Thursday, March 04, 2010

Feeling Willful on the Milton List . . .

Homunculus at Work
"Just eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it
Get yourself an egg and beat it"
(Image from Wikipedia)

In a discussion a few days ago on free will in the thought of John Milton, one of the scholars, an elderly gentleman who works and thinks within the Marxist tradition, made this remark:
"My experience, then, and I would say human experience, is that whenever and wherever we find ourselves, we are always already enmeshed in an ensemble of social relations."
That sounded too familiar, especially the "always already" terminology, so I asked him a somewhat impertinant question and followed it with an account of my own introspective experience:
Is this your experience . . . or your social theory?

My own experience -- and I cannot speak for others -- is that I find myself repeatedly in circumstances presenting alternatives, some trivial, some significant, that require me to make choices and thus demand of me varying degrees of reflection in making those choices, and as constrained as all this may seem, I experience a sense of responsibility, to varying degrees, for the choices that I make, and thus find myself regreting some choices and thinking that I should have chosen differently and that I could have chosen differently, a subjunctive experience that I was free to have done so.

That's my experience. What it implies for the truth or falsity of free will, I don't know, but I don't find any homunculus making my decisions for me.
My reference to the homunculus was to meet his statement that "the concept of 'the will' . . . seems to operate as a sort of homunculus sitting apart from that continuum, making its 'choices'," for I don't see that the concept of "will" implies a homunculus crouched in our heads making cramped decisions for us to act out.

I didn't get a response from that scholar, but I do wonder about other people's experiences . . . whether similar or different than mine.

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At 12:31 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Milton scholars (so-called) often perplex me. Milton's concept of will (though he was well-versed in mystical numbers and alchemy)does not seem to have anything to do with the homunculus. Marxism has produced some bizarre readings of texts.

At 4:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Milton's conception of the will is not entirely clear to me. I know that he considers "free will" the same as "reason," but I haven't read his complete explanation of how this works.

You've undoubtedly read on this, so what do you think?

Jeffery Hodges

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