Ambivalence, Akrasia, etc.

[New? Start here:]

No neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, Ainslie, picoeconomics, or even phenomenology, here, but I found this paper helpful.

It makes distinctions between first-order desire; second-order desire; “will;” ambivalence; regret; temptation; and two types of indifference, all useful distinctions.

I was exploring “illegible felt sense-ness,” looking for a way to get some kind of handle on (and possibly mediate “between”) a tangle of layered, interpenetrating, illegible, Ouroboros-like, perhaps terminal (perhaps not) desires/urges/etc. And I found reading the below surprisingly helped me to at least get a little closer to the clear core of my ambivalence.

Swindell, J. S. “Ambivalence.” Philosophical Explorations 13.1 (2010): 23-34.

EDIT; related:


Also see:

Kelly, Rebecca E., Warren Mansell, and Alex M. Wood. “Goal conflict and ambivalence interact to predict depression.” Personality and Individual Differences 50.4 (2011): 531-534.

Wallenius, Marjut. “Personal project level of abstraction and project conflict: relations to psychological well-being.” European Journal of Personality 14.2 (2000): 171-184.

[CLICK to SUPPORT this blog and BUY utterly unique health, fitness, SEX, intimacy, communication stuff.]


4 thoughts on “Ambivalence, Akrasia, etc.

  1. I finally got around to reading the linked paper. I generally agree with the analysis, but I do take issue with the seemingly implied equivalence between identification with first-order desires and approval thereof. I suspect this is a case of the typical mind fallacy on the part of Frankfurt and Swindell, that no one would ever identify with a desire that they don’t endorse or endorse a desire they don’t identify with.

    The discussion on regret is particularly interesting to me, especially when the decision causing ambivalence has a wide window of opportunity: it’s between staying in ongoing state A and switching irrevocably to state B. This dilemma feels familiar from times in my life when I was trying to decide whether to leave a relationship or change jobs, and I imagine it’s similar in some ways to the constant struggle of an addict.

  2. “seemingly implied equivalence between identification with first-order desires and approval thereof”

    Hmm, it’s late, but I think a chunk of the paper is precisely *about* the non-equivalence of first-order desires and approval thereof?

    Do you feel there’s a distinction possible between having a) a first-order desire and a *second*-order approval/non-approval of that desire and b) a first-order desire and a *first*-order approval/non-approval of that desire, with a possible second-order approval/non-approval on top of that?

    Let me know if I’m totally not reading you right; I’m not sure if I have a feel for the above; I’m maybe just pattern-generating or completely off in left field. I would love for you to describe your experience of what they’re missing. (And it would be cool if it appears there’s distinct neuroanatomy, correlating with phenomenology, correlating with tidy, logical nth-order meta-feelings.)

    I am reminded of Wilber’s riff on Freud, paraphrasing: You can experience phenomena as “I,” “me,” or “it,” and which of the three it is can change over time.

    1. “I becomes me”: According to Wilber, in healthy growth, “I becomes me.” That is, before you had no distance from that part of you, you just reacted without thinking, without being able to choose or guide, but now you can reflect upon that part of you, live it fully while still having the choice to act it out, or not, in real time.

    2. “I becomes it”: If unlucky in early life (embarrassed, shamed, “bad thoughts/feelings”), then “I becomes it.” Something is experienced as “not me,” disavowed. It arises as an alien urge, “That’s not me! What was’t me! I am not X!” (“Who but a person who is X (or deep down feels they are X) would feel the need to affirm they are not X,” etc., etc., etc.)

    3. And healing requires reclaiming the “it” as I/me in order to healthily integrate it.

    Actually some philosophers have written at length about avowal and disavowal. Maybe dis/avowal is the paper’s lost distinction that you’re picking up on? Curious for your thoughts.

  3. “I think a chunk of the paper is precisely *about* the non-equivalence of first-order desires and approval thereof?”

    That could be right, and looking back at it maybe “[taking] a side about what desires she wants to have and to move her to act” is the same as approval, though I didn’t initially read it as such. I think I tend to think of second-order desires in terms of approval/disapproval rather than in terms of avowal/disavowal, which is why bringing identity into it at all felt a little odd. I’ll think a little more about whether “desires she wants to have” completely covers my intuitions of second-order desire.

    Thanks for sharing Wilber’s take. The disavowal of “I becomes it” (and the related “it’s not my fault” etc.) is definitely familiar, not so much personally (though maybe I’m blind to it… or maybe when I do it it’s “not me”) as from observing some of the less mature people I know. I certainly used to take that stance when I was younger. Curious that “me” and “it” both seem to be moving in the same direction away from “I”. So, we should be objective but not disconnected?

    • “I’ll think a little more about whether “desires she wants to have” completely covers my intuitions of second-order desire.”

      Would be interested. Phenomenologically, I have so many different urges/impulses/desires/hopes/dreams/goals/longings/values/aspirations/appetites/preferences/tastes, over so many different timescales, that it’s hard to know how to think/feel/act/towards/from/with all of them. I tend to try to [sic] focus on and act in ways that support “becoming.” What I mean is, on all timescales, from moment-by-moment choices, to reading fiction, to making money, I tend to reflect most on how it will change me (identity/cognition/mindstream/values):

      “Like, how shall I act to set up the next universe and who that next Mark will be, zir thoughts, feelings, desires, etc., from moment to moment, which will be a platform for that next Mark’s move…” And I’m more interested in that new Mark than the actual state of the rest of the universe, for some reason. I guess I typically bet on the Mark as the most strategic investment.

      I don’t necessarily deliberately, analytically do that. That’s always the underlying sense of it. I suppose, then, that I should be explicitly owning up more to a meta-value which encodes some sort of sense of an ultimately, dominating, desired, curious-above-all-to-see-where-it-goes identity/cognition/mindstream/values trajectory. Anyway, always interested in new nuances and directions with respect to relationship-to-self.

      Curious that “me” and “it” both seem to be moving in the same direction away from “I”.

      I think the normative phenomenology is claimed to be different between the two? The below could fit at least my experience, though words can be so vague:

      1) I = nonawareness/acting-as/reacting/the-way-things-are; ME = surrender/acceptance/willingness/surfing-it; IT = resistance/avoidance/rationalizing-at-it/fighting-it/undermining-it

      Probably shades of gray or multiple axes, as these are logical categories vs neurophenomenology. Map vs territory, etc., etc.

      2) Riffing off of Wilber, he also says something sort of like this: ME = more of a feeling of being *informed* vs IT = more of a feeling of being *assaulted* or affected or influenced.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s