Since ancient times, philosophers have written about "the will." But the will is more than a philosophic and scholarly topic. In our everyday speech, what do we mean when we speak of the "will"? Will-words turn up everywhere in the English language. We make wills. We exert our willpower. We are willful at times but merely willing at others. Above all, will is there a hundred times a day, when we use the auxiliary verb "will" to express our intentions or expectations for the future, or simply to indicate the future tense.
Yet it takes only a moment's reflection to see that there's a tremendous range of meaning here, and so something to think about. Moreover, all of us have wondered now and then, probably both as children and as adults, whether we are really free, and whether being free means being able to do what we want or being free of wants and desires or something else entirely. That is, we've all wrestled with the issue of free will in our informal, non-scholarly ways. Finally, we've probably all asked ourselves whether people who talk about will and willpower are all talking about the same thing or even talking sense.
These are among the issues that Eva Brann puts at the center of Un-Willing. She takes the whole range of questions about the will that are implicit in our everyday lives and everyday thinking, articulates them, shows us how they have been dealt with within the philosophic tradition and contemporary scientific thought—and then wrestles with them herself.
"Eva Brann has a true aptitude for felicitous expression, and one can feel through her prose the presence of a great and patient teacher."—Dennis L. Sepper, University of Dallas, author of Understanding Imagination
"In this monograph on the concept of will, Brann (St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD) remarks 'it is … the measure of a book’s quality how hard it makes us think.' By this criterion, her book is a work of significant quality. Brann approaches her topic as a self-professed outsider but hardly as an amateur, exploring the genealogy of the concept of will in canonical sources from Greek antiquity through to contemporary philosophy (both Continental and analytic) and experimental psychology. She concludes that the will is a 'notional miscellany,' a hodgepodge of accumulated ideas rather than a distinct mental faculty. She suggests replacing the concept of will as a pushing volitional force with 'un-willing,' the capacity to be drawn by reflective and loving interest. Brann's style and vocabulary are rich, and she indulges in lengthy parenthetical asides and lengthier exploratory endnotes. However, her prose voice remains direct and unevasive. This sometimes daunting work invites and encourages readers to put in the necessary effort to rise to its challenge."—CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
Eva Brann is a member of the senior faculty at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, where she has taught for fifty-seven years. She is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. Her other books include The Logos of Heraclitus, Feeling Our Feelings, Homage to Americans, Open Secrets / Inward Prospects, The Music of the Republic, and Homeric Moments (all published by Paul Dry Books).