The ontogenesis of the will

G.G. Kravtsov
L.S. Vygotsky Institute of Psychology

The will was very unlucky in the process of psychological research. All other psychic functions are not refused in their rights to exist. No one doubts that a person has emotions, perception, thinking, speech etc. But the will is a different case.

L.S. Vygotsky have analyzed the situation in the field of psychology of the will and divided all theories of the will into heteronomous and autonomous. Heteronomous will theories state that there is no will per se and reduce it to some other psychic processes. Autonomous will theories state the will as a special and independent psychic function. Vygotsky described the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches.

Heteromonous theories seek for determinism and natural-scientific casual explanation of the will. But, according to Vygotsky's thought, they lost the most essential part, that present in volitional act. It's the direct feeling of freedom and “structural diversity of action, which tells volitional act from the non-volitional” - wrote Vygotsky (1982, p. 457).

In turn, according to Vygotsky, “autonomous or voluntaristic theories place the will in the base of explanation the unity and irreducibility of volitional processes and volitional experience. The representatives of this school try to explain the will through the laws, which lie within the volitional act itself. (p. 455).In philosophy A. Schopenhauer and F. Nietzsche were voluntarists. In psychology there was E. Hartmann and not only him. Even W. James, the founder of American scientific psychology, wasn't also been able to avoid spiritualism in the interpretation of the will. Vygotsky wrote - “Particularly, James, as a pragmatist, tries to avoid various spiritualistic and metaphysical explanations of all problems except the will. James made the will theory, which he called “fiat”, Latin word, which was taken from Bible, which means “Amen”, with the help of Creator, who has created the world. By James's opinion, there is a part of volitional force in every volitional act, which often gives preference to the weakest of psychic processes” (L.S. Vygotsky, 1982, p. 459).

Along with the criticism of autonomous will theories Vygotsky mentions the positive kernel in them. “It can be said that, by being very widespread in the period of the will's scientific ideas development, these voluntaristic theories had the positive effect, because they were constantly keeping psychologists' attention to the original will phenomena and they were constantly opposing their teaching to the conceptions that were trying to spell the death of volitional processes. By the way they have also played the supporting role – they split the psychology for the first time into two different trends – the casual, natural-scientific trend and teleological trend. (L.S. Vygotsky, 1982, p. 460)

The author of cultural-historical conception states the main, from our point of view, problem of psychology – how the scientific study of human's freedom can be possible. The will is an instrument of free action and constrained will simply don't exist. He writes “The main difficulty, the main riddle is, on one hand, to explain the determinative, casual, conditional, so-called, natural way of volitional process, to give scientific notion to this process without recourse to religious explanation and, on the other hand, by using such scientific approach to the explanation of volitional process, to keep the will intrinsic feature, the one, that is called the arbitrariness of volitional act, i.e. the one, what makes the determinative, casual, conditional personal act in known circumstances the free action. In other words, the problem of experiencing free volitional process – that distinguishes volitional act from others – is the main riddle, which is trying to be solved by researchers from most various fields (L.S. Vygotsky, 1982, p. 461).

We have reasons to believe that we need to overcome the naturalistic views on the nature of a human and his volitional sphere to solve this riddle. Naturalism is not simple understanding of a man, as extremely natural being. For example, the two-factors convergence theories, which study a person as a bio-social being, are also suffer from naturalism. In naturalistic theories, a person is taken in isolation, out of the essential life links, which distinguish human's existence. A person is a social creature of course, i.e. “an animal, which is busy with politics”, by words of Aristotle. But human's phenomenon is something larger. A human is a being, who lives a spiritual life.

A human has something that creates an abyss between him and animal world – it is the highest gift – freedom. Freedom can not be talked about from naturalistic position but all natural sciences have a bent for naturalism. It is no coincidence that sciences, which study nature, at first were called natural philosophy. A human doesn't fit the four-dimensional space-time continuum, which is studied by natural sciences. This statement's argument is the fact that a human not simply lives inside vector of time, but have an attitude towards it. We measure the time with the help of a watch, we are aware of the course of time, we plan our life and our actions and, generally, we live not only in present but, mainly, in the anticipated future. The past, by the way, is also very actual for a person. A person is a historical being. But if we need to relate to something (in given case to time) we need to separate it from ourselves, to oppose it to ourselves, to make it the subject of consciousness. In other words, a human constantly transcend the given situation and stand in over-situational position, according to the time and space also. It becomes possible only when we admit that a human is a multidimensional being, which surpass three dimensions of space and unidirectional vector of time by degrees of freedom.

The overcoming of naturalism in psychology is a problem that was set by many scientific schools.

But we need to admit that things haven't got forward an inch. L.S. Vygotsky called for resolute withdrawal from the methodological frame of old psychology. Nevertheless old psychology is still alive and even prosper nowadays. Main part of psychological studies is made by the worst variant of naturalism, which distinguishes pure empirical approach. And many of these studies state that they are based on cultural-historical approach but, in truth, they are very far from it.

Cultural-historical approach mean that the central problem of psychological study is the problem of human's free action. Free action is an action, that is controlled consciously, action that is mastered by a person. “To become conscious of something means to master it” - this is L.S. Vygotsky's formula. The problem of consciousness in this case comes into spotlight. And it is consciousness, which is understood in a new way, that is the subject of psychological science by L.S. Vygotsky thought. The consciousness is the integral part of personality. And, in turn, personality exists exceptionally in the process of development. Only in development a human acquires and realizes his freedom and, thereby, realizes himself as a personality. Personality, admittedly, is integral and development, as was said by Vygotsky, is always self-development, i.e. internally conditioned movement. Integrity and system in the study of psychic processes and phenomena, by the thought of cultural-historical approach's author, are obligatory features of new type methodology. Vygotsky himself often brought the concepts of personality, consciousness and psychic into line. Holistic personality is that very “unit”, that is able for development as self-development. Internally conditioned movement assume person's inner impulse and aspiration. It means that the process of development always include the aspect of volitional effort. Development is an actively-constructive, creative process, which comes from essential core of self-developing person.

Thereby, the concepts of freedom, personality, development and will appear to be tightly connected with each other. Remarkably, each of this concepts is a “stumbling block” and insuperable obstacle for traditional psychology.

Every psychological theory may be checked on operability by applying it to the stated concepts.

L.S. Vygotsky in various parts of his papers calls one or another of these concepts the highest and central problem of psychology. There is no eclecticism or inconsistency here. Each of these concepts is a side or aspect of the same psychological reality. The consideration and analysis of one concept immediately leads researcher to all other ones, associated with it.

The construction of autonomous theory of will is absolutely necessary for the theory of personality creation and, from our point of view, it should determine the construction of general psychological theory from the very beginning. We will try to formulate the basic points of autonomous theory of the will, reducing argumentation and explanation of our views on the problem of the will because of the absence of time.

Each of this fifteen statements need deciphering, argumentation and, if possible, experimental verification. With the absence of time I will speak only about the last statement, because it is tightly related to this presentation theme.

So, children don't have the will. This was stated and experimentally verified, for example, in the works of V. K. Kotyrlo, who studied the will in preschool age for many years. More exactly, volitional moments sometimes appear for a very short time in situations, which sharply demand of volitional actions, and disappear almost instantly. They can be observed in teen age, adolescence and even in preschool age. But volitional and stable control over the will is possible only for adults.

The very first displays of the will can be observed in infant age. During revitalization complex a child makes an effort by concentrating his consciousness on adult's face. He still don't control his sensorics and his eyes don't converge properly. But he constructs the cosmos of human existence from the chaos of impressions and feelings, which come from outer world and his own body. It is creative, constructive process which needs volitional impulse. The will in infant age may be connected to the traditional psychological word “apperception”. As you know, there is perception, which is the movement from object of sensing and there is an opposite movement from the individual. There is a phrase in the works of I. Kant - “transcendental unity of apperception”.

This concept fixes the fact, that we perceive the environment not passively, as it reflected on retina, but actively and creatively construct the images of perception. It can be said that we see not with eyes but with mind. The concept of apperception was used heavily by V. Wundt. From our point of view, the apperception is the first display of the will function in ontogenesis and it is apperception, that is the central age new-formation of infant period. Under its influence the infant's inborn sensorics transform into human perception, though it is more correct to speak about reorganization and new-formations in the whole infant's sensor-motorics.

To understand the origination of apperception's volitional function it is important to remember that we speak not about the development of an isolated child, but about the unit “child-adult”. In this dyad the will occupies the pole of adult. An adult encourages, provokes and stimulates infant's activity. He is happy beyond all measure to see infant's opposite happiness, when a child is smiling at him and moving chaotically with hands and legs. In infant age a child is in urgent need of emotional and direct physical communication with adult. It can be said that during this communication the will origin “flows” from adult to a child.

In early age, from one till three years, the central psychological new-formation, according to Vygotsky, is speech. A child, who speaks and who have learned to actively use a word as a psychological tool, differ greatly from himself, who didn't speak. It can be said that the history of child's cultural development begins here. The history, that, by Vygotsky's words, was not known to old psychology and therefore it could not correctly state the problem of personality.

Word is a sign and sign is something that has a meaning and meaning is generalization.

Psychological tool is that something, that has a meaning and bears the function of generalization. A person perceives the environment in its objective characteristics through the prism of general. And the prism of general is the interiorized sign, i.e. the tool, which has become internal psychological formation. The perception becomes objective, constant, intelligent by the experience of cultural legacy. Speech is the true volitional function. And the same was stated by Vygotsky.

In his theory of child's psychic development the central new-formation of preschool age is imagination. It is will function too. So the phrase “conscious initiative” suits it too. This quality distinguishes imagination from resembling processes - fantasy generation, dreaming, imaginative thinking etc. Preschool children imagination is fairly connected with child play. Imagination is both the prerequisite, base of play and, at the same time, play's product, result and children play itself is, by Vygotsky's words, “imagination in action”.

There are reasons to state that the central psychological new-formation of primary school age is attention. This is verified, for example, in the E.L. Gorlova's experimental research. In addition, it agrees with all observations and study of this age children school life.

In Vygotsky's works the function of attention is explained through its correlation with the “figure-ground” perception phenomena. For example in the picture we see two human profiles, turned to each other, or a vase. This “or” depend on what is figure for us and what is ground. We can switch our perception from one to another. And this switching is an attention's work. Attention is conscious control of consciousness object content. But a consciousness, which is directed to itself is a reflection. Certainly the reflection of primary school age children is superficial and have purely object nature. Nevertheless, because of attention's development primary school age children mnemonic ability transforms into volitional memory.

The reflection fully occupies the “field of development” only in teen age and doesn't leave it in adolescent age also. It is reflection, that provides rationality. It is the most important part of volitional act, along with the initiative, though it may exist independently in our common life. Reflection is very hard to study experimentally because it is directed not outside, like aspiration for activity, but inside, to the person himself. Or course, the reflection looks differently in different psychological ages. In teen age it is mainly intellectual, while in adolescence it gets personality nature. The development of reflective abilities completes when a subject of volitional action appears in adult age. In adult's will reflection and activity are naturally united and coincide with each other.

Only adult is able to consciously “turn on” and “turn off” his will, no matter of situation, circumstances and even his own health. But it will be, again, his volitional decision.

So, the described line of the will development in ontogenesis may be called the main line of personality development. The development is extremely complex and multilevel process. We can single out five, relatively independent, but, in truth, tightly interconnected lines in general process of development:

The volitional development is a pivot of personality development and personality development, according to our data, has determining influence on all other lines of person's general development in ontogenesis.