Part I – Chapter6
The coexistence of the One and the many.
There are apparent logical difficulties in the idea of Monism that need to be addressed, if we are to grant it credibility. One question people ask is: How can the world be essentially and absolutely (and only) One, and yet appear as a multiplicity of passing phenomena, entities and events? Can a whole be at once considered unitary and as having parts – is not such an idea self-contradictory? Are the One and the many compatible?
This question can be answered, without indulging in overly mystical discourse, if we realize it is already loaded with a certain epistemological point of view. There are in fact two possible viewpoints as to the cognitive and metaphysical relationship between the apparent many and their essential oneness. We can inductively claim either “unity in diversity” or “diversity in unity”.
In the first thesis, which is most commonly known and advocated, and which is the premise of the above question, the One is aconceptualderivativeof the many. According to this Pluralist theory, we directly experience a world of multiplicity, and then use our rational faculty to hypothesize an underlying Unity. The One is then a mere concept – it is the most universal of all concepts, the fact of existence all phenomena share, the ultimate uniformity they share.
The problem with such a view of the One as derived from the many by conceptualization is that, as we have already mentioned, it has an inherent contradiction – the concept (of unity) we derive from the percepts (of manifold things) is in logical conflict with its source. Since things are primarily (phenomenologically) many, it is difficult to credibly affirm that they are ultimately (ontologically) One. The epistemological order of things affects the metaphysical perspective.
However, there is an alternative to this theory, which is less widely known and advocated, namely that the many areratiocinativederivativesof the One. This Monist hypothesis, which is found already in Buddhist philosophy, and is today implied by modern physics, offers a less paradoxical dichotomy. In this reverse perspective, pure (pre-rational) experience is quite unitary; it is the cognizing Subject, who cuts this phenomenological primary given into a multiplicity of shapes, colors, motions, sounds, etc.
If we sit in meditation and just experience, we can soon realize that without interference on our part the multiplicityisa unity. It is only when we start analyzing it – making comparisons and contrasts, considering logical compatibilities and conflicts, and so forth –that the original unity is broken down into a seemingly endless multiplicity. Granting the epistemological primacy of unitary experience, we can understand that ratiocination is the source of apparent multiplicity. In that case, the One and the many do not appear so much in logical conflict, and we can safely opt for a Monist metaphysical position.
Another question people often ask is by what process did the One generate the many? Was the One inherentlyunstable, that it had to break down into the many? Note that, whereas the preceding question related to the statics of the Whole-parts relationship, this one concerns the dynamics of it.
However, we can reply that this second question, like the first, involves presuppositions. One need not view the relationship of the One and the many as having a beginning or an end – it can be viewed as timeless; we can consider that the One has always been actually one and the same with the apparent many. Another viewpoint, more accurate in my view, and more in line with the Monist thesis just formulated, is to say that the One is always potentially apparently many, such potential being actualized as of when and so long as some Subject engages in ratiocinative analysis.
While the second question can be asked even from a non-theistic (or atheistic) perspective, it is most often asked in relation to Monotheism. People ask: Why did God create us, and the world at large? Was He discontented, in need of something, moved by some want, or did He act capriciously? If so, does such supposition not contradict the idea of God as perfect and self-sufficient, as well as ultimately One, alone and indivisible?
Moreover, if He created us intentionally, why is it our mission in life to go back to pre-Creation? Does not the idea of ‘repair’ (tikkun, in Hebrew) imply an error to be corrected? Perhaps the error was not the Creation as such, but only the “original sin” in the Garden of Eden, i.e. a misuse by us of the faculties God gave us? Did God not foresee such misuse of volition (in which case He would have refrained from creation altogether)?
It is proper for a believer to ask such critical questions, for belief in God should always be based on rational reflection, so as to have a maximum of credibility and solidity.
Certainly, ideas suggesting that God might be subject to unfulfilled desires or that He might yield to some passing fancy are unacceptable, since they imply He has some incompleteness or fault, or that He is causatively determined or weak of will. However, the simple answer is that volition (in humans, and by extrapolation to an infinitely greater degree in God) isfree– and to say that it is free is to mean that it can operate spontaneously, without mechanical connection to some reason, need, desire or whim.
If an Agent (a human soul or God) must have a motive to ever at all exercise will, then there is ultimately no such thing as freedom of the will. It follows that to ask the question “why did God create?” is a misrepresentation of the nature of volition. To insist for some explanation or motive for a purely volitional act is to demand a deterministic framework where none applies. The question is therefore inappropriate.
Thus, the Judaic teaching that “God created us because He wanted to do good to someone other than Himself” is reasonable and consistent. It does not imply that God is lonely, or that He yields to a sudden impulse, or the like; for such explanations would assign an inappropriate causal model to God, implying some thoughts randomly arise within Him independently of His will, and then influence or determine Him. Granting God is the most fully volitional of beings, such functioning is inapplicable to Him; His will has to be solely and entirely His own choice and responsibility, a pure expression of Himself.
We can nevertheless rationalize God’s creativity ex post facto as follows. We could say that so long as His unity remains undifferentiated, His great powers of consciousness (omniscience), volition (omnipotence) and valuation (justice and lovingkindness) remain unactualized potentials – i.e. their reality is concealed. In order to give these powers their full reality, God has to decide at some pointto exercisethese powers, i.e. to actualize their potential. To do so, He has to create a diverse and changing world, creatures capable of good and bad, etc. – a world in relation to which He can not only be, but also act.
This seems to me a coherent theory. Note well that it does not affirm that God has actual consciousness, volition and valuation before he exercises these powers. There is a level or depth at which God is purely One – prior to any thought, will or intention of His whatsoever. Then at some stage, He Himself spontaneously decides to set a multiplicity in motion, starting with the creation within Himself of His own powers, and proceeding with their exercise by creating and running the world as we know it.
In this perspective, the scenario of a world having bad in it as well as good, although God was fundamentally well-meaning in creating it, is comprehensible. Good can only be exercised in a framework where bad is also possible. If good were the only polarity possible, i.e. if bad was impossible, there would be no choice of good and therefore nothing could be characterized as good (since good presupposes freewill, otherwise all you have is mechanics). Therefore, the possibility of bad had to be allowed. Obviously, God did not fear to make allowance for the bad: He trusted the good would triumph over it.
In this perspective, too, it is perfectly natural for God to both create a worldandwill it to return to its original oneness. It does not signify a “change of mind” on His part. On the contrary, it is indicative of His strength and confidence – that He canex nihiloset a diverse world in motion and expect this multiplicity to ultimately return to its unitary source. No error is involved – it is all quite intentional.
See my workVolition and Allied Causal Conceptsfor a thorough analysis of freewill.