The Simplicity Of Will: Its Harmony With Freedom -- By: Lemuel Stoughton Potwin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 063:249 (Jan 1906)
Article: The Simplicity Of Will: Its Harmony With Freedom
Author: Lemuel Stoughton Potwin


The Simplicity Of Will: Its Harmony With Freedom

Prof. Lemuel Stoughton Potwin

The simplicity, or absolute oneness, of will-activity is taken for granted in the following discussion. It has been clearly stated thus: “It is important to notice the simplicity of the will as a faculty, compared with the intellect and sensibility. These latter may be divided into various subordinate faculties,, or forms of action, which are consciously distinct as kinds of activity, and distinct also in their products. But the will is one simple kind of activity.”1

Now there may be agreement as to the simplicity of will without agreement as to what the will is. Professor Bain says, that “the following up of pleasure and the recoil from pain are the ultimate facts and most comprehensive types, or representations of volition.”2 Here is simplicity enough, but where is there any will?

Again, the following definition of will is from recent psychology: “The term will is simply a convenient appellation for the whole range of mental life viewed from the standpoint of its activity and control over movement. The whole mind active, this is the will. To say that there is no such thing as the will (a statement which troubles many right-minded persons) is simply the psychologist’s perverse way of saying that mentally there is nothing but will. There is no specific mental

element to be called will, because all states of consciousness are in their entirety the will.”3 According to this, will is the power of mental action. This is simple enough, but is it true? Is will the all-power, including perception, memory, reasoning, or is it after all a power?

What the human will is, ought to be discoverable in some simple way from that involuntary self-knowledge, or self-affirmation, which is rightly called consciousness. We can hear its testimony in the statement “I will do it,” as applied not to some more or less distant future, but to a present object calling for immediate action. The difference between “I do” and “I will do” is clear. The latter bears the distinguishing mark of decision, direction, determination. Will, then, is the faculty that determines and directs action. Whether it takes effect in instantaneous or continuous action, whether vivid or lapsing into almost unconscious automatic activity—wherever there is decision, or direction, there is will.

We can see in the nobler of the dumb animals a participation in this power. Nor need we stop with t...

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