Quick Thoughts: Power and Control

Feb 26, 2012 by

My definition of power is to get others to act in accordance with your intentions, using reason, based on the foundation of “all human action must be aimed at the good” (Aristotle), and the highest good is “the good of the community” (Aristotle). If we are reasonable beings this is accomplished through reasoned arguments and nothing else. The foundation of the desire to know is to form a political/society or polis (there is no difference) to fulfill our function by coming together to use reason culminating in action aimed at the good to achieve excellence. The desire to know is the quest for input either through experience or rightful reasoning to develop output, virtuous action. This does not deny the ability to think unreasonable or to commit bad acts. That is why justice and its associated structure becomes necessary. Control, I think, is the use of force when we cannot make a reasonable argument to get others to act in accordance with our intentions and must use force to deny the ability to act in any other way. That does not mean we cannot think about acting in a different manner , but that we cannot exercise that action. Take for example slavery. The slaves according to natural right philosophy are free, know they are free, but are unable to exercise freedom. Therefore, how we choose to use power has real consequences and must be used with vigilance.


  1. Salsa

    When the thought of power comes to one’s mind, it must be used with force. The purpose of man is to break through the limitations of man and become one with no restrictions of any sort. This cannot be accomplished with meeting the needs of a community. Communities are weak, and effort should not be applied. Unless the community is being used from the source of power. Control of one’s self needs to come from breaking the limitations of man and become the absolute power, the superman.

  2. Gerber

    I think we are missing the point on power and control. We are confusing the two with influence. Power is, in essence, the ABILITY to exercise overriding control. Control is the use of “will” to govern the actions and decisions of an individual. Thus, to control another person is to bend them to your “will”. Power over another is having bent them, not necessarily using that bent will. Now, I think, however, this means that no one has power or control over anyone else. No matter what action is taken, even to the degree of violence, you can never fully control someone’s “will”. Either you have to take the idea of “will” out of the picture, as is the case with people who theorize in us being products of our environment, or people’s own “wills” control themselves. Any action you take, you have to allow the other person to govern you. And, when it is allowance and not an override, you are still in control. Likewise, even if someone could find a way to control you through your inactivity, they wouldn’t have power. This implies that there is a point at which you can no longer override them with your “will”. This seems, in a thought, to be unlikely, in an elongated explanation, impossible. Now, as far as government power like Salsa suggests and power over others of the kind Vince Giglio is suggesting, this falls into the category of influence. You are not controlling “will”, for control implies you alone govern. Merely you are using the governing “will” as a tool to getting the actions and decisions you want them to make, whether this be through example, force, reward, punishment, or a reasonable debate, it is mere influence. To suggest it is power or control is to suggest you have a governance over them, that your “will” is in governing. Yet, influence only weights the options, it can never make a decision. Thus, no matter how much force may be applied, a slave is always in control and has power over himself. This does not mean he is free, but that he makes the decision to either stay or risk his life. I think, however, a connotation of power forms based on influence being so great, it may as well govern. I think, however, this is a misconception with force and punishment influences, which, in themselves, are great influences. They are not good ones, but powerful ones for the influencing of action.

  3. Vince Giglio

    Influence is the result of using power. It is our choice to be influenced. Choice is not available with control.

  4. Vince Giglio

    For those of you who believe that there can be a “superman” watch Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Rope”.Nietzsche’s Superman is an impossibility (unless he has an S on his uniform and a cape). When we start to think we are supermen passion will ultimately destroy us. Passion is our kryptonite. We will forget that we are capable of the greatest good, and the greatest evil, loosing the necessary vigilance to be great.

  5. Gerber

    When you state choice is not available with control, you are correct if you assume I am talking about being controlled by someone else. But, rather, I am talking about being controlled by your own internal governing processes. Through these processes you control yourself and IN these processes you make choices. When I talk about power, I am talking about an ability to exert control. A stronger power means more capability to see the outside influences for what they are. A stronger control means more of an ability to resist those influences. You are correct that influence is the product of power, but it is not merely that. It is the product of action or inaction. When you say nothing as a woman is being beaten before you, you are exerting an influence to others that you shouldn’t say anything to such an event. So, in summation, you control yourself, and thus posses a choice as to your own action. Whether or not you choose to make those decisions yourself or allow outside influences to do it is a different matter from control. Power exerts influence, but influence is the product of our actions and inaction. Now, whether or not you choose to posses a strong power and control over yourself, or allow the influences of others to weight your governing process is up to you.

  6. Gerber

    As for Nietzsche’s superman, I have two questions. One, is it not possible to hold it as an ideal to strive for? Though we may never attain it, that does not mean it is not something which one should try to come close to. Two, are you stating that the superman is unlikely because man WILL resort to passion or because he is LIKELY to resort to passion? For, part of being superman is being able to recognize truth without attaching unreasonable passions to it. This is unlikely, yes, but I don’t know if we can, for sure, call this impossible so much as extremely unlikely and counter-intuitive to human nature. And, being counter-intuitive does not make it impossible, for Nietzsche’s animal is a counter-intuitive idea of man, yet people can attain the role of that with great ease. It is always seeming impossible to progress, but I don’t think we can know if it is truly an impossibility.

  7. Vince Giglio

    Is there a difference between influence and example? People can provide examples of behavior, but to influence someone that person needs to be receptive. They could be receptive because they admire or have respect based on prior action. Does not there need to be an established criteria for influence?

  8. Gerber

    I believe that influence is near universal. For lack of better terms at the moment, here is how I see the process of judgement. Everyone has a will. The will is the process of setting weights for the scale of judgement. So, if you come to a decision like, “Should I run into the burning building and save the person?” You weight the value or virtue (depending on your personal motivations) of the decision based on influences. The person inside could die gets one weight and your life gets another one. You weight each piece of information and whichever weights heaviest is what you choose. Is the weighting process perfect, no. Reason is the judge for the value or virtue weight for each matter, though passion, instinct, and intuition are also used. What does this matter? Well, by this, we can see that every piece of information is a weight in and of itself. Your passion to self-preservation influences your action, as does the person who is shouting for help, as are all the pressures you feel from society. They have weight in your mind. All perceptions relevant to a choice are influences over that choice. It does not matter if the relevancy is rational, only that the person making the choice sees some small relevancy or connection to the choice. Now, I think rather than a criteria for influence, we need a division of it. I will propose six categories. Theoretical versus Actual influence. This is a distinction based on receptivity of the subject, as you pointed out. A politician may not be noticeably swayed by the influences of arguments made against his actions, but that does not mean that he does no take them into a slight consideration. All things have some slight, though sometimes unperceived, weight. It is when they are unperceived that I call them theoretical rather than actual. Two further categories would be intentional versus unintentional. A habitual habit of picking up litter may not intend to influence those around you, but if they perceive you doing so, it is still influence. Finally, Force versus Persuasion. Force is the act of or threat of violence against oneself, one’s loved ones, or one’s property. Persuasion is, in baseness, all else. It is that which is legitimately, though not necessarily rightly, used to weight the governing process, such as being an example. Thus, your example where someone is unreceptive, I would classify that as a theoretical, intended persuasion, if they were receptive, it would be actual rather than theoretical.

  9. FICO

    @Gerber your take on judgement seems not to take into account the process of change. @everyoneinthisthread change is a universal that mist be considered. Back to judgement and will, if one weighs the implications of running into a vurnimg building and the resulting solution is one that values one’s own life over the person in the building, then the solution states that one would not run into the building. The Change Variable would dictate that even upon solving this equation, one would ignore the solution and run into the burning building.

    I hesitate to use the term evolution, but it seems to be the only one that fits. Perhaps a new term would work(or one I’m not thinking of as I type this). How do we consider the historically inevitable change in a system that strives for the definitive(even philosophy, folks) for what I see all around us at present.

    Power and control seem never to prevail, (a constant??) thus I would subscribe to the idea that they are two engulfed buildings whose flames are worth running from every time.

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