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and Allied Causal Concepts ©
Avi Sion, 2004. All rights reserved. Chapter
INFLUENCE AND FREEDOM
VOLITION and Allied Causal Concepts
© Avi Sion, 2004. All rights reserved.
INFLUENCE AND FREEDOM
important and complex concept in causal logic, and specifically in the logic of
volition, is that of influence.
This refers to the impact on one’s volitional act, before or while it occurs,
of some cognized natural event(s) and/or other volition(s) by oneself or other
agent(s). Note well, the agent of volition concerned must have cognized the
natural event(s) and/or other volition(s) in question, for the latter to count
as ‘influences’. The distinguishing characteristic of influence, compared to
other ‘conditions’ surrounding volition, is the intermediary of consciousness.
The philosophical importance of this concept is due to the confusion of most people relative to the concept of freedom of the will. On the one hand, most people in practice believe the will is free somehow; on the other hand, they realize it is varyingly affected by surrounding natural events and persons. These givens seem theoretically irreconcilable because the latter is mistaken for conditioning or partial causation, whereas it is influence, a different, subtler sort of causality.
For example: a man’s muscles are conditions affecting his volitions, in that he can in fact lift a certain weight with them and also in that he cannot lift more weight than they physically make possible; these same muscles however become influences on his volitions, only when thinking of their supposed limited strength he chooses another course than he would if they seemed stronger or weaker. Note well the subtle difference. Conditions and influences both affect actions, but not in comparable ways.
is a special kind of conditioning, differing from an ordinary condition
in that it operates specifically through the medium of consciousness, i.e. of any
kind of cognitive process. The influencing object is one that has
been sensed or imagined, perceived or conceived, remembered or projected, found
evident or inferred, induced or deduced, or in any way thought about. What it
influences, strictly speaking, is the Subject of such cognitions or
thoughts, i.e. the eventual Agent of volition. When the agent finally ‘makes
up his mind’ and wills something, he does so either in the direction of or
against the tendency implied by the influence at hand.
influences imply positive or negative tendencies, temptations or spurs to
voluntary action. If such tendency was in the direction of the eventual will,
the will was facilitated by it; if such tendency was against the eventual will,
the will had to overcome it.
agent is always free to accept or refuse to ‘follow’ a given influence,
i.e. to ‘yield’ to its weight or ‘resist’ it.
The agent is always free to accept or refuse to ‘follow’ a given influence, i.e. to ‘yield’ to its weight or ‘resist’ it.
of effort refers to a degree of will. Volition is not an either-or
proposition, something one switches on or off; it has degrees. Powerful will is
required to overcome strong opposing influences; a weak agent is easily
influenced to go against his will. Thus, we may speak of amount of effort
involved in an act of will. If influences are favorable, the effort required to
complete them is comparatively minimal. If influences are counteractive, the
agent must pump proportionately more effort to get his way.
We may also
view effort as a measure of the agent’s responsibility, his causal
contribution or ownership of the action and its outcomes. The more effort he
requires, the more wholly ‘his own’ they are. The less effort he requires,
the greater the part played in them by surrounding influences.
of freedom of the will is that an influence is never alone sufficient to
produce some effect, irrespective of the will of the agent concerned. Granting
surrounding conditions allow the power of will in a given case, the agent always
has ‘final say’ to resist the tendency implied by the influence, though such
resistance might require a maximum of effort. As of when conditioning occurs via
consciousness, i.e. in the way of influence, necessity does not apply,
though the effort required to overcome influence may be daunting. Wherever
necessity does apply, one cannot say that there was possibility of will, nor
therefore speak of influence. The subject was simply overwhelmed, proving in
this case to be not an agent but a mere patient. He may have been an observer of
the events, but he was in this case a passive recipient of natural forces.
postulate is correct, it means that consciousness of an object cannot by itself
move a spiritual entity (soul, subject) to action, by way of complete causation.
Though such consciousness may play a major causative part in the action,
approaching one hundred percent, still the action cannot effectively occur
without the final approval and participation of the spiritual entity concerned.
If necessity is indeed observed occurring, then the conditioning involved was
not via consciousness of the object but directly due to the object.
not only an influence cannot by itself ever move an agent into action, but also
– granting the possibility of pure whim – the agent can well move himself in
the absence of any influences. Therefore, influence is neither sufficient nor
necessary for volition.
well, we are not here involved in verbal manipulations. Freedom of the will is a
thesis, a hypothesis, concerning the causal relations possible in the domain of
the spirit. Consciousness may well occur in cases where there is no volition,
i.e. where causation (necessity) takes over; but when this happens,
consciousness has played no part in the effect. Consciousness becomes a
condition only as of when causation recedes, and a space is leftover for
volition to intervene; in that event, consciousness (or its objects, through it)
becomes influential, and the will remains free (to at least some extent).
volition seems subject to some influences to some degree. This seems evident of
human volition, which usually occurs in response to an apparent mental and
material context, though it could be argued to be at times indifferent to all
influences. Other animals, likewise, and perhaps much more so, have powers of
volition subject to influence.
With regard to God, our theoretical conception of Him by extrapolation to extremes suggests we should consider God as the quintessential ‘unmoved mover’, i.e. His volitions as always entirely independent of influences. That need not be taken to mean He acts without regard to anything, but rather that His power of will is so superior to influences severally or collectively that the latter are effectively negligible. A tiny drop of water cannot affect the ocean!
for the relation between God and lower volitional beings, we should consider
that just as God retains the power to interfere in causative processes (i.e. to
Him all natural laws are inertial rather than necessary, as earlier discussed),
He retains the power to ‘overwhelm’ the willpower of any creature’s
soul. Thus, the power of will of any limited creature is in principle always
conditional upon the infinite God’s continued tolerance. However, the Divine
power to dominate or overwhelm lesser wills seems unused in practice (judging by
our religious documents, at least).
Rather, God seems to condition and/or influence lesser wills – giving
agents life or prematurely killing them, or affecting their bodily, mental or
external environments, or again making items appear that (strongly or to some
extent) influence them in some way. This Divine preference is assumed to stem
from an ethical motive, to sustain freedom of the will and therefore personal
influence are, clearly, derivative concepts of cognition and volition. The
empirical basis of our knowledge of them is therefore the same as for cognition
and volition, primarily introspection or subjective apprehension. This direct
self-knowledge, which I call intuition (or apperception), concerns objects that
do not per se have inner or outer phenomenal qualities – i.e. no shape,
shading or color, no sound, no smell or taste, no touch qualities – although
they may produce perceptible objects.
Just as we
intuit our own will, so we intuit the amount of effort we have put into it.
Colloquially, we say that effort is ‘felt’. ‘Physical effort’ is
experienced as a sensation in the body; but ‘mental effort’, or more
precisely ‘spiritual effort’, is a more subtle experience, which may or not
give rise to discernable phenomena. Measurement of effort is therefore, of
course, not exact and absolute, but rough and comparative. It depends not only
on the immediate intuition, but also on personal memory of past intuitions for
purposes of calibration.
of effort is inexact with regard to oneself, it is all the more so with
reference to the effort of others. We can only guess it, by analogy to one’s
own experience and by observation of indirect indices, like (in the case of
physical effects of it) the sweat on someone’s brow or his facial expressions
or bodily postures. Thus, as for will, knowledge of effort is generally based on
It is not
inconceivable that one day soon biologists succeed in measuring effort more
objectively and scientifically, by means of physical instruments. Quantification
of effort would then become more precise and verifiable. Such practices will of
course involve adductive reasoning, an initial hypothesis that such and such
detectable physiological or neurological phenomena may be interpreted as
proportional to the effort of will. But in the meantime, we do have a rough
yardstick in our personal experience.
is a more abstract concept, not experienced or measurable directly, but
constructed with reference to amounts of effort involved in willful action
(making it easier or harder). An object is said to influence one’s action if its
appearance to oneself directly or indirectly affects or conditions the
action, in contradistinction to an object affecting or conditioning action by mere
existence. Note well the phenomenological differentia.
influence occurs only by perception of the object, it is simple, direct. If it
occurs after considerable mental processing of the image of the object, it is
proportionately complex, oblique. Since thought about an object perceived may
have many pathways, of varying intricacy, the influence by one and the same
object may be multiple, involving many theses and layers, some of which may well
be conflicting. Even at the perceptual level, the various sense organs yield
different aspects of the (presumably same) object. Thus, one and the same
object may give rise to many, variant influences. We must keep this insight
in mind, to avoid oversimplification in our understanding of influence and
epistemological issue concerns our estimates of the relative weights of
different simultaneous influences. Such estimates are based in part on
generalization of personal observations (when data on conjunction and separation
is available); but in large part, they are hypotheses, adhered to so long as
they continue to be confirmed by our experiences of effort. Knowledge of one’s
own psyche is very often as tentative as that of nature, or of other people’s
or animals’ psyches. People often think that they have ‘direct insight’
into, or at least ‘deductive knowledge’ of, inner events or relations, when
in fact all they have is inductive knowledge. What is important is to realize
that the latter is pretty good, quite enough.
of freedom of the will is partly introspective, but mainly adductive. Our inner
sense of freedom of will provides the occasion for the theoretical search for
supporting data and postulates. We may have faith in freewill as a working
hypothesis, but are still called upon to develop over the long term convincing
definitions of it and arguments in its favor. The formula above proposed for
freedom of the will is, I think, a good start.
doctrine of freewill is important psychologically and socially, the foundation
of morality and law. The doctrine declares our responsibility for our actions,
however many and strong the forces impinging upon us may seem. Thus, a criminal
cannot disclaim responsibility for his crimes, arguing he was ‘driven’
against his will.
note the doctrine’s own influence on human action, by the power of suggestion:
if one believes he can do or avoid something he is more likely to be able
to do so, than if he thinks that he cannot do so no matter how much he tries.
Thus, belief in freedom of the will increases one’s ‘freedom’, and
disbelief in it is an added obstacle.
empirically evident that the Agents of will are all conscious beings: they are
Subjects. This observation suggests a
fundamental feature of volition, that it is allied to and inconceivable without
consciousness. Given that insight, we can better understand the mechanics
seen that a natural event or another agent can influence an agent in his will,
by presenting to the latter an idea
which, though it does not definitely determine or control his subsequent will,
constitutes a more or less important parameter in its exercise. Note that the
idea presented may be illusory, just as well as real; but insofar as it is
aroused by something or someone, the latter is influential. Note also that the
‘other agent’ influencing one may be an earlier moment of one’s own
existence (as e.g., in the case of habits).
is a causal relation of sorts, though a weak one since it is never determining
due to the essential freedom of the willing soul. Our linguistic practices are
evidence that we do consider influence to be a form of causality. We often use
verbs suggesting it, e.g. ‘he caused me to do it ’ or ‘he made
me do it’. Influence involves causation, in that some object or appearance
(if only partially and contingently) gives rise to some cognition or idea. We
may also consider as causation the relation between the appearance, or its
cognitive effect, and the fact that the eventual volition, if any, is
‘made easier’ or ‘made harder’ by it. But influence in itself, as a
relation between the object cognized or its cognition, on the one hand, and the
outcome of volition, cannot be classified as causation, nor for that matter as
volition. It is another category of causality, mediating those two.
express influence formally as follows: let A be an agent, and W be
his will at a given time. Let object Y be some event naturally
occurring, or willed to occur by some agent(s) B (which B may include
agent A at a previous time). Let content of consciousness X be some
belief, opinion or knowledge aroused in A by Y (X may of course simply be
Y as cognized by A, or X may have some more complicated cognitive relation to
we can say “X influences A to will W”, provided “A
with awareness of X requires less effort to will W, than A without
awareness of X” –
that is, provided X inclines towards W, the will of A. If,
alternatively, X inclined away from W, then A would need more effort
to will W with X than without it, and we would say that “X influences A not-to
define positive and negative influence, both of which may be referred as simply
‘influence’, leaving the direction of influence (for or against) indefinite.
If the effort requirement is exactly equal either way, there is effectively no
influence. The amounts of effort involved are known in various ways, as earlier
discussed. Note that in everyday discourse the implied forms “X inclines to
W” and “X inclines away from W” are sometimes be taken as equivalent to
the forms of influence, because it is tacitly understood that X was cognized by
A and A willed W.
We can of
course, mutadis mutandis, similarly clarify various forms of influence involving
notX and/or notW as terms, such as “notX influences A to will notW”.
In practice, we would consider that whatever gives rise to an influence is itself an influence. That is, the occasion of X that we have labeled Y, or its natural causatives or its volitional agent B – can all be called influences once X is so established. But, note well, whether that practice is strictly speaking valid needs to be discussed. The issue is a logical one, concerning causal chaining or syllogism. It is left open for now.
review the process of influence in sequence:
Something (Y) natural occurs, or is made to occur through the will of
some agent or agents (B, which may be or include A).
That occurrence (Y) comes to the attention of a subject (A), or
causatively produces some physical, mental or spiritual affect in him that he
becomes aware of, and possibly thinks about further (X).
This subject (A) then engages in some act of will (W), whether a direct
volition or an indirect one.
And it so happens that such will (W) involved less effort for that agent
(A) in the presence of that thought (X) than in its absence.
Then the thought (X) can be said to have positively influenced the agent
(A) in so willing (W).
Note that Y
and X may be one or two. If A is directly aware of Y, then it is the term of
reference. If, however, A is not aware of Y, but of some effect of it labeled X,
then X is the influential term. The influential term is whatever is the object
of cognition, i.e. some appearance, be it real or illusory, faint or intense,
far or near. The cognition involved may be sensation (then X is a physical
phenomenon) or introspective perception (then X is a mental phenomenon), or even
intuition. In the latter case, A is aware of prior reactions of his own soul (so
X is a spiritual event). Objects of sensory perception include things observed
outside or within one’s body, including visceral emotions. Mental objects
memories, imaginations, and possibly mental emotions. The object of awareness
may also be an abstraction (then X is a conceptual object, a term within a more
or less complex thought). Usually, all these means of cognition are involved, in
be remarked that the causation by Y of X is a principle to be separately
established, but which need not be known to A to be operative. More interesting
is the question concerning the comparison of amount of effort, involved for A to
will W in the presence or absence of X. For A might well be aware of his effort
while he wills W in the presence of X; but that does not tell him what effort he
would feel in the absence of X! The answer is that one does not need to be
aware of the influence of something for such influence to be operative.
Consciousness is crucial, but it is the consciousness by A of X, not the
consciousness by A of his effort with or without X or of the influence of X. The
agent need not at all take notice of the effort expended, though his attention
is likely to grow with the effort expended.
Indeed, the agent may positively think or claim to think that something has no influence which in fact has some influence, or inversely that something which in fact has no influence has some! In such cases, note, the thought or claim must be considered as a separate, superimposed item, which may or not have a degree of influence of its own, quite apart from the fact.
formula is relevant only to the logician, or to whoever wishes to establish the
existence of a causal relation of influence between something (X) and an agent
(A) engaged in a volition (W). Just as the relation of causation, for instance
between Y and X at this moment, cannot be established with one observation, but
only through repeated observation over time – so with influence. We cannot say
for sure that X influences A to will W with reference to any one observation,
like the amount of effort in the presence of X. We must refer also to other
events, such as the effort in the absence of X.
here as with induction of causation in general, certainty is proportional to the
frequency of such observations. The more often we have observed the conjunction,
the more confident of a causal relation we become. Knowledge of influence is
empirical and inductive.
relation between the object X (as cognized by A) and the amount of effort (say
E, for A to will W) – it is a standard causative relation. It consists of two
if–then propositions (natural hypotheticals), “if X, then effort E(X)” and
“if notX, then effort E(notX)”, and a comparative proposition “effort E(X)
is less than effort E(notX)”. Nothing special – the procedures for such
knowledge are commonplace. This refers to the case of positive influence by X.
In the case of negative influence by X, E(X) would be greater than E(notX); and
in the case of no influence, the effort needed would be the same either way.
any calculation of effort must take into account not just one influence, but all
influences currently active for or against the intended will. The total effort
requirement call it E, would be the effort requirement if the will was
uninfluenced by anything (E0), plus all the additional efforts
required to overcome negative influences (E–), minus all the
reduced efforts made possible by positive influences (E+). That is, E
= E0 + E– – E+.
is something the volitional agent must call forth out of himself or put forward,
as a precondition to his succeeding in doing his will. Effort is known to us by
inner experience; but the agent need not be conscious of his effort every time
he exercises it. Nevertheless, in our definition of influence we have assumed
that some effort is always involved in volition, and that its quantity varies,
being greater in some circumstances than in others. Whether or not it is focused
on, effort is there wherever volition occurs. Volition
remember, effort is relative. The quantities of effort required for each action
vary from individual to individual, and even within the lifetime of a given
individual. I may find a job easier to do today than yesterday, for a variety of
reasons (e.g. I no longer have a cold); and some other person may find the same
job more difficult any day (being less muscular or brainy than me, say).
distinguished influence from ordinary conditioning, with reference to the
consciousness that mediates the cause and effect in the case of influence. We
have pointed out that influences may equally be natural events or events brought
about by volition or both, provided in any case the one influenced has cognized
these events. Let us now consider more closely the possible interactions of
different volitional agents.
One or more
volitional agent(s) may impact on another in the way of ordinary conditioning,
i.e. by causation. For example, a man while knocked out is tied up by others; as
he awakens, he tries unsuccessfully to move his arms and legs, before becoming
conscious that he is tied up. His attempt to move are acts of will, whose
limited scope is not due to influence but to causation, since he did not notice
the rope before trying (but rather became aware of his predicament by trying).
If the man happens to be Samson or Superman, he might break the ropes on first
trial: his will has overcome the man-made obstacle they present. On the other
hand, if the man feels or sees the rope before trying to move, his will is then
braced against the resistance of the ropes – and in that case, it is
appropriate to say that influence is involved.
subsidiary concept of influence, by one or more volitional agent(s) of another,
is incitement – which may be defined as intentional influence.
In the case of unintentional or accidental influence the influencing
agent(s) will something with certain purposes in mind, which do not include the
goal of influencing the other agent in a certain direction; yet that other agent
is indeed influenced, since he cognized that previous will or its outcomes and
acted in the same direction, or against it, in relation to such cognition. We
have incitement, by contrast, if the one of the goals of the influencing
agent(s) was in fact to influence the other agent a certain way, interfering
with his life, presenting him with some enticement or obstacle.
formalize incitement by means of propositions like “X incites A to will W”.
This is a specialized form of “X influences A to will W”,
which it implies, where X is something willed by some agent(s) B, who
intend(s) agent A to will W. (Thus for the positive form; similarly, mutadis
mutandis for the negative form and for forms with negative terms.)
the will X of B could be any perceivable physical
activity or product thereof, such as a push or pull, a punch or arm-lock, a
gesture or speech, a written text, or whatever. Such will, note well, has to
have as one of its goals the orientation of A in a certain sense. The mere
awareness by B that A might perchance be so led does not qualify as
intention; B has to want that result. Though A must cognize X (and that
before willing W), he does not have to cognize any of the intentions of
B. But X must in fact influence A to will W, i.e. reduce the effort needed for A
to will W and thus the likelihood of his doing so. Influence without intention
and intention without influence are equally inadequate to qualify for
incitement. And of course, just as influence does not eliminate freedom of the
will, so incitement does not.
whereas influence refers to the consciousness of the influenced agent,
incitement refers to both that and the consciousness of the influencing
agent(s). The concept of incitement has gray areas, with regard to who and what
(and where and when) the intentions involved are aimed at. We must distinguish specificities
of intention, ranging from general intentions to more and more defined ones. The
former intend a kind of result, whereas the latter focus on a designated agent
performing a precisely specified action. For example, advertisers want to sell a
product to as many people as possible; but it would not be accurate to say that
they incited Mr. Smith in particular to buy a particular sample of it (even on a
given date in a given shop).
The most obvious case of incitement is physical coercion or intimidation. This may involve actual blows or incarceration, to someone or to others that this person cares for, or merely the threat of such direct or indirect physical suffering, with a view to get the victim to do or not-do something. The legal authorities may resort to such measures to protect society. Or thugs of all kinds may use them for their own selfish ends. Depending on one’s courage, training and motivation, one may often resist such attempts at domination. Sometimes, individuals try to and fail; sometimes, yielding to fear of pain, they do not try at all. People usually manage to defend themselves collectively, if not individually.
Intimidation, involving the threat of force to someone or the use of it against his loved ones, is of course a psychological rather than physical means of incitement. Indeed, most incitement is psychological, ranging from promises of some advantage or reward to threats of some disadvantage or punishment. The promise or threat is often very tacit and vague, though sometimes explicit and defined; it may in either case be true or false. Its content may fall under any existential category: it may be physical, psychological, spiritual, economic, social, political, or whatever.
Incitement by means of language in any form (gestures and sounds, speech in words, written language) is considered as special enough to be named distinctively, say as ‘persuasion’. We may make further distinctions with reference to the interrelation involved: ‘ordering’ (by an authority or superior), ‘entreating’ (by an equal or inferior), ‘instructing’ (by a teacher), ‘example giving’ or ‘emotionally inspiring’ (by a role model), ‘advising’ (by a friend), and so forth. Often, pressure is applied by seemingly merely giving information (true, false or uncertain), without specifying what it is in aid of; an idea is imbedded in a mind, with the likelihood that it will lead to certain desired conclusions and actions. A promised reward for a certain course of action is an ‘incentive’; a promised penalty is a ‘disincentive’. If an incentive turns out to have been a false promise, it was probably intended as ‘bait’.
in relationships of influence between two or more volitional agents, the
interaction of wills may be competitive or cooperative. We should not
necessarily view the influencer(s) as active and the influenced agent as
passive. The agents may have conflicting or shared purposes, with or without
intention to do so. They may work at cross-purposes or together, struggling or
in harmony, in a variety of relations – for examples, as commercial partners
or political opponents, as equal co-workers or as boss and employee or as master
and slave, as parents and children or as teacher and student.
relations can in principle be defined by analyzing the intentions of the players
involved. Some interactions are de facto, some are contractual, mutual
agreements by word of mouth or in writing; some are more or less enforceable,
some not. We see here how the whole range of human or animal social life becomes
an object of aetiological study.
important issue in this context is that of parsing responsibility.
Volitional acts are primarily the responsibility of their agent, no matter how
much they are influenced by external factors or persons, since he has free will.
Nevertheless, in a more nuanced sense of the term, his responsibility may be
mitigated with reference to the influences impinging on him. If something good
was very easy to do, the praise in doing it is less marked than if it was
difficult. If something bad was very hard to do, the blame in doing it is more
marked than if it was easy. Our concern may be moral or legal.
consider human influences, and especially intentional ones, sharing the praise
or blame is necessary, since more than one agent is involved in the result.
Obviously, unintentional influence implies a lesser share of responsibility for
the influencer than intentional influence (i.e. incitement). In some cases, the
scenario relates to an association between two or more persons who perform some
deed in common. We might then ask, who played what role, and what their mutual
relationships were, to determine the hierarchies of responsibility involved.
Such judgments are not based on exact science (to date). Many virtues are needed
to arrive at a fair judgment, among them respect for facts, attention to detail,
impartiality, the sense of justice, a pure spirit, wisdom.
 I make no claim to special knowledge of the Divine, of course. As a philosopher, I merely conceive possibilities, cogent hypotheses, concerning God. Here, I note that while ‘overwhelming of lesser wills’ would seem doctrinally consistent with the idea of God’s omnipotence, it is not a doctrine stressed within Judaism and similar religions.
 Clearly, the problems of theodicy remain whether we assume God’s action to include overpowering wills, or to be limited to conditioning and influencing. It would have mattered little to victims of the Holocaust whether God saved them by overwhelming Hitler’s hate-filled will, or by killing or otherwise neutralizing him early enough.
 One could here also include telepathic communications, if we suppose that telepathy exists.
 I use the term very broadly, including both fair persuasion and persuasion by distortion.
 I particularly recommend in this context the already mentioned work of Hart and Honoré.