18 June 2020

The Inner Impulse

Unfortunately I sent out the email before Pedro could send me his essay.

You can find his essay here:

The Inner Impulse by Pedro


The Inner Impulse by Lawrence


A synonym for the “inner impulse” would be “gut reaction”, a “gut instinct. What is relevant for us is whether an inner impulse leads to physical action or a belief, maybe even a strong belief.


The difference is important to establish whether an inner impulse always leads to physical action in a single causal action or whether there is an intermediary stage of a belief and then maybe an action. This will have a bearing on one of the most relevant issues in philosophy: theory of action*. In a “normal” action despite the philosophical arguments would require from us beliefs, desires, intention and of course some physical behaviour to formulate our physical mental states into physical states in space/time.


The “inner” part of the inner impulse covers our epistemic state which includes such things as beliefs, experience and maybe even instinct. In other words, we need to be in some form of epistemic state to justify our actions as “normal” actions and even more important as moral actions. This makes it more imperative to distinguish an action done by “normal people” and an action done by someone with a disease of the mind (legal).


The impulse part of the topic is usually associated with behaviour, and an impulse purchase is the most common impulse we are familiar with in our daily life. Thus if we accept that our inner impulse is some form of gut reaction, the reaction part is also usually understood as a behaviour. But can an inner impulse lead to an epistemic action, such as forming a new belief? Would that still be behaviour?  


Two of the key problems with actions are: is an action the right action to bring about the desired result? And for many actions we can also ask is an action also a moral action? If normal actions we go through a normal causal process of maybe formulating beliefs, fact checking them, plan a strategy and so on and then act. Should we also afford the same causal status to inner impulses?


This opens a whole load of questions. For example, should we hold inner impulses to higher moral standards or is this mitigated by the fact that gut reactions usually involve some unpredictable disagreeable factors, or maybe even an agreeable event. And is the epistemic state of the inner state more reliable than say the epistemic state of a reasoned or rational action? What we can say for sure is that inner impulses are more emotional and closer to us than just any ordinary actions. Buying a cake from a baker on an impulse surely must make that cake taste better than just picking up a box with a cake in it from the supermarket?


But is there this emotional connection between an event independent of us and this sudden outburst of an action by us? Surely the impulse to buy a cake from a baker must have a special ingredient (I know apologies) which a box from a supermarket does not have. I would say that the extra ingredient must be passion or at very least a burst of emotion. And we know very well that emotions do play a role in our actions and behaviour.


Surely this means that inner impulses might very well be nothing more than acts based on passion or emotion; a sort of causal short cut from perception to action bypassing reason, logic, analysis and rational action. You will notice that I did not include experience and instinct. Could it be that inner impulses are not shortcuts but rather actions based on some rudimentary system based on information we collect in our life?


The language is not only curious but also telling. Maybe this information and behaviour is only released with emotions or passion. Reasoning and consideration take time, and time might be of such an essence that even thinking about something might be too late. In other words we have to act on the spur of the moment or lose the opportunity.  


Thus language like: inner, impulse, gut, reaction, spur and so on is very distinct from the language of ordinary actions. Rational, reasoned, analysis, considering, and thinking is hardly a language that evokes emotions and passion. But it is still a language that leads to action.


So are inner impulses an independent system of human action that is activated under certain conditions; maybe even when time is of the essence. Or could it be the case that inner impulses are no different from other forms of actions, including the causal chain of thinking, consideration and so on, but when certain conditions pertain we move from perception to action in one single causal move. In other words we act from perception to action when time of the essence. Or maybe it is some other human system of action.


*You might care to search for Theory of Action and especial the simple theory of action Donald Davidson which is quite controversial to say the least.


Best Lawrence


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