Thursday, May 22, 2014

Some definitions.

Axe and I have been having a discussion about the will, agency, authority and power.

He and I disagree, and use these words differently. But I define the will as that part of a person that makes decisions. To choose to sit, or not sit is an exercise of the will; it is an act of the will. Agency is the ability to make a choice. If you can exercise your will, then you have agency. If you can exercise your will to make moral choices, you have moral agency. It is about mental capability, the ability to choose one result in preference to all others. If you have agency, your will works.

Willpower is a finite resource. Some people have more willpower than other, and everybody has more at sometimes, but not at others. But having more willpower doesn't make one more or less of an agent. Either you have the ability to make choices, or you don’t. Children and incompetents lack agency. But the kinds of choices that children can make change over time and a 12 year old has agency over more things than a six year old.

Potency, as Axe describes, it is the ability to make your choices occur in the real world. So, if I decide that I want to sit, I have exercised my will, when I actually sit I have used my potency. Or to use a less silly example, when I decide to ask a woman out, I have exercised my will. To actually step up and do so requires a certain level of potency. If you make a decision, and are unable to affect it in the real world, it is fair to call you impotent.

Both agency and potency are amoral. One can use either for good or ill. It is simply about ability. Authority is a moral condition. To have authority is to have the right to exercise the will in a certain area. And one can have authority, and lack potency. And vis versa. So, I have authority over my house. I have the right to make decisions about it. But if I lack money, I may make a decision that I don’t have the ability to carry out, and in that lack the potency to make reality conform to my will. Or I can be physically capable of taking another man’s life. But without some condition that would grant me the right to do so, I lack the authority.