The Mind Commands Itself and is Resisted

The mind commands the body, and the body obeys. The mind commands itself and is resisted. The mind commands the hand to be moved and there is such readiness that the command is scarcely distinguished from the obedience in act. Yet the mind is mind, and the hand is body. The mind commands the mind to will, and yet though it be itself it does not obey itself. Whence this strange anomaly and why should it be? I repeat: The will commands itself to will, and could not give the command unless it wills; yet what is commanded is not done. But actually the will does not will entirely; therefore it does not command entirely. For as far as it wills, it commands. And as far as it does not will, the thing commanded is not done. For the will commands that there be an act of will — not another, but itself. But it does not command entirely. Therefore, what is commanded does not happen; for if the will were whole and entire, it would not even command it to be, because it would already be. It is, therefore, no strange anomaly partly to will and partly to be unwilling. This is actually an infirmity of mind, which cannot wholly rise, while pressed down by habit, even though it is supported by the truth. And so there are two wills, because one of them is not whole, and what is present in this one is lacking in the other.1

Any interesting theory of will must give a better explanation than Augustine’s of the will’s inefficacy when it attempts to regulate itself.

As far as I am concerned, the problem is not simply that the will is not a single, unified thing (and, as we now know so well, the mind is not particularly unified either), but rather that the mind commands the body to act in this present moment, whereas the majority of our attempts to regulate our mind are related to mental states in the future.

  1. Saint Augustine of Hippo : Confessions : Book Eight : Chapter IX