Friday, October 7, 2011

Following the Strongest Desire

“Not only will we always choose according to our strongest desires, we must always choose according to our strongest desires.”

R.C. Sproul

“In summary of Edwards’ view of free will, he believes that man is free in that he can and does choose according to his strongest inclinations — his desires.”

W. Tullian Tchividjian

I don't agree with these claims, but it's hard to argue with it when the argument is generally presented in a circular fashion. I've debated it briefly with some Calvinists before, and it usually goes like this:

"You always choose based on your strongest desire."

"How do you know what someone's strongest desire was?"

"It was the one that they chose.”

If you define "strongest desire" as "the one that matches the choice made," then you can prove that the choice made always matches the strongest desire. But as soon as you get down to "what non-circular definitions of strongest desire can you give?"

If you define "strongest desire" as "the desire that pops to mind most frequency in the minutes before you take the action," then hypothetically a person could disprove it and say "No, I had X desire pop to mind 50 times in 5 minutes, but I also wanted to do righteous action Y, which came to mind 2 times in that period. Then I prayed about it and within 15 seconds took action Y."

If you define "strongest desire" as "the choice that you usually make in this situation," then a person taking a new path would disprove it.

If you define "strongest desire" as "the one which effects your physical/mental chemistry most negatively before you take the action (which relieve the negative chemical balance)," then a drug addict who stops using would have chosen against their "strongest desire."

But as long as we accept the definition of "strongest desire" as "that which motivates your action," it is indisputable that "your actions are always motivated by your strongest desire." It's true by definition in that case. For myself, I do not buy into this circular definition, though. I don't find it true, helpful, or useful in debating larger concepts like free will.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, one must be careful. I agree that we do follow our strongest desire. But as you pointed out, strongest desire is indeed vague. And it is vague for it does not use any one way of defining what the strongest desire is. But rather a series of factors go into determining the strongest. For example, I see brownies, I LOOOOVVVEE brownies, however, I know: I am not going to bike for the rest of today or tomorrow. And because of that, if I ate the brownie, I would be becoming less healthy, and because I want to be a good looking, healthy person. I decide to pass on the brownie. Or course, there are different levels of concern, desire and such, but I think the combination of desires and their power level will determine your course of action.

Skarlet said...

I do agree that a person's choice, which is influenced by the weighing together of many different desires, options, and tendencies, will determine their choice of action.

In principle, then, I totally agree with you. In fact, when I talk about complex will and conflicting desires, I also use the brownie analogy. :)

But, the issue is simply a semantical one. Saying that something is the "strongest desire" doesn't explain anything, if it's defined in a circular way. If you say that “The strongest desire is the one that would explain the action,” then it's circular. By definition the action will always be based on the strongest desire!

This isn't helpful to explain anything about internal workings, because if one choose against the most pressing desire, and yielded to a more small, quiet desire, then that quiet desire would be suddenly defined as “the strongest desire.”

Circular definitions, though they sound like, are absolutely useless. It's like this:
"How can I be happy?"
"You must feel better. Because the better you feel, the happier you will be. And the happier you are, the better you will feel!" (Circular)
"Okay, but how do I get to feeling better?"
"By being happy of course! After all, the happier you are, the better you will feel."

It's all very true, but the claim, since it's circular, is completely useless.

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