It is rightly said that our routine thinking and theorising relates to our propositional attitudes. The best part is: we not only make use of them, but also take them as gospel in explaining and presaging what people will do — even when no one around us asks us to deliberate. This is human proclivity at its best. To cull a few examples: “I don’t know why my nephew took up a job that has no growth for the next five years.”  Or, “Why my cousin was so hell-bent on getting married to her colleague, who, I feel, is not good enough for her?” All this and more has been, since the dawn of civilisation, fundamental to our cultural or social philosophy and, in the course of time, for essential psychology. What’s more, their parallels are found in several tapestries in modern cognitive science.

Add to this whole spectrum our plethora of mental and emotional states that relate to our feelings and emotions, and you’ve a veritable smorgasbord of normal, or inadvertent, attitudes. As for feelings, you’d include annoyance, happiness, grief, dejection, jubilation, self-importance, awkwardness, regret, guilt, embarrassment, and a host of other elements. You may, likewise, think of hankered, or accidental, attitudes or attributes to balance the scale: “Oh, my god, it just slipped from my mind. I forgot to wish my childhood friend on his 40th birthday.” This could certainly be a cause of discomfiture for you and also disappointment for your good friend.

The best thing to do in such a circumstance is to accept your gaffe and call your friend, pronto. You should never, in the process, take refuge in a flimsy excuse, such as you’re extremely busy — remember, everyone is busy in their own way. You are no exception. You simply need to believe and correct yourself the next time — for another old chum’s birthday, or wedding anniversary. The moment this restated responsibility sinks into your mind, you will feel blessed and also vindicated — that you were just yourself and you were not putting up pretences. As one ancient theorist said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Our intents, in philosophical terms, are called “volitions.” They are related to common words, such as purpose, decision and will — or, a disposition to be willing. Such states mirror propositional attitudes, intentions and decisions too. For example, you’d take the decision, each day of your life, to catch the 7.45 am train to reach your workplace on time. This is your call for action — to remind yourself that you intend, or decide, to do something and/or pledge to do it.

The only caveat is that you must be a party to your intent and be prepared not only to take the obligatory steps towards doing it, but also to executing it, at the right time, each day of your working life. While this would, in no way, mean that you can’t change your mind, on a certain day — to leave a few minutes early. This is fine so long as you change your intent to be released from the fixed monotony to a transformed commitment, or action. Most of our ancient philosophers had a ready prescription for such intents, be it a certain time for lessons with a teacher, or training for an impending battle, or anything else — that all intentional actions must be heralded by volition, or the act of the will. The whole credo, in today’s context, purports to one’s honed skills, personality, habits, propensities, purpose, intellectual abilities and artistic talents.

(The writer is a wellness physician, independent researcher and author)

Rajgopal Nidamboor