Chapter 7. THE WORKINGS OF VOLITION

1. Cultural context and epistemological considerations

2. Theoretical context

3. Stages in the process of volition

4. The scope of freewill

 

1. Cultural context and epistemological considerations

My purpose here is to propose a theory of volition; or more precisely, a theory of the locations and sequences of its operation, because at this stage a formal definition of volition as a causal relation is still not ripe. It is always useful to at least broadly conceive a scenario, even if some crucial details may be missing. It need not even be immediately sufficiently clear to be decisively tested.

My approach in this research ought to be clarified. The issue of volition is an ages-old philosophical problem. It is so, not through the invention of philosophers, but because philosophers understood the need to reconcile two givens: one being the inner certainty most people have that they possess some powers of choice and responsibility for their actions, and the other given being the extreme difficulty in putting this concept of will into words and justifying it somehow. Furthermore, the issue of volition is not idly speculative, but has enormous practical consequences – psychological, moral, spiritual, social, legal and political ones – for every human being.

Over time, many solutions to the problem have been proposed, ranging from outright denial of volition (mechanism, behaviorism), through very pessimistic and very optimistic lyrical appraisals of human potential which made various claims without addressing the formal issues, to metaphysical and mystical beliefs that could perhaps be accused of overkill.

My own approach to philosophical problems has always been to try my best to justify ordinary beliefs, but in a critical manner, without naivety. As a product of the 20th Century, I am inclined to pay due respect to science and avoid metaphysical flights of fancy. Nevertheless, I am far from being a pure materialist, and keep an open mind with regard to mystical traditions. My philosophical policy is to try to include rather than exclude, to find the common ground of opposite doctrines so far as possible, to remain moderate and down to earth.

To ensure a mature and sane approach, we must first and always be attentive to methodological issues: never to claim an item of knowledge without at the same time considering how such claim itself is to be justified. I favor a phenomenological approach, which is at all times aware of the amount and nature of experiential content in any conceptual construct. This must be backed up by repeated logical review, based on inductive as well as deductive principles, including the said reflexive self-revaluation.

Thus, with regard to the problem of volition, we must first try and formulate a minimalist thesis, as close as possible to the belief system of ordinary people and to the materialistic science culture of the day, before opting for more far-fetched theoretical constructs. It is a principle of adduction that the simple is always preferable to the complex. The primary issue in volition is just to conceive some coherent, plausible theory. Just to imagine some scenario, pictorially and in words, is hard enough. Secondly, of course, such conceivable thesis must be empirically tested so as to gradually reduce its speculative status.

With regard to methodological standards, it should first be pointed out that all concepts, however speculative, are based on some experience. Without some sort of experience, however subtle and frail, no conception or conceptualization is at all possible. Under the heading of ‘experience’, we must however include not only physical experiences (sensory data of any sort), but any phenomenological content – including mental projections (images, sounds, memories, imaginations, anticipations) and last but not least intuitive introspections (personal cognitions, valuations, volitions, intentions, meanings). To limit admitted evidence to physical sensations, arbitrarily omitting all introspective data, is misleading.

Secondly, it is important to realize that every theory, however confirmed in experience, is still to some extent speculative. Those who claim that only their extreme materialism is scientifically acceptable, and who accuse all mental or spiritual doctrines of being mere speculation, are just pretentious. What gives a theory ‘scientific status’ (in the large, correct sense) is its adherence to all known and cogent rules of inductive and deductive logic. What makes a theory preferred at any time is not its materialistic content, but its being the most consistent and confirmed available hypothesis. Science is not a prejudice, or the reserve of some modern equivalent of an established priestly caste. It is open, flexible and democratic, in the power of those most experiential and logical in their approach to knowledge at a given time.

As we shall see, a common error in aetiology today is to confuse the concept of natural causation with the narrower concept of physical causation. Logical analysis of the concept of causation makes it a purely formal issue of presences and absences of possible things in conjunction and separation. Thus, the paradigm of natural causation, its strongest determination, is definable as “if X, then Y; and if notX, then notY” (or “X and notY is impossible; and notX and Y is impossible”) – where X, Y, notX and notY are each potential things[1]. The “things” involved need not specifically be concrete physical objects, but may be abstracts from such, or again mental phenomena and their abstracts, or even things intuited within oneself. This form has no intrinsic limitation to physical terms, note well. So, there is no logical basis for the insistence by some that natural causation is exclusive to physical events, and refers to a physical law.

All the defensive remarks above are addressed preemptively to certain categories of philosophers. As we proceed with our theory of volition, the reader will see that our approach is balanced and fair. We will try to satisfy all legitimate concerns of the modern mind, while however allowing whatever concepts are necessary (mind, soul) to avoid throwing the baby (volition) out with the bathwater (metaphysics). We will try to be transparent, and evaluate the justification of any idea presented, but keep in mind that in some cases a scenario has to be laid out before its validity can be discussed.

 

2. Theoretical context

I must, to start with, remind the reader of certain aspects of my world-view and terminology, developed in previous works[2].

I acknowledge three domains of existence, called the physical (or material), the mental (or imaginary) and the spiritual domain (or soul sphere). These correspond to three categories of experience, namely sensory perceptions (through ‘bodily’ sense organs, including visceral emotions), corresponding mental projections (images and sounds perceived ‘in one’s mind’, including memories, dreams and daytime fancies, and anticipations), and intuitions of self (inner knowledge of events without phenomenal attributes, such as one’s cognitions, valuations, volitions). Conception refers to abstraction from such data, involving comparisons of measurement. And conceptualization, proposition, inference, thought are further derivatives of all the preceding.

All these items of experience and conceptual knowledge are to be regarded phenomenologically to start with. That is, they need merely be taken as neutral appearances, leaving aside definite judgment as to their reality or illusion till a thorough process of logical evaluation has been carried out. More precisely, appearances are to be considered real, until and unless reason is found to consider them illusory; for the concepts of reality and illusion have no meaning other than with reference to appearance.

Colloquial use of the term “mind”, note, would include within it both the individual soul and mental content, because most people have not made a clear distinction between inner perceptions and intuitions. I prefer using the term “psyche” to refer to this soul-mind complex. Also note, to most people the term “spiritual” connotes disembodied ghosts, or mystical out-of-this-world chimeras. But in my writing these terms are more limited: when I use the term “spiritual”, I just mean “pertaining to the soul” and when I use the term “mind” I usually mean “the sum total of mental phenomena”. “Subjective” is another term I usually use very specifically, to mean “in or of the subject”, i.e. with reference to the soul. Note this well to avoid confusion.

My understanding of the “soul” is that it corresponds to the self, the entity apparently at the center of all cognitions (soul as subject) and volitions (soul as agent), as well as valuations (which involve both cognitions and volitions, and also mediate between them). Its substance seems distinct from that of material and mental phenomena, so it is distinctively labeled as spiritual. This appellation, spirit, also serves to stress the experiential difference of soul and its said functions, namely that it has per se no phenomenal qualities (color, brightness, shape, sounds, etc.), so that it cannot be perceived but only intuited. All phenomenal qualities seemingly in it are to be distinguished as projections in the mental domain, note. Even so, the soul cannot logically be a mere abstraction from physical and/or mental events perceived, because that would not explain how individual events within it are known (i.e. what I am now experiencing, believing, preferring, doing, etc.).

We may ask the question: Do consciousness and will exist? The answer to that is: Both consciousness and will are self-evident in the question being asked and understood. Without them, there would be no research and no meaning to its results.

Granting they exist, the next question concerning them would be: What are they? Since we cannot perceive them, either in matter or in mind, they have no phenomenal qualities; they must therefore either be intuited or conceived, or both. They are certainly conceivable: we may logically construct hypotheses as to what they might be, and see how such theories work out in the long run in the light of all experience. The theory that seems inductively most fitting is that they might be events or relations, between subject and object, agent and act.

The role of subject/agent is not to be filled by matter/body or by mental-stuff/mind, because the latter are too varied and changing. A postulate of soul, as an entity of some third substance called spirit, allied with mind and body, is therefore put forward, instead, to fill that role. However, conception is not enough, because it only yields general abstractions, and cannot explain our common daily experience of particular events of consciousness and will. The latter can only be explained by supposing non-perceptual experiences, i.e. intuitions.

From one’s own soul (the center of cognition and volition), and its apparent interrelations with one’s own body (the closest segment of matter), and the existence of other similar, bodies with comparable behavior, one may infer the existence of other souls by analogy. The simplest theory of soul is that it is an “epiphenomenon” of matter – i.e. when matter comes together in certain specific combinations (organic molecules, living cells, animal organisms of some complexity) a soul is generated over and above such matter; the justification of this theory being that such soul needs be assumed to explain certain observations. This is the interpretation of soul most acceptable to modern predispositions, the closest to materialism, and we may here accept it as a working hypothesis.

There are other theories of soul worth mentioning. The religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, considerably influenced by Neoplatonism, seem to favor an idea of soul as an individual entity temporarily residing in, or associated with, a material body and its mental prolongations, but potentially surviving physical death and capable of disembodied existence for spans of time. Religions originating in India wax more mystical, and conceive of a universal soul of which all particular souls are fractions (atman, in Hinduism), or at least of a universal ground of being or mind from which individuated selves crystallize by a trick of illusion (anatman, in Buddhism). But in fact, the present analysis of volition does not require us to opt for any particular doctrine of soul.

With regard to the identification of the self with an illusion of consciousness, which is found in some Buddhist texts and becoming more popular in the West today, it seems to me that a misuse of the term ‘consciousness’ is involved. Consciousness is not, as they seem to suggest, a sort of stuff, which can become ‘delusive’. The substance of ‘mind’ (in a large sense, i.e. all of the psyche) is two-fold, in my view, comprising the stuff of soul (spirit) and that of mental projections (memories, imaginations, and the like – the ‘mind’ in a more restricted sense). As for consciousness, it is a relation, between two terms, one called the subject (any soul) and the other called the object (be it spirit, mind or matter).

Consciousness has no consciousness of its own. The relation it constitutes is unequal, involving at one end something cognized and at the other end something cognizing. The former exists at least as appearance; the latter ‘apprehends’ or ‘comprehends’ this appearance as an ‘experience’ or an ‘abstraction from experience’. Consciousness is never the subject of the relation of consciousness; it is usually the relation, and occasionally (in the case ‘self-consciousness’, which is a misnomer[3]) additionally the object. Consciousness or awareness is a function of the soul (subject), and not identical with it. Consciousness may have as its object contents of mind, but that does not make the two the same.

Buddhist philosophers and their modern imitators tend to blur the distinction between the three terms: soul, consciousness and mind. This tacit equation or ambiguity serves to give certain of their pronouncements a semblance of psychological and philosophical depth and consistency. For it allows us to assume one meaning or the other as convenient to the context, without having to systematically harmonize the different meanings[4]. Such a ‘fuzzy logic’ approach is lazy (if not dishonest), and in the long run obstructs knowledge development in this field. We must admit that three terms are used because we are dealing with three distinct objects. It is not arbitrary hair-splitting, but objective precision.

Although I tend to draw it as a circle in explanatory diagrams (as in the figure further on), the soul should not be confused with such material or mental images standing in for it. It is important to remain aware that since the soul is intuited and not perceived, it has no concrete phenomenal qualities – and therefore no shape, no size, no extension, no location in material or mental space. If our body and mind seem to be the habitat of our soul (and we have the impression that our soul is centered behind our eyes though coterminous with all our body), it is due to the fact that our experiences of body and mind are the most proximate in our perspective, and not due to our soul being experienced in a place. The soul may however have time limitations, since these are not phenomenal per se. Once we grasp that the soul is without phenomenal boundaries, the various views about it mentioned above seem more easily reconciled.

Another preliminary clarification worth making concerns the relation of souls, mind and matter. It is conceivable that mental projections occur directly from soul, but I tend to assume – so as to remain as materialist-friendly as possible – the minimalist thesis that mental projections always occur via matter. That is to say, the soul signals to its underlying brain what it wants it to mentally project, and the brain cells more or less obediently do the job of projection, after which the soul “sees (or hears)” with its “mind’s eye (or ear)” the projection. The advantage of this assumption is that we can explain why mental projections are not always quite voluntary or exactly as we wanted them. The brain seemingly can and often does make mental projections of its own.

Nevertheless, we can remain in principle open to the idea of telepathy. Without wishing to definitely advocate it, I must at least consider its conceivability, since I sometimes seem to experience it. We could minimally claim that telepathy occurs through some yet undiscovered material medium, perhaps electromagnetic waves; and thus that telepathy operates through the nervous system like any other object of sensation. Or we could more radically suppose that souls can project images into each other’s mental domains; this would imply that mental domains stretch across or transcend space. Or we could more radically still opt for a spiritual explanation, adhering to the metaphysics that all souls are ultimately one. This is said in passing, to be exhaustive, without intending to definitely affirm any doctrine.

I tend to anyway think that mental phenomena are a peculiar product of, if not kind of, matter, since the phenomenal qualities composing both are the same (or at least all those of the mental domain are to be found in the material domain, though it may be that some in the material domain are absent in the mental domain). What seems evident is that the sights and sounds we mentally project are recombinations of sights and sounds earlier absorbed through our physical senses.

Furthermore, the mental and material domains seem to share space (unlike soul) as well as time. Mental projections are usually thought of as occurring in an inner space; but if we consider hallucination (e.g. seeing your glasses on your nose after you have taken them off), it is clear that they can seemingly extend into the outer space that matter inhabits. Indeed, this power of apparent outward projection of mental images is a fundamental cognitive tool, making it possible for us to “mentally” dissect and bound phenomena for the purpose of selecting discrete percepts from which concepts are constructed.

Considering all this, it is often more appropriate to treat mind as matter, in an enlarged sense of the latter term. Certainly, the “laws of thought” (identity, non-contradiction, and exclusion of the middle) apply in the mental domain as in all others. We may well imagine both “a thing” and “its contradictory” coexisting in the same field, but in truth the two items mentally co-existing are distinct images or verbal symbols intended to refer to the former. As regards the latter phenomena as such, each of them is indeed present and not absent in a certain time and place, in perfect accord with the said laws.

But even so, we should note that mental phenomena do not seem to interact among themselves as material ones do. It does not seem like mental phenomena directly produce other mental phenomena. Rather, if two or more mental phenomena display constancies of conjunction or separation, we tend to regard the superficial causation as more deeply due to the soul’s repeated choices, or to physical laws operating in the brain making it project such regularity. We do not consider mental projections as having the necessary continuous existence, much as we would not consider the light and sound events in a movie as really having any causative relation to each other.

The explanation of the peculiarity of the mental domain should not however be viewed as due to a flaw in our formal definition of causation, as in the preceding suggestion that regularities may be “only superficial”. There are two reasons we believe that causative relations may be discounted in the domain of imagination even when temporary and local regularities appear. One reason is our lifetime experience of the great variety of imagination: anything can be imagined in combination with anything else (e.g. a ‘giraffe’ shape may have the shape of ‘wings’ added to its back and be blue all over); this does not offend the laws of thought, as already explained. The other reason is our personal intuition that we have some degree of control over mental phenomena: in this domain, if we will some image, it appears; and if we will its absence, it disappears.

Because mental phenomena are not as heavily “substantial” as material ones, we tend to associate them more with the soul. Such association is reinforced due to mental projections seeming directly accessible to perception by the soul, and seeming for the most part under the soul’s power to manipulate. Furthermore, at least thus far in human history, mental phenomena are a private spectacle to a given soul, not something publicly accessible. In those respects, mind is regarded as an aspect, or at least a property, of soul. To conclude, it is very doubtful that the mental domain can exist apart from soul and body.

It is worth focusing for a moment on the utility of the mental domain. The soul (the subject of cognition and agent of volition) and the brain (the presumed physical apparatus underlying thought and action) both use the mind or mental ‘matrix’, let us call it, as a screen on which to project visual and auditory images (and possibly ‘images’ in the other phenomenal modalities: smell, taste, touch, emotions).

People use their mind as a medium of communication with themselves, first and foremost; more broadly, with other people or animals, alive or dead, and even with God (the latter practices, when they go beyond mere rehearsal of future material dialogue, imply a belief in telepathy of sorts, i.e. in the ability to send thoughts across space and time). Monologue is thus dialogue, and dialogue is often monologue. The mind serves as a sort of versatile, erasable drawing and sounding board, facilitating speculation, imagination of alternatives, and so forth.

The mind is also used as a medium of ‘communication’ between soul and brain. When the soul, via the brain, projects images, the brain incidentally records (in machine language, as it were) what has been projected. I see no reason to locate memory storage anywhere but in the brain; memories are not kept in the soul or mind. Moreover, the brain provides information for cognition by the soul through the mental matrix. This may be mere recall (memory of past sensations, emotions, imaginations, verbal thoughts), or it may be reshuffled memory that signals present sensations or emotions by associations and symbols.

That is to say, what appears in the mental matrix is not necessarily voluntarily produced by the soul, but may come in part or in whole from the body via the brain. And in the latter case, the brain does not simply bring up relevant or irrelevant data from its memory stores as is; it often ‘manipulates’ this data, supposedly as a way of informing the soul. Dreams are often so understood; but the same applies to daytime fantasies. In meditation, one sees how much of such involuntary chatter and fictional image projection is going on, of which we are ordinarily barely aware but which has considerable influence on us.

 

3. Stages in the process of volition

Our present proposal is to locate the act of volition proper entirely within the soul performing such act. The reader is now referred to Figure 1, below, which is a schematic presentation or map of the process of volition.

a. It is proposed, then, that the soul spontaneously generates within itself some modification labeled W. The primary event W does not spontaneously arise in the sense of a chance natural event – it is ‘produced by’ and the ‘responsibility of’ the soul concerned (i.e. the agent), these terms being here understood intuitively and with reference to our various clarifications of volition thus far and further on. The event W is thus, note well, a purely spiritual event (the term spiritual being intended to mean ‘pertaining to the soul’, conceived as having a distinctive substance labeled ‘spiritual’). Note that the event W may be supposed transient – it need not permanently mark the soul.

Once it has so emerged from the act of volition proper, the spiritual event, W, in turn causatively gives rise to some first physical event, E1, which may in turn causatively give rise to other physical or mental events, E2, E3, E4, etc.

Figure 1.Mapping the process of volition

Note well that, strictly speaking, in this theory, the first physical event is not a product of volition but of causation. It is nevertheless an exceptional causative transaction, in that it has a spiritual event as cause and a physical event as effect. Still, as we have earlier explained, the causative relation as we have formally defined it (as conjunction or separation of certain presences or absences) does not specify what ‘substance’ the terms related may have. Nothing a priori excludes the spiritual, mental and physical domains from interacting causatively every which way. For example, as we shall suggest further on, a physical event may cause a mental one.

The position that will as such occurs entirely within the soul is here taken in an attempt to mitigate the concept of volition in the eyes of materialist critics, by relegating the issues involved to a distinct domain, that of the spirit. Such isolation allows physicists to continue going about their business, formulating principles concerning natural causations and natural spontaneities, without having to reflect on the problem of volition.

However, note that we could equally well consider that the first act of volition has the first physical event (E1) as its direct result. The advantage of this position would be to eliminate the spiritual event (W), which could be construed as contradicting the essential unity of the soul, which seems necessary to personalize it (the soul). However, such a doctrine of extreme uniformity or homogeneity of the soul is (in my opinion) impracticable, because we have to suppose that all sorts of complicated events do happen within the soul, in cognition, valuation and volition.

It suffices, I think, to consider the soul as not permanently marked by its will or other episodes (influences or conditions); it remains essentially itself come what may, it retains its original purity and identity. I tend to visualize spiritual events (like W) as creases or more dynamically as undulations in the soul – i.e. I take the term ‘stirring’ we often use in volitional contexts literally. Spiritual events are particular, temporary stirrings in or of the soul.

But anyway, it could be argued that the said alternative position, placing the first effect of volition outside the soul, would not greatly affect our view of nature. For we must admit that the first physical event, whether it in fact arises from volition indirectly or directly, will appear to an observer of the material domain alone as a causeless event – i.e. as naturally spontaneous – since such observer would be unable to discern any physical causative for the event. Our theory here is, however, that such first physical events, if we could pinpoint just where to look for them, are not truly causeless, but caused either directly or indirectly by volition. Thus, the theoretical issue as to how soon the first physical event arises can be left open.

With regard to the location of the first physical event after volition, we can safely predict that it occurs in specialized neural cells or combinations of cells[5], most probably in the brain (though perhaps sometimes in the rest of nervous system). For we may readily assume that telekinesis, the volition of physical events at a distance, is impossible. Most people (myself included) make no claim to telekinesis and have no incontrovertible vicarious experience of it. Some parapsychologists do claim evidence for it, but their experiments so far are (to my knowledge) regarded as technically flawed by the majority of scientists[6]. Thus, it seems likely that volition cannot act on the world beyond our own body except causatively through that body; and even within our own body, volition cannot act directly on all organs, but only on some, after which causation takes over.

Concerning mental phenomena, it is suggested in our above diagram that they emerge from physical ones, whether the latter had their source in volition or emerged entirely from physical causatives. While it is not unthinkable that soul can will mental events directly, without passing through physical events, I tend to favor the more materialist position on the basis of arguments already put forward.

Thus, the phenomenal aspects of thought (which involves imagination of visual and auditory phenomena, including inner words) and speech (producing outer words – gestures, sounds or writings, symbolizing meanings), as well as perceptible action (other physical products, which may impact on nature or on other souls, or even reflexively on one’s own soul), are all products of will external to the soul, occurring via physical events (in the central and peripheral nervous system, including the motor system). But the intentions of thoughts, speeches and actions lie in the soul, influencing the latter to will them into being.

In the light of the present presentation of volitional processes, we could distinguish four levels of volition, involving a progressively diminishing personal control of events. The deepest level is volition within the soul: that is pure volition, which is free. The second level is volition of the ‘first physical event’: this already involves causation, if only in that the terms and conditions must be right for such event (e.g. a functioning brain). The third level is volition of further mental and bodily events: here, the admixture of causation is much larger (as more and more terms and conditions have to be appropriate). The fourth level is volition of external physical events and social events that ensue: here the measure of personal control of events is least.

b. Let us now consider the issue of influence, with reference to our earlier definition of this causal relation. The area of operation of influence, i.e. where influences influence, the place in the volitional process where influence is operative, is between the source of the volitional act within the soul (agent) and the primary result of the volitional act (event W, in our scenario). Within this ‘space’ in the soul, influence either makes it possible for the agent’s will to succeed with relatively less effort (positive influence) or increases the internal resistance his willpower must overcome by increased effort (negative influence). We can picture this space of influence as analogous to a field of force.

But this area of operation of influence is only the last stage in the process of influence. As we have seen, the things that are influential may be internal to the soul (spiritual events, such as prior attitudes) or external to it, being mental events (such as memories or imaginations) or bodily events (such as sensations or visceral emotions) or events occurring beyond the body’s boundaries (be they natural or artificial). Whatever their nature, these things must be cognized to be influential – whether such cognition be perceptual (of mental or material phenomena) intuitive (subjective) or conceptual (abstract).

Thus, to trace the whole process of influence, we must consider the cognition that gave rise to the internal forces aiding or opposing volition, and prior to that the objects of that cognition. It is important to emphasize that the power of influence depends on belief only. It does not matter whether a volition is based on true knowledge or false opinion; it suffices that we believe what we have cognized is real enough. Superstitions may be as influential as scientific facts; indeed more so, since the former unlike the latter will not be readily abandoned if experientially or logically refuted.

Thus, the cognition involved may be realistic or illusory, logical or irrational, correct or incorrect, knowledge or opinion, certain or unsure – its epistemological status is irrelevant to its force of influence, so long as it is believed in. But additionally, the degree of belief obviously plays a role (e.g. if I am unsure about the efficacy of a certain course of action, my will is likely to wobble). Inversely, objects that are not cognized cannot be counted as influences.

Influences, then, subjectively produce a sort of field of force in the soul, emanating from the place of their cognition into the space where volition erupts, facilitating or hindering the latter’s aimed at result.

With regard to effort, certain clarifications are worth making, here. The emotion of effort, perceived during physical or intellectual work, should not be confused with the more abstract concept of ‘effort’ we have introduced in relation to our analysis of volition and influence. The latter is only called effort by analogy[7], referring more precisely to degree or intensity of will applied in the presence of positive or negative influences. Emotions of effort are concrete phenomena, felt in the body or inside the head. Being perceived, they may and do influence volition; but they are not the same as the subsequent ‘effort’ in will. The latter is non-phenomenal, known intuitively by the self, and occurring within the soul; it is an aspect of a spiritual event, viz. willing.

c. Closer inspection reveals that there are often preliminaries to volition, in the way of subjective self-positioning. Volition might be supposed to sometimes occur without particular motive or intention, as pure whim; but even then, the agent may not be totally blind to context, and aim his whim in a particular direction, leaving it indefinite only in some respects. In any case, normally some preparation is involved before launching one’s principal act of will. This may be quick and easy or require much time and effort. Furthermore, an act of volition may be temporarily interrupted while some unanticipated side issues are resolved.

There is a prior activity of reconnaissance, researching and gathering data of potential relevance to action. This newly-cognized or recalled data (be it practical or theoretical) will of course influence the direction and intensity of volition. But the way it does so is not so direct: an evaluation is needed first. The latter is itself no simple act, but involves conceiving alternative scenarios, which implies mental projection. Once the possible or anticipated courses of events have been visualized, and comparatively evaluated, a choice is made as to which one of them will be pursued.

Moreover, having clarified the purposes or goals of one’s action, one will investigate and deliberate on the means to achieve them. This stage is itself complex and gradual, as more information may need to be sought and experiments may need to be made, with tentative steps and repeated adjustments all along. Finally, a decision is made, and effort begins to be applied in the direction intended. As such effort encounters the help or obstruction of influences, it is reduced or intensified. Unless a new decision intervenes, the will is repeatedly reaffirmed and reoriented, until the intended result is achieved.

Preparation and execution of volition may be variously efficient. One may be reluctant or lazy to act, or eager and energetic. One may be always alert and proactive, or forget some things and fail to anticipate others. One may take the unexpected in stride, or allow oneself to be perturbed by every little obstacle. One may be quick to adapt to changing conditions, or negligent in taking appropriate action. All these betray one’s attitudes – whether one is in earnest or half-hearted about one’s will – and they of course affect one’s performance.

Each stage in a volitional process may involve subsidiary acts of will. Will is often ‘empirical’, a trial and error process, since we are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Attempts are made, which may fail. With perseverance, other attempts replace them, which may succeed. The way is never absolutely certain, except in very limited segments of will. The (direct or indirect) volition of an external (physical or mental) event is usually the end-result of a great many subjective acts of volition, of which we are conscious to varying degrees. But moreover, a given externally oriented volition may have to be preceded by numerous other external volitions.

The concept of influence is designed to account for the residues in consciousness of all such prior inner and outer volitions, in a given volition. That is, the field of influence as it were stores the significant history of the volitional process, comprising all that has cumulatively informed the agent into certain directions of will necessitating certain donations of effort.

d. Concerning the role of emotion in volition, it should not be overestimated. Within the soul itself, there is a basic function called valuation. This is an inner expression of self, necessary for an entity with freewill, which must choose between alternative potential courses of action. Valuation is thus a primary inner act of volition. Emotion, on the other hand, usually (except when it is confused with valuation) refers to something passive, occurring in the physical and/or mental domains. Valuation is a spiritual (i.e. in the soul) event known by intuition, self-knowledge; whereas emotion is a concrete physical and/or mental phenomenon, known by sensory or ‘mind’s eye’ perception. Included under this heading are not just pleasure and pain, but the full range of possible nuances in feeling.

Emotions have various degrees of effect on volition, but in fact can never determine it. Being essentially ‘external objects’ relative to the soul, they cannot condition it, except in the way of influences. That is, emotions are perceived and such perception in turn makes volition easier or harder for the soul. Emotions, of course, are often consequences of volitional acts; not directly, but through causation by the ‘first physical event’ emerging from volition. For this reason, our emotions are often eventual outcomes of our valuations; and this is why we equate them. But such equation is not always justified, for a given emotion is not inevitably and invariably indicative of a certain valuation, since physical intermediaries must be taken into account.

It follows that people who generally identify themselves with their emotions are wrong to do so; their judgment is often distorted. This applies to feelings of desire, aversion, love, hatred, hope, fear, certainty, doubt, it is beautiful, it is ugly, etc., as distinct from the valuations with the same names. That may sound like a rather cold doctrine to some people, but it seems consistent with all our observations and theorizing in the present work. Its intent is not to dehumanize, but to strengthen people. It is the feelings that are ‘objective’ (i.e. objects outside the soul) and the valuations that are ‘subjective’ (i.e. acts of the soul), rather than the other way around as people believe!

In practice, of course, people have so much going on inside them, in the way of both inputs and outputs, that it is no wonder the fine distinctions we have drawn here, such as that between soul and phenomenal personality, and in particular between valuation and emotion, are remote and laughable to them. They are too busy, too weighed down. It is only through meditation, when one steps back and lets things calm down considerably, that one can begin to sort things out and observe their order.

 

4. The scope of freewill

Concerning freedom of the will, our pictorial representation provides some further clarifications. But let me first stress that when looking at the diagram above, the reader should not take it too literally. The soul is not extended, with cognition and volition happening in different places, and influence as something in between, that volition flows through, ending in an event. All these things happen together, in the same spot and simultaneously. They have been separated schematically, for purposes of analysis; but they are in fact all one event. It is one and the same self that cognizes, is influenced by cognition, and wills something, all together, in one and the same movement.

It is obvious that even the first physical event emerging from volition is subject to natural terms and conditions. We have suggested specialized organs in the nervous system are probably necessary for such events[8]; and such organs would naturally depend on neurological, biological, chemical and physical laws[9]. If such organs are absent or damaged, or when inappropriate conditions prevail in them, they are inoperative. The soul is not free to will whatever it wants wherever it wants to into its physical environment, but only certain possibilities ‘allowed’ by natural law. This principle of due process is the philosophical assumption of most people, except perhaps lunatics [10]

On the other hand, the soul has considerable freedom of will within itself. It can manifestly (as introspection and internal experiment shows) do a lot ‘at will’ there, though much of what we call ‘will’ is not immediate will but a cumulative result of smaller immediate wills that adapt to changing conditions (adaptation implying consciousness, note). Thus, volition is not unaffected, but influenced by cognized external as well as internal events. This influence (which is finally something internal) can never generate or block will, but only accelerate or decelerate a particular direction of will, because will (the inner movement of soul) is a function of the agent only. Cognitions cannot in themselves move soul or stop it from moving.

All the more so, external conditions be they mental or physical, be they natural or artificial products of the will of some other soul(s), which might be construed to impinge upon the agent directly (i.e. not as influences, via his cognition of them), are apparently incapable of doing so. We may at least postulate such incapacity, as a further principle of freewill. This position is quite conceivable, if we express it as an independence of the spiritual domain from the mental and physical domains. It is conceivable that whereas the physical and mental domains can be modified, directly or indirectly, within specific terms and conditions, by the spiritual domain (in our context, through certain acts of volition by souls), the reverse is not possible. It is not inconceivable that Nature includes this limitation, this one-way street between its domains.[11]

It is worth noting that causal pathways between the mental domain and the spiritual and physical ones seem to have precise directions. According to our theory here, the soul projects mental phenomena only indirectly via its volition of physical events in the nervous system (so that memory in the brain of a mental projection precedes the actual appearance to the soul of the imaginations projected by it). Also, whereas the physical domain can after volition, or even without prior volition, affect the mental domain, the reverse is not true. The mental domain does not seem to directly affect the physical domain, but does so only through its cognition by the soul, which thereafter affects the physical domain under influence of such cognition.

To repeat our freewill thesis: the physical and mental domains condition the spiritual domain through consciousness of their contents (this is influence); but they do not condition it directly, without consciousness (in the way of ordinary conditioning). This concerns the internal workings of soul, implying one aspect of freedom of the will.

On the other hand, soul has the privilege of being able to make changes in the physical or mental domains. However, this capacity is not infinite, but subject to natural law. This restriction is especially evident in the physical domain, which sets finite terms and conditions to the volitions of the soul on it. Thus, volition may not operate just anywhere in it, but only in circumscribed locations (such as special living cells, probably). Subsequent limitations may occur in the body (e.g. a man’s muscles may be too weak for some job); or further out, beyond the body (e.g. he may be imprisoned by impassable walls).

Once a volitional act has inscribed its ‘first physical event’, material nature takes its course. Some physical reactions may follow inevitably, some conditionally, and some may be impossible come what may. Reactions may occur in the body (e.g. a man’s arm and hand move), or onward outside it (e.g. he may break down a wall). In these senses only, i.e. with reference to all physical limitations and reactions to volition, volition may be said to be liable to ordinary conditioning. But all that occurs outside the soul, note well, and so does not essentially qualify its freedom of volition as such[12].

Cognition, volition and valuation are not only distinctive functions of soul; they are presumably its only ways to function. The soul’s cognition is not to be confused with the computer-style operations of the nervous system serving as its accessory. The soul’s volition is not to be confused with physical or mental preliminaries or consequences. The soul’s mode of operation is volition, i.e. freewill; that is presumably its only modus operandi: it is not subject to any causation from nature (the physical and mental domains), though it may be affected by nature through cognition. But of course, its freewill is operative only during the soul’s existence; for the soul may be generated or destroyed by natural causatives (birth or death of a body)[13].



[1] Thusly, in the natural mode of causation. But we may also count as “natural” in a larger sense similar relations with extensional modality, although the latter are in some respects also akin to logical causation. See my Future Logic and The Logic of Causation for full presentation of these concepts. I shall keep things simple here.

[2] Notably, my Phenomenology.

[3] Because it is the soul that is conscious of its consciousness; i.e. one instance of consciousness by the soul turned on another instance of consciousness by the soul.

[4] From a formal logic point of view, this is a common expedient to conceal a breach of syllogistic rules – in particular the ‘fallacy of four terms’. Thanks to an ambiguity, predicates applicable to one subject are illicitly passed over to another.

[5] Such cells might be referred to as physical ‘receptors’ of volition. They have to form part of a living organism, needless to say.

[6] If such assumption against telekinesis turns out to be empirically wrong, we can readily adapt our theory of volition accordingly. It is not a central issue in the present discussion. I make a reasonable assumption, based on my knowledge context. My method is to stick close to generally accepted fact, and not engage in speculations that might seem like flights of fancy.

[7] In the same way, Isaac Newton developed the mechanics concepts of force and work by analogy to the emotion of effort attending pushing and pulling, lifting and lowering, and environmental changes they cause.

[8] This concerns humans and animals. With regard to the will of God, we would have to suppose such a restriction to be inapplicable. Obviously, the Creator of matter must have a will independent of matter. It follows that His providential acts in the ongoing life of the universe do not require special material receptors.

[9] Signals within the nervous system are electrical and chemical.

[10] Even believers in shamanism and magical powers allow for ‘due process’. Only, the processes they regard as possible seem obscure or ineffective to the rest of us.

[11] It does not follow that the spiritual cannot control the spiritual. Thus, we may assume that God can dominate the human or animal soul anytime He chooses to. This would be a theological limitation to our freewill. It is a privilege however that God mostly chooses not to exercise, since it is His will that humans and to a lesser extent animals have freewill. He gracefully relinquishes some of his power, de facto though not de jure, so that we may exist “in His image and after His likeness” (to quote Genesis 1:26).

[12] If we are precise in our thinking about volition, we can avoid doctrines that put freedom in doubt. Thus, for example, if a boxer gets knocked-out, his soul’s freedom of will is not affected, but the temporary blockage of his sensory and motor faculties make the assertion of his will in his body impossible, as well as deprive him of information needed to usefully direct such will, for a while.

[13] Believers in God would of course add that it is He who controls birth and death.

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