The will is popularly conceived of as the control centre that processes information from the body and the mind in order to make choices. The will is responsible for ethical and moral choices, for negotiating self-interest versus social collaboration, and short-term gain (pleasure) versus long-term cost (suffering).
Will (volition) is associated with power. Many of us believe we could improve our lives if only we had more of that mysterious thing called willpower. With more self-control we would all eat right, exercise regularly, use intoxicants in moderation, control our temper and our lusts, save for retirement and achieve all sorts of noble goals.
The scientific definition of willpower is:
- The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals,
- The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse,
- The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system,
- Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self,
- A limited resource capable of being depleted.
Will is also associated with freedom. If the will is free, it has the power to act according to its own desires and values. Without freewill, we would be puppets, robots or automatons. Many religions teach that the human will is not free. Martin Luther and John Calvin established the Protestant Reformation on a foundation of predestination. Their God alone decided which depraved humans would be ‘saved’ via a gift of undeserved, unearned divine grace. Luther and Calvin based on their teachings on the 5th century Catholic Bishop Augustine, who was responsible for inventing the doctrine of Original Sin and eliminating human freewill from the process of salvation. Many religions have a concept of inexorable fate, destiny, karma or kismet.
The will is legally responsible for our choices and decisions, but the will can be overpowered by normal operations of the brain and the body (appetites and passions) as well as by physical, chemical and electrical malfunctions. This is why some philosophers, biologists and neuroscientists conclude that freewill is an illusion. They claim that if we understood all of the underlying influences and causes, we would realize that every decision we make is the direct effect of a cause outside our control.