There are three common types of I want:
- Egoic desire: I want to be X, whereby X can be any physical, psychological, or social state.
- Possessive desire: I want to have Y, whereby Y can be any material possession or abstract ownership.
- Motivational desire: I want to do Z, whereby Z can be any choice or activity.
But whatever I want to have I ultimately want because of the state I expect the possession to put me in; e.g., I want to have a fulfilling job in order to be happy, or I want to have a mansion in order to be admired. And whatever I want to do I also ultimately want because of the state I expect the action to put me in; e.g., I want to lose weight in order to be an attractive person (in order to be loved), or I want to work hard in order to be successful (in order to be respected).
Thus, both possessive desire and motivational desire merges into egoic desire: I want to be X. This is the one fundamental type of human will.
The other type is simpler: I want to be. Not wanting to be this or that, not wanting to have this or that, not wanting to do this or that, but simply: wanting to be.
Now, I already am, I already exist, so what’s the point of wanting to be?
Well, the existence of living beings is not binary, not just either dead or alive. Instead, it is continuous: every organism can exist in different degrees of aliveness. For example, in a coma, under artificial respiration, I am less alive than when hiking joyously in the woods.
Aliveness, however, is neither limited to the medical domain, nor is it a fantasy like ‘élan vital’ or ‘life force’. Philosophically, we can define aliveness by three components:
- Vitality: the realization of the biological capacity to live, grow, develop, and adapt.
- Activity: the realization of the physical capacity to act in manifold and flexible ways.
- Rationality: the realization of the cognitive capacity to think in manifold and flexible ways.1
Again, one of these components (namely, vitality) is fundamental, while the other two (activity and rationality) are both ultimately aimed at the first: at life, at self-preservation. And self-preservation does not just mean survival and remaining in existence; no, it means flourishing and maximizing aliveness in a continual struggle for homeostatic optimality.2
In sickness or depression, in prison or slavery, in weakness or narrow-mindedness, my body and mind are constrained by external and internal forces; so I am not fully alive. Whereas, the healthier, the happier, the stronger, the freer, the more confident, the more capable, and the more prudent I am, the more alive I am, or simpler, the more I am.3
Hence, wanting to be makes a lot of sense. We may even call this will—this desire for life, for aliveness—the True Will and contrast it with the untrue wills of wanting to be X, wanting to have Y, and wanting to do Z.4 Desire, particularly if it has the former form, is thus something to be praised and cherished:
Cupiditates illae quae hominis potentia seu ratione definiuntur semper bonae sunt, reliquae autem tam bonae quam malae possunt esse. (Those desires which are defined by man’s power or reason are always good, the others may be good or bad.) — Spinoza, Ethica, pars IV app. cap. III
- True Will Revisited
- Let’s Define ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’
- Why Do You Want What You Want?
- Why You Don’t Have Your Own Will
- You can find a better definition of rationality here; also, proposing rationality as a component of aliveness likely demands better justification, which I am not certain I can provide (so please read this, like everything I write, with a critical mind).
- Missing from this biophilosophical picture is, of course, the drive to reproduce, which also puts the three aforementioned desires (egoic, possessive, and motivational) into another light.
- Here we again have states, which were previously linked to egoic desire; now, however, they are instrumental: means to being.
- Grammatically, we could also speak of “wanting to be alive” and thus confuse our established categories, but I reckon that they are instead confirmed by that phrase’s tautology.