The philosophical tradition I am familiar with divides the agent into thinker and will-er. This division is in some sense unreal. The thinker is, in reality, unthinkable without will. But in other senses it, like any other distinction, allows for some nuance in analysis and so is conceptually worth while. There is no doubt that I am whole. But there does seem to be a part of me that plans and a part of me that longs. Or better said, in some moments the longing in me is more prominent while in others the planning is more prominent.
Both the thinking and willing are directed by me. But there is the directing. And there is the toward what and how. The directing is more akin to willing. The what toward and how is more akin to thinking. Aiming is similar. There is the pushing of aiming which is associated with will. And, there is the picture that the aimer aims toward which is provided by intellect. Both will and thinking are traditionally associated with the rational part of the rational animal. What of the sub-rational?
There are other parts of me which are not so in my control even if they are ultimately up to me what I do with them. These are my feels which are a part of my animality. I want to comment on desire and passion as two terms used to designate feeling that have much to do with what I value. Remember, what I value shapes my action. Ultimately that is in my choice related to my preference. But the chooser in me has much to keep him busy. I want to speak of desire and passion, because it is these feels that are prominent in my valuing.
In colloquial speak we do not always separate these two types of feeling. I think they are worth separating since separated they capture a worthwhile distinction. What I desire can be thought about better by adding aversion. What I desire I look for rest in. What I am averse to I look to avoid. As we said in the last post on value, we speak here of the subjective desires and aversions of the agent. It is in action that we learn best what an individual’s desire and aversion are like.
Desire and aversion come in greater or lesser amounts of feeling. To desire sugar, sex or security is one thing. The amount is another, the strength of the desire. To be averse to work is one thing. The amount is everything. We sometimes treat desire and aversion separate from action. And there is reason in this. I can have desires that I leave unsatisfied. But this is either because I do not desire those things as much as others, or because I will what I do not desire. If you get the hankering, the best way to acquire a nuanced view of your or any other individual’s desire is to analyze that individual’s action.
Desire is apriori a mover of the human animal. But, the particulars of its shape and strength or weakness are best read off of the action of that human animal. This is why polling is so silly. It is the cheapest of indications of what people long for or against. Sayings are cheap. Doings are telling. Read desire and aversion off of action.
But what of anger, fear, despair, joy? These are not desire or aversion. They are feelings that correspond to my relation to that which I am desirous of or averse to. These are passions. We do not have time for a full analysis of passion, and I am not the one to claim completion. But, well before microscopes and dissections passions were understood. Passion has much to do with action and its direction. It is not easily overcome. In fact the Greek root pathos means something like to suffer. To have passion is to be imposed upon. The key here is that you learn most about your or another individual’s values by observing levels of passion. Passion is always a feeling related to desire or aversion and the object that the desire or aversion is about. Watch:
Anger is being stuck in union with what an individual is averse to.
Fear is moving closer to what one is averse to.
Despair is being stuck away from what one desires.
Joy is union with what is desired.
Hope is moving closer to what one desires.
Desire and passion are matters of feeling. Feeling is a matter of body, or animal (so the god is not literally angry in any way we can make sense of). Desire and passion, like any other part of the material world, are modifiable by will directing choice.
What the intellect and will are confronted with in their view and calculation and direction is a set of objects with value. That value is provided by desire and passion. But what the intellect and will are confronted with is a set of objects that stand out as more or less worth moving toward or away from (desire and aversion). In addition there is flood of movement motivation from the proximity to desired or averred objects (passion).
To understand action we must understand that which is chosen and moved toward and away from as having greater or lesser amounts of value. Necessarily, we move away from what we take to have less value and toward that which has greater value. This is the only way to understand the action of an agent. To speak of weakness of will or doing what one does not want to do and not doing what one wants to do is to engage in poetic license and psycho-self criticism possible through a metaphorical separation of self into many. And, you should know dear reader, that I think there is much good in such self-evaluation. But what i am evaluating has to be understood first as a whole that valued. Only then can I critique or laud the action and the valuing that it presupposed.
When it comes to action, it cannot be understood without value. When it comes to value it cannot be understood without appeal to the agent. Desire and passion are two useful concepts for that which in a human animal provide the intellect and will with that which they must weigh, calculate and decide the worth of.