VOLITION and Allied Causal Concepts
Chapter 2. INTERACTIONS BETWEEN VOLITION AND CAUSATION
Pursuing the analysis of causation and volition, we must consider intermediate or allied relationships which relate together these two domains of causality. For deeper description of causation, the reader is referred to my The Logic of Causation.
In natural causality or determinism, we must distinguish between necessary causation and inertial causation.
Our understanding of the term ‘nature’ refers primarily to necessary relations, such that no matter what else happens in the world, that particular sequence of two things is bound to happen, i.e. once the one arises, the other is bound to also arise. The specifics may vary from case to case, with regard to time (the sequence may be simultaneous or at a set time after or some time later), place (here, there) and other respects; but the correlation is inflexible. Most of the causative events in the world proceed thus, relentlessly, as inevitable and invariable courses of events that no other natural event and all the more no volition (or at least no human or animal volition) can prevent or in any way deviate. For example, the Sun’s evolution and trajectory are de facto out of our power to interfere with.
other hand, it seems, some causative sequences are avoidable or subject to
volitional manipulation. Such natural courses of events may be characterized as inertial.
They are strictly speaking conditional causation, i.e. sequences that are
bound to occur provided no volitional (human or animal – or eventually
Divine) intervention occurs. For example, the river Nile would have continued to
flood over yearly, had people not built a dam at Aswan. Or
again, closer to home, my breath continues rhythmically, if I do not willfully
hold it or change its rhythm.
Or again, closer to home, my breath continues rhythmically, if I do not willfully hold it or change its rhythm.
Thus, whereas the concept of necessary nature concerns causation alone, the concept of inertial nature refers to an interface between causation and volition. When volition does intervene in the course of nature, we say that an artificial event has replaced the inertial event. The artificial event is of course ‘natural’ in a larger sense – a natural potential; but it is a potential that will never actualize without volitional intervention. For example, a piece of clay will never become a pot by mere erosion.
We would express causation in formal terms as (in its strongest determination): “If X occurs, then Y occurs; and if X does not occur, then Y does not occur”. Weaker relations are definable with reference to compounds, replacing ‘X’ by ‘X1 and X2 and X3…’ and ‘Y’ by ‘Y1 or Y2 or Y3…’ as the case may be.
When volition interferes, simply one of the causal factors – be it the whole ‘X’ (as rarely happens) or a part ‘X1’ – refers to the volitional act, and the rest ‘X2’, ‘X3’, etc. (if any) constitutes natural ingredients and forces, and the effect is an artificial event ‘Y’. In such cases, the conditional “if X, then Y” or “if X1, plus X2 etc., then Y” is operative.
When volition abstains, the preceding volitional causal factor is negated, i.e. ‘not X’ or ‘not X1’ is true, and natural causal factors come to the fore, i.e. ‘X2’ etc., resulting in an inertial event, ‘not Y’. In such case, the conditional “if not X, then not Y” or “if notX1, plus X2 etc., then not Y” is operative.
Thus, there is nothing antinomian about causative relations involving volition at some stage. The event willed, once willed, acts like any other causative, complete or partial, necessary or contingent, within the causative complex concerned. The only difference being that this causative did not emerge from natural processes, but from volition.
It should be noted that volition, unlike causation, is not (or rather, not entirely) formally definable with reference to conditional propositions. That is the main difficulty in the concept of volition, which has baffled so many philosophers.
It is true that if you ask someone to demonstrate to you he has freewill, he will likely answer: “see, if I but will to move my arm, it moves; and if I decide not to, it does not”. But such arguments ad libitum (‘at his pleasure’) have little weight, since the antecedents are the volitional events we are trying to define or at least prove, and the consequents are merely effects of them (as it happens, in this example, indirect effects, dependent on bodily conditions – but the same can be said of indirect mental effects and even of direct effects within the soul itself). Therefore, one may well object to the tested person: “what made you will to move or not move your arm?” Even if the latter attempts to preempt such objection by saying: “whatever I predict I shall will (or not-will), or you tell me to will (or not-will), I can do so”, or better still: “whatever a machine randomly tells me to will (or not-will), I shall do it”, one may still suppose that the instruction given by the human respondent or by the machine becomes a determining causative, rather than a mere suggestion, in the mind of the tested person. In that case, the apparent act of volition would only be a mechanical effect of such instruction.
Thus, conditional propositions cannot be used to define or even prove volition, without tautology or circularity or infinite regression or paradox. This does not however logically imply that volition does not exist. There may well be other ways to define or at least prove it. We can still minimally each refer to his intuitive experience of personal will, as source and confirmation of the concept.
Note that the dividing line between necessity and inertia may shift over time. Some feats are de facto out of our power one day, and later become feasible (for example, walking on the moon was until recently in fact impossible). Or the opposite may occur: something at first possible to us becomes impossible at a later time (for example, certain damages to the brain make the victim lose many cognitive and motor powers). Necessity may be permanent or temporary, acquired or lost; and so with inertia.
The ‘not yet possible’ is so due to time-constraints: there may be physical, psychological or cognitive/intellectual impediments to overcome before the necessary factors can be lined up; once it occurs or is brought about, we admit it as having always been possible ‘in principle’ though not immediately. The ‘no longer possible’ is so due to the irreversible destruction of some faculty or the erection of some impassable barrier, or to lost opportunity; what was previously possible, since the beginning of or during the existence of the entity or entities concerned, has become impossible. Thus, what is causative necessity at one time may be mere inertia at another, and vice versa.
Also, of course, the powers of different individuals of a given species, or of different species, differ. Consequently, what is necessity relative to one individual or species, is mere inertia to another; and vice versa. Nevertheless, at any given time and place, we can state as absolute principle either that no human or animal is in fact capable of affecting a certain natural course of events (so that that course is necessary), or that some specified individuals of some specified group have the volitional power to do so if they so choose (so that the course is inertial). The same distinction between necessity and inertia can be used to harmonize our assumptions of God’s all-powerful volition and of causation in nature (see below).
With regard to the epistemological underpinning of the above ontological statements, it should be stressed that our knowledge of causation is inductively acquired.
The proposition “If X is followed by Y, then X causes Y” may logically be assumed to be true, especially if the X+Y combination is repeatedly found to occur, until and unless it is found that X is sometimes not followed by Y. In other words, the movement of thought known as post hoc, ergo propter hoc (meaning “after this, therefore because of this”), though deductively a fallacy, is not fallacious in itself but only in view of a larger context. The observed sequence “X is followed by Y”, like any empirical datum, may be regarded as a basis for generalization, provided it is understood that the generality “X causes Y” may require eventual particularization if further experience suggests it. Gradual adjustment of such generalizations allows us to identify more complex conditions and more variable causal relations.
The relationship between necessary and inertial causation is thus one of generality and (relative) particularity, respectively. They are two levels of generalization, differing only in degree. The first is an optimistic upward thrust to the extreme, yielding an apparent absolute; the second is a downward correction of that to a more relative status, in view of evident volitional access. They are both inductive; but one has remained unconditional, whereas the other has been judged conditional upon non-exercise of volition.
Another interface between the domains of volition and causation is brought out with reference to the distinction between direct volition and indirect volition. At this stage, we need only treat these terms superficially; they will be further clarified further on.
In direct volition, whether immediate or far-reaching, the effect is inevitable; i.e. that which is willed occurs irrespective of surrounding circumstances. In indirect volition, the effect is a later product of direct volition, dependent on the appropriate circumstances being present. Something directly willed may be attributed exclusively the agent, because causation is not involved in it at all; or if it is involved, it has the strongest determination, i.e. it is complete and necessary causation. Something indirectly willed has mixed parentage: although the motion in that direction is initiated by the agent, its exact course thereafter may vary according the terms and conditions it encounters in its onward journey; i.e. partial and/or contingent causation is involved somewhere along the line.
The causal relation between an agent and what he wills is, strictly speaking, direct, if what he wills automatically and invariably follows his willing it (whether immediately in time or not): the consequence is inevitable, whatever happens in nature thereafter and whatever anyone does in an attempt to interfere. Indirect volition refers to a weaker bond, which is actually a sequence of two causal events: (a) a direct volition, followed by (b) a conditional causation. In such case, the thing willed does not invariably or automatically follow the willing of it, for the simple reason that subsequent natural events or other volitions may in the meantime interfere and prevent the full realization that the volition was directed at.
As the formal notation for volition, we may use “A wills W”, to mean “agent A wills action W”, so as to abide by the familiar subject-copula-predicate schema. This is not mere convention, but serves to imply that the relationship itself (‘willing’) is uniform in all its occurrences, and that what gives every specific act of will its particularity is the agent doing it (A) and the direction or result of the action (W).
Note that although the word ‘wills’ is used, to explicitly indicate the involvement of will, in practice other words are of course used, in which the fact of will is tacit. The words ‘do’ or ‘make’ or ‘produce’, for instances, are common; but they are ambiguous in that they are not always indicative of volition. Mostly, rather than the two words “wills W”, we would have a specific one-word verb in the form “Ws”; for examples, ‘walks’, ‘sings’, ‘thinks’ or ‘hopes’, rather than ‘wills walking’, ‘wills hoping’, etc.
We may distinguish between acts of will proper, and the absence of such acts. In more formal terms, this refers to a distinction between “A wills notW” and “A does not will W”, although sometimes in practice the dividing line is moot (depending as it does on the degree of consciousness involved). These – willing and not-willing – are two significant subclasses of will in the larger sense, which we may label positive and negative will, or activity and passivity, respectively. It should be obvious that not-willing may often be viewed as an act of will of sorts, at least when our inclination is very much to act and we have to restrain ourselves from doing so. For this reason, logical considerations relative to will should also be applied mutadis mutandis to non-will – for any creature endowed with the power of volition concerned.
To say that A can will W does not necessarily mean that A can will W at will, i.e. directly and immediately; it may be that A can only arrive at W indirectly and over time, through a process, by stages, first willing W1 in certain specific circumstances, then willing W2 in other appropriate circumstances, and so forth… till W occurs. That is, ability in principle does not signify ability without submission to terms and conditions. The distinction between direct and indirect volition can then be formally expressed as follows.
- Direct volition: “If A wills W, then W occurs”.
- Indirect volition: “If A wills W, and conditions X, Y, Z… (or the like) occur in conjunction, naturally or volitionally, then W occurs; but if A wills W and appropriate conditions do not also occur, then W does not occur”.
Thus, in the case of direct volition, that which the will aims at is identical with the outcome of the will (‘W’ in both cases). Whereas, in the case of indirect volition, the will’s aim (whatever makes one call it a will of ‘W’) is not always identical with the produced effect, call it ‘V’, because the will put forth is by itself insufficient to guarantee the emergence of ‘W’ but does so only when and if certain surrounding factors (X, Y, Z…) are duly lined up. Whenever will stirs, it is sure to produce some minimal effect V (if only within the agent of it, possibly in the mental or even material surrounds); but that effect (V) may correspond to the will’s aim (V=W) or may not do so (V<>W): if it necessarily does so, the volition may be classified as direct, otherwise it is indirect.
Thus, to repeat, a number of partial causes give rise to W. One of those is the willing of (aimed at) W, in itself a direct volition by the agent. If this happens to find appropriate partial causes as its surrounds (X, Y, Z, … or the like), it will have indirectly produced W. Otherwise, it will produce something else that is not W. The agent may of course be able to arrive at the same goal by means of different direct volitional acts even on the same platform of conditions (and all the more so as conditions vary). For instance, one may travel from point P to point Q in a number of ways.
The required conditions may be natural factors like a functioning nervous and muscular system, or physical or mental factors (like a machine or a guidebook) caused by other acts of will by the same agent or others. So long as they affect the course of events, they are relevant to the volition and its classification as direct or indirect. The conditions may of course be necessary or contingent; i.e. there may be only one set of circumstances that make possible the result in question, or there may be many possible alternatives.
Although we often in practice regard a volition as effectively ‘direct’ if normal conditions (like a healthy body and mind, etc.) are present, because those inanimate conditions could not without such a will produce such an effect, strictly speaking it is of course not so if a change of conditions would obstruct or divert it in any way. The intent here is to stress the fundamental distinction between the activity of volition and the relative passivity of its preconditions.
The compatibility of causation and volition (and likewise natural spontaneity) is undeniable. Nothing precludes that a bit of each exists in our world, in the way of adjacent and interacting domains. Volition is to causation like the holes in Swiss cheese. Causation may apply in most processes, with the exception of a few where volition is applicable.
The distinction between a mechanical ‘agent’ and an ‘agent’ in the sense intended within the concept of volition must be clarified. Volition is essentially active, while causation is essentially passive. When we say that an agent of volition does, acts, makes or produces something – we attach special significance to these terms based on introspection. When we use similar terms with reference to causation (e.g. to a machine), their connotation is much diluted, since in this domain everything occurs in the way of automatic reaction.
When we say of a machine, or even a plant, that it does or causes something, we mean that some quality or motion of it gives rise to some other quality or motion of it (or of something else, possibly building up a new entity thereby). But we do not literally mean that the machine or plant itself, even presuming some spontaneity in the coming-to-be of its qualities or motions, has achieved the result. On the other hand, in the case of volition, the person (God, human or animal) as a unitary whole somehow from a static posture initiates/originates some change or motion in his immediate environment, and in some cases from thence further out. It is in this sense that we will here understand the term ‘agent’: with the underlying concept of responsibility.
Whereas in causation cause and effect may be spatially and temporally, as well as conceptually, separate — in volition, the immediate act of will must be considered as occurring within or emanating out of the actor (his self, soul or spirit), and not beyond him in the surrounding mind or brain or wider nervous system or body: such eventual consequences of it are not entirely within the power and responsibility of the actor, but depend on other factors, as already explained.
Thus, whereas causation may be viewed as concerned essentially with sequences of events (in the large sense) within the material/physical, mental/imaginative and psychosomatic world, volition should be viewed as concerning the spiritual world and its interface or interaction with that world of causation or nature. Once volition has injected its choices into the course of nature, it (i.e. nature) carries on – but on a new course; volition thus deviates the flow of causation from another (higher or deeper) plane.
Inertias and conditions are therefore two aspects of the interaction of soul and nature. Inertias are the way nature goes if volition does not interfere; conditions are the factors of nature that come into play when volition does interfere. The ones occur in the absence of volition, the others in its presence. Some things (indeed most) are beyond the power of volition to affect – they are classed as within the realm of natural necessity (and possibly, in some cases, as natural spontaneity).
All of which brings us to the causal relation of Influence. Under this important concept, we shall (further on) more closely study the ways the agent of will may be affected by natural events or by other agents of will.
If we conceive God as existent and omnipotent, we must regard all natural necessities as mere inertias relative to Him, with the exception of logical necessities (i.e. that facts are facts, that contradictions are impossible, that there is no middle ground between existence and non-existence – and other such self-evident truths, whose contradictories are self-contradictory).
Such a premise does not hinder scientific knowledge, since all our knowledge of natural laws is ultimately based on generalizations from empirical particulars, anyway! To say that God can, if He so chooses, interfere with any natural law, does not imply that God will ever choose to do so. We can argue that it was His will to institute such laws in the first place, even though He left Himself the possibility of exceptional interference. Thus, all natural necessities relative to all us lesser beings may be considered as effectively necessities, even if we admit that they are strictly speaking inertias that could in principle be abrogated by God’s will.
This position must be differentiated from the so-called Occasionalism of philosophers like Al-Ghazali (1059-1111): the latter deny natural causation in favor of universal Divine volition, whereas our position here is to reconcile the two. We do not here claim God to be the direct cause of everything that happens in the world, but only conceive Him as having the power to interfere at will although in the great majority of cases He abstains from its exercise. Al-Ghazali, a Moslem, remains commendable in having repudiated the idea of Avicenna (or Ibn Sina, 980-1037), based on Greek philosophy, that the material world was a necessary consequence of God, insisting instead that it was a product of God’s will. Al-Ghazali thought he had to resort to denial of all natural causation to achieve that refutation; but as shown here, it was an excessive measure.
Many thinkers have turned away from the ideas of Divine creation of and intervention in nature, by the assumption that these ideas logically implied Divine responsibility for all events in the world, denial of natural law and conflict with human freewill. However, a consistent hypothesis is possible, if we well understand the difference between natural necessity and inertia, as well as that between a direct and an indirect cause. In respect of the latter, it is worth quoting verbatim a passage of my Buddhist Illogic:
“It should be pointed out here that ‘creation’ does not simply mean causality by God of (the rest of) the universe. The presumed type of causality involved is volition, a free act of will, rather than causation. Furthermore, God is not conceived as the direct cause of everything in the universe, but merely as First Cause and Prime Mover, i.e. as the cause of its initial contents and their initial movement, as well as of the ‘laws of nature’ governing them. This might be taken to mean, in a modern perspective, the core matter subject to the Big Bang, the ignition of that explosion and the programming of the evolution of nature thereafter, including appearance of elementary particles, atoms of increasing complexity, stars and planets, molecules, living cells, evolution of life forms, organisms with consciousness and will, and so forth (creationism need not be considered tied to a literal Biblical scenario).
Once God has willed (i.e. created) inchoate nature, it continues on its course in accordance with causation, with perhaps room for spontaneous events (as quantum mechanics suggests) and for localized acts of volition (by people, and perhaps higher animals, when they appear on the scene). As already mentioned, there are degrees of causation; and when something causes some second thing that in turn causes some third thing, it does not follow that the first thing is a cause of the third, and even in cases where it is (thus indirectly) a cause, the degree of causation involved may be diminished in comparison with the preceding link in the chain (dampening). Similarly with volition, the cause of a cause may be a lesser cause or not a cause at all. It is therefore inaccurate to regard a First Cause, such as God is conceived to be relative to nature, as being ‘cause of everything’ lumped together irrespective of process. The succession of causal events and the varieties of causal relations involved, have to be taken into consideration.
Spontaneity of physical events and freedom of individual (human or animal) volition are not in logical conflict with creation, because they still occur in an existence context created by God. God may well be the indirect cause of spontaneous or individually willed events, in the sense of making them possible, without being their direct cause, in the sense of making them necessary or actualizing them. Furthermore, to affirm creation does not logically require that we regard, as did some Greek philosophers, God as thereafter forced to let Nature follow its set course unhindered. It is conceivable that He chooses not to interfere at all; but it is equally conceivable that He chooses to interfere punctually, occasionally changing the course of things (this would be what we call ‘miracle’, or more broadly ‘providence’), or even at some future time arresting the world altogether. His being the world’s initiator need not incapacitate Him thereafter from getting further involved.
All that I have just described is conceivable, i.e. a consistent theory of creation, but this does not mean that it is definitely proven, i.e. deductively self-evident or inductively the only acceptable vision of things in the context of all available empirical data. Note well that I am not trying to give unconditional support to religious dogmas of any sort. Rather, I am reacting to the pretensions of many so-called scientists today, who (based on very simplistic ideas of causality and causal logic) claim that they have definitely disproved creation, or who like Nagarjuna claim that it is logically not even thinkable. Such dogmas are not genuine philosophy. One should never let oneself be intimidated by either priestly or academic prestige, but always remain open-minded and consider facts and arguments impartially and fairly.”
To summarize our progress thus far: aetiology may be defined as the study of all that pertains to causality, including all sorts of cause-effect relations and their negations, mainly those above listed. Aetiology is a branch of ontology, insofar as it theoretically clarifies and defines fundamental concepts common to all the special sciences – whether physical or mental (in the natural mode), concerned with volition (the spiritual realm), or cognitive and intellectual (in the logical mode). Aetiology is also an aspect of epistemology, insofar as its other major task is to describe and validate our acquisition of such concepts.
Aetiology is thus intended both to demystify causal concepts in general and tell us how to correctly apply them and justify them in particular cases. It is a philosophical and logical science, rather than a special science, in that it is not concerned with specific terms except as data samples and didactic examples. We do not have separate terms for the studies of causation and volition, no doubt because they are rather tightly interwoven discussions.
The study of causality is necessary to our judgments in daily life and affairs, in the family and in society, in law and justice, in economics and politics, in science and history. And in most domains of interest to humanity, causal judgments concern both causation and volition. Psychology and sociology are not only concerned with volition; and agriculture and technology are not only concerned with causation. Also, even though (as earlier mentioned) causation is usually associated with generalities and volition with particulars, the studies of both forms of causality require attention to particulars and aim for generalities.
When focused on volition, aetiology quickly becomes what may be labeled ‘meta-psychology’, a study of the fundamentals of consciousness including volition. For it unfolds as an elucidation of the causal terms most commonly used in psychology – like habit, compulsion, obsession, inhibition, etc. Psychology, as a special science, will ask what specific things have an influence on what specific choices, and so forth. But first, we must delve into the underlying concepts: that is the task of meta-psychology. Sometimes, the dividing line between these levels of abstraction is fuzzy, and meta-psychology may spill over into psychology or vice versa.
Meta-psychology, note, like all philosophical/logical inquiries, has two interrelated aspects – one ontological (describing and classifying the object studied) and the other epistemological (how do we know it, or at least of it?).
It should be stressed that the logician’s interest in and approach to psychological concepts here is theoretical and formal, rather than pragmatic and medical. We are, for instance, interested in intentional concepts like desire, aversion, love, hate, indifference – with a view to capture forms of discourse like “I feel like doing X” or “I think I should do X” and working out their interrelationships and the inferences that can be drawn from them. These are basic concepts common to all particular theories of psychology.
Our purpose here is not therapeutic psychology. Nevertheless, just as epistemology, though primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive, improves our thinking, since it includes detailed study of logical arguments, so can we expect our present systematization of psychological concepts to have a beneficial, hygienic effect.
We humans (and other animals too, no doubt) are constantly bombarded by a mass of more or less conscious, changing desires and aversions, loves and hates, hopes and fears, certainties and doubts, and esthetic responses to beauty and ugliness, which pull and push us hither and thither to varying degrees, in often contradictory ways. We are also indifferent to many things, at any given time. We usually act under the influence of these our drives, though often we resist them with reference to broader or longer-term values. The study of volition is an attempt by reason to clarify and sort the data out, and bring order and consistency to them.
 The reader ought to read that book first, to fully understand the present work. At least, the summary chapters (10 and 16) should be looked at.
 The negative aspect of this definition is as important as the positive, note well. David Hume’s reference to the “constant conjunction” between cause and effect is not by itself sufficient: absence of cause and absence of effect must also be found conjoined (in the strongest case). For a full critique of Hume’s views, see my Phenomenology, chapter II-5.
 But see my The Logic of Causation for precise description of all possible cases. The strongest determination is complete-necessary causation. But in addition to that, there are weaker determinations, namely complete-contingent, partial-necessary, and partial-contingent causations. Volition can be fit into any one of these as a complete or partial cause, whether necessary or contingent.
 In the case “if X, then Y”, we may consider ‘nature’ as expressed in the if–then connection between X and Y. In the case “if X1 and X2 etc., then Y”, the role of ‘nature’ is implied in both the other partial causes (X2, etc) and the connection.
 See next chapter.
 Contrary to the claims of philosophers such as Gilbert Ryle.
 In terms of factorial analysis: “X causes Y” is the strongest factor of “X is followed by Y”, though we may have to downgrade in the face of new evidence. Symbolically: I → An until if ever O appears. See my Future Logic, part VI. Contra Hume’s allegations, this principle is undeniable, since any such denial would perforce be making use of it.
 We, of course, exist in a real world, with specific bounds and rules. Wishing something to be ‘so’ does not make it so; thinking otherwise is madness.
 Note that the term ‘V’ can be replaced by the disjunction ‘V1 or V2 or V3…’ in cases of indirect volition where the effect varies according to unknown or unspecified surrounding factors, i.e. when the factors X, Y, Z… mentioned in the antecedent do not cover all possible causations.
 Believers in Divine interference may distinguish between (a) miracles, or manifest interference, those rare cases when interference is specifically known to us (or thought to be), and (b) providence, or hidden interference, the presumed more frequent interference “behind the scenes”, i.e. without our specific knowledge (though note that the two words are sometimes intended more generically, one including the other or both the same). But even when God does not interfere, He retains the power to do so; so, in such cases, He exercises restraint. Note that Judaism celebrates both open and concealed Divine interference, respectively at the festivals Pessach (for instance – see book of Exodus) and at Purim (see book of Esther).
 In any case, Al-Ghazali’s position is not the same as David Hume’s (1711-76), to whom he is often compared; the latter aims to deny all causality.
 See chapter 10 there. Bold italics added here for emphasis.
 Most causality theories ignore this wide application of causal judgment, concentrating on understanding the general causative propositions (such as “the kind X causes the kind Y”), which science pursues and from which particulars are supposedly obtained by subsumption. But, as Hart and Honoré have pointed out, this is often useless in practice, since we frequently in fact proceed in the opposite direction, by generalization from particular causal judgments (i.e. “this individual thing, which happens to be of kind X, caused that thing, which happens to be Y”).