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Frankfurts notion of Second Order Volition - Essay Example

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This essay is an attempt to analyseFrankfurt’s notion of a second order volition in the light of its impact on the freedom of will and action. Harry G. Frankfurt is an American philosopher and a retired professor of philosophy at Princeton University…
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Frankfurts notion of Second Order Volition
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Download file to see previous pages Frankfurt’s essay opens with his views on the concept of “person”. When his contemporaries seek to define a person as merely a body with states of consciousness, Frankfurt begs to differ. He states that a person is not just the singular form of ‘people’. It does not merely refer to the members of certain biological species with a set of specific physical and mental characteristics that are supposed to be uniquely human. Humans are not the only creatures with desires, motives and choices. But it is the capacity of reflective self-evaluation and a desire to be different from what they are that makes the persons a class apart from the other living beings.The primary feature that differentiates a person from other creatures is his structure of will. To define “will”, one needs to first understand the concept of first order desire. A first order desire is simply a desire for something or a desire to do or not to do one thing or another. For example, a desire to smoke a cigarette or to watch a movie or to read a book is a first order desire. ...
Therefore, a desire which determines the behaviour of a person at a critical moment and leads him to action in the presence of other conflicting desires is termed as will. (Frankfurt, 1971, pp. 4-5) To define “free will”, Frankfurt introduces another type of desires- second order desires. A second order desire refers to a desire about a first order desire or a desire to have or not to have a first order desire. Or in other words, a second order desire is a manifestation of the uniquely human ability of reflection on one’s first order desires. For example, a habitual smoker may have a desire to smoke but a smoker who is trying to quit may want “not to have a desire to smoke”. The latter is a case of second order desire.It is these second order desires that are regarded as a mark of ‘personhood’. (Frankfurt, 1971, p. 3) Second order desires which refer to effective first order desires are termed as second order volitions. In simpler terms, when a person wants a second order desire to be his will, it becomes a second order volition. To illustrate the concept better, we may take the example of a psychologist dealing with a drug addict patient. To understand his patient better, he may want to have the desire for drugs (second order desire). But he does not want his desire to be effective (to actually take drugs). The doctor thus demonstrates a second order desire but no second order volition. It is not second order desire but second order volition that is essential to being a person and this leads us to the definition of free will and freedom of action.((Frankfurt, 1971, p. 5) Free will is a situation wherein a person’s second order volition determines his behaviour. The definition of “freedom of will” ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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