Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Real Experimentation of the Will

Every idea that does not proceed from a real experimentation of the will is dead and a mere word; dead especially and fictitious all complete knowledge that does not turn to acting.

--Maurice Blondel

The quote, from Blondel's Action, was offered by C Grace in response to Brandon's post of a passage from Edith Stein on thinking with the heart. To my discredit, I am unfamiliar with the work of Maurice Blondel, but I'm intrigued by this statement, and by some of the other themes C Grace has been exploring.

What would constitute a real experimentation of the will? Intuitively I feel that the world of (inter)action is the right place to look at experimentation, but I also sense that, historically at least, the experimental mode of formal inquiry has removed from view certain questions pertaining to its conditions of possibility, and these might also be said to lie within the sphere of action, as opposed to, say, abstract thought. We can call this sphere a "lifeworld" after Husserl, but there are other vocabularies treating the same nexus of problems, Blondel's for instance. But I freely admit that if I'm looking to Blondel for an alternative phenomonological view on the constitution of knowledge, it's a bit silly because I haven't yet read his works. So my preliminary questions about a possible distinction between the experimental as a way of acting and the experimental as way of thinking about acting will have to be put on hold.

But I'm still curious. Is there a paradox involved in turning the experimental gaze towards the subject, whether we see this as reflexive agency, consciousness, psychology, or whatever? In everyday life, we experiment with the will all the time. We abstain or we give in. We stop and think about what we're doing, or we just do it, and then we sometimes compare the results. Are these not real experimentations of the will, utterly ordinary and not the least bit paradoxical? Does thinking require of us that we forget who we are, in some fashion, or would that be a fiction? What would the difference be between subjecting our thinking to experimentation as if it were will, and as if it were, say, imagination, or a free variation of possibilities. Would we have to ask like, "What do I want to think?" and "Might it be better to want something else?"

Some times it's gratifying to think against our impulses, and other times it's gratifying to go with them, to have them confirmed. By what standard do we measure the results of an experimentation of will? Adequacy? Suitability towards some more encompassing project of action? Whether we can live with our thoughts? That wouldn't seem like much to ask for from thinking--but just try it.

posted by Fido the Yak at 4:47 PM.


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