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September 21, 2009

12:35 AM

Human will is free and yet capable of being influenced - that is, conditioned through consciousness



An important and complex concept in causal logic, and specifically in the logic of volition, is that of influence. This refers to the impact on one’s volitional act, before or while it occurs, of some cognized natural event(s) and/or other volition(s) by oneself or other agent(s). Note well, the agent of volition concerned must have cognized the natural event(s) and/or other volition(s) in question, for the latter to count as ‘influences’. The distinguishing characteristic of influence, compared to other ‘conditions’ surrounding volition, is the intermediary of consciousness.

The philosophical importance of this concept is due to the confusion of most people relative to the concept of freedom of the will. On the one hand, most people in practice believe the will is free somehow; on the other hand, they realize it is varyingly affected by surrounding natural events and persons. These givens seem theoretically irreconcilable because the latter is mistaken for conditioning or partial causation, whereas it is influence, a different, subtler sort of causality.

For example: a man’s muscles are conditions affecting his volitions, in that he can in fact lift a certain weight with them and also in that he cannot lift more weight than they physically make possible; these same muscles however become influences on his volitions, only when thinking of their supposed limited strength he chooses another course than he would if they seemed stronger or weaker. Note well the subtle difference. Conditions and influences both affect actions, but not in comparable ways.

Influence is a special kind of conditioning, differing from an ordinary condition in that it operates specifically through the medium of consciousness, i.e. of any kind of cognitive process. The influencing object is one that has been sensed or imagined, perceived or conceived, remembered or projected, found evident or inferred, induced or deduced, or in any way thought about. What it influences, strictly speaking, is the Subject of such cognitions or thoughts, i.e. the eventual Agent of volition. When the agent finally ‘makes up his mind’ and wills something, he does so either in the direction of or against the tendency implied by the influence at hand.

Thus, influences imply positive or negative tendencies, temptations or spurs to voluntary action. If such tendency was in the direction of the eventual will, the will was facilitated by it; if such tendency was against the eventual will, the will had to overcome it.  The agent is always free to accept or refuse to ‘follow’ a given influence, i.e. to ‘yield’ to its weight or ‘resist’ it.

The concept of effort refers to a degree of will. Volition is not an either-or proposition, something one switches on or off; it has degrees. Powerful will is required to overcome strong opposing influences; a weak agent is easily influenced to go against his will. Thus, we may speak of amount of effort involved in an act of will. If influences are favorable, the effort required to complete them is comparatively minimal. If influences are counteractive, the agent must pump proportionately more effort to get his way.

We may also view effort as a measure of the agent’s responsibility, his causal contribution or ownership of the action and its outcomes. The more effort he requires, the more wholly ‘his own’ they are. The less effort he requires, the greater the part played in them by surrounding influences.

The postulate of freedom of the will is that an influence is never alone sufficient to produce some effect, irrespective of the will of the agent concerned. Granting surrounding conditions allow the power of will in a given case, the agent always has ‘final say’ to resist the tendency implied by the influence, though such resistance might require a maximum of effort. As of when conditioning occurs via consciousness, i.e. in the way of influence, necessity does not apply, though the effort required to overcome influence may be daunting. Wherever necessity does apply, one cannot say that there was possibility of will, nor therefore speak of influence. The subject was simply overwhelmed, proving in this case to be not an agent but a mere patient. He may have been an observer of the events, but he was in this case a passive recipient of natural forces.

If this postulate is correct, it means that consciousness of an object cannot by itself move a spiritual entity (soul, subject) to action, by way of complete causation. Though such consciousness may play a major causative part in the action, approaching one hundred percent, still the action cannot effectively occur without the final approval and participation of the spiritual entity concerned. If necessity is indeed observed occurring, then the conditioning involved was not via consciousness of the object but directly due to the object.

Note that not only an influence cannot by itself ever move an agent into action, but also – granting the possibility of pure whim – the agent can well move himself in the absence of any influences. Therefore, influence is neither sufficient nor necessary for volition.

Thus, note well, we are not here involved in verbal manipulations. Freedom of the will is a thesis, a hypothesis, concerning the causal relations possible in the domain of the spirit. Consciousness may well occur in cases where there is no volition, i.e. where causation (necessity) takes over; but when this happens, consciousness has played no part in the effect. Consciousness becomes a condition only as of when causation recedes, and a space is leftover for volition to intervene; in that event, consciousness (or its objects, through it) becomes influential, and the will remains free (to at least some extent).

All volition seems subject to some influences to some degree. This seems evident of human volition, which usually occurs in response to an apparent mental and material context, though it could be argued to be at times indifferent to all influences. Other animals, likewise, and perhaps much more so, have powers of volition subject to influence.
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