In Section 27 of “Of Liberty and Necessity”, Hobbes states that he conceives “that in all deliberations, that is to say, in all alternate succession of contrary appetites, the last is that which we call the will, and is immediately next before the doing of the action, or next before the doing of it become impossible.” Since Hobbes has classified the will as an appetite, it makes sense that he believes it comes and goes. An appetite for food is only occurrent when a person is hungry. Yet to say that the will is only occurrent when a person is deliberating is rather unsettling, and I am concerned by this notion for three reasons.
My first concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will is that he seems to present an individual as having multiple wills instead of just one. Suppose that person X is deliberating about making herself lunch. She thinks about how hungry she is and how making herself lunch would solve that issue. She then considers the fact that making herself lunch takes some effort (she would have to get off the couch, and she is feeling particularly lazy). Ultimately, her hunger wins out and she decides to head into the kitchen to make herself lunch. Hobbes would argue that person X had the will to make lunch since “making lunch” was the appetite she decided to act upon. Later that same day, person X is engaged in a new deliberation. This time she is deliberating going for a walk or going for a bike ride. She weighs her options and decides to take a walk. In this instance, Hobbes would claim that person X had the will to go for a walk. The will to make lunch and the will to take a walk are completely distinct, and a person will have as many wills as they have results of deliberation. This picture of the will is a drastic reduction from the more standard view of the will as the faculty that determines an individual’s course of action. It may be the case that this is only unsettling because I am used to discussing the will in the more standard way, but it seems wrong to talk about a person having multiple wills. We typically think of the will of the individual propelling them to do X or Y instead of “will X endorsed action X” and “will Y endorsed action Y.” I think I have trouble with the latter picture because I associate the will as a part of a person’s character, and separating the will into multiple smaller wills seems to completely change that idea. Instead of talking about a person’s strength of will, you would have to discuss each individual will in part which allows you to look at pieces as distinct entities instead of a whole.
My second concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will is that claiming that the will is the result of a deliberation implies that a person is devoid of a will when he or she is not deliberating. The standard view of the will is that it is the faculty that chooses a course of action and, as a faculty, the will sits idly by when not actively choosing a course of action, but it does not fade away. Does a person sitting on the couch inactive have a will? Do I have a will while I am asleep? Hobbes seems to think that the answer here is “no.” I am honestly not sure if I have a problem with this idea. Again, the notion is unsettling, but it might only be unsettling because it is not the standard view I am used to hearing.
My third concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will considers the person who decides not to act. If the will is the appetite that happens right before an action is taken or right before an action becomes impossible, is there a will if the person decides not to act? Let us look again to person X as she deliberates whether or not to make lunch. Let us suppose that this time she decides that getting off the couch is an arduous task and she would rather be a bit hungry. This time, person X has decided NOT to make lunch. She chooses not to act. Did she have a will not to act? Do we want to say that she choose the action “staying on the couch”? That does not seem to be what she was deliberating, however. The initial prompt did not have her debating between “stay on couch” and “make lunch.” She was debating between “make lunch” and “not make lunch.” The fact that “not make lunch” entails “stay on couch” does not make the two the same. To make the point more easily understood, let us have person X choosing whether to phi or not phi. Let us suppose that “not phi” is not an action at all (it is simply not partaking in the action phi). If the deliberating person decides “not phi,” do we say that this person has a will? Hobbes claims the will is the appetite immediately before the doing of the action. Since there is no action, there is no decision that occurs immediately before the doing of the action. Hobbes also states that the will can be that which occurs right before the doing of the action becomes impossible. Let us suppose that doing phi is not impossible, but rather the deliberator simply decided not to engage in phi. In this scenario, we cannot say that the decision happened before the action became impossible. It seems that Hobbes would have to say that “not doing phi” is an action, and it is the action of “not partaking in phi,” but this does not seem to be exactly the same picture he presented when he claimed that the will is that which “is immediately next before the doing of the action.” Is it?