When pondering if people always do what they desire most, the initial answer would be that yes, most people do. Although it would seem to be a fairly easy assumption, it is not as cut and dried as it would seem. There is a difference between people desiring to do what they want most and actually doing what they want most. The deciding factor is free will. Everyone is given the choice of free will to make decisions that are best suited for them. Sometimes free will determines the choices one makes based upon a myriad of factors that have little, if anything to do with what they desire most to do. Therefore, on that premise alone, it can be concluded that not everyone does what they desire most. This could be for any number of reasons. There may be financial limitations, life challenges, and making bad decisions as a result of having free will that prevent someone from doing what they desire most. The philosophers who made history contemplating human choice and free will had differing views on whether or not people always do what they desire most.
Rene Descartes
Descartes had very unique ideas about why and how a person makes the choices he does. His ideology was grounded in dualism which was based in large part to the mind’s ability to have control over the body. He believed the mind was the foundation upon which everything pertaining to the body rested and without the mind the body would cease to exist. In other words, Descartes believed in the power of mind over matter. A person’s abilities or limitations were only as weak or as strong as he believed them to be. Belief begins in the mind. To that end, Descartes also advocated that the mind was responsible for one’s desire and controlled free will. One of his most profound quotes was, “I think, therefore, I am.”

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He also based his ideologies on the Ontological Argument that posits the existence of a Christian God that is benevolent. Because of this Descartes believed man had the ability to trust or rely on his senses in determining the reality of life as well as the choices he would make. This was based upon Descartes belief that because God created man with a mind and the ability to think for himself, and therefore, this was a failsafe assurance that God would not let man down. According to Cimakasky and Polansky (2012), Descartes believed that within every man existed a moral compass that guided him in his decision-making abilities. One of his moral maxims he discussed is his Discourse, Part 2, conveys that man should obey the laws of the land, conduct himself in accordance to what those in his life belief should be best for him, and never make promises that would compromise any aspect of his freedom. When pairing this ideology with man’s desire to do what he wants and free will, there is a similar basis. Descartes suggests that when man takes into consideration the thoughts and feelings of others he is in essence choosing to live according to what others think. In doing so makes man moral but less inclined to do what he desires.

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas made history in his belief of the existence of God through his claims as proof of God’s existence because the Universe had to be created by a necessary being. Although his ideologies have been largely debated, disputed, and left philosophers after him scrambling to prove or disprove his theories, Aquinas never wavered from his beliefs. Out of them he created principles that have been referred to as cardinal virtues that were based on the values of justice, prudence, courage, and temperance.

Out of Aquinas’ claims, many have argued for the problem of evil and have presupposed that if God truly existed and has dominion and authority over all, then why is evil allowed to exist? (Echavarría 2013). This is where Aquinas would contend that God gives man free will to make choices for himself. Choices can be good or bad with consequences and outcomes that are a reflection of those choices. Evil may not necessarily be a choice per se, but is the by-product from which choices are made. The argument could be that if God swooped in to save man at every turn it would remove the free will that He has given man. Thus, there would never be a need for free will or choice.

Parmenides was a pre-Socrates philosopher that believed that reality was something that unchangeable, impossible, and its existence was timeless. He believed that something could not be derived from nothing because there was no nothing. Parmenides wholly believed that the identity of the self was found in the reality of being. What an individual does and thinks is inherent of who he believes himself to be. His reality is grounded in his own truth (Robbiano 2016). He contends that whatever can be thought or talked about, provides a unique and continuous experience that can only be realized by each individual. To that end, free will becomes a reality by which each individual basis their thoughts and feelings upon. As part of this premise, reality to an individual can be whatever he chooses it to be and what it should and can consist of. In other words, according to Parmenides, whatever a person chooses their reality to be is what it is; it just is. To defer from it would not make it true unless it is of the individual’s choosing.

Descartes, Aquinas, and Parmenides all had very different ideologies as to what free will consists of in relation to a person’s desire to do what they wish. Conclusively, the similarities of all three posit that an individual has the ability to choose what they desire for themselves. It is ultimately all about choice. Although certain choices may not fall in line with an individual’s desire to do what he wants most, the choice is still his to make. Some choices require sacrifice that go against what we truly desire most. Yet, it is still a choice that we must make and one that is ours alone.

  • Cimakasky, J. and Polansky, R. 2012, “Descartes Escartes ‘Provisional Morality’.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 93: 353–372, DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0114.2012.01430.x
  • Echavarría, A. 2013, “Thomas Aquinas and the Modern and Contemporary Debate on Evil.” New Blackfriars 94: 733–754. DOI: 10.1111/nbfr.12034
  • Robbiano, C. 2016, “Parmenides’ and Śaṅkara’s Nondual Being without Not-being.” Philosophy East & West 66(1): 290-327.