Frankfurt`s Notions of Will and Second-Order Volition Essay

Frankfurt`s Notions of Will and Second-Order VolitionIn defining free will, Harry Frankfurt has constructed a hierarchy of volitions (desires): The first-order volition comprises of a creature’s wants, while the second-order volition is that creature’s desire to have a different first-order volition. For example, a person’s desire to go to Paris is considered a first-order volition, while the desire to want to go to Paris is considered a second-order volition—simply put, a second-order volition is a volition about a volition.The second-order volition is of a higher order, one that is usually ruled by principles, reasoning, and introspection.Frankfurt believes that a creature (or any being for that matter) only has free will when second-order volitions are present.

Having a second-order volition entails self-evaluation: In order for a person to have a second-order volition, that person must realize that he wants a certain desire (first-order volition) to be his will—a person has freedom of will when he is free to choose the desire he wants.First-order volitions can move a person to act on a desire, but a second order volition can interfere with this action. A person can also lose a freedom to act on a desire, but still have free will if second-order volitions are in place.

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According to these definitions, Frankfurt believes that personhood and possession of free will only applies to people; those creatures that do not have desires are called wantons—animals and children fall in this category. Animals and children do not have free will because they only act on their desires (first-order volitions) and do not have second-order volitions.


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