Criticisms of the Ordinary Distinction

Criticisms of the Ordinary Distinction

Such denials of our ordinary distinction, even if they cannot in themselves be taken as conclusive, serve at least to arouse doubts as to its sufficiency.

And if we ask how thought and action are actually distinguished, the answer is not very satisfying. They are not the operations of two different parts of the mind ; that is admitted on all hands. The whole self wills, and the whole self thinks.

Then are they alternative activities, like sleeping and waking ? No ; we have already seen that they are necessarily and always simultaneous. The only thing we can say seems to be that thinking is not willing and willing is not thinking. And this is simply to assert the existence of a distinction without explaining wherein the distinction consists. We cannot say that in willing we do not think, or that in thinking we do not will, for both these, as we have seen, we certainly do.

If I will to think, there are not two elements in this act but one. When I will to walk, I do not separately experience an internal resolve on the one hand, and a movement of my legs on the other ; the act of will is the voluntary moving of the legs.

Walking Man.

Walking Man.

To say “ I will to walk ” is the same thing as saying “ I walk of my own initiative, ” that is, “ I walk. ” And so “ I will to think ” means not two things but one thing : “ I think. ” We never simply will in the abstract ; we always will to do something ; what we turn into a separate organ and call “ the will ” is only the fact of free activity, the voluntary doing of this thing or that. Walking is thus not something distinguishable from willing, a result, so to speak, of the operation of “ the will ” ; it is nothing more nor less than the willing itself, the particular form which, on this occasion, free activity takes. Thus walking is a kind of willing, not something else ; and equally, thought is a kind of willing.

But is there any other kind of willing ? Walking is only one kind ; is thinking only one kind ? No ; for if it were, there would be kinds of willing in which thought was not present. This, we have already admitted, there cannot be ; and therefore, just as all thinking is willing, so all willing is thinking. Or, to put it in other words, there is neither consciousness nor activity considered as a separate reality, but always the activity of consciousness and the consciousness of activity.

Nor can we say that in this second case there is a dualism between the activity of a mind and its own consciousness of that activity ; for an activity is already by its very nature conscious of itself, and if it were not, it would be not an activity but a mechanism.

We conclude, therefore, not that one and the same thing, mind, has two manifestations, consciousness and volition, and that these two always exist side by side, but that all consciousness is volitional, and that all volition is conscious. The distinction between the two statements is not merely verbal.

The former way of putting it suggests that there is such a thing as a mind, regarded as a thing in itself ; and that this thing has two ways of behaving, which go on at once, as a machine might have both a circular and a reciprocating motion. This idea of the mind as a thing distinguishable from its own activities does not seem to be really tenable ; the mind is what it does ; it is not a thing that thinks, but a consciousness ; not a thing that wills, but an activity.