Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog

Subscribe to Journal

September 11, 2009

3:18 AM

Clarifying the relation between the concepts of necessary causation, inertial causation and volition




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.

On the 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.

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.

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.

With regard to the epistemological underpinning of the above ontological statements, it should be stressed that our knowledge of causation is inductively acquired.


0 Comment(s).

There are no comments to this entry.