to question one's assumptions, data, reasoning, etc., one must have a reason to do so. In other words, one must recognize grounds for doubting one's assumptions, data, reasoning, etc. Otherwise, there would be no basis for choosing to question them. The fact that two people who disagree about a given issue may see no reason to doubt their respective conclusions does not mean that both of their conclusions are therefore unsound or unreliable. One of their conclusions may be perfectly sound and reliable. The fact that the other person doesn't recognize it as such does not impugn its validity. Honest and irreconcilable disagreements are a fact of life. They do not necessarily imply intellectual dishonesty or even stupidity. They may simply indicate a well-meaning failure to understand the other person's argument or position.

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Reasoning is certainly a choice, but the choice does not have to be free in order for the reasoning to generate knowledge. For example, the choice to engage in a reasoning process could be determined by one's interest in a particular subject. If one's reasoning is valid, it will generate knowledge, regardless of whether the choice to initiate it is determined or free.

How does one have a "choice", if the outcome is determined? One simply becomes a machine operating at the command of forces beyond his choice. One then has no control over one's thoughts, because they arise in a determined manner. Control over one's thoughts is volitional, not determined.

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Reasoning is certainly a choice, but the choice does not have to be free in order for the reasoning to generate knowledge. For example, the choice to engage in a reasoning process could be determined by one's interest in a particular subject. If one's reasoning is valid, it will generate knowledge, regardless of whether the choice to initiate it is determined or free.

How does one have a "choice", if the outcome is determined? One simply becomes a machine operating at the command of forces beyond his choice. One then has no control over one's thoughts, because they arise in a determined manner. Control over one's thoughts is volitional, not determined.

The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama. Or suppose that one is taking a multiple-choice test in which a question has four possible answers, only one of which is correct. Since one knows the correct answer, one chooses it in preference to the alternatives, but one's choice is determined by one's knowledge of the correct answer and one's desire to pass the test.

Similarly, a person chooses to focus his mind, because he wants to know something, to understand it more clearly. In this respect as well, his choice is determined by his values, by his desire to grasp some aspect of reality. He has control over his thoughts, but it is determined by his cognitive goals and values. Volitional control is always exercised for the sake of some end or purpose, which the person is seeking to achieve. It is that purpose that determines its direction and outcome.

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Reasoning is certainly a choice, but the choice does not have to be free in order for the reasoning to generate knowledge. For example, the choice to engage in a reasoning process could be determined by one's interest in a particular subject. If one's reasoning is valid, it will generate knowledge, regardless of whether the choice to initiate it is determined or free.

How does one have a "choice", if the outcome is determined? One simply becomes a machine operating at the command of forces beyond his choice. One then has no control over one's thoughts, because they arise in a determined manner. Control over one's thoughts is volitional, not determined.

The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama. Or suppose that one is taking a multiple-choice test in which a question has four possible answers, only one of which is correct. Since one knows the correct answer, one chooses it in preference to the alternatives, but one's choice is determined by one's knowledge of the correct answer and one's desire to pass the test.

Similarly, a person chooses to focus his mind, because he wants to know something, to understand it more clearly. In this respect as well, his choice is determined by his values, by his desire to grasp some aspect of reality. He has control over his thoughts, but it is determined by his cognitive goals and values. Volitional control is always exercised for the sake of some end or purpose, which the person is seeking to achieve. It is that purpose that determines its direction and outcome.

One's values and purpose(s) had to be chosen, so I'm not sure I see the point here. And if you don't think that values and purposes are chosen, but determined by genes or God or something, then you're unlikely to see the truth and value of Objectivism, if or until you change your mind on this point.

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The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama.

What do you mean by "could not have voted for Obama"? Do you mean that, once the values were chosen, all subsequent decisions were outside of that individual's control?

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The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama.

What do you mean by "could not have voted for Obama"? Do you mean that, once the values were chosen, all subsequent decisions were outside of that individual's control?

I second the question. This is a a circular argument. Those values were chosen by experience of reality, what works, what doesn't, what leads to desired results, what doesn't. Values don't 'determine' the result. A great deal of contention and even some breaks of long-held friendships have resulted from the declared intention of some Objectivists to vote for a Democrat over a Republican, with the intent to remove support for what they believe to be a growing and dangerous religious influence on the Conservative side, while others have declared an intention to vote for whomever they judge to be the least worst or most beneficial, even if it is a matter of degrees of preference or disgust. In that scenario, such a person may already have decided to vote for Obama, hated or not, or against Obama. Any or all of these people may make their final decision in the polling booth. There are many issues; values inform, but do not dictate them.

Certainly it's true that the behavior of a person of strong, considered, and decided values may be predictable in certain cases, whether someone who hates Swiss cheese not ordering a Reuben sandwich, or a person afraid of heights taking a bus instead of an aerial tram. But, in the case of any rational individual, they may surprise you at any turn. The cheese-hater may decide to try the Reuben because someone convinces him 'melted cheese doesn't taste or smell like cheese;' the acrophobe may force himself to brave the tram as a first step to overcoming his fear.

It seems determinists can never be convinced (my own generalization which might prove false if the determinist changes his mind), because "If only one could enumerate all the facts that are being considered, all of the judgements previously made, the context of those judgements, then that persons decisions could be predicted." The speed of a falling rock on impact can be predicted with certainty if certain facts are known, height dropped and wind resistance (if a significant factor). More complex physical phenomena are more difficult to predict, but, with more knowledge or more control over the contextual parameters, they can be predicted more or less accurately.

Free will is a 'problem,' because a mind may be 'made up,' but it's a mind, and the owner of that mind can always reconsider, based on new information or new consideration of old information. In other words, no amount of enumeration can fully determine the actions of an individual. I'm leaving off the consideration of flatworms. It's possible that their behavior can be predicted, but I try to avoid them at parties because I find them extremely boring. They never say much of interest, even the academic ones, whose lives apparently revolve around avoiding electric shocks. Unburdened with a brain, I'd say they qualify as 'barely sentient' and, therefore, barely of consequence in the consideration of free will.

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The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama. .

But if you have a "choice", that means you CAN vote for Obama. One cannot have it both ways. Either you have a choice, or you are a robot responding to uncontrollable forces.

Why is it not considered more reasonable, based on your own inward looking, to see that WE control our minds, just as we control our limbs. When you raise your hand and wiggle your fingers, notice how, at will, you can shift your focus to any finger you choose. That finger is not chosen by uncontrollable forces, but your volition.

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The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama. .

But if you have a "choice", that means you CAN vote for Obama. One cannot have it both ways. Either you have a choice, or you are a robot responding to uncontrollable forces.

Why is it not considered more reasonable, based on your own inward looking, to see that WE control our minds, just as we control our limbs. When you raise your hand and wiggle your fingers, notice how, at will, you can shift your focus to any finger you choose. That finger is not chosen by uncontrollable forces, but your volition.

You have to be careful here and distinguish this view here from the Objectivist view of volition, which pertains to the choice to focus, to raise one's level of awareness to what is appropriate for the circustances, the choice to exercise reason. While the choice to move one's finger is not due to "uncontrollable forces" it is controlled by forces outside the movement of the finger: the electrical impulses from the brain and the contraction of muscles. While it is true that the movement may have been controlled by one's choice, the movement is determined by that choice. Once the choice to move your finger becomes a fact, you can not stop the movement of your finger. The same cannot be said about a volitional consciousness. There are no internal or external, uncontrollable or controllable forces that determine whether one focuses or not, whether one uses reason or not. A motivation to think, such as the desire to understand reality, is not a determinant force. One can choose to focus, and go out of focus the next instant; or one can choose not to act on one's focus. (For example, I have a physics test tomorrow but I am going out to the movies anyway.)

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The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama. .

But if you have a "choice", that means you CAN vote for Obama. One cannot have it both ways. Either you have a choice, or you are a robot responding to uncontrollable forces.

Why is it not considered more reasonable, based on your own inward looking, to see that WE control our minds, just as we control our limbs. When you raise your hand and wiggle your fingers, notice how, at will, you can shift your focus to any finger you choose. That finger is not chosen by uncontrollable forces, but your volition.

You have to be careful here and distinguish this view here from the Objectivist view of volition, which pertains to the choice to focus, to raise one's level of awareness to what is appropriate for the circustances, the choice to exercise reason. While the choice to move one's finger is not due to "uncontrollable forces" it is controlled by forces outside the movement of the finger: the electrical impulses from the brain and the contraction of muscles. While it is true that the movement may have been controlled by one's choice, the movement is determined by that choice. Once the choice to move your finger becomes a fact, you can not stop the movement of your finger. The same cannot be said about a volitional consciousness. There are no internal or external, uncontrollable or controllable forces that determine whether one focuses or not, whether one uses reason or not. A motivation to think, such as the desire to understand reality, is not a determinant force. One can choose to focus, and go out of focus the next instant; or one can choose not to act on one's focus. (For example, I have a physics test tomorrow but I am going out to the movies anyway.)

This may be a grammar/usage problem, but I'm not sure what you mean by saying that one can have a movement controlled by forces outside of the movement. A bodily movement is controlled by forces originating outside of that body part, e.g. the motion of my leg may originate in my conscious or subconscious mind, or it might originate from the doctor hitting below my knee while my mind remains uninvolved. Is that the kind of thing you're saying?

The Objectivist view of volition is that it's axiomatic, i.e. a self-evident primary -- not that any particular person will focus, or exercise his reason simply because men have volition (aside from someone in a coma). If you're saying that Objectivism says that man should focus and exercise reason, that's true; but then I guess I'm not clear about what that view is being distinguished from.

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The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama. .

But if you have a "choice", that means you CAN vote for Obama. One cannot have it both ways. Either you have a choice, or you are a robot responding to uncontrollable forces.

Why is it not considered more reasonable, based on your own inward looking, to see that WE control our minds, just as we control our limbs. When you raise your hand and wiggle your fingers, notice how, at will, you can shift your focus to any finger you choose. That finger is not chosen by uncontrollable forces, but your volition.

You have to be careful here and distinguish this view here from the Objectivist view of volition, which pertains to the choice to focus, to raise one's level of awareness to what is appropriate for the circustances, the choice to exercise reason. While the choice to move one's finger is not due to "uncontrollable forces" it is controlled by forces outside the movement of the finger: the electrical impulses from the brain and the contraction of muscles. While it is true that the movement may have been controlled by one's choice, the movement is determined by that choice. Once the choice to move your finger becomes a fact, you can not stop the movement of your finger. The same cannot be said about a volitional consciousness. There are no internal or external, uncontrollable or controllable forces that determine whether one focuses or not, whether one uses reason or not. A motivation to think, such as the desire to understand reality, is not a determinant force. One can choose to focus, and go out of focus the next instant; or one can choose not to act on one's focus. (For example, I have a physics test tomorrow but I am going out to the movies anyway.)

This may be a grammar/usage problem, but I'm not sure what you mean by saying that one can have a movement controlled by forces outside of the movement. A bodily movement is controlled by forces originating outside of that body part, e.g. the motion of my leg may originate in my conscious or subconscious mind, or it might originate from the doctor hitting below my knee while my mind remains uninvolved. Is that the kind of thing you're saying?

I'm not sure what you don't understand about my statement since you give an example of exactly what I said and meant. The muscles contracting in the finger are controlled by the electrical impulses from the brain to the muscles in the hand, which transfer movement to the finger. In the example under discussion, I was only referring to actions that result from the choice to make that motion, not to reflexes or involuntary movement.

The Objectivist view of volition is that it's axiomatic, i.e. a self-evident primary -- not that any particular person will focus, or exercise his reason simply because men have volition (aside from someone in a coma). If you're saying that Objectivism says that man should focus and exercise reason, that's true; but then I guess I'm not clear about what that view is being distinguished from.

Volition is regarded as axiomatic with respect to causality, but it is clearly dependent upon the axiomatic concept of consciousness, and specifically, man's consciousness. Technically, that would make volition a corollary. I am not saying that volition means that a person should focus, only that the person can focus, if he so chooses. I was distinguishing this view of volition from the movement of one's finger, which is determined by antecendent and external factors.

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Volition is regarded as axiomatic with respect to causality, but it is clearly dependent upon the axiomatic concept of consciousness, and specifically, man's consciousness. Technically, that would make volition a corollary. I am not saying that volition means that a person should focus, only that the person can focus, if he so chooses. I was distinguishing this view of volition from the movement of one's finger, which is determined by antecendent and external factors.

I care about what you mean to say, because you obviously take the trouble to think through the issues. But in order for me to understand you perfectly clearly in this instance, it would assist my effort if you could restate your concluding sentence to say that you were "distinguishing X view of volition [and restate that view] from Y view of volition [and restate that view]." I won't take it too hard if you don't want to do that, but I think that seeing it written in that form would help me to understand you clearly.

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Volition is regarded as axiomatic with respect to causality, but it is clearly dependent upon the axiomatic concept of consciousness, and specifically, man's consciousness. Technically, that would make volition a corollary. I am not saying that volition means that a person should focus, only that the person can focus, if he so chooses. I was distinguishing this view of volition from the movement of one's finger, which is determined by antecendent and external factors.

I care about what you mean to say, because you obviously take the trouble to think through the issues. But in order for me to understand you perfectly clearly in this instance, it would assist my effort if you could restate your concluding sentence to say that you were "distinguishing X view of volition [and restate that view] from Y view of volition [and restate that view]." I won't take it too hard if you don't want to do that, but I think that seeing it written in that form would help me to understand you clearly.

Let's see if this helps. Here's the two views.

Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. It is a faculty that man has to exercise by choice. Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

In Post 38, Arnold states,

Why is it not considered more reasonable, based on your own inward looking, to see that WE control our minds, just as we control our limbs. When you raise your hand and wiggle your fingers, notice how, at will, you can shift your focus to any finger you choose. That finger is not chosen by uncontrollable forces, but your volition.

I wanted to distinguish "choosing to use reason" from "choosing to move your finger". A monkey can move his finger; an octopus can move its tentacle. But they are not using volition to make such movement. Self-control of one's mind is different than self-control of one's body. For humans, the latter comes first and then the second can be explained as an element of volition. Without the volitional aspect of reason, the volitional aspect of finger movement would not be there.

I am not denying that volition plays a role in man's physical actions.

The faculty of volition operates in regard to the two fundamental aspects of man’s life: consciousness and existence, i.e., his psychological action and his existential action, i.e., the formation of his own character and the course of action he pursues in the physical world.

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Let's see if this helps. Here's the two views.
Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. It is a faculty that man has to exercise by choice. Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

In Post 38, Arnold states,

Why is it not considered more reasonable, based on your own inward looking, to see that WE control our minds, just as we control our limbs. When you raise your hand and wiggle your fingers, notice how, at will, you can shift your focus to any finger you choose. That finger is not chosen by uncontrollable forces, but your volition.

I wanted to distinguish "choosing to use reason" from "choosing to move your finger". A monkey can move his finger; an octopus can move its tentacle. But they are not using volition to make such movement. Self-control of one's mind is different than self-control of one's body. For humans, the latter comes first and then the second can be explained as an element of volition. Without the volitional aspect of reason, the volitional aspect of finger movement would not be there.

I am not denying that volition plays a role in man's physical actions.

The faculty of volition operates in regard to the two fundamental aspects of man’s life: consciousness and existence, i.e., his psychological action and his existential action, i.e., the formation of his own character and the course of action he pursues in the physical world.
Although volition is necessary for man to focus his consciousness and exercise his reason, volition is not sufficient for that task; which also requires having a conscious purpose and the possession of specific abilities, depending upon the nature and purpose of the task for which reason is exercised.

I see the final quote as most relevant to this discussion, and would say that volition is the correct term for any self-initiated action made by man; from a baby grasping a toy, to a woman pulling a child out of the street, when she sees a car coming from far away, to a scientist writing up his findings. In each case the individual is acting volitionally; and, not incidentally, moves his fingers in each individual case, as required for his purpose.

An non-human animal's self-initiated actions, from a plant growing toward the sun, to a monkey grooming another monkey; are part of the wider concept of goal-directedness, which applies to all organisms. Volition is a type of goal-directedness that is applicable only to human, self-initiated action. Thanks to Harry Binswanger's The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts for my understanding of goal-directedness as the wider concept to which volition belongs (any errors in my understanding of this being my own of course).

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An [sic] non-human animal's self-initiated actions, from a plant growing toward the sun, to a monkey grooming another monkey; are part of the wider concept of goal-directedness, which applies to all organisms. Volition is a type of goal-directedness that is applicable only to human, self-initiated action. Thanks to Harry Binswanger's The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts for my understanding of goal-directedness as the wider concept to which volition belongs (any errors in my understanding of this being my own of course).

This is an error, of memory and (presumably) of understanding as well. The discussion in H.B.'s book is about goal-directed action as the wider category of action, (not a wider concept) and purposeful action belongs to that wider category, but volition per se, as an axiomatic concept, does not. Perhaps purposeful action and volitional action are the same - but I have not thought about this yet, and offhand, doubt that it is so.

I can say that since the concept of volition is axiomatic, it couldn't be part of any wider concept that was not itself axiomatic, as 'entity' is axiomatic and subsumed by the wider concept of 'existence' which is also axiomatic. Volitional action might be related somehow, but I'm not sure yet exactly what this all means in regard to this discussion, aside from the obvious fact that I need to do more thinking on the subject.

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... but I'm not sure yet exactly what this all means in regard to this discussion, aside from the obvious fact that I need to do more thinking on the subject.

I agree, especially if you think that "volition is the correct term for any self-initiated action made by man." That is certainly not consistent with Objectivism, in my understanding of it.

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... but I'm not sure yet exactly what this all means in regard to this discussion, aside from the obvious fact that I need to do more thinking on the subject.

I agree, especially if you think that "volition is the correct term for any self-initiated action made by man." That is certainly not consistent with Objectivism, in my understanding of it.

Actually, this is not a view that I have given up yet, as I do not see an alternative to it that I can understand, nor do I see how my statement that 'volition is the correct term for any self-initiated action made by man," is necessarily false and inconsistent with Objectivism. I cannot see an error there. So for now, I agree with my first two paragraphs, and am only certain that I made an error in the third, i.e. I no longer see any specific connection of my first points with the discussion in H.B.'s book.

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... but I'm not sure yet exactly what this all means in regard to this discussion, aside from the obvious fact that I need to do more thinking on the subject.

I agree, especially if you think that "volition is the correct term for any self-initiated action made by man." That is certainly not consistent with Objectivism, in my understanding of it.

Actually, this is not a view that I have given up yet, as I do not see an alternative to it that I can understand, nor do I see how my statement that 'volition is the correct term for any self-initiated action made by man," is necessarily false and inconsistent with Objectivism. I cannot see an error there. So for now, I agree with my first two paragraphs, and am only certain that I made an error in the third, i.e. I no longer see any specific connection of my first points with the discussion in H.B.'s book.

And I still agree with the first sentence of my original third paragraph as amended: "A non-human organism's self-initiated actions, from a plant growing toward the sun, to a monkey grooming another monkey; are part of the wider category of goal-directed action, which applies to all organisms." And the point of this, is that I see a distinction between any self-initiated action taken by man and any self-initiated action take by a non-human organism.

The difference is the context of the possession of a conceptual faculty, regardless of whether man consciously exercises his conceptual faculty in any given instance of self-directed action. His mind contains a conceptual background which, sometimes by means of his subconscious, informs his self-initiated actions in a way that the self-initiated action of no other organism can possibly be informed.

It is this conceptual context of knowledge that, as far as I can see, is the sole, but critical distinction between even the least of man's self-initiated actions and those of any other organism. For this reason I still consider man's self-initiated action as a correct description of volition, if or until I find some contradiction to reality in this, which I currently do not see.

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I wanted to distinguish "choosing to use reason" from "choosing to move your finger". A monkey can move his finger; an octopus can move its tentacle. But they are not using volition to make such movement. Self-control of one's mind is different than self-control of one's body. For humans, the latter comes first and then the second can be explained as an element of volition. Without the volitional aspect of reason, the volitional aspect of finger movement would not be there.

Did you mean here, "For humans, the former comes first"?

I confess I'm confused about this distinction also. You said that your definition of volition distinguishes between "choosing to use reason" and "choosing to move your finger", but then mention "the volitional aspect of finger movement". What aspect is that?

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... but I'm not sure yet exactly what this all means in regard to this discussion, aside from the obvious fact that I need to do more thinking on the subject.

I agree, especially if you think that "volition is the correct term for any self-initiated action made by man." That is certainly not consistent with Objectivism, in my understanding of it.

Actually, this is not a view that I have given up yet, as I do not see an alternative to it that I can understand, nor do I see how my statement that 'volition is the correct term for any self-initiated action made by man," is necessarily false and inconsistent with Objectivism. I cannot see an error there. So for now, I agree with my first two paragraphs, and am only certain that I made an error in the third, i.e. I no longer see any specific connection of my first points with the discussion in H.B.'s book.

And I still agree with the first sentence of my original third paragraph as amended: "A non-human organism's self-initiated actions, from a plant growing toward the sun, to a monkey grooming another monkey; are part of the wider category of goal-directed action, which applies to all organisms." And the point of this, is that I see a distinction between any self-initiated action taken by man and any self-initiated action take by a non-human organism.

The difference is the context of the possession of a conceptual faculty, regardless of whether man consciously exercises his conceptual faculty in any given instance of self-directed action. His mind contains a conceptual background which, sometimes by means of his subconscious, informs his self-initiated actions in a way that the self-initiated action of no other organism can possibly be informed.

It is this conceptual context of knowledge that, as far as I can see, is the sole, but critical distinction between even the least of man's self-initiated actions and those of any other organism. For this reason I still consider man's self-initiated action as a correct description of volition, if or until I find some contradiction to reality in this, which I currently do not see.

If volition is the choice to focus or not, the choice to use reason or not, then how does choosing to move one's finger fit under the concept of volition?

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