Fallen Will

This is about a consideration of the “Two Wills” philosophy of Duns Scotus and how it may be applied to our status as “Fallen” and being sinners. 

It is about our motivations to do things and how they are distorted towards our self-interest. Our sinfulness and “Fallen” nature is related to this failure.

The Two Motivations

Duns Scotus, partly following St Anselm, considered the workings of the mind and the affections and motivations based on two directions of the Will.

To put it simply we have two motivations to our actions, two directions of our will that govern out thinking and outward actions; the affectio commode (a will towards our self needs) and affectio iusitiae  ( a will directed towards God’s justice and greater good).

If we think of the first motivation towards self needs, we may naturally do those things that benefit us, indeed there may be an evolutionary edge and purpose to this. We do things that help us to survive, we may try to do things that exult us and our abilities. It may help us make the choices of a good mate, the hunt for food, the direction what would enhance something we have that will give us some sort of advantage in living.

Then there is the second motivation that is more selfless and may be directed for some greater common good. It will include the motivation to do those things that have been revealed by God related to law and greater grace. It is related to doing God’s love and justice and to do things that are good in themselves even. This second motivation may even contradict some immediate Self Gratifying gain. We can do self-sacrificing things that may not benefit us and may even cost us our lives. Altruism is a potential feature of our evolved nature. There are aspects of altruism towards family or group and may even reach beyond that if there is sufficient affection towards the recipients of the actions.

In respect of the affection to God’s goodness and justice it proceeds from God. God always acts toward that which is good and God’s own freedom is always moved towards goodness. The capacity for this freedom of will away from self has been to given humanity. It is the divine intention that this motivation and affection is to be growing to that same God given good as an end.

The problem with our fallen humanity lies in that the balance between the two motivations is often too heavily weighted towards self and selfish ends, too tied up with what satisfies immediate self-willed desires. The affection towards self dominates us and may make us disregard the greater calling to do the will towards God’s justice and love. We may even do things that while good in themselves are tainted by a varying degree of self-regard and self-interest. The best aspect of the affection to justice is the completely selfless act that does things irrespective of any reward or advantage to ourselves.

The sad thing about our evolution is therefore that our evolved nature remains distorted towards self and away from Godly motivations that we need in order to be Beings in Divine Communion. By being too far orientated to self-directed will we remain with the problems of our selfishness and conflict. While our divinely intended goal in life is to become those who are more highly motivated to the Will to God’s Justice we remain often trapped in self-regard as a first affection and motivation. It is precisely this that marks our nature of creatures who have “Fallen”, or rather, not completed in our growth towards the higher will. We have the capacity for higher motivations into the freedom of the Will to God’s goodness and justice, and are convertible to that end. But even the spiritual person with some desire for God may still fall into the motivations that would rather serve self and miss our goal and intended purpose and being. That is our nature and that is the existential problem of humanity. That is what must be overcome as part of our salvation and that is what God must do to assist us to that intended end as Beings in Communion.

The Two Wills in relation to tribal allegiances and inter-group conflicts

 I want to now turn from the sense of individual wills to that of collective wills and responses of groups and communities towards each other. Many animals including Primates are highly territorial with protection for food resources and sexual rights. Such territorial conflicts often result in injury or death. Those involved in Primate and animal behaviour research have frequently drawn parallels with human conflicts between communities and societies. It is highly probable therefore that in early evolution Homo species behaved like other Primates. What then becomes apparent is that conflicts today may have roots in the developed sense of group identity and allegiance to group that comes into conflict with other groups.

However what may have been a past development in human evolution and possibly right in early evolution, the many years of subsequent evolution and development of societies should have modified and been transcended by reason and better moral inclination. today we may see that our responses to other groups and races are still too often geared towards  a tribal group protection that excludes others or is antagonistic to out-group people.

I want to suggest that this is a kind of group centred Self-regard that is often still limited to our group that we are part of and not sympathetic enough to outsiders. We have not transcended that tribal origin and the hate and death and such conflict is an aspect of our “Fallen” (underdeveloped) nature. It is again a failure to choose the Justice and Love of God, a failure of the motivation to divine justice that sees all as belonging in God and deserving of the same dignity and rights we would want for our self. Even when not in violent confrontation there is often a protective group mentality that can seem reasonable but intransigent. Things may be too reasonably argued in a way that seeks imposition of one group will upon another. It is by the Will to God’s love and justice that such conflicts are resolved and yet we often seem reluctant to live by it and choose an antagonistic group reaction instead.

Two Wills and incompleteness at death

It may seem evident that some individuals may appear to be more orientated to selfless motivations and acts than others. Progression along a moral pathway with some form of faith or morally reasoned tradition, including a Christian tradition, may predispose a greater or lesser will to the divine love even it is not called that. We can acknowledge for instance that those following a Buddhist pathway are influenced by a kind of teaching that does actually reflect the some similar values inherent in the Will to God’s goodness and justice, away from self-regard and towards a greater goodness, a determination not to harm and a determination not to be governed by self-desire.

Yet even with such a commitments it seems likely that  at the point of death our best moral development may still be largely incomplete. There will still remain some aspects of our life history  that have been orientated to self-will which have caused hurt to the self or others. So even if some of the life of the person has been lived within a greater commitment to the Goodness of God there will remain a greater or lesser residue of the Will to Self that will have tainted that life. There will be record of such a stain of guilt for failures and there will still be an incompleteness in contrast to the Intended Being we should have become. It is this very lack of completeness of our Intended Being that will require some act of Salvation and rescue on the part of God, an acceptance by the Divine of the incompleteness of even those have strived to live the good life. It requires a continuation of the original Divine love to rescue even the partly good person to make up for the incompleteness of their being as persons in communion.


Think of something you recently did that was “good”. Why was it good?

What was your reason/motive for doing it?

Did it stem from faith in God or from something else?

Did it benefit you in any way or was it truly selfless?

Did it matter who this person was, or where he/she came from?

Oh that my will is always motivated by yourmost perfect love, that I would do  what I should do, what your great love will inspire me to do. Teach me to live by the highest motivation of your love and always to desire to enact your uttermost goodness that you lay before me in each moment of each day. And even more my God, to let no consideration of race, culture or personal perception or another excuse stand in the way of my doing your goodness. And at the last when all my good and ill lays before your gaze have mercy on what I have failed to be.