Ascent To Volitional Consciousness


(Originally appeared in Objectivity, Volume 1, Number 2)


by John Enright


    I would like to begin with a basic sketch of my argument,

so that its structure stands out clearly.  I will then return

and review my steps, attempting to place each one in its proper

context of intellectual controversy.


                  I. Basic Argument


    An animal -- a dog, a cat, even a fly -- has a kind of



    This awareness guides the animal's action.


    A fly uses its sense of smell to find food.  A fly uses its

sense of sight to avoid my swats.


    An animal -- a bird, a fish, even an earthworm -- is

equipped to travel under its own power, under its own



    A moving animal selects among possible courses -- it

navigates -- and its awareness is its navigator.


    A nightcrawler, as it burrows through the earth, constantly

determines which way to go next.


    An animal's actions are limited by its range of awareness.


    A dog's actions with regard to doorknobs are severely

limited by the fact that a dog cannot figure out how the darn

things work.  After all, a large dog is physically capable of

clamping its teeth on the doorknob and giving it a turn and a

pull.  But such a course of action never occurs to a dog --even

after it has watched humans pull the same stunt over and over

again.  The dog will push the door, bark at the door, scratch

at the door, and maybe try to dig under the door.  But it will

not solve the riddle of the doorknob.


    Higher animals often pause to contemplate the possibilities

placed before them.  A cheetah lurks in the bush and studies

the herd of antelope on the plain.  It identifies which of its

potential prey aren't moving very well -- which ones are sick,

lame, or very young.  It picks just one, and then it attacks.


    As humans, we routinely contemplate possibilities beyond

any other animal's awareness.  We do it with concepts -- a

fancy mental trick which involves giving names to abstractions

and imagining them as things.  A trick, with big consequences,

that no other species can follow.


    As humans, we are self-aware.


    An ape may be sufficiently self-aware to know, when it

looks in the mirror, that it is looking at its own image.


    It can be aware of itself as a body.  But as humans we are

aware of our own awareness, aware of ourselves as minds.

Again, we do it with concepts, fixing the whirling patterns of

our mental processes with names and definitions.


    As humans, we are aware of our own habits.  All animals

form habits.  Habits are formed, after all, simply by selecting

some sort of action repeatedly, over time.  But no other animal

is capable of understanding this process or its implications.


    A dog may form habits analogous to human cowardice, but it

will never be aware of the process by which it happened.  It

may still be aware, when it encounters an enemy, that fighting

is one of its options.  Indeed, if it has nowhere to run, it

may still choose to fight, and this may in turn be the

beginning of a new habit.  But a dog will never grasp the

overall pattern.


    As humans, we are capable of grasping our own intellectual

habits, capable of grasping their crucial importance to our

well-being, and capable of changing them.


    A dog, in its way, has something akin to human intellectual

habits.  A dog can be habitually alert, or habitually oblivious

to its surroundings.  A dog can be trained, to some extent, to

either attitude -- trained by presenting it with situations in

which one or the other attitude is rewarded.  If the dog acts

as the trainer wishes, the dog will change its habits in the

direction the trainer desires.  In so doing, the dog will be

shaping its own habitual level of mental alertness.  But the

dog will never be aware of doing so.


    Does this mean that dogs have free will?


    Well, I think they have something.  Their awareness detects

alternatives and selects actions.  An awareness that couldn't

do this, that was just along for the ride as an observant

passenger, would be an awareness without survival value.


   Compared to our own wide-ranging and reflective powers of

choice, a dog's power to choose is profoundly constrained.  So

the term "free choice" does not seem to fit.  But a dog's

choices do seem freer than those available to a flat-worm.


    It is not so much that other animals are un-free.  Rather,

we have far more freedom than any other animal could dream of.


    Human beings face many choices.  Among these, is the choice

of whether or not to think -- whether or not to apply and

cultivate one's cognitive capabilities.


    Is this choice different than other choices?


    In some ways yes.  It is a more important choice than most

others, and it is a choice that expands or curtails our own

future range of choices.


    Choosing whether to think is important because thinking is

the key to human survival.  This puts it on a par, long-term,

with choosing whether to stay alive.


    Choosing whether to think expands or curtails our future

range of choices by expanding or curtailing our awareness of

available alternatives.  The man of practiced intelligence sees

possibilities that are not apparent to the man of stagnant



    We have arrived, please note, at a theory of man as a being

of volitional consciousness, with some simplifying explanations

in hand.


    The power of volition is derived from the power of

concepts.  As concepts expand man's range of awareness they

expand his range of choice.  As concepts of consciousness allow

a man to reflect on the workings of his own soul, he gains new

control over that soul.


    The primacy of the choice to think is derived from its

peculiar impact on man's awareness of alternatives.  Expanded

awareness means expanded power of choice and expanded chance of



    These explanations account for qualitative differences in

somewhat quantitative terms.  Nonetheless, I do not mean to

belittle these differences.  Mortimer Adler was wrong to

hold that human freedom and dignity must depend on a difference

that is inexplicable in terms of degree. (Adler, 3-18)  As

Stephen Boydstun recently put it in these pages, "Quantity

makes all the difference in the world." (Boydstun, 21)



               II.  Reviewing The Steps


    Let us go back over the steps now, exploring the arguments,

and evidence, along the way.


    Step 1 : Animals have a kind of awareness, which guides

their actions, particularly their locomotion.


    I use the term awareness here, in my opening statement,

in preference to the term consciousness.  In ordinary usage,

the two terms are nearly synonymous, with various subtle

differences (Dennett 114-131) but in academic usage

consciousness seems to carry more connotation of self-

consciousness, which is precisely what I do not wish to

attribute to animals.


    Among philosophers, this has been a matter of dispute since

Descartes.  The Cartesian case against animal awareness depends

on the premise that true awareness requires a capacity to

reflect upon its own contents.  This case can plausibly be made

by asking whether a cat is ever conscious of seeing a ball.

The Cartesians answer that there is some sense in which it

sees, but no sense in which it is conscious of seeing, and

hence that it is not properly conscious. (Radner and Radner,



Writing to Plempius for Fromondus (3 October 1637),

Descartes criticizes the latter for supposing "that I think

that animals see just as we do, i.e. feeling or thinking

that they see."  It should be evident from the Discourse

"that my view is that animals do not see as we do when we

are aware that we see, but only as we do when our mind is

elsewhere.  In such a case the images of external objects

are depicted on our retinas, and perhaps the impressions

they leave in the optic nerves cause our limbs to make

various movements, although we are quite unaware of them.

In such a case we too move just like automata..."

(Radner and Radner, 64, quoting Descartes, 1970, 36)


Descartes defines "thought" in the Principles and in the

Second Replies to the Meditations.  In both places the

definition is followed by a list of the  sorts of

operations that count as thinking. Here is the passage from

the first part of the Principles: "By the term thought I

understand all those things which, we being conscious,

occur in us, insofar as the consciousness of them is in us.

So not only understanding, willing and imagining, but also

sensing, are the same here as thinking"....  He puts it

thus in the Second Replies: "Thought is a word that covers

everything that exists in us in such a way that we are

immediately conscious of it.  Thus all the operations of

will, intellect, imagination, and the senses are thoughts"

(Radner and Radner, 22, quoting Descartes 1978, 179 and

Descartes 1955, 222)


    Awareness, for Descartes, is thus very much an all-or-

nothing phenomena.  Either one is aware in a fully human, fully

focused way, or one is simply an automaton -- a machine.  This

seems to follow from his metaphysical program, which posits

mind as a distinct substance, the typical activity of which is

the contemplation of its own ideas.  If animals do not have the

capacity to contemplate innate ideas, then they are not

possessed by mind.  But if they are not possessed by mind, then

they must be regarded as purely mechanical beings.


    In philosophy, the discussion has focused on whether

animals are conscious in the way humans are.  In psychology, on

the other hand, there has been a tendency to assume that animal

capacities are very much like ours, but to question whether

there really was such a thing as consciousness, or whether it

played any significant role in behavior.


    One early turning point in this debate arose from the study

of rats in mazes.  E.C. Tolman, who classified himself as a

behaviorist, proposed in 1932 that rats possess "cognitive

maps" that enable them to find their way about experimental

mazes as well as they do.  Clark Hull, a stricter behaviorist,

proposed a competing theory of "habit family hierarchies."

Over the years, as more experiments were done, the "cognitive

maps" theory emerged as much the simpler explanation.  (Walker,

79-81)  One physical substrate of the map has been located in

the brain: the firing pattern of hippocampal neurons faithfully

record, topographically, the animal's position in its

environment (O'Keefe and Nadel, 1978).


    Still, it is not an accepted idea that an animal's

awareness guides its actions.  Indeed, in the world of academic

psychology, it is not readily granted that human awareness

guides human action.  According to Walker, "Shallice (1972) has

provided one of the few theories which identify consciousness

with a distinct behaviour-controlling function in addition to

functions related to speech: the selection of actions."

(Walker, 384).


    It is accepted that sensory input and cognitive mapping

guide an animal's action.  What is at issue is whether sensory

input and cognitive mapping deserve to be described as forms of

consciousness.  In an odd twist of contemporary semantics,

"Cognitive psychology has rehabilitated mind but not

consciousness." (Radner and Radner, 9)  Jackendoff, for example

maintains "the Hypothesis of the Nonefficacy of Consciousness"

(Jackendoff, 25).  Klatzky, on the other hand, approvingly

cites James' view "that consciousness was 'efficacious' by

virtue of its being a 'selecting agency.'" (Klatzky, 138)


    My own usage follows the Aristotelian tradition, which

seems less confusing.  "...Aristotle's notion of consciousness

covers all the higher animals, that is, all the animals

possessing the full contingent of five senses, phantasia, and

memory." (Modrak, 151)  (Phantasia is typically translated as



    Emphasis on locomotion, as a major feature of animal

nature, also goes back to Aristotle.


Hence we must consider that in On The Soul II (413b 10) he

established four levels of living things.  The first are

those which have merely the nutritive part of the soul by

which they live, such as, e.g., plants.  Others, beside

this, also have sensation, but without progressive motion,

as is true of the imperfect animals, e.g., shellfish.

Still others possess progressive locomotion, as do the

perfect animals, e.g., the horse and the cow.  Yet others

have intellect also, e.g., men. (Aquinas 1972, 228,

Commentary on Sensation, I, lect. 1)


    This emphasis persists in contemporary thinking:


Trees and shrubs are nonmotile and many rely on seed

dispersal for their continued successful existence.

Animals disperse by their own locomotion, be it walking,

swimming, or flying.  But this power of movement does more

than provide a mechanism of dispersal:  it also provides

them with numerous other advantages.  They can forage,

chase prey, run away from predators; they can move away

from the sun when it is too hot, and move into it when they

are chilled.  (Bonner, 68)


    From a modern perspective, it is worth noting that

immobility is not simply an imperfection.  The sessile animals

evolved from mobile ancestors, demonstrating that there are

some circumstances in which a plant-like existence of passive

feeding affords greater odds of survival than the energetic

activity of locomotion.  (Bonner, 68-71).


    The use of the navigator metaphor for awareness is not

meant to suggest the sort of physical independence that exists

between a ship and its navigator.  It is meant here to indicate

a tight relationship between awareness and action, not a loose

relationship between mind and body.  Its ancestry on the mind-

body problem goes back at least to "the notorious pilot passage

(De An. 413a8-9)" (Modrak, 42; citing Aristotle, 556)


    Navigation, one of the most basic functions of awareness,

is not a one-time choice between two simple alternatives.  It

is an ongoing process of route-selection confronting a three-

dimensional world.  Paradigms of choice that focus narrowly on

single forks in the road, risk losing touch with the sheer

variety of alternatives that typically confront an animal.


    Step 2 : An animal's actions are limited by its range of



    In a sense, this is simply the negative side of Bacon's

dictum that "knowledge is power."  Lack of knowledge is also

lack of power.  The notion of "range of awareness" is taken

here from Rand (Rand 1990, 63, 31-37).


    This point isn't usually put quite this way, especially as

it concerns animals.


    More typically, it is simply observed that animals "act

stupid."  Thorndike, one of the founders of experimental animal

psychology, strongly favored this view:


Thorndike's PhD thesis was published in 1898, under the

title of Animal Intelligence ...  Although he adopted the

conventional title for his thesis, he pointed out that

previous authors had paid much more attention to animal

intelligence than to animal stupidity.  Thorndike's tone

throughout is that of a man who is going to remedy this

omission.  (Walker, 61)


    The example of dogs and doorknobs was taken from a cartoon

with the following caption:  "Knowing how it could change the

lives of canines everywhere, the dog scientists struggled

diligently to understand the Doorknob Principle." (Larson)


    Step 3 : Higher animals contemplate possibilities.


    I take the cheetah example from repeated viewings of

wildlife shows on television.


    In written accounts, the emphasis is often on cognition

rather than selection.  For example:  "Predators also monitor

the behavior of potential prey.  Hyenas are especially alert

for slight differences in an individual's locomotion or other

behavior that may indicate that it is vulnerable and can be

captured more easily." (Griffin, 82)


    The connection between cognition and selection is most

likely to be noted in an evolutionary context:


The evolving cortex expressed another important trend, a

greater and greater stress on inhibition, on the art of not

doing things.  This is implicit in the multiplicity of

alternatives confronting advanced species.  Choosing a

course of action demands the ruling out of many

possibilities.  (Pfeiffer, 40)


    In portraying animals as contemplating possibilities, I

pass over a number of controversies:


It seems a safe enough assumption that this process of

deliberation has no point unless the situation confronting

the deliberator is in some sense "open" - that is, unless

there are genuine alternative possibilities.  What, then,

are we to make of this notion of 'genuine possibilities?'

Philosophers can be bothered on two scores when confronted

with this notion.  Some believe that there are no

contingencies in nature because everything that happens has

a necessitating cause.  Others believe that everything

which exists is a concrete actuality, and that the notion

of a "possibility" is an abstract idea which should be

eliminated."  (Morgenbesser and Walsh, 2-3)



    Of course, possibility cannot be merely an abstract idea if

it is true that possibilities are contemplated by animals that

lack the capacity for grasping abstract ideas.  The study of

animal cognition is a corrective for some philosophical errors.

(Bartley 1987b, 7-45)  Darwin went so far as to say that "He

who understands a baboon would do more toward metaphysics than

Locke." (quoted at Bartley 1987b, 7)


    Some philosophers have denied that animals can make

judgments about what did happen in the past (Bennett, 116), or

about what might happen in the future (Heil, 205-210).  The

sense in which they do make such judgments can be brought out

by borrowing from Leibniz:  "For instance, if we show dogs a

stick, they remember the pain it has caused them and whine and

run."  (Leibniz, quoted by Copleston, 315)  There is a strong

sense in which such dogs are judging both that they have been

hit in the past, and that they might be hit in the very near

future.  Of course, we should not exaggerate here, but the dog

seems to be capable of a little more than "here now stick

(ouch!)," which is the sort of representation suggested by Rand

of animal mentality (Rand 1990, 57).  It's mentality would be

more accurately captured by "Here now stick.  Hit before, ouch!

Maybe hit again!"  I include the maybe, which is a kind of

modal expression, to indicate the animal's ability to react

differently according to what the behaviorists termed different

frequencies of reinforcement.  A dog, for instance, reacts

differently to the man with the stick depending upon whether

the man always hits him or only occasionally hits him with the

stick.  In the latter case, the dog may simply become more

wary, but not immediately flee the scene.


    The issue of necessitating causes, and how they coexist

with genuine alternatives, is a very broad one.  In recent

years, the case for the existence of genuine alternatives has

been reviewed at some length by Antony Flew, who concludes that

"the thesis of universal physical determinism could not even be

understood by anyone who had not, in their own experience of

agency, had reason to know that it is false." (Flew & Vesey,



    Step 4 : Concepts - abstractions reified by symbols -- open

a vast set of possibilities for humans.


    In drawing this line, on these terms, we are very close to

the views of John Locke:


The "perfect distinction" between man and beast in Locke's

theory lies in the faculty of abstraction, which is tied to

the use of words to represent ideas...  In order to prevent

the growth of an endless list of names for all particular

ideas, the mind extracts general features from specific

ideas, which serve to identify mental representations of

things independently of real existence.  The mind then

gives general names to these general features -- 'and thus

universals, whether ideas or terms, are made.' (Walker, 23-

24; citing Locke, 206-208)


    Ayn Rand's account of concept-formation runs along similar

lines, but lays more stress on the quantitative power of

extending a naturally limited range of awareness:


Since consciousness is a specific faculty, it has a

specific nature or identity and, therefore, its range is

limited: it cannot perceive everything at once... The

essence, therefore, of man's incomparable cognitive power

is the ability to reduce a vast amount of information to a

minimal number of units --which is the task performed by

his conceptual faculty...  A concept substitutes one symbol

(one word) for the enormity of the perceptual aggregate of

the concretes it subsumes.  (Rand 1990, 63-64)


    Walker focuses on the human brain's ability to make such a

substitution, and sees it as an extension of the animal brain's

general ability to internally map the world:


We can say then that the human and non-human species may in

the first place perceive and remember, without the

assistance of language, in a roughly similar way.  In

addition we humans may perceive, remember and reproduce

words, instead of things.  It is important that words can

serve as labels for things, but perhaps even more important

that words become alternatives to things, so that we

perceive and remember relationships between words, as if

the words were themselves things.  According to this view

the human brain is able to accommodate mental organisation

in the form of relationships between and within perceptual

schemata.  Language can be internalised in the human brain

because the vertebrate brain in general and the mammalian

brain in particular serves to construct internal

representations as a means of adapting to external

realities.  (Walker, 381)


     Step 5 : Humans are far more self-aware than any other



    Here is what our closest relatives can do:


Gallup (1977) has conducted ingenious experiments in which

chimpanzees are first given an opportunity to familiarize

themselves with mirrors and then, when they are under deep

anesthesia, their foreheads or ear lobes are marked with a

conspicuous spot of rouge or similar material.  Chimpanzees

lacking experience with mirrors pay no attention to such

marks, but those that are accustomed to looking at

themselves in mirrors reach directly for the new spot.

This seems clear evidence that they recognize the mirror

image as representing their own bodies.  Efforts to induce

monkeys and even gibbons to use mirrors in this way have so

far failed consistently, and Gallup concludes that only the

great apes share with us the capacity for self-awareness.

(Griffin, 74-75)


    Of course, the great apes share other distinctive mental

abilities with us, including very notably the ability to use

tools (van Lawick-Goodall 283-286), the ability to devise

constructive solutions to physical problems (Kohler 99-172),

and the ability to communicate using abstract symbols to stand

for categories (Premack and Premack 15-34).  These abilities

are small compared to our own.  The "tools" used by chimps in

the wild, discussed by van Lawick-Goodall, consist of such

things as sticks, stones, and leaves.  The "constructive

solutions" which chimps discovered in Kohler's classic

experiments, consisted of such breakthroughs as boxes piled up

to reach bananas.  The "abstract symbols standing for

categories" which the Premacks taught to their chimps consisted

of using a blue plastic triangle to stand for "apple."  These

are vast accomplishments compared to what the rest of the

animal kingdom can do.


So far, however, no chimpanzee has succeeded in using one

tool to make another.  Even with tuition one chimpanzee,

the subject of exhaustive tests, was not able to use a

stone hand ax to break a piece of wood into splinters

suitable for obtaining food from a narrow pipe.  She could

do this when the material was suitable for her to break off

pieces with her teeth but, although she was shown how to

use the hand ax on tougher wood many times, she never even

attempted to make use of it when trying to solve the

problem. (van Lawick-Goodall, 245)


    This particular inability corresponds with their inability

to grasp what Rand describes as "abstractions from

abstractions."  The correspondence seems particularly direct if

we view abstractions as a kind of mental tool.


    Lest the ability to use a blue triangle as a symbol for

apple seem unimpressive, consider the plight of the parrot,

whose purely vocal abilities are probably superior to our own:


Not even the cleverest "talking" birds which, as we have

seen, are certainly capable of connecting their sound-

expressions with particular occurrences, learn to make

practical use of their powers, to achieve purposefully

even the simplest object.  Professor Koehler, who can

boast of the greatest successes in the science of

training animals, and who succeeded in teaching pigeons

to count up to six, tried to teach the above-mentioned,

talented grey parrot "Geier" to say "food" when he was

hungry and "water" when he was dry.  This attempt did not

succeed, nor, so far, has it been achieved by anybody

else.  In itself, the failure is remarkable." Lorenz,



     Human language is of another order completely, and plays

a vital role in human self-understanding:


    ...human descriptive language differs from all animal

language  in being also argumentative, and that is human

argumentative language which makes criticism possible, and

with it science.

    There is a world of difference between holding a

belief, or expecting something, and using human language to

say so.  The difference is that only if spoken out, and

thus objectivized, does a belief become criticizable.

Before it is formulated in language, I may be one with my

belief: the belief is part of my acting, part of my

behavior.  If formulated, it may be criticized and found to

erroneous; in which case I may be able to discard it.

(Popper, 120)


    Once one has acquired descriptive language, one becomes not

    only a subject but also an object for oneself: an object

    about which one can reflect, which one may criticize and

    change. (Bartley, 437a)


    The question has been raised whether self-awareness, in the

human sense, depends on concepts or vice-versa.  Perhaps the

relationship should be viewed as reciprocal.  On the one hand,

any sophisticated self-understanding requires the use of

conceptual categories.  On the other hand, the use of concepts

is a use of "mental entities," and our ability to focus on them

in the first place is itself a kind of inward attending.


    When we describe our own mental processes, we typically

do so in terms suggesting a kind of "inner space":


Subjective conscious mind is an analog of what is called

the real world.  It is built up with a vocabulary or

lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of

behavior in the physical world....


Consider the language we use to describe conscious

processes.  The most prominent group of words used to

describe mental events are visual.  We 'see' solutions to

problems, the best of which may be 'brilliant', and the

person 'brighter' and 'clear-headed'...  These words are

all metaphors and the mind-space to which they apply is a

metaphor of actual space.  In it we can 'approach' a

problem, perhaps from some 'viewpoint', and 'grapple' with

its difficulties, or seize together and 'com-prehend' parts

of a problem, and so on, using metaphors of behavior to

invent things to do in this metaphored mind-space. (Jaynes,



    Thus, we take our ability to map the world, and map

ourselves in linguistic terms of an inner world.


    Recently, cognitive psychologists have focused on the fact

that self-understanding is always framed in terms of some

theory of human psychology, and that such understanding it is

not immune to error.  (Churchland, 73-81)


The point of all this, for our purposes, is as follows.  At

life's opening. the mind/brain finds itself as confusing

and unintelligible as it finds the external world...  It

must set about to learn the structure and activities of its

inner states no less than it must set about to learn the

structure and activities of the external world.  With time,

it does learn about itself, but through a process of

conceptual development and learned discrimination that

parallels exactly the process by which it apprehends the

world outside of it.  (Churchland, 80)



    Ayn Rand offered the opinion that introspection was

actually more susceptible to error than awareness of the

external world:


If men identified introspectively their inner states one

tenth as correctly as they identify objective reality, we

would be a race of ideal giants. (Rand 1990 227)


    This view of introspection as inductive and error-prone

stands in sharp contrast to an older view:


The view that the mind knows itself first, in a unique way,

and far better than it can ever know the external world,

has dominated Western thought for over three centuries.

(Churchland 76)


    This kind of "primacy of consciousness" is the starting

point of Descartes, who treated self-awareness as the necessary

base for all awareness.  This pointed the way to his conclusion

that animals lack all awareness.


    Ayn Rand, on the other hand, was ready to grant animals a

form of consciousness that did not involve concepts or self-



The whole difference between a human type of

consciousness and an animal is exactly this.  The

ability to be self-conscious and to identify the fact

of one's own consciousness, one's "I."  And then to

apply introspection to the processes of one's own

consciousness and check them. (Rand 1990 255-256)


The simplest way to begin an answer is to point out

that animals, who do perceive reality or existence,

have absolutely no concept of their own consciousness.

The enormous distinction between man and animals here

is self-consciousness.  An animal does not have the

capacity to isolate critically the fact that there is

something and he is conscious of it. (Rand 1990 246)


    Step 6 : Our understanding of our own habits allows us to

control them, and hence control the development of our own



    Harry G. Frankfurt, in an influential essay, presented a

strongly parallel line of argument:


Human beings are not alone in having desires and motives,

or in making choices.  They share these things with the

members of certain other species, some of whom even appear

to engage in deliberation and to make decisions based upon

prior thought.  It seems to be peculiarly characteristic of

humans, however, that... they are capable of wanting to be

different, in their preferences and purposes, from what

they are....  No animal other than man, however, appears to

have the capacity for reflective self-evaluation that is

manifested in the formation of second-order desires.

(Frankfurt, 82-83)


Now freedom of action is (roughly, at least) the freedom to

do what one wants to do.  Analogously, then, the statement

that a person enjoys freedom of the will means (also

roughly) that he is free to will what he wants to will, or

to have the will he wants.  (Frankfurt, 90)


    My own stress on cognition and habit, as opposed to desire,

is meant to focus on the particular means of implementing

desired changes in character.


    In my discussion of dog training I follow Aristotle's

analysis of bravery and cowardice:  " doing acts that we

do in the presence of danger, and being habituated to feel fear

or confidence, we become brave or cowardly." (Aristotle 1941,

953, N.Eth. III 1103b 15-20)


    My discussion also follows Koehler's method of guard dog

training (Koehler, Section 1, 95-123).  Koehler, a successful

and influential trainer, went so far as to declare:


Remember this -- the decision to 'do right' that most

helps a dog's character is the decision that he makes

himself.  (Koehler, Section 2, 73)


    The closest thing I know of to training a dog to be in

something resembling an "unfocused" mental state was that

done by Seligman, wherein dogs were first conditioned to feel

"helpless," after which they exhibited markedly reduced

learning ability. (Seligman, 21-44)


    My remark that habits are formed simply by selecting an

action repeatedly deserves some qualification: "...repeated

acts cause a habit to grow. --If, however, the act falls

proportionately short of the intensity of the habit, such an

act does not dispose to an increase of that habit, but rather

to its lessening." (Aquinas 1945, 399, Sum.Th. Q52 A3)


    Even the behaviorists, who generally denied the importance

of mind and volition, were in the somewhat paradoxical position

of urging the study of habit as a means to master behavior and

achieve new goals.  B.F. Skinner himself concluded Beyond

Freedom And Dignity with these words:


...a new theory may change what can be done with its

subject matter.  A scientific view of man offers

exciting possibilities.  We have not yet seen what man

can make of man. (Skinner, 206)


    Step 7 : The choice to think is more important than most



    The classical tradition on free will would never have

framed this issue in this way, because classical philosophy did

not normally regard unfocused, undisciplined mental processes

as non-thinking, but as inferior thinking.  The classical

tradition (particularly Aristotle and Aquinas) spoke of

developing intellectual virtues - or vices.


    However, modern usage favors this formulation, as shown by

Hannah Arendt's well-known observations concerning the man who

oversaw the Nazi's mass-murder operations:


There was no sign in him of firm ideological convictions or

of specific evil motives, and the only notable

characteristic one could detect in his past behavior as

well as his behavior during the trial and throughout the

pre-trial police examination was something entirely

negative: it was not stupidity but thoughtlessness.

(Arendt, 4)


    Peter Bertocci argued for the pre-eminence of the choice to



When I am conscious of alternatives, I am free at least to

think about them.  Since I do not have to go on thinking

about them, and since I frequently do not want to continue

thinking about them, the first act of will is the willing

to think or not think about any alternatives.  (Bertocci,



    Of course, nobody was more emphatic on this subject than

Ayn Rand: "...that which you call 'free will' is your mind's

freedom to think or not... the choice that controls all the

choices you make and determines your life and character." (Rand

1957, 1017; see also Branden, 34-59)



                III.  Closing Summary


    Animals choose among the alternatives they know.  So do we.

We just know more.


    For thus did our primate ancestors evolve, to eat the fruit

of the tree of knowledge.  And now we are as gods,

understanding our own souls, knowing good and evil.





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