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Free Will and Willpower: Is Consciousness Necessary? Research Paper

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Our whole life revolves on decisions we make and decisions we take. From the day a child is born, there begins a process of decision-making. Sometimes we are carried by our emotions while making decisions while on the other hand we are carried by the uncertainties’. Then we make what would come out to be the best decision of our life. Decisions take place consciously or subconsciously. Conscious decision-making implies when we are conscious about our thoughts, our plans and our desires, analyze its implications and its benefits, we make decisions and feel self motivated. we make decision we feel self-motivated. Persons, who are conscious controlled about their decision- makingers make the human beings to dominate their routines, exercise control over the willpower, find innovative solutions, make collective decisions and justify their choices. (this sentence is correct) We can define consciousness as, “It is the very substance of mental life that not only makes life personally manageable but also worth living. A functional consciousness involves purposive accessing and deliberative processing of information for selecting, constructing, regulating and evaluating courses of action.” (Bandura, 3) This is achieved through intentional mobilization and productive use of semantic and pragmatic representations of activities, goals and future events and comes at a cost of price; consciously made decisions are likely to come up with the number of biases.

But,, if we go by the rational choice theory and several other perceptions,, the performance of the conscious decision makers rates poorly. But if people abstain themselves from the conscious control, and think beyond rational ground on certain tasks, then their performance would be better and they would better be able to handle large amount of information, update themselves and find adequate solutions to define their problems in a better way. In many cases, decisions are made unconsciously without being aware of any consequences. We simply make decision, yes or nowhether or not on the basis of our desires or emotions.

Neuroscientists are trying to find out the reason of these happenings peering deep into our brains. Scientists have discovered that we all have dog brains, especially with human cortexes stuck on the top. Neuroscientists found out the fact that our animal brains conform to the modern cortex to create an influence over the choices. The discovery have been made by scientists that there are certain reward circuits in the brain, which are activated in response to cocaine, chocolate, sex, and music and also find gratification by merely making anticipations about the money or in taking revenge. There are certain aversion circuits also in the brain, which are threatened to the physical pain and also pose reaction if we feel cheated by our partner.

Gardiner Morse, Senior Editor of HBR stated, “our emotional brains needn’t always operate beneath our radar. Although our dog brains sometimes hijack our higher cognitive functions to drive bad, or at least illogical, decisions, they play an important part in rational decision making as well. The more we understand how we make decisions, the better we can manage them”. (Morse, 42).

Our decisions are guided by many aspects and our motives- some pertain to our selfish desires and some unselfish. According to Psychological Egoism, each human action is motivated by the self-interest; persons who sacrifice everything to help others are considered to be the an epitome of moral virtue. It is surprising yet true that altruism may not only be rare but impossible. Every human action is guided by self-interest and this is the most natural phenomenon.

Rand in her philosophical work, “The Virtue of Selfishness” (VOS), states that the right meaning of selfishness is “concern with one’s own interests” (Rand, vii). The arguments posed by Rand is that selfishness is not bad but the most virtuous proposition in the aspect that it is an action whereby it secures and gives protection to one’s rational values, one’s life and happiness. It enables the person to attain one’s goals and success and achievements for one’s own well-being. One should strive to involve seriously for own interest and lead a very healthy and fulfilling life.

Our allAll our actions and desires revolve around this the word “selfish”. Though popularly there is a different meaning ascribed to the term “selfish its it’s the term” yet. For them it means disregarding other people’s welfare for one’s own. In these circumstances, people make decisions according to one’s own desires and to meet own motives disregarding the welfare of others. These people are considered as brutish who never have even a least concern for the welfare of the others. Their actions cause harm to others, though benefit themselves, and they lose all the good will, trust and patience of others. But Rand has her own version, she prefers not to label these people as selfish as she ardently advocates that if this application is applied, it distorts the important philosophical version of desire and self interests and give space to the false philosophical doctrines. Moreover, it gives the way to the formation of what is ethics?.

Rand suggests that there is objectivity involved in the several elements of the self-interest. All human beings have their own psychological and biological needs needs. Aand to fulfill these needs is the main prerequisite of all human beings. Thise selfish interest is quite contradictory to what is known as whims which do not constitute well being of human beings. Human beings are social animals and they have to adhere to certain social values and virtues while making decision to fulfill their own desires and whims. A person, who is truly selfish, is very self-respecting, self-supporting human who neither develops attitude in his bid to sacrifice others nor sacrifice himself for others. (Rand, ix) It is also said that self-interest cannot be seen but felt and deeply understood. It can be described in the form of natural motive and deliberative motive. Natural motive can be described as something, which immerses out of our inner self unconsciously and unnatural motive is something that defies the natural desires and forces us to follow the rational lines. Natural motive comes first over discussion and therefore it is considered not only an intelligent but also a good desire, which can be related with feeling of suffering and sacrifice. Always the priority is given to the natural desires because it is inherent part of ourselves and comes automatically we cannot control or defy.

Self-interest is a crucial part and a fundamental aspect of human being that no one can deny and arises out of the natural impulse of the human beings. For Kant, “When we perceive a beautiful object which is typically a natural object theoretically accessible to all rather than a work of art, may give rise to an element of ego or possessiveness-the disjunction between our perception and concept, creates and excess or free play of an imagination, that prefigures moral freedom, or freedom from desire or self interest.” (Dellamora, 131).

From the philosophical perspective, desires can turn into motives. For example, desires can make an agent correctly observe the beliefs as an explanation for his actions. Sometimes when a person desires to do something, he does not have either reason for doing the action or motive of doing rather he only has a desire of doing. Bernert Gert in his book “Morality: Its Nature and Justification” said that a person hardly needs a reason for doing something or desires to do something and if he desires to do something, he does not need a motive to explain anything of his actions. Only his desire to do something may explain the rationale of his doing. (Gert, 72) According to the Christian beliefs, it’s our duty to imbibe by our own happiness. Finny observes, “on the contrary, part of our duty is to regard our own happiness according to its value in the scale with other interests. God has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves.” (Finney, Online) This plainly makes it a duty to love ourselves and regard our own happiness by the value of the scale. (Finney, Online) It goes like this and said as,that “If you help another person because you like him and want to help, or you generally like being helpful or because you desire the good of others, that is still selfishness.” (Teichman & Evans, 78) It is argued that any distress whether due to one’s own sufferings or sufferings of others always account for one’s own distress and is egoistic in its own nature. and any Any desire, even the desire for the welfare of the others and their happiness, always account for one’s own desires. It is our desire only that induces within us the spirit to help others therefore their desire becomes our own desire and within it the parameter of the self-interest.

Another point that needs to the mentioned here is the relation between self-love and selfless love. Whether we think people selfish or not selfish depends on the extent to which they owe themselves towards their desires or passions and the depth to which they seek the happiness. This pursuit of their happiness is guided by the interest for love for self, which is guided by self-interest but again it is considered as unselfishness. (Adams, 102).

Let us take an example of Mother Teresa; she had spent maximum part of her life serving the poor. The question arises if she was motivated by the desire to serve the poor on account of the selfishness or some gains or unselfishness. If we go by the definitions above, it is her selfishness- the selfishness of a desire for doing well to others. On the other hand was a man whose whole life was spent making investments and in directing corporations. He felt satisfied in doing this work therefore his desire was also motivated by selfishness- a selfish desire of earning through making investments. (LaFollette, Online).

If we look at the lives of ourselves and the lives of the others, we would find that we are not at all different from them. Doing any activity what we desire or want makes us feel satisfied and happy and the motivation of the same comes from our intentional actions and actions also which are presumed to be morally motivated. And when we are unable to do what we want, that leaves us dissatisfied. While performing some fruitful task or doing some good for the others, we may think that we are doing for the sake of doing good and it is all selfless love, or has moral principle for others but no work is selfless. In every task, there is a desire involved whose roots itself lie in selfishness, because there is no desire if there is no self-interest and no self interest if there is no desire. We can also say both self- interest and desire are reciprocally related to each other. A person has a desire for attainment of social position in the society, image, favour or commitments. Within this also implies his or her egoism. He or she is doing good for others and for the well-being of others yet there is a certain essence of egoism, which implies in his or her work. He or she is egoistic as the person is eager and expecting to attain some reward in return to the favours done and the recognition of the successful achievement of that act. But in certain cases there is no egoism involved as in the desire to love the spouse or parents. If you love your parents or children, there is no egoism yet there is selfishness, selfishness in the sense that you expect the same love or relationship in return.

Human beings are social animals and have one biggest desire to get associated with the others in one way or the other and all our actions revolve around this desire. Literature has captured every aspect of this desire of manhood in its vicissitude and every aspect of life. It has endowed the human race by articulating the various meanings and aspects of the desire and several traits associated with it. One of it, which has pervaded the literature, is the idea or Eros, which is itself selfish as opposed to agape. This idea was very much the part of the human endeavor since centuries. And psychologists like Freud said that it could not be more unconcealed like when he said that love is nothing but lust, plus the ordeal of civility. But the general misunderstanding here is that any activity, which is motivated by the sake of gaining of pleasure is selfishness and therefore cannot be a virtue. Yet, as said by Aristotle, it is in the nature of virtue that is neither selfless nor selfish. Hereby, we can also say that idea of Eros is also a virtue and we cannot characterize in either category in selfish or pleasurable. (Gardiner, 93) La Rochefoucauld words conform to the theory of desire when he said, “In the soul, a thirst for mastery; in the mind sympathy; in the body, nothing but a delicately hidden desire to possess, after many mysteries.” (Gardiner, 94) And he is right, it is nothing but an inherent desire to possess that what our life is and what makes it our two attributes, selfish and unselfish. Both these attributes in turn depend on our motives and there are several ambiguities in it. The first ambiguity is on account of our egoistic tendency to ignore the distinction between the motive for our action and its consequence. In other words, behind all actions we have certain motives. We are aware of certain motives but ignorant of certain others, still we follow those motives to the fulfillment of our desires. Desire is a seed from which man is born and if a man has the possession of no desire, no resolution, but in the pursuit of the desire, man also inculcates number of vices and makes it feeble and weak. As said above, desire generally follows with selfishness on our part that could lead us to number of vices and makes us adopt many things that are not considered as virtuous and are immoral.

According to the Hindu traditionn, there are three kinds of aspects, which allows man to draw his their springstrengthss man can attain, and a person can draw strength to and drive away selfishness and move onto the path of desire with selfless motive. These three features are divinity, spirituality and materialism. If he has a conviction that he has a body, he can gain spiritual strength and if he has individualized soul then he can draw upon spiritual strength and can attain awareness of the unity. These kinds of energies take the man away from the selfish desire and towards the attainment of ‘enlightenment’. In Buddhism, there is a concept called ‘Nirvana’, which is similar in meaning to bliss or heaven. According to Buddhists philosophy, the ‘Nirvana’ has several social, complex, psychological, metaphysical or spiritual levels. On moral grounds, it is said that ‘Nirvana’ is a decision to abandon desire or selfish craving. It means following the ‘Dharma’ that means following the moral and virtuous path and thus eight fold path that could lead to ‘Nirvana’. Psychologically Nirvana means feeling of actually being free from desire. These desires many times overpower us when we give them more importance in our lives and it could lead to adverse consequences. On metaphysical grounds, “nirvana is the absolute condition beyond the transient nature of human existence; it is the conditionless, immutable and eternal reality of awareness.” (Teasdale, 58) Our deeper layers of consciousness always entreats us to keep away from worldly desires but what Nirvana implies is the inducement and drive to attain the real nature, its emptiness and the divine power is also desire. In other words, how much we try to escape from our desire it is not possible to escape from it. From one angle to the other, from the one aspect of life to the other, we will be occupied by our desires. If we are not occupied by the desire of our worldly hemisphere, we will be occupied by the desire to attain divinity and spirituality, desire for love, desire for self-realization and satisfaction. We cannot deny or ignore this. If there is desire then there is ought to be selfishness and egoism too without which there is no survival.

In the practical world, there are many cases where people have overpowered their selfishness to fulfill their desire to help the others. For instance, a soldier falling on the grenade to save his buddies,; or any person saving a child from being run ran over by a speeding vehicle. These are all the cases of unselfish desires. This whole concept of selfishness or what we call psychological egoism is true if it is adopted what Rachel calls, “strategy of redefining motives.” In other words, if people keep on insisting and claiming that these appear to be unselfish acts, but have also the hidden motive of selfishness behind. But there is a concept of morality that we all adhere to, and which is against selfishness in general sense because morality means not only doing good to oneself but also doing good for others. Here also it implies that whatever moral values we develop, there is certain essence of selfishness. As William Shakespeare has said, “This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Good, 48) In other words, Shakespeare said that our moral obligation is towards our self and then only we can share ourselves with others around us. As we move on with our lives, we have to make many choices. Some choices make us satisfied with our lives and some not, sometimes things come out to be right and sometimes things come out to be wrong. But the biggest thing in the life is whether we have learned from our mistakes or not. For example, learn to make decisions and keep on taking a move moving towards the satisfaction of your goals. All our choices are dependent on the way we take us on the path to grow. Their life starts with desires and ends with desires and no one can deny that desires itself means self- interest and psychological egoism, as without self- interest, no man attains what he want to desire. It is self-interest that giwhich gives him motivations and inducement to follow the path towards the attainment of the desire.

A Nobel Prize winner, Bertrand Russell too said while discoursing on politics that, all human actions on this earth are motivated by desires, and it is extremely fallacious to think that it is very much possible to deny and resist the desire. It is not because that man does not want to perform his or her duty but he could not perform duty unless he has desire to do so. If you want to know what man can do, there should be a need for you to know their material circumstances and whole system with their strengths. The desires also could be divided into two groups primary and secondary. For example, in primary groups come the necessity of life like food, clothing, shelter etc, and when these things get rare, men can go to any extent to make these ends meet or can resort to violence with the hope to give them security. These desires at number of times go to an extent of acquisitions. Man wantsed to acquire as much of goods as possible and he can go to any extent to fulfill his desires. Here the selfishness is clearly seen prevailing in man, which defies the earlier definition of selfishness and psychological egoism. Here the selfishness implies grabbing and hurting others and it is a continuous process. How much you wish to grab you would like to grab and acquire more and more? (Russell, Online).

Not only the acquisition but also it is the rivalry, which plays the most important role and all our problems have arisen on account of this rivalry. Love for power is another greater aspect of life every man aspires to achieve and it involves power at very lower stage as well. When ladies’ from the royal family have lot of servants to boast off, they feel pleasure in exerting their power over them. It is their desire to feel and exert their power over others. Besides, people also have ardent desire to pursue the knowledge, which is mainly actuated by the love of power. This desire for the acquisition of knowledge is followed by our actions, which should be pursued and would take the person on the desired goals.

Human beings have never ending desires. Over all, it is the desire for the satisfaction for the soul that prevails. Whatever man has achieved and gained but he has still confined himself in the gloom of darkness and it is always his desire to come out of his darkness towards the light. This is his self-interest in him that motivates him to come out of that darkened room to find light of the enlightenment and happiness. Though, he never speaks yet but his inner self is enough indication of the fact that he is always eager to search for something missing which is always haunting him. It is quite true, if there is a desire, there is self-interest be it helping someone on the street or acquiring something or achieving something,. but However, if this self-interest is accompanied at the cost of hurting others, then desire will truly take the form of selfishness that ought to be despised.

Works Cited

Adams, Robert Merrihew. “A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good”. New York: Oxford University Press US, 2006.

Bandura, Albert. “Social Cognitive Theory: An Agentic Perspective”. Annu. Rev. Psychol, 2001, 52:1-26.

Dellamora, Richard. “Victorian Sexual Dissidence.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Finney, Charles G. “The Pursuit Of Selfishness”. Internet. 2008. Web.

Gardiner, Stephen Mark. “Virtue Ethics, Old and New.” Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Gert, Bernard. “Morality: Its Nature and Justification.” New York: Oxford University Press US, 2005.

Good, Graham. “The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay.” New York: Routledge.

LaFollette, Hugh. “The Truth in Psychological Egosim.” 2008. Web.

Morse, Gardiner. “Decisions and desire”. Harvard Business Review, 2006; 84(1):42, 44-51, 132.

Rand, Ayn. “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 1987.

Russell, Bertrand. “What Desires Are Politically Important?” Internet. 2008. Web.

Teasdale, Wayne. “The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions”. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2001.

Teichman, Jenny & Evans, Katherine C. “Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide”. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1999.

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