In society: The ability to make someone do or believe something if one desires it.
The ability to make someone believe something is also called
On the logic of power
The following is a brief logical treatment of some logical issues
related to power, influence, freedom and society that involves
of propositional attitudes.
At present this is the beginning of considerably more to follow later.
If you have difficulties with my logical notations, bear in mind that
all are provided with English readings, and that all the reasoning
involved is fairly straightforward logic.
1. Basic definitions:
Logically speaking, using the
logic of propositional
attitudes, one can define power thus - and "a" and "b" stand for
names of persons (or - derivatively - institutions); "F" for a
predicate; "C" for "causes that", "D" for "desires and "IFF"
for "if and only if":
power(a,b,F) =def bCFb IFF aDbCFb
which is to say: a has power over b as regards F iff (b causes that b
has F iff a desires that b causes that b has F). Note this may be so for
many reasons, some rational, some not, and some moral, others not, as
shall be explained below - and note also that almost everybody has
started out in life being much dependent on one's parents, and the way
they chose to exercise their power over their children.
Less precisely, in terms of just statements, the above amounts to this:
power(a,b,q) =def bCq IFF aDbCq
I.e. b tries to cause q iff a desires that b tries to cause q. Similarly
influence(a,b,q) =def bBq IFF aDbBq
with "B" = "believes".
An interesting application of the definiton for power is when a=b
power(a,a,q) =def aCq IFF aDaCq
This amounts by the above to: a has power over a himself as regards the doing
q iff a tries to do q iff a desires to do so. Note that intuitively this
is quite close to human happiness: To
be able to either do as one desires and to desire what one does and not
to do as one desires not to do. Similarly
influence(a,a,q) =def aBq IFF aDaBq
a has influence over himself as regards the believing of q iff a believes q iff
a desires to believe so. (Here there are great danger for the human
weakness of wishful thinking.)
Accordingly, it is clear that the following seems an interesting
generalization, that seems to be true of most persons:
(*) (a)( aD (q)(power(a,a,q)) & (s)(influence(a,a,s)) )
(*) Everyone desires full power over himself and full influence over
himself - to do only as he desires and to believe only because he
desires to believe so. (Or as Daniel Defoe put it, in the early 18th C
That all men
First, and in any case: The practical problem is that this requires
agreements to maintain or create a
peaceful society that is in the interest
of the vast majority, since that is the best general conditon for them
to maximize their own power over themselves (often in the form of
leisure) and influence over themselves
(often in the form of self-control,
sometimes in the form of - some - wisdom).
Here it is worthwile to check out at least
cooperation, for this gives a logical
analysis that is adequate to many modes of human cooperation, that
covers but is not limited to economical exchanges.
Second, it is noteworthy, for logical and psychological reasons, for
example, that there is a close relation between power (over oneself) and
happiness, for happiness requires power
over oneself, at least to some extent, and often leads to it or
coincides with it: People want to do what they please when they please,
and feel well when they can do so.
Third, for those who believe (*) to be cynical,
egoistic, or Nietzschean, there are three relevant precisifications of it.
A. It is quite possible that there are persons many of whose desires are
for helping others, such as their family or friends, and not
many others, notably the members of the society or
group they live in.
So, doing as one desires, and desiring to do so, are neither
good nor bad as
such, and their goodness and badness depend foremost on the desire (how
well rationally founded - see below) and secondarily on the doing (how
B. Believing only because one desires to believe so, is neither good
nor bad as
such, and the goodness and badness of this depends foremost on the belief and
secondarily on the reasons for the desire to believe it, which is worse the less based on
rational thinking and
at least rationally speaking.
And there is an important link here with
wishful thinking, for if one
approves of one's beliefs not because of the evidence one has, or
relevant knowledge on has, or by other modes of rational thinking, but -
simply and conveniently - just because one desires it were so, and
therefore believes it is so, then one succeeds at believing what one
desires, and has effectively deceived and
Hence, in this sense
wishful thinking is the
emotionally, logically and rationally simplest way to come to believe
things, and its only excuse is that it is very easy and does lead to a
generally merely imaginary satisfaction.
C. One should note that there is a logically obvious
generalization of (*), that also implies (*):
(**) (a)( aD (b)(q)( power(a,b,q) & influence(a,b,q) )
(**) Everyone desires full power over everyone and full influence over
everyone - to do only as he desires and to believe only because he
And those with a need for this can be found especially in
bureaucrats, and in religion as
priests or clergy.
For these have the ways and means to obtain as much power and
influence over others as is humanly
2. On freedom, rationality and independence
If we consider the desire to have power and influence over oneself i.e.
aD (q)(power(a,a,q)) & (s)(influence(a,a,s)) )
it is clear we can make the point that in the case
of influence over onself aDaBq is either rational, qualified and conditioned or
else it is not, and is therefore mere wishful thinking.
Thus one can make various definitions c.q. distinguish various
possibilities, that are in the following table only indicated for
influence over oneself:
because a desires, likes, values, wishes for q
because a believes others desire this
& aB(s & s|- p(q)≥½)
because a believes in a proposition s that implies p(q)≥½
This can be precisified in various ways, and here we shall consider a quite
general set of beliefs and desires that relate to personal freedom,
rationality and independence.
For this we require
B(a) =def the beliefs of a, and
D(a) =def the desires of a
both of which are taken to be sets of propositions, so that we also have
B(a)UD(a) =def (BUD)(a)
which is the set of a's beliefs and desires, with a convenient shorter
Now we can consider the following criterions for the beliefs and desires
a person a desires to adopt or try to cause:
aDaBq IFF aB [ (s)( s rel aDaBq --> s e B(a) ) ] &
aD [ (s)( s rel aDaBq --> s e B(a) ) ] - informed
aDaCq IFF aB [ (s)( s rel aDaCq --> s e D(a) ) ] &
aD [ (s)( s rel aDaCq --> s e D(a) ) ] - independent
aDaDq IFF aB [ (s)( s rel aDaDq --> s e (BUD)(a) ) ] &
aD [ (s)( s rel aDaDq --> s e (BUD)(a) ) ] - free
In the first pair, a desires to be informed about coming to desire to
believe q iff a desires that everything relevant to arrive at that
desire is part of a's beliefs, and may come to believe that indeed this
is so. Then a believes a is informed as to his belief that q.
(The sense of relevance here is the
logical and probabilistic sense.)
Of course, to come to this belief in a rational way a must have
for it usually (recently or long ago), though of course there are
a lot of commonsensical beliefs for which this is true anyway, for else
one could not survive in one's world.
In the second pair the same sort of criterions are formulated for
desiring to try to do q: Everything relevant for that is to be
part of a's desires to try to cause q is part of a's desires. If a
believes this, then a believes a is independent.
In the third pair the same sort of criterions are formulated for
desiring to desire q, that may be such that everything relevant for
coming to that is part of the union of a's beliefs and desires. If a
believes this, then a believes a is free.
The reason for (BUD)a in the last pair is that generally desires require
for their adoption both desires and beliefs, the latter generally about
the probability of the means to realize the former.
In either case of the three pairs of cases, the point is that everything
relevant for a belief, action or desire that a comes to, is part of
a's beliefs and desires, in the stated ways, which means in effect
that indeed those beliefs, actions or desires that a comes to that
conform to this, are up to a, and not to someone or
For more on some subtle problems that are involved here see
Freedom of Will.
Here it is merely assumed that a person a may come to believe and desire
that a is free, independent and informed about some of a's own actions,
beliefs and desires, and that indeed his beliefs that he is, sometimes may be
true. (This holds notably so for many commonsensical things, events
It should be noted that in any case it is usually possible, if one knows
a person, and his knowledge and his modes of reasoning, to say with
considerable confidence about many subjects about which the person holds
beliefs or desires, whether these beliefs or desires were based on
free, informed, independent and rational considerations or not, where
"rational" is defined by reference to probability of truth in case of
desires for beliefs and by reference to probability of success in case
of desires for actions.