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The Faintest Passion

Author(s): Harry Frankfurt


Source: Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 66, No. 3
(Nov., 1992), pp. 5-16
Published by: American Philosophical Association
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THE FAINTEST PASSION*


Harry Frankfurt
Princeton University
PresidentialAddressdeliveredbeforethe Eighty-EighthAnnual EasternDivision Meeting
of the American Philosophical Association in New York City, December 29, 1991.
1. My title is from an observation by A.E. Housman. "The faintest of all
human passions" he wrote, "is the love of truth."1 There are two senses in which a
passion may be faint: it may be weak, or it may only be difficult to discern.
Housman certainly intended the former. But be that as it may, there is a passion
that, in both senses, is even fainter than our love of truth. Surely the very faintest
human passion-both the least salient and the least robust-is our love of the truth
about ourselves.
The ability both to believe something and at the same time to conceal this
from oneself is a bit paradoxical. Philosophers have found it difficult to explain how
we do this. There is no problem, however, in understanding why. The facts about
ourselves are often hard to take. When they move us to self-deception, it is because
we find them irreconcilable with what we want to believe. We hide from the truth,
it seems clear, because it conflicts with our self-love. My theme today, however, is
not self-deception. I am aiming at another enemy of the truth about ourselves-one
whose relation to self-love is rather more complex and uncertain. My approach will
be somewhat oblique. I begin with a question about lying.
2. When we object to being the victim of a lie, just what is it that we find
so objectionable? I am not asking why lying is wrong. My question has to do not
with the morality of lying, but with our experience of it. What offends us when we
are offended that someone has told us a lie? What accounts for how the lying
affects us?
Much is often made of the notion that lying undermines the cohesion of
human society. Kant says that "without truth social intercourse and conversation
become valueless."2 And he argues that because it threatens society in this way, "a
lie always harms another; if not some particular man, still it harms mankind
generally...."3
Montaigne makes a similar claim: "our intercourse being carried
on solely by means of the word, he who falsifies that is a traitor to society."4 "Lying
is an accursed vice," Montaigne declares; and then he adds, warming rather
frenetically to his subject, that "if we did but recognize the horror and gravity of it,
we should punish it with flames more justly than other crimes."5
* I dedicate this address to
my first teachers in philosophy-George
and Albert Hammond, of blessed memory.
5

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Boas

PROCEEDINGS AND ADDRESSES OF THE APA: 66:3

Montaigneand Kantcertainlyhave a point, but they exaggerate.Profitable


social intercoursedoes not reallydepend,as they maintain,upon people tellingeach
other the truth;nor does conversationlose its value when people lie. The actual
quantityof lyingis enormous,afterall, andyet sociallife goes on. Thatpeople often
lie hardlyrendersit impossibleto benefit from livingwith them. It only meansthat
we have to be careful. We can quite successfullynegotiate our way through an
environmentfull of lies, as long as we can reasonablytrust our own ability to
discriminatemore or less effectivelybetweeninstancesin whichpeople are lyingand
those in whichthey are tellingthe truth. Generalconfidencein the honestyof others
is not essential,as long as we arejustifiedin havingconfidencein ourselves.
In any case, however, it is not because we think that lies threaten or
encumberthe order of society that we are upset by them in the first place. Our
concern when someone lies to us is not the concern of a citizen. What is most
immediatelyarousedin our reactionto the liar is not publicspirit. The reactionis
personal. As a rule, we are dismayedfar less by the harmthe liar may have done
to others than by his conducttowardsourselves. Whatstirsus againsthim,whether
or not he has somehowmanagedto betrayall of mankind,is that he has certainly
injuredus.
Lying is a rather complicatedact. Someone who tells a lie invariably
attemptsto deceive his victimsabout mattersof two distinctkinds:first, about the
state of affairsto whichhe explicitlyrefers and of whichhe is purportingto give a
correctaccount;second, about his own beliefs and what is going on in his mind. In
additionto misrepresentinga fact aboutthe world,then, the liar also misrepresents
variousfacts about himself. Each of these aspectsof what he does is significantin
its own way.
Firstof all, the liaraimsat inducinghis victimsto regardas real a worldthat
he himself has designed. To the extent that he is successfulin this, he is the
originator of what they take to be reality. How the facts appear to them is
determinedby what he says. Thus he arrogatesto himselfsomethinglike the divine
prerogative of creative speech, simulatingthe omnipotent will by which God
(accordingto Genesis)broughta worldinto beingmerelyby stipulatingthat it should
be so. This arroganceoffends our pride. We are angeredby the liar's insulting
effort to usurpcontrolover the conditionsin whichwe understandourselvesto live.
Secondly,by imposinga false world on his victims,the liar excludesthem
from his world. Insofaras he places them within an understandingof realitythat
differs from his own, he separatesthem radicallyfrom himself. This is what leads
Adrienne Rich to observe,with poetic exactitude,that "the liar leads an existence
of unutterableloneliness."6The lonelinessis preciselyunutterablebecause the liar
cannot even revealthat he is lonelywithoutdisclosingthat he has lied. By hidinghis
own thoughts, he makes it impossiblefor others to be in touch with him-to
understandhim or to respondto him as he reallyis, or even to be awarethat they
are not doing so. This foreclosesa mode of humanintimacythat is both elementary
and normal,and for this reasonit too is insulting.Like his presumingto exercisethe
creativeprerogativeof a god, the liar'srefusalto permithimselfto be known is an
injuryto his victim'spride.

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PRESIDENTIALADDRESSES

3. In certaincases,lies causea deeperdamage. AdrienneRich saysthat "to


discoverthat one has been lied to in a personalrelationshipleads one to feel a little
crazy."7Here again,her observationis perspicuousand exact. When we are dealing
in an importantmatterwith someone whom we hardlyknow,we can be confident
that what he says coincideswithwhat he believesonly on the basis of a more or less
deliberate evaluationof his reliability;and ordinarily,this evaluationonly covers
specificcommunications.Withour close friends,as a rule,both of these conditions
are relaxed. We supposethat our friendsare generallytruthfulwith us; and we take
this pretty much for granted. We tend to trust whateverthey say; and we do so,
mainly,not on the basisof a particularcalculationthat they are tellingthe truth,but
becausewe feel comfortablewith them. As we familiarlyput it, "wejust know they
wouldn'tlie to us."
With friends,the presumptionof intimacyhas become natural. It derives
most immediatelyfromour feelings-that is, fromour sense of our own state, rather
than from an evaluationof pertinentevidenceabout them. It would be too much
to say that a person'sinclinationto trust his friendsbelongs to his essentialnature.
But it could properlyenough be said that trustingthem has come to be second
nature to him.
This is why findingthat we havebeen lied to by a friendengendersa feeling
of being crazy. The discoveryexposessomethingabout ourselvesmore disturbing
than that we have merelymiscalculatedor made an errorof judgment. It reveals
that our own nature (i.e., our second nature)is unreliable,leading us to count on
people who cannotbe trusted. Needless to say, the deceptionof a friend impliesa
fault in the one who tells the lie. But it also showsthat the victimis defectivetoo.
The liar betrayshim, but he is betrayedby his own feelingsas well.
Self-betrayalpertainsto crazinessbecauseit is a hallmarkof the irrational.
The essence of rationalityis to be consistent;and being consistent,in action or in
thought, means proceedingso as not to defeat oneself. Aristotle explainsthat an
agent acts rationallyinsofaras he conformshis actionsto the mean. Suppose that
for the sake of good health,a personfollowsa diet eitherso meageror so indulgent
that it actuallyleads him awayfrom his goal of well-being. It is in this self-betrayal
that the irrationalityof his divergencefrom the mean consists. Intellectualactivity
is similarlyunderminedby logical incoherence. When a line of thought generates
a contradiction,its furtherprogressiveelaborationis blocked. In whateverdirection
the mind turns,it is drivenback:it must affirmwhat is has alreadyrejected,or deny
what it has already affirmed. Like behavior that frustrates its own ambition,
contradictorythinkingis irrationalbecauseit betraysitself.
When a person discoversthat someone he had found it naturalto count
upon has lied to him, this shows him that he cannot rely upon his own settled
feelings of trust. He sees that his sense of whom he can have confidence in has
betrayed him. It has led him to miss the truth rather than to attain it. His
assumptionthat he could guidehimselfby it has turnedout to be self-defeating,and
hence irrational. He maywell feel, accordingly,a little crazy.

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PROCEEDINGSAND ADDRESSESOF THEAPA: 66:3

4. Accordingto Aristotle,philosophyin the ancientworldbeganin wonder.8


In the modern world, of course, it began in doubt. These are both attitudes of
uncertainty. We are moved to wonderwhen the phenomenaare unclear. On the
other hand,the uneasinessthat lyingmayarousein us, concerningour own cognitive
capacities, is more like the mode of uncertaintythat beset Descartes. What
disturbedhim was not how to think about the phenomena,but what to make of
himself. The doubt in whichhis epistemologicaland metaphysicalenterprisebegan
was self-doubt.
The ancient philosophers,Aristotle explains,"philosophisedin order to
escape from ignorance."9 Descartes was moved to philosophise less by ignorance

than by anxiety,less by a lackof knowledgethan by a lackof self-confidence. What


worried him was that he might be by nature so profoundly defective that his
intellectualambitionswouldbe betrayedby the verycognitivecapacitiesupon which
he needed to rely in pursuingthem. "How do we know,"he asked, "thatwe have
not been made in such a waythatwe constantlydeceiveourselves?"In other words,
how do we know that rationalityis possible at all? Descartes'sparticularfear was
that we might perceive,with equallyirresistibleclarityand distinctness,both that
certainpropositionsare true and that they are not true. Thatwould show reasonto
be hopelesslydivided. It would mean that anyonewho attemptedpersistentlyto be
rationalwould end up not knowingwhat to think.
Spinozadefinesa conditionof our affectivenaturethat is analogousto this
divisionwithinreason. The "constitutionof the mindwhicharisesfromtwo contrary
affects,"he says, "is called vacillationof mind, which is therefore related to the
affects as doubt is to the imagination."'0Now I want to consider a somewhat
different,but still analogous,type of psychicinstabilityor conflict. I shall call it
"ambivalence."Here what is dividedis neithera person'sreasonnor his affects,but
his will. Insofaras someone is ambivalent,he is movedby incompatiblepreferences
or attitudes regardinghis affects or his desiresor regardingother elements of his
psychiclife. Thisvolitionaldivisionkeeps himfrom settlingupon or from tolerating
anycoherentaffectiveor motivationalidentity. It meansthat he does not knowwhat
he reallywants."1
Ambivalenceis constitutedbyconflictingvolitionalmovementsor tendencies,
eitherconsciousor unconscious,that meet two conditions. First,they are inherently
and hence unavoidablyopposed; that is, they do not just happen to conflict on
account of contingentcircumstances. Second, they are both wholly internalto a
person'swill ratherthan aliento him;that is, he is not passivewith respectto them.
An exampleof ambivalencemightbe providedby someonewho is movedto commit
himself to a certaincareer,or to a certainperson, and also moved to refrainfrom
doing so.

Conflictsinvolvingfirst-orderpsychicelementsalone-for instance,between
an attractionand an aversionto the sameobjector action--do not pertainto the will
at all. They are not volitional,but merelyimpulsiveor sentimental. Conflictsthat
pertainto the will ariseout of a person'shigher-order,reflectiveattitudes. But even
conflictsthat do implicatea person'swill are nonethelessdistinctfrom ambivalence

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PRESIDENTIALADDRESSES

if some of the psychicforces they involveare exogenous-that is, if the person is not
identifiedwith them and they are, in that sense, externalto his will.
An addictwho strugglessincerelyagainsthis addictionis contendingwith a
force by which he does not want to be moved and which is thereforealien to him.
Since the conflict is not wholly within his will, he is not volitionallydivided or
ambivalent.The unwillingaddictis wholeheartedlyon one side of the conflict from
whichhe suffers,and not at all on the other. The addictionmay defeat his will, but
does not as such disruptits unity.
A person is ambivalent,then, only if he is indecisiveconcerningwhetherto
be for or againsta certainpsychicposition. Now this kind of indecisivenessis as
irrational,in its way,as holdingcontradictorybeliefs. The disunityof an ambivalent
person'swill preventshim from effectivelypursuingand satisfactorilyattaininghis
goals. Like conflictwithinreason,volitionalconflictleads to self-betrayaland selfdefeat. The troubleis in each case the same:a sort of incoherentgreed-trying to
have things both ways-which naturallymakesit impossibleto get anywhere. The
flow of volitionalor of intellectualactivityis interruptedand reversed;movementin
any directionis truncatedand turnedback. Howevera person startsout to decide
or to think, he finds that he is gettingin his own way.
The extent and the severityof ambivalencenowadaysare probablydue in
some part to conditionsespeciallycharacteristicof our time. But volitionaldisunity
itself is, of course,nothingspecialand nothingnew. St. Augustineobservedthat "it
is ... no strangephenomenonpartlyto will to do somethingand partlyto will not
to do it." Divisionof the will,he believed,is "a diseaseof the mind"fromwhichwe
suffer in punishmentfor OriginalSin.12At least in his view, then, ambivalencein
one degree or anotheris inherentin the destinyof man.
5. If ambivalenceis a disease of the will, the health of the will is to be
unified and in this sense wholehearted. A person is volitionallyrobustwhen he is
wholeheartedin his higher-orderattitudesand inclinations,in his preferencesand
decisions,and in other movementsof his will. This unityentailsno particularlevel
of excitementor warmth. Wholeheartednessis not a measureof the firmnessof a
person'svolitionalstate, or of his enthusiasm. What is at issue is the organization
of the will, not its temperature.
As in the case of the unwillingaddict,the unity of a healthywill is quite
compatiblewith certainkinds of virulentpsychicconflict. Wholeheartednessdoes
not requirethat a person be altogetheruntroubledby inner opposition to his will.
It just requiresthat, with respectto any such conflict,he himselfbe fully resolved.
This means that he must be resolutelyon the side of one of the forces struggling
within him and not on the side of any other. Concerningthe opposition of these
forces,he has to knowwherehe himselfstands. In otherwords,he must knowwhat
he wants.
To the extent that a person is ambivalent,he does not reallyknowwhat he
wants. This ignorance or uncertaintydiffers from straightforwardlycognitive
deficiency. There may be no informationconcerninghis will that the ambivalent

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person lacks. The problemis ratherthat since his mind is not made up, his will is
in fact unformed. He is volitionallyinchoateand indeterminate.
This is why ambivalence,like self-deception,is an enemy of truth. The
ambivalentpersondoes not hide fromsome truthor concealit fromhimself;he does
not preventthe truthfrombeing known. Instead,his ambivalencestandsin the way
of there being a certaintruth about him at all. He is inclinedin one direction,and
he is inclined in a contrary direction as well; and his attitude towards these
inclinationsis unsettled. Thus, it is true of him neither that he prefers one of his
alternatives,nor that he prefersthe other, nor that he likes them equally.
Since ambivalenceis not a cognitive deficiency,it cannot be overcome
merelyby acquiringadditionalinformation.It alsocannotbe overcomevoluntaristically. A person cannot make himselfvolitionallydeterminate,and therebycreate a
truth where there was none before, merelyby an "act of will." In other words, he
cannotmakehimselfwholeheartedjust by a psychicmovementthat is fullyunderhis
immediatevoluntarycontrol.
The concept of realityis fundamentallythe concept of somethingwhich is
independentof our wishesandby whichwe are thereforeconstrained.Thus, reality
cannotbe underour absoluteand unmediatedvolitionalcontrol. The existenceand
the characterof what is real are necessarilyindifferentto mere acts of our will.
Now this must hold as well for the realityof the will itself. A person'swill
is real only if its characteris not absolutelyup to him. It must be unresponsiveto
his sheer fiat. It cannotbe unconditionallywithinhis power to determinewhat his
will is to be, as it is withinthe unconstrainedpowerof an authorof fiction to render
determinate-in whateverway he likes-the volitionalcharacteristicsof the people
in his stories.
Indeterminacyin the life of a realpersoncannotbe overcomeby preemptive
decree. To be sure, a personmay attemptto resolvehis ambivalenceby decidingto
adhereunequivocallyto one of his alternativesratherthan to the other;and he may
believe that in thus makingup his mindhe has eliminatedthe divisionin his will and
become wholehearted. Whethersuch changeshave actuallyoccurred,however,is
anothermatter. When the chips are down he may discoverthat he is not, after all,
decisively moved by the preference or motive he supposed he had adopted.
RememberHotspur'sreplywhen Owen Glendowerboasted "I can call spiritsfrom
the vasty deep." He said: "Why,so can I, or so can any man;but will they come
when you do call for them?"13The same goes for us. We do not control, by our
voluntarycommand,the spiritswithinour ownvastydeeps. We cannot have,simply
for the asking,whateverwill we want.
We are not fictitious characters,who have sovereignauthors;nor are we
gods, who can be authorsof more than fiction. Therefore,we cannotbe authorsof
ourselves. Reducing our own volitional indeterminacy,and becoming truly
wholehearted,is not a matterof tellingstoriesaboutour lives. Nor, unlesswe wish
to be as foolish as OwenGlendower,canwe proposeto shapeour willsby stipulating
peremptorilyat some momentthat now we are no longer dividedbut have become
solidly resolute. We can be only what natureand life make us, and that is not so
readilyup to us.

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PRESIDENTIALADDRESSES

11

This mayappearto conflictwith the notionthat ourwills are ultimatelyfree.


But what is the freedom of the will? A naturaland usefulway of understandingit
is that a person'swill is free to the extentthat he has whateverwill he wants. Now
if this means that his will is free only if it is under his entirely unmediated
voluntaristiccontrol,then a free will can have no genuinereality;for realityentails
resistanceto such control. Must we, then, regardour wills either as unfree or as
unreal?
The dilemmacan be avoidedif we construethe freedomof someone'swill
as requiringnot that he originateor controlwhathe wills,but that he be wholehearted in it. If there is no divisionwithina person'swill, it follows that the will he has
is the will he wants. His wholeheartednessmeans exactlythat there is in him no
endogenousdesireto be volitionallydifferentthanhe is. Althoughhe maybe unable
to create in himself a will other than the one he has, his will is free at least in the
sense that he himselfdoes not oppose or impedeit.
6. Being wholeheartedis not alwayswarranted. There are circumstances
in which it is only reasonable,no matterhow uncomfortableit maybe, for a person
to be drawnin several directionsat once. But while acceptingambivalencemay
sometimesbe helpfulor wise, it is neverdesirableas such or for its own sake. And
to remainpersistentlyambivalent,concerningissuesof substantialimportancein the
conduct of life, is a significantdisability. Moral and political theorists often
emphasizehow valuableit is for people to have extensiverepertoiresof worthwhile
options fromwhichthey arefree to choose. The actualvalueto people of possessing
these options depends to a large extent, however, upon their capacities for
wholeheartedness.
After all, what good is it for someoneto be free to make significantchoices
if he does not knowwhat he wantsand if he is unableto overcomehis ambivalence?
What is the point of offeringa beguilingvarietyof alternativesto people who can
respond to them only with irresolutevacillation? For someone who is unlikelyto
have any stable preferencesor goals, the benefitsof freedom are, at the very least,
severelydiminished. The opportunityto act in accordancewith his own inclinations
is a doubtfulasset for an individualwhose will is so dividedthat he is moved both
to decide for a certain alternativeand to decide against it. Neither of the
alternativescan satisfyhim, since each entailsfrustrationof the other. The fact that
he is free to choose betweenthem is likelyonly to makehis anguishmore poignant
and more intense.
Unless a person is capable of a considerable degree of volitional unity, he

cannot make coherent use of freedom. Those who care about freedom must
thereforebe concernedabout more than the availabilityof attractiveopportunities
amongwhichpeople can choose as they please. Theymust also concernthemselves
with whetherpeople can come to knowwhat they wantto do with the freedomthey
enjoy. It may be, as St. Augustinesupposed,that a thoroughlyunified will comes
only as a gift of God. Still, the extent to which people suffer from volitional
indeterminacyis not entirely independent of the social, political, and cultural

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conditionsin which they live. Those conditionsmay either facilitateor impede the
developmentof unambivalentattitudes,preferences,and goals.
7. So far I have providedfor wholeheartednessonly a brief conceptual
sketch, elaboratedprimarilyin relationto an equallysketchyaccountof the notion
of ambivalence.Now I will try to developa more fully articulatedunderstandingof
what it is to be wholehearted,by construingit as tantamountto the enjoymentof a
kind of self-satisfaction. In speakingof self-satisfaction,I do not mean to refer
pejorativelyto a state of narcissisticcomplacencyor smugness. The state I have in
mind-a state of satisfactionwiththe conditionof the self-is utterlyinoffensiveand
benign. Clarifyingits structurewill actuallyhelp not only to illuminatewhat is
involvedin being wholehearted. It will also help in copingwith an allegeddifficulty
in hierarchicalanalysesof the self. And I believe that, in addition,it will enhance
our understandingof a rathertroublesomenotion-the notionof identification-that
is fundamentalto any philosophyof mind and of action.
Consider a person who believes something wholeheartedly, who is
wholeheartedin some feelingor attitude,or who intendswholeheartedlyto perform
a certain action. In what does his wholeheartednesswith respect to these psychic
elementsconsist? It consistsin his being fullysatisfiedthat they, ratherthan others
that inherently (i.e., non-contingently)conflict with them, should be among the
causes and considerationsthat determinehis cognitive,affective, attitudinal,and
behavioralprocesses.
This is compatiblewith his also being wholeheartedwith respect to other
psychicelements,which contingently(i.e., due to particularcircumstances)conflict
with these and whichare more importantto him. The fact that a person is satisfied
with an intention,a feeling,or a belief does not entailthat he is committedto acting
on it. Being wholeheartedwith respectto one element is consistentwith assigning
a higherpriorityto another. Someone may be satisfiedto have both elementsplay
active roles in his psychic economy, though not roles that are equally urgent or
compelling. The element that is less importantto him is not necessarilyalien,
threateninghim from outside the structureof his self. It maybe as much a part of
him as those other elementsthat are more importantparts of him.14
Now whatdoes it meanto sayof a personthat he is satisfiedwith his psychic
condition,or with some elementor aspectof it? It does not mean that he considers
it the best conditionavailableto him. Some people maybe so demandingthat they
are never willingto settle for anythingless than that. But as a rule, satisfactionis
not conditionedby an uncompromisingambitionto maximize. People often settle
gladlyfor less than what they thinkit wouldbe possiblefor them to get. From the
fact that someone is satisfiedwith his condition,then, it does not follow that no
alterationof it wouldbe acceptableto him. It goes almostwithoutsaying,of course,
that he would be satisfiedwith an improvedcondition. However,he might also be
satisfiedeven with a conditioninferiorto the one he is in.
What satisfactiondoes entail is an absenceof restlessnessor resistance. A
satisfiedperson mightwillinglyaccepta changein his condition,but he has no active
interest in bringingabout a change. Even if he recognizesthat he could be better

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PRESIDENTIALADDRESSES

13

off, the possibility does not engage his concern:being better off is simply not
interestingor importantto him. This is not becausehe believesthat becomingbetter
off would be too costly, or because it is too uncertain. It is just that, as a sheer
matter of fact, he has no ambitionfor improvement;he acceptsthe state of things
as it is, without reservationand without any practicalinterest in how it compares
with other possibilities.Perhapshis conditioncouldbe improvedat no net cost, and
perhapshe is awareof this, but he simplydoes not care.15
To be satisfiedwith somethingdoes not requirethat a person have any
particularbelief aboutit, nor anyparticularfeelingor attitudeor intention. It does
not require,for instance,that he regardit as satisfactory,or that he accedeto it with
approval,or that he intend to leave it as it stands. There is nothingthat he needs
to think, or to adopt, or to accept;it is not necessaryfor him to do anythingat all.
This is important,becauseit explainswhy there is no dangerhere of a problematic
regress.
Suppose that being satisfieddid requirea person to have, as an essential
constitutivecondition of his satisfaction,some deliberatepsychic element-some
deliberateattitudeor belief or feelingor intention. This element could not be one
with which the person is at all dissatisfied. How could someone be wholehearted
with respect to one psychicelement by virtueof being halfheartedwith respect to
another? So if being satisfiedrequiredsome element as a constituent,satisfaction
with respectto one matterwould dependupon satisfactionwith respectto another;
satisfactionwith respectto the secondwould dependupon satisfactionwith respect
to still a third;and so on, endlessly. Satisfactionwith one's self requires,then, no
adoption of any cognitive,attitudinal,affective,or intentionalstance. It does not
require the performanceof a particularact; and it also does not require any
deliberateabstention. Satisfactionis a state of the entire psychicsystem-a state
constitutedjust by the absenceof any tendencyor inclinationto alter its condition.
Of course,a person maymakethe judgmentthat he is well enoughoff; and
on that basis he may decide to refrainfrom doing anythingto improvehis situation.
Makingthis judgmentor this decisiondoes not, however,either make him satisfied
or entail that he is satisfied. His decisionto refrainfrom tryingto changethings is,
in effect, a decision on his part to act as thoughhe is satisfied. Refrainingfrom
tryingto changethingssimulatesthe equilibriumin whichsatisfactionconsists. But
to simulate satisfactionis not the same as being satisfied. A person is actually
satisfiedonly when the equilibriumis not contrivedor imposedbut is integralto his
psychiccondition-that is, when that conditionis settled and unreservedapartfrom
any effort by him to make it so.
Being genuinelysatisfiedis not a matter,then, of choosing to leave things
as they are or of makingsome judgmentor decisionconcerningthe desirabilityof
change. It is a matter of simplyhavingno interestin makingchanges. What it
requiresis that psychicelementsof certainkindsdo not occur. But whilethe absence
of such elements does not requireeither deliberateaction or deliberaterestraint,
theirabsencemustnonethelessbe reflective.In otherwords,the fact that the person
is not movedto changethingsmust derivefromhis understandingand evaluationof
how things are with him. Thus, the essentialnon-occurrenceis neither deliberately

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contrivednor wantonlyunselfconscious.It developsand prevailsas an unmanaged


consequenceof the person'sappreciationof his psychiccondition.16
8. Let me try brieflyto sketchhow this bearson the hierarchicalapproach
to analysisof the self and on the notion of identification.On hierarchicalaccounts,
a person identifieswith one ratherthanwith anotherof his own desiresby virtue of
wantingto be moved to action by the first desire ratherthan by the second. For
example,someone who is tryingto quit smokingis identifiedwith his first-order
desire not to smoke, ratherthan with his concurrentfirst-orderdesire for another
cigarette,if he wantsthe desirenot to smoketo be the one that effectivelyguideshis
conduct. But what determines whether he identifies with this second-order
preference?
Consideredin itself, afterall, his desireto defeat the desireto smoke is just
another desire. How can it claim to be constitutiveof what he reallywants? The
mere fact that it is a second-orderdesiresurelygives it no particularauthority.And
it will not help to look for a third-orderdesirethat servesto identifythe personwith
this second-orderpreference. Obviously,the same questionwould arise concerning
the authorityof that desire;so we would have to find an even higher-orderdesire;
and so on endlessly. The whole approachappearsto be doomed.
Hierarchicalaccountsof the identityof the self do not presume, however,
that a person'sidentificationwith some desireconsistssimplyin the fact that he has
a higher-orderdesire by which the first desire is endorsed. The endorsinghigherorder desire must be, in addition,a desirewith which the person is satisfied. And
since (as I tried to explainearlier)satisfactionwith one psychicelement does not
require satisfactionwith any other, being satisfiedwith a certain desire does not
entail an endless proliferationof higher orders and desires. Identification is
constituted neatly by an endorsinghigher-orderdesire with which the person is
satisfied. It is possible, of course, for someone to be satisfiedwith his first-order
desireswithout in anywayconsideringwhetherto endorsethem. In that case, he is
identified with those first-orderdesires. But insofar as his desires are utterly
unreflective,he is to that extent not genuinelya person at all. He is merely a
wanton.
9. Is it possibleto be satisfiedwith ambivalence?A person may certainly
come to accept the fact that he is ambivalentas unalterable. It seems to me,
however,that it is not a fact with whichhe can possiblybe satisfied. No one can be
wholeheartedlyambivalent,anymore than someone can desire unequivocallyto
betrayhimselfor to be irrational.That someone acceptshis ambivalencecan mean
only that he is resigned to it; it could not mean that it satisfies him. Perhaps
conditions are imaginablein which a person might reasonablyregardambivalence
as worthwhilein order to avoid some even more unsatisfactoryalternative. But no
one can desire to be ambivalentfor its own sake.
It is a necessarytruth about us, then, that we wholeheartedlydesire to be
wholehearted. This suggestsa criterionfor use in the designof idealsand programs
of life, and generallyin determiningwhat to regardas importantand to care about.

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PRESIDENTIALADDRESSES

15

Whatwe care aboutshouldbe, to the greatestextentpossible,somethingwe are able


to care aboutwholeheartedly.We do not wishto workagainstourselves,or to have
to hold ourselvesback. Thereare manythingsto whichwe find ourselvesattracted.
In tryingto decide which of them is to be importantto us, we must anticipatethe
extent to which each can be coherentlyelaboratedin our lives.
This may be quite differentthan the extentto which,consideredin itself, it
is worthyof being caredabout. The fact that somethingis importantto us does not
primarilyconsist in our estimateof its own value. The questionof what we are to
care about is not settled by arrivingat judgmentsas to the inherentor comparative
meritsof variouspossibleobjectsof devotion. The fact that a personcares about or
is devoted to something-an ideal, or anotherperson, or a project-means that,
whateverhe may thinkabout it, to one degreeor anotherhe loves it. The problem
has to do most fundamentally,then with what we are capableof loving.
What about self-love? That a person is fully satisfiedwith himself means
he
is
that
wholeheartedin his feelings,his intentions,and his thoughts. And insofar
as beingwholeheartedis tantamountto loving,wholeheartednesswith regardto such
things is the same as self-love. Now someonewho is engagedin self-deception,in
a matterconcerningwhat he is or what he is doing, is concedingtherebythat he is
not satisfied with himself. Like everyone else, of course, he would like to be
wholehearted;as all of us do, he wantsto love himself. Indeed,this is his motive for
self-deception. It is his desireto love himselfthat leads him to replacean unsatisfying truth abouthimself,whichhe cannotwholeheartedlyaccept,with a belief that he
can acceptwithout ambivalence.
Of course, the effort is misguided. Psychic unity obviously cannot be
achieved by dividingoneself. However,the self-deceiveris in fact attemptingto
escape from being ambivalent. He is tryingto overcomethe indeterminacyof his
cognitive state. What he desires,in other words, is that there be an unequivocal
truthconcerningwhat he thinks. We mighteven say, if we are fond of paradox,that
what moves him to deceive himselfis the love of truth.
10. Unfortunatelyit is rare,as we know,for our desireto love ourselvesto
be fulfilled. We are not often satisfiedwith our conductor with what we are. Our
lives are marred,to one degreeor another,by ambivalence.St. Augustinethought
that a transitionto psychicunityfroma stateof volitionaldivisionrequiresa miracle.
So he prayed for conversion. That is not actuallysuch a bad approach to the
problem. In any case, it seems to haveworkedout well for him.
I have another suggestion, however, which he appears not to have
considered. I will offer it by relatinga conversationI had a few years ago with a
womanwho workedin an office nearmine. She and I did not know each other very
well, but one day our talk somehowbecamea bit more personalthan usual. At a
certain point in the conversationshe told me that, in her opinion, in a serious
relationshiponly two things are reallyimportant:honesty, and a sense of humor.
Then she thought for a moment,and she said:"You know, I'm really not all that
sure about honesty;after all, even if they tell you the truth,they changetheir minds
so fast, you can't count on them anyhow."

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16

PROCEEDINGSAND ADDRESSESOF THEAPA: 66:3

Sometimesa person is so ambivalent,or vacillatesso fluidly,that there is no


stablefact concerningwhathe thinksor feels. In cases like that,when the only truth
is too limitedto be helpful,meticuloushonestymaynot be such an importantvirtue.
No doubt the best thing would be for the person to settle down:give up tryingto
have thingsboth ways,and find some coherentorderin whichhe can be more or less
wholehearted. But suppose you are simply unable to make up your mind. No
matterhow you twistor turn,you cannotfind a wayof being satisfiedwith yourself.
My adviceis that if your will is utterlydivided,and volitionalunity is reallyout of
the question,be sure at least to hang on to your sense of humor.
Endnotes
1. A.E. Housman,M. Manilii,AstronomiconI (London, 1903), p. xliii.
2. Lectures on Ethics, p. 224.

3. "On a SupposedRight to Lie from AltruisticMotives".


4. "Of Givingthe Lie".
5. "Of Liars".
6. "Womenand Honor: Some Notes on Lying,"in On Lies, Secretsand
Silence (New York, 1979), p. 191.
7. Ibid., p. 186.
8. Metaphysics I, 2: 982b12.

9. Ibid., 982b20.
10. Ethics, 3P17S.

11. There are degreesof the sort of conflictI am considering. In discussing


ambivalence,I am concernedwith conflict sufficientlysevere that a person: (a)
cannot act decisively;or (b) finds that fulfillingeither of his conflictingdesires is
substantiallyunsatisfying.
12. Confessions VIII, 9.
13. Henry IV, Part 1.

14. It is only to persons that wholeheartednessand ambivalence are


attributable. For this reason, wholeheartednessis not exactly equivalentto the
absenceof ambivalence:the fact that there is no inherentconflictamongthe various
elements of someone's psychicstate does not quite entail that he is wholehearted
with respect to them. To be a person, as distinctfrom simplya humanorganism,
requiresa complexvolitionalstructureinvolvingreflectiveself-evaluation. Human
beingsthat lackthis structuremaybe free of inherentvolitionalconflict,but they are
not persons. Therefore,they are neitherambivalentnor wholehearted.
15. A satisfiedperson may become dissatisfiedupon realizingthat things
be
might better. The realizationmaycause his expectationsto rise. This does not
mean, of course, that he was dissatisfiedbefore they rose.
16. Being or becomingsatisfiedis like being or becomingrelaxed. Suppose
that someone sees his troublesrecede and consequentlyrelaxes. No doubt it is by
variousfeelings,beliefs, and attitudesthat he is led to relax. But the occurrenceof
these psychic elements do not constitutebeing relaxed,nor are they necessaryfor
relaxation.What is essentialis only that the personstop worryingand feeling tense.

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