Logical Philosophy

 A Compendium


Avi Sion Ph.D.

(C) Copyright Avi Sion, 2013.

Protected by international and Pan-American copyright conventions.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever,

or stored in a retrieval system or transmitted,

without express permission of the Author-publisher,

except in case of brief quotations with due acknowledgment.

Published by Avi Sion, Geneva, Switzerland.


Logical Philosophy: A Compendium brings together five works by Avi Sion published in 2002-06, namely: Phenomenology (2003), Volition and Allied Causal Concepts (2004), Meditations (2006), Ruminations (2005), and Buddhist Illogic (2002).

These works together define what may be termed ‘Logical Philosophy’, i.e. philosophical discourse distinguished by its steadfast reliance on inductive and deductive logic to resolve epistemological and ontological issues.

Note that the works are placed in a logical rather than chronological order. This collection does not include work done on The Logic of Causation in the same period (published in 2003, 2005).

Contents in brief


  1. What, Why and How.. 16
  2. Organizing Principles 21
  3. Experiences and Abstractions 33
  4. Conceptualization. 47
  5. The Self 63
  6. Additional Topics 78
  7. The Active Role of Logic. 93
  8. Epistemological Issues in Mathematics 106
  9. Theology Without Prejudice. 115
  10. Illustrations 124

Appendices and References 127


  1. Basic Causal Relations 142
  2. Interactions between Volition and Causation. 148
  3. Further Analysis of Volition. 155
  4. Consciousness and Responsibility. 162
  5. Influence and Freedom.. 170
  6. Further Analysis of Influence. 177
  7. The Workings of Volition. 184
  8. Volition and the Special Sciences 194
  9. Will, Velleity and Whim.. 202
  10. Affections and Appetites 209
  11. Complications of Influence. 216
  12. Urges and Impulses 223
  13. The Quasi-Purposive in Nature. 234
  14. Concepts of Evolution. 239
  15. More about Evolution. 248
  16. The Self 255
  17. Some Topics in Deontology. 265
  18. More Topics in Deontology. 273

Appendices and References 280


  1. Some Theoretical Considerations 289
  2. Understanding The Self 305
  3. Some Behavioral Disciplines 321
  4. Some Sitting Meditations 332


  1. About the Laws of Thought 361
  2. About Induction. 370
  3. About Words 384
  4. About Formal Logic. 392
  5. About Paradoxes 405
  6. About “Modern Logic”. 418
  7. About Cognitive Development 426
  8. About Causal Logic. 433
  9. About Negation. 443
  10. Jewish Logic: A Brief History and Evaluation. 455
  11. Islamic Logic. 461
  12. Logical Aspects of Foucault’s Archeology. 467
  13. Comments on 3 chapters of Foucault 473
  14. Bolzano’s Semantics Concepts 478


Foreword. 487

  1. The tetralemma. 489
  2. Neither real nor unreal 491
  3. Nagarjuna’s use of dilemma. 494
  4. The subject-predicate relation. 496
  5. Percepts and concepts 499
  6. Motion and rest 505
  7. Causality. 511
  8. Co-dependence. 517
  9. Karmic law.. 522
  10. God and creation. 524
  11. Self or soul 530
  12. Self-knowledge. 534

Afterword: Not ‘empty logic’, but empty of logic. 537

Appendices 539

Contents in detail


1. What, Why and How.. 16

  1. Phenomenology. 16
  2. Knowledge is Based on Appearance. 17
  3. To Be Or Not To Be. 18
  4. The Phenomenological Approach. 19

2. Organizing Principles 21

  1. The Order of Things 21
  2. Appearance and Other Large Concepts 22
  3. Material, Mental, Intuitive, Abstract 24
  4. Number, Space and Time. 25
  5. Modality and Causality. 28

3. Experiences and Abstractions 33

  1. The Objects of Perception. 33
  2. The Objects of Intuition. 40
  3. Correlations between Experiences 42
  4. Conceptual Objects 43
  5. Degrees of Interiority. 45

4. Conceptualization. 47

  1. Sameness and Difference. 47
  2. Compatibility or Incompatibility. 50
  3. Words and Intentions 54
  4. A Theory of Universals 56
  5. Unity In Plurality. 61

5. The Self 63

  1. The Self 63
  2. Factors of the “Self”. 66
  3. Identification-With. 68
  4. Ideal and Practical Concepts 70
  5. Fallacious Criticisms of Selfhood. 71
  6. What “Emptiness” Might Be. 74

6. Additional Topics 78

  1. Present Appearances 78
  2. The Concepts of Space and Time. 83
  3. Apprehension of the Four Dimensions 85
  4. Contents of Thought Processes 90
  5. Universals and Potentiality. 90
  6. Social vs. Personal Knowledge. 92

7. The Active Role of Logic. 93

  1. Principles of Adduction. 93
  2. Generalization is Justifiable. 96
  3. Logical Attitudes 97
  4. Syllogism Adds to Knowledge. 98
  5. There is a Formal Logic of Change. 99
  6. Concept Formation. 101
  7. Empty Classes 101
  8. Context 102
  9. Communication. 103

8. Epistemological Issues in Mathematics 106

  1. Mathematics and Logic. 106
  2. Geometrical Concepts have an Experiential Basis 107
  3. Geometry is a Phenomenological Science. 108
  4. On “New Arithmetical Entities”. 111
  5. Imagining a Thoroughly Empirical Arithmetic. 113

9. Theology Without Prejudice. 115

  1. Applying Logical Standards to Theology. 115
  2. Conceiving the Divine Attributes 116
  3. Analyzing Omniscience and Omnipotence. 118
  4. Harmonizing Justice and Mercy. 120
  5. The Formlessness of God. 122

10. Illustrations 124

  1. Existence, appearance, and reality. 124
  2. Assumed material, mental and spiritual domains 124
  3. A classification of appearances 125
  4. Three types of continuity. 125
  5. Contextual meaning. 126

Appendices and References 127

  1. Using Meditation. 127
  2. Feelings of Emptiness 130
  3. Mental Projection. 131
  4. References 133
  5. About This Book. 134


1. Basic Causal Relations 142

  1. Causation and volition. 142
  2. Causality and modality. 144
  3. Spontaneity. 145
  4. Relative vs. absolute contingency. 147

2. Interactions between Volition and Causation. 148

  1. Necessity and inertia in causation. 148
  2. Direct and indirect volition. 150
  3. Matter-mind and spirit 151
  4. Conceiving Divine volition. 152
  5. The study of volition. 154

3. Further Analysis of Volition. 155

  1. Knowledge of volition. 155
  2. Freedom of the will 156
  3. Decision and choice. 158
  4. Goals and means 159

4. Consciousness and Responsibility. 162

  1. The consciousness in volition. 162
  2. The factors of responsibility. 164
  3. Judging, and misjudging, people. 166

5. Influence and Freedom.. 170

  1. Influence occurs via consciousness 170
  2. Knowledge of effort, influence and freedom.. 171
  3. Formal analysis of influence. 172
  4. Incitement 174

6. Further Analysis of Influence. 177

  1. Some features of influence. 177
  2. Processes of influence. 179
  3. Instincts in relation to freewill 181
  4. Liberation from unwanted influences 182
  5. Propositions about the future. 182

7. The Workings of Volition. 184

  1. Cultural context and epistemological considerations 184
  2. Theoretical context 185
  3. Stages in the process of volition. 188
  4. The scope of freewill 192

8. Volition and the Special Sciences 194

  1. Volition and the laws of physics 194
  2. Volition and biology. 196
  3. Therapeutic psychology. 199

9. Will, Velleity and Whim.. 202

  1. Cognition, volition and valuation. 202
  2. Velleity. 205
  3. Whim.. 206
  4. Inner divisions 207

10. Affections and Appetites 209

  1. Valuation. 209
  2. The main valuations 210
  3. Ethology. 213

11. Complications of Influence. 216

  1. Habits 216
  2. Obsessions and compulsions 217
  3. The ego abhors a vacuum.. 220

12. Urges and Impulses 223

  1. Physical urges and impulses 223
  2. Mental urges and impulses 227
  3. Formal analysis of physical and mental urges 228
  4. Are there drives within the soul?. 230
  5. Formal analysis of spiritual urges 231

13. The Quasi-Purposive in Nature. 234

  1. Purposiveness 234
  2. Organic functions 234
  3. The continuity of life. 237

14. Concepts of Evolution. 239

  1. The logical form of evolution. 239
  2. Evidence for evolution. 241
  3. Random mutation. 243
  4. Natural selection. 245

15. More about Evolution. 248

  1. Social Darwinism.. 248
  2. Spiritual Darwinism.. 250
  3. Theological perspectives 252

16. The Self 255

  1. Ungluing the mind. 255
  2. Abstract vs. concrete self 256
  3. Sundry reflections on the soul and God. 261

17. Some Topics in Deontology. 265

  1. Founding ethics 265
  2. Ethics concerns the living, thinking, willing. 267
  3. Conscience and conformism.. 269
  4. Tai Chi, karma yoga and faith. 270

18. More Topics in Deontology. 273

  1. Inducing ethics 273
  2. Ethical formulas 275
  3. Philosophy of law.. 277

Appendices and References 280

  1. Some formal logic guidelines 280
  2. Aristotle’s four causes 282
  3. References 284


1. Some Theoretical Considerations 289

  1. What is meditation?. 290
  2. Thought and meditation. 292
  3. The goals of meditation. 295
  4. Theory and practice. 297
  5. Interpretations 298
  6. The coexistence of the One and the many. 301
  7. Methods and experiences 303

2. Understanding The Self 305

  1. The individual self in Monism.. 306
  2. The impression of self 308
  3. Impermanence: concept and principle. 310
  4. Not an essence, but an entity. 312
  5. Distinguishing the ego. 315
  6. Dismissing the ego. 317
  7. Relief from suffering. 318

3. Some Behavioral Disciplines 321

  1. Taking up the challenge. 322
  2. Face facts with equanimity. 323
  3. Stop substance addictions 324
  4. Don’t stuff yourself silly. 324
  5. Limit input from the media. 325
  6. Forget your face. 326
  7. Give up sensuality. 327
  8. On “sexual liberation”. 328
  9. Practice non-attachment 329

4. Some Sitting Meditations 332

  1. Time, place and posture. 333
  2. Observe the mechanisms of thought 335
  3. Stop unnecessary thinking. 337
  4. Dealing with distractions 339
  5. Sitting forgetting. 341
  6. Breath awareness 342
  7. Being here and now.. 344
  8. With or without a self 347
  9. Whether mind or matter 348
  10. Already there. 350


1. About the Laws of Thought 361

  1. Dialectical Reasoning. 361
  2. Genesis of Axioms 362
  3. Paradoxical Propositions 362
  4. Contradiction. 364
  5. Varieties of Contradiction. 365
  6. Double Standards 366
  7. Special Status of the Laws 366
  8. Motors of Rational Thought 367
  9. Cogito, Ergo Sum.. 368
  10. Concerning Identity. 368

2. About Induction. 370

  1. Critical thought 370
  2. Misappropriation. 370
  3. Evidence. 371
  4. Detail 371
  5. Seems and Is 371
  6. Adduction. 372
  7. Pertinence. 372
  8. Trial and Error 372
  9. Field Specific. 373
  10. The Human Factor 373
  11. Theorizing. 374
  12. Approaching Reality. 374
  13. Experiment 375
  14. The Uncertainty Principle. 375
  15. Epistemic Ethics 376
  16. Phenomenology. 377
  17. Appearance, Reality and Illusion. 378
  18. Existence and Non-existence. 379
  19. Philosophy and Religion. 380

3. About Words 384

  1. Meaning. 384
  2. Traditional Distinctions 386
  3. Logic and Linguistics 388
  4. Dialogue. 390
  5. Poles of Duality. 391
  6. 4. About Formal Logic. 392
  7. Form and Content 392
  8. Singular Subject 392
  9. Special Forms 393
  10. Fuzzy Logic. 394
  11. Added Determinants 394
  12. Relational Expressions 395
  13. Disjunction. 396
  14. Material and Strict Implication. 399
  15. Nesting of Hypotheticals 400
  16. Compound Theses 401
  17. Validation of Nesting. 402
  18. Brackets in Logic. 403

5. About Paradoxes 405

  1. On the Liar Paradox. 405
  2. Making No Claim.. 405
  3. Nagarjuna’s Trickery. 407
  4. Non-apprehension of Non-things 409
  5. A Formal Impossibility. 411
  6. The Analytic/Synthetic Dichotomy. 412
  7. On the Russell Paradox. 413
  8. An Illustration of Russell’s 414
  9. On Grelling’s Paradox. 415

6. About “Modern Logic”. 418

  1. A School of Logicians 418
  2. Alleged New Methods 418
  3. Non-Aristotelian “Logic”. 419
  4. Postmodern “Logic”. 420
  5. Mere Manipulations 420
  6. Thinking Reflexively. 421
  7. Conventional Logic. 421
  8. Absolute Truths 422
  9. Untouched by Consciousness 422
  10. Logical Atomism.. 423
  11. Exclusive Judgments 424
  12. Empty Terms 424

7. About Cognitive Development 426

  1. The Fourth R. 426
  2. Empirical Studies 426
  3. Piaget’s Model 427
  4. Piaget’s Experiments 428
  5. Lines of Inquiry. 430
  6. Experimental Techniques 431
  7. Private Languages 432

8. About Causal Logic. 433

  1. Induction of Causatives 433
  2. True of All Opposites 433
  3. Extensional to Natural 434
  4. Hume’s Denials 434
  5. Hume’s Mentalism.. 435
  6. Constant Conjunction. 436
  7. Billiard Balls 437
  8. Against Kant on Freewill 438
  9. Alleged Influences 439
  10. Analogical Inferences 440

9. About Negation. 443

  1. Negation in Adduction. 443
  2. Positive and Negative Phenomena. 444
  3. Positive Experience Precedes Negation. 445
  4. Negation is an Intention. 446
  5. Formal Consequences 447
  6. Negation and the Laws of Thought 448
  7. Pure Experience. 450
  8. Consistency is Natural 450
  9. Status of the Logic of Causation. 451
  10. Zero, One and More. 452
  11. Psychology of Negation. 454
  12. Negation in Meditation. 454

10. Jewish Logic: A Brief History and Evaluation. 455

  1. Introduction. 455
  2. Traditional Claims and Historical Record. 455
  3. Comparisons and Assessments 457

11. Islamic Logic. 461

  1. The Structure of Islamic Law.. 461
  2. Islamic Hermeneutics 462
  3. Interpreters 466

12. Logical Aspects of Foucault’s Archeology. 467

  1. Slippery. 467
  2. Catch Him.. 468
  3. Healing. 470

13. Comments on 3 chapters of Foucault 473

  1. Las Meninas 473
  2. The Prose of the World. 473
  3. Representing. 475

14. Bolzano’s Semantics Concepts 478

  1. “Propositions-in-Themselves”. 478
  2. “Ideas-in-Themselves”. 479
  3. The Issue of Time. 480


Foreword. 487

  1. The tetralemma. 489
  2. Neither real nor unreal 491
  3. Nagarjuna’s use of dilemma. 494
  4. The subject-predicate relation. 496
  5. Percepts and concepts 499
  6. Motion and rest 505
  7. Causality. 511
  8. Co-dependence. 517
  9. Karmic law.. 522
  10. God and creation. 524
  11. Self or soul 530
  12. Self-knowledge. 534

Afterword: Not ‘empty logic’, but empty of logic. 537

Appendices 539

  1. Fallacies in Nagarjuna’s work. 539
  2. Brief glossary of some basic concepts 540

Other works by Avi Sion (photo) include:

Future Logic: Categorical and Conditional Deduction and Induction of the Natural, Temporal, Extensional and Logical Modalities.  Revised ed.  Geneva: Author, 1996.[1]

Judaic Logic: A Formal Analysis of Biblical, Talmudic and Rabbinic Logic.  Geneva: Author, 1995.[2]

The Logic of Causation.  Rev. & exp. ed.  Geneva: Author, 2010.[3]

Logical and Spiritual Reflections.  Rev. & exp. ed.  Geneva: Author, 2009.[4]

A Fortiori Logic: Innovations, History and Assessments.  Geneva: Author, 2013.

All of these works may be consulted on the Internet, at:


Paperback and E-book editions may be purchased online, notably at:










Basing Knowledge on Appearance



(C)  Avi Sion, 1990-2009.

Protected by international copyright conventions.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, or stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, without express permission of the Author-publisher, except in case of brief quotations with due acknowledgement.

First Published 2003. Expanded Edition, 2005. With small revisions, 2009.


Phenomenology is the study of appearance as such. It is a branch of both Ontology and Epistemology, since appearing is being known.

By an ‘appearance’ is meant any existent which impinges on consciousness, anything cognized, irrespective of any judgment as to whether it be ‘real’ or ‘illusory.’ The evaluation of a particular appearance as a reality or an illusion is a complex process, involving inductive and deductive logical principles and activities. Opinion has to earn the status of strict knowledge.

Knowledge develops from appearances, which may be: (a) objects of perception, i.e. concrete phenomena in the physical or mental domains; (b) objects of intuition, i.e. one’s subjective self, cognitions, volitions and valuations (non-phenomenal concretes); and/or (c) objects of conception, i.e. simple or complex abstracts of preceding appearances. Abstraction relies on apprehensions of sameness and difference between appearances (including received or projected appearances, and projected negations of appearances). Coherence in knowledge (perceptual, intuitive and conceptual) is maintained by apprehensions of compatibility or incompatibility.

Words facilitate our construction of conceptual knowledge, thanks to their intentionality. The abstract concepts most words intend are common characters or behaviors of particulars (concrete material, mental or subjective experiences). Granting everything in the world is reducible to waves, ‘universals’ would be equalities or proportionalities in the measures of the features, motions and interrelations of particular waves. Such a theory of universals would elucidate sensation and memory.

In attempting to retrace the development of conceptual knowledge from experience, we may refer to certain major organizing principles. It is also important to keep track of the order of things in such development, interrelating specific concepts and specific experiences. By proposing a precise sequence of events, we avoid certain logical fallacies and are challenged to try and answer certain crucial questions in more detail.

Many more topics are discussed in the present collection of essays, including selfhood, adduction and other logical issues, the status of mathematical concepts and theology.

“When wind moves through emptiness,

nothing really moves.”

The Flower Garland Sutra


1. What, Why and How.. 16

  1. Phenomenology. 16
  2. Knowledge is Based on Appearance. 17
  3. To Be Or Not To Be. 18
  4. The Phenomenological Approach. 19

2. Organizing Principles 21

  1. The Order of Things 21
  2. Appearance and Other Large Concepts 22
  3. Material, Mental, Intuitive, Abstract 24
  4. Number, Space and Time. 25
  5. Modality and Causality. 28

3. Experiences and Abstractions 33

  1. The Objects of Perception. 33
  2. The Objects of Intuition. 40
  3. Correlations between Experiences 42
  4. Conceptual Objects 43
  5. Degrees of Interiority. 45

4. Conceptualization. 47

  1. Sameness and Difference. 47
  2. Compatibility or Incompatibility. 50
  3. Words and Intentions 54
  4. A Theory of Universals 56
  5. Unity In Plurality. 61

5. The Self 63

  1. The Self 63
  2. Factors of the “Self”. 66
  3. Identification-With. 68
  4. Ideal and Practical Concepts 70
  5. Fallacious Criticisms of Selfhood. 71
  6. What “Emptiness” Might Be. 74

6. Additional Topics 78

  1. Present Appearances 78
  2. The Concepts of Space and Time. 83
  3. Apprehension of the Four Dimensions 85
  4. Contents of Thought Processes 90
  5. Universals and Potentiality. 90
  6. Social vs. Personal Knowledge. 92

7. The Active Role of Logic. 93

  1. Principles of Adduction. 93
  2. Generalization is Justifiable. 96
  3. Logical Attitudes 97
  4. Syllogism Adds to Knowledge. 98
  5. There is a Formal Logic of Change. 99
  6. Concept Formation. 101
  7. Empty Classes 101
  8. Context 102
  9. Communication. 103

8. Epistemological Issues in Mathematics 106

  1. Mathematics and Logic. 106
  2. Geometrical Concepts have an Experiential Basis 107
  3. Geometry is a Phenomenological Science. 108
  4. On “New Arithmetical Entities”. 111
  5. Imagining a Thoroughly Empirical Arithmetic. 113

9. Theology Without Prejudice. 115

  1. Applying Logical Standards to Theology. 115
  2. Conceiving the Divine Attributes 116
  3. Analyzing Omniscience and Omnipotence. 118
  4. Harmonizing Justice and Mercy. 120
  5. The Formlessness of God. 122

10. Illustrations 124

  1. Existence, appearance, and reality. 124
  2. Assumed material, mental and spiritual domains 124
  3. A classification of appearances 125
  4. Three types of continuity. 125
  5. Contextual meaning. 126

Appendices and References 127

  1. Using Meditation. 127
  2. Feelings of Emptiness 130
  3. Mental Projection. 131
  4. References 133
  5. About This Book. 134

1.   What, Why and How

1.     Phenomenology

Phenomenology may be defined as the study of appearances as such. By an ‘appearance’ is meant any existent which impinges on consciousness, anything cognized, irrespective of any judgment as to whether it be ‘real’ or ‘illusory.’ The evaluation of a particular appearance (an existent within the field of consciousness) as an illusion (existing only in consciousness) or a reality (existing not merely in consciousness, but also before it, after it, without it or beyond its range) is a complex process, involving inductive and deductive logical principles and activities. Opinion has to earn the status of strict knowledge. To begin with, appearance must be taken neutrally, at face value, as the common ground of reality and illusion (i.e. one of a triad).

An appearance is whatever it seems to be. At this level of consideration, the verbs ‘to seem’ and ‘to be’ are one and the same. It is only at the next level, where an assessment of status is involved, that they have to be separated.

Since appearing is being known, phenomenology can be regarded as a branch of both Ontology (the study of being as such; or more restrictively, of real being) and Epistemology (the study of knowledge as such; or more restrictively, of true knowledge). Phenomenology differs from ontology in being less presumptive as to the nature or status of the object dealt with, and it is for this reason a study essential to epistemology. The basic insight or premise of phenomenology is that knowledge develops from neutral appearance. The common-sense view of knowledge would seem to be that knowledge develops from data considered at the outset as ‘sensory,’ but as we shall see this view involves logical difficulties. The phenomenological approach is an attempt to overcome these difficulties, and propose a more coherent order of development.

As I have shown in my work Future Logic, no item of apparent knowledge, not even a percept, is ever immediately and definitively ‘true’ all by itself. An item may initially seem to be true, or contain some truth; but it is only in relation to all other items, which likewise seem to be true, that the judgment as to whether it is really or entirely true can be made. Even the various criteria and tests involved in such terminal judgments are themselves to start with merely seemingly true. The science of phenomenology is built on the same basic insight.

In this volume, we shall understand the term ‘appearance’ very broadly as including: a) objects of perception, i.e. concrete phenomena in the physical or mental domains; (b) objects of intuition, i.e. one’s subjective self, cognitions, volitions and valuations (non-phenomenal concretes); and/or (c) objects of conception, i.e. simple or complex abstracts of preceding appearances. Abstraction relies on apprehensions of sameness and difference between appearances (including received or projected appearances, and projected negations of appearances). Abstracts are firstly simply summaries of information, and at a later stage more complex hypothetical entities. Coherence in knowledge (perceptual, intuitive and conceptual) is maintained by apprehensions of compatibility or incompatibility.

With regard to terminology, the reader is advised to keep in mind that in philosophy, and in this particular philosophical treatise, we use words somewhat differently or more specifically than in common parlance. Contrary to the impression given by the term ‘phenomenology,’ it should be understood as a study not merely of ‘phenomena,’ but of all appearances, including intuited particulars and abstract data[5]. The word ‘appearance’ is often confused with ‘illusion,’ but here includes ‘reality.’ It is about equivalent in scope to the term ‘object’ (content of consciousness) or ‘thing’ in logic (anything existing or thought of). Note well that here ‘experiences’ refers not only to the phenomena of physical perception, but includes mental percepts, and even intuited data. In common parlance, the term can be more restrictive (limited to sensory inputs) or even coextensive with ‘appearances’ (e.g. ‘my life experiences’ includes my abstract thoughts). And so forth – all terms will be made clear in due course. See Illustrations at the end of the book.

Phenomenology is a science based primarily on attentive detailed observation of one’s own experience and discursive behavior, and only secondarily on careful logical analysis and ordering of such observations. Thus, practice of meditation is a prerequisite to development of this philosophical discipline, and our success in the latter depends on our skills in the former. Although philosophical awareness and thinking are ultimately obstacles to meditation (which rises above intellectual pursuits), the former can in the interim still draw significant lessons from the latter. Labeling phenomena as “phenomena”, or making distinctions between them, or distinguishing them from intuitive experiences or from abstractions – such acts are all non-meditative; but they may well occur and be remembered in the course of meditation. (See Appendix 1.)

2.     Knowledge is Based on Appearance

Our primary consideration ought to be just what is apparent to our awareness at each and every moment. Nothing can be granted offhand except this first given. Appearance is immediately granted – because there is nothing else to discuss or refer to, because discourse arises solely in reaction and in relation to it. Thereafter, we may stage by stage show how knowledge in general, including our alleged knowledge of those stages, develops.

The core thesis of phenomenology, thus, is that knowledge is based on appearance. This is in stark contrast to other approaches to epistemology, which propose that knowledge is based on ‘external reality’ or on ‘subjective truth’ or some such premature thesis. Moreover, phenomenology regards as essential that the sequence in which knowledge arises and develops out of appearance be clarified. A notion or suggestion may be appropriate if intelligently placed in the ‘order of things,’ but very misleading if misplaced.

  • Consider, for instance, Naïve Realism (or Materialism or Objectivism)[6]. This philosophy proposes that we have a body with sense-organs, that when these come in contact with external objects sensations are produced, which in turn produce primary ideas (images) in the mind, which are what we experience and build more complex ideas (abstract concepts) from. At first glance, this thesis may appear obvious and worthy of universal belief. But upon reflection, we see that it leads to serious logical problems. If, as it suggests, ideas ‘represent’ external reality, how do we know that they indeed ‘correspond’ to it? If, as this theory implies, all we know are ideas (sense-data and their combinations), how can we even get to know that there is an external reality at all, let alone a body with sense organs in which our minds reside? Thus, surprisingly enough, this approach to knowledge is internally inconsistent.
  • In reaction to this conundrum, some philosophers have opted for the opposite extreme, a Mentalism (or Idealism or Subjectivism)[7]. They have, in fact, accepted the core tenet of Naïve Realism that what we perceive and build knowledge on are mental substances called ideas, while simply dropping its thesis that these ideas originate in physical sensations in response to stimuli from external objects. The trouble with this thesis is that it involves a stolen concept, since it would be hard put to define mentality after having done away with that of materiality. Moreover, it does not really explain the mass of data at hand – it merely explains it away as illusory happenstance. It does not elucidate why there would appear to be an enormous universe of matter 15 billion years old, composed of innumerable galaxies, stars, atoms, quarks, including on a small planet called Earth apparent human beings, with apparent bodies, with apparent sense organs. Mentalism just ignores all this, or discards it as sheer fantasy; it does not make it comprehensible. It is therefore incomplete.

Having grasped the problem inherent in the former theory, we might be tempted to opt for the latter, however imperfect, were it not for the possibility of another approach, that of Phenomenology, which presents neither the flaw of internal inconsistency nor that of incompleteness. Phenomenology brings together the best in both those theories, while weeding out their faulty elements.

  • Phenomenology starts like Mentalism with the given content of consciousness, but identifies that content neutrally as ‘appearance,’ instead of taking up the prejudice that it is something mental (idea). For it must be realized that the concept of mind was built in contrast to that of matter; it has no meaning by itself, and would not have arisen were it not for the concept of matter. Phenomenology therefore posits a concept of appearance, which leaves the question of mind or matter open to begin with, a question to be answered in a larger context.
  • Phenomenology ends like Naïve Realism with a belief in matter as well as mind, but it does not get to that thesis in the same manner. The error of Naïve Realism is not essentially its notion of a physical body having sensations that generate ideas, but the fact that it takes this notion for immediately granted, treating it effectively as a mere observation. Phenomenology avoids this error by understanding the notion in question as a hypothetical model, through which we manage to organize appearances into an orderly and consistent whole called knowledge.

Our premise is that the starting point of epistemology is never a blank mind in a social vacuum, but the belief framework of ordinary persons in a given historical and geographical cultural context. Researchers in epistemology are themselves such ordinary persons in a given societal climate, with their particular viewpoints, though hopefully outstanding intellectual capacities. Any theory such researchers propose must ultimately convincingly explain the genesis of the ordinary frameworks. Whether the latter are thus wholly justified, or demonstrated to be aberrant to some extent, they can neither be ignored nor entirely rejected without logical absurdity.

It is worth making a comment here, parenthetically, about the cultural context. A man like me, born in the 20th Century and educated in the West, normally takes the Realist viewpoint for granted, and assumes that everyone else in the world naturally does too. People with an opposite perspective seem at first unnatural (philosophical nitpickers or weirdo mystics), if not nonexistent. But it must be kept in mind that in other regions of the world and in other periods of history, there have been humans who sincerely held very different worldviews (consider animism or shamanism, for instances). One should remain open minded.

3.     To Be Or Not To Be

One notable radical difference with ordinary thinking in our place and time is the Buddhist notion that we have no self. The Buddhist outlook stems from the position of Indian philosophy that all that we can cognize are dharmas, that is (in a primary sense) concrete phenomena of perception, and eventually (in an enlarged sense) the abstract derivatives thereof. The ‘reality’ of dharmas was considered ‘illusory,’ since they were impermanent, without abiding characters; and all the more so, derivative notions about dharmas. The Hindu branch of Indian philosophy opted for the thesis that beyond such elusive existents there is a (more ‘real’ and ‘permanent’) spiritual existence (with individual selves or souls, and a universal Self or God). Buddhist philosophy, on the other hand, forked off, denying any such additional existents (on the surface, at least, because they later admit a ground of being, which is known only on the highest level of consciousness). Moreover, some Buddhist schools effectively consider some dharmas as material, whereas others consider all as mental.

Some modern Western thinkers would agree with the no-self position, from a more mechanistic perspective, regarding man as a machine (an organic computer or robot) devoid of soul. René Descartes (17th Century) was the first in the history of Western philosophy to raise the issue of selfhood (or raise it so explicitly and clearly). He inferred (ergo) existence of self (sum) from existence of cognition (cogito). More precise would be to say that we (at least partly) infer Subject and consciousness from the appearance of Object. Something appears – to what (whom)? a Subject! how? through consciousness! Some philosophers would consider such reasoning as compulsive, influenced by mere grammatical habit. But in my view, these characterizations are neither just habitual nor deductive certainties; they are inductive hypotheses[8] needed to settle certain logical issues.

The term ‘Subject,’ by the way, is used as here relative to ‘Object,’ in the relation called ‘consciousness’[9]. In the relation of ‘volition,’ the same entity is called ‘Agent,’ versus the ‘will’ (the act of will or that which is willed). The term ‘soul’ refers to the common ground of Subject and Agent (as well as affective and other roles). The term ‘self’ stresses the personality of soul, as distinct from other entities, which lack consciousness, volition and affection. The term ‘spirit’ stresses the distinct substance of soul, compared to material or mental entities (without at the outset excluding that all three may ultimately be of uniform stuff).

In my view, the issue of self is relatively secondary in importance, in the (re)construction of knowledge from scratch that Descartes was pursuing here. He quite correctly saw that even apparently sensed objects may be dreamed. But he (so far as I know) missed the primary conclusion that ‘whether these appearances are reality or illusion, it is at least sure that they are.’ That ought to have been his main building block. In that case, the second inference becomes ‘something appears to be (thus, exists), therefore I and my consciousness of that appearance also exist,’ the reverse! But I am perhaps being picky. His ‘[I][10] think therefore I am’ can also in fairness be read as ‘things appear therefore I am here seeing them.’ Note also that the ‘therefore’ implies someone inferring; thus not only experience but also reason are implicit in the insight and statement.

In the present volume, we shall radically diverge from the Buddhist or Western Mechanist theses. It is indeed logical to suppose that if all we can cognize are the concrete physical and imaginary phenomena we perceive, i.e. visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory or gustatory manifestations of being, and the abstract ideas we form in relation to those phenomena, then there is no self. For no one can claim to see or hear or touch or smell or taste the self – it has admittedly no perceptible qualities. However, the way out of this dilemma is to abandon the underlying dogma (about dharmas), and admit that we have another sort of cognitive relation with the self and its exclusive properties (consciousness, will and valuation) – a direct self-experience that might be called ‘intuition.’

This thesis need only be taken as a hypothesis to start with. But it soon, as we shall see, becomes evident that such self-experience is needed and extremely useful in solving a variety of epistemological as well as ontological problems. For examples, how are present memories (of past sensations) distinguished from present sensations? Or how are word intentions known to be intended? Thus, it is not through some arbitrary superstition that self and its functions are established, but through the utility and gradual confirmation of the hypothesis of intuition. Theories of knowledge that ignore or exclude intuition merely seem to manage to stand without it, because they do not explicitly confront certain issues, leaving them tacit and unresolved.

4.     The Phenomenological Approach

Phenomenology, then, is a theory of knowledge that (i) lays emphasis on a neutral, noncommittal consideration of the building blocks of knowledge as ‘appearances’ – meaning all contents of consciousness, without prejudice as to their source or nature – and (ii) seeks out organizing concepts and principles that would successfully order this knowledge if proposed in an appropriate sequence. We may well propose elements of Realism or Mentalism, provided we do so in a critical manner.

The basic building blocks of knowledge include concrete experiences, meaning perceived material and mental phenomena and intuitions relating to self, and the conceived, abstract derivatives of the preceding. How to we proceed from experiences to conceptual knowledge? Among the prime processes involved are apprehensions of sameness or difference (comparison and contrast) and of compatibility or incompatibility (confrontation, face-off). These processes make use of a certain amount of imagination, which however does not detract from their impartiality, as we shall try to show. The intent here is to sketch a phenomenological approach to such fundamentals of epistemology. That is, we need to depict hypotheses as to how the abstract derives from the phenomenal and intuitive, without any prior assumptions as to the nature of the phenomenal, intuitive or abstract, in a manner that considers appearances ad hoc.

Attempts to do this under a Naïve Realist presumption have little credibility in that they assume as given that the observer (me, you) has a ‘physical’ body, sense organs and a brain, whereas (upon reflection, more critically) these entities and their material substance can only in fact be justified after a long analysis and synthesis of all data. The alternative, phenomenological approach avoids this logical difficulty (circularity), by starting without assumptions concerning the nature of phenomena or their status (whether they are real or illusory), and proceeding in an ordered manner from the experiential level to the conceptual level, with reference to convincing cognitive processes. If we thereby arrive at a conclusion justifying the basic assumptions of the naïve view, so well and good; but we do not base our understanding on that view. It is an effect, not a cause of knowledge.

What matters for us here in phenomenology, to begin with, is what is cognized, irrespective of how it came to be cognized. Because the ‘how’ is ultimately just another ‘what.’ For instance, the common thesis that the visual phenomena appearing before me here and now are the end products of a process of some kind involving physical eyes, constitute in this context an attempt at explanation. Taken as a given ab initio, it constitutes Naïve Realism. But to say this does not exclude the truth of the thesis as a final conclusion.

Note that we say ‘naïve,’ not so as to intimidate eventual dissenters into following suit, but because there is an unquestioning acceptance, an unawareness of the issues involved, to correct. In our example, the main issue is (simply put) that, just as each act of seeing something requires validation, so the vision of the eyes themselves is itself open to doubt. It is not because our perceptions are occasionally wrong that they need evaluation, but because a lot of what we regard as perceptual is more precisely (at least in part) conceptual.

Phenomenology is the intelligent organization of appearances into knowledge. By ‘knowledge’ is meant loosely, to start with, our opinions and impressions. If these are well organized, they gain the status of knowledge in a strict sense, or ‘true’ knowledge. If they remain scattered and confused, they are classed as mere opinions and impressions, or ‘false’ knowledge. Among the basic methodological principles of phenomenology, we may cite the following:

  • Attention to all appearances in all their details. Awareness that they change and accumulate.
  • Constructing a theoretical model that takes all appearances into consideration, and does not simply ignore them nor (worse still) contradict them.
  • The order of things in knowledge proposed by that model must be coherent, as an inappropriate sequence of events can hide or lead to contradictions.
  • Such an epistemological model is necessarily flexible, open to revision, depending on its adaptation to the current mass of data and insights.
  • It is not an axiom, but is acknowledged to be an ongoing hypothetical construct, to be ‘proved’ inductively by virtue of its adherence to the aforesaid reasonable principles (which may of course be viewed as themselves part of the construct).

Many historical philosophical errors have been caused by a failure to consider the order of things in the arising and development of knowledge. This is equally true in matters of detail, as in grand issues.

For example, the Zeno paradoxes cannot be conceived as proofs that motion is impossible, but only as evidence that our (or Zeno’s) initial concepts of motion are problematic; for motion is experientially manifest before and irrespective of any conceptual deliberation concerning it and all discussion concerning motion arises only in reaction to such experience of it as an attempt to rationally interpret and explicate it.

One of the main purposes of the present essay shall, therefore, be to identify the temporal and logical order of the main items in knowledge, so as to preempt such errors.

2.   Organizing Principles

1.     The Order of Things

Philosophy cannot answer its basic questions any old how; it must proceed in stages, in such a way that its own assertions and implicit assumptions are equally addressed. If a philosopher does not take account of the order of things in his mind or knowledge, he is bound to develop erroneous views. To assess such order, one must trace the complex genesis of important concepts. (See Figures 1, 2 and 3.)

Basic concepts like ‘appearance,’ ‘existence,’ ‘reality,’ ‘illusion,’ ‘experience’ and many, many more, are of course well-nigh impossible to define in verbal terms. The reason is obvious: definition has to stop somewhere; it cannot go on ad infinitum. Such concepts can at best be partly indicated, by pointing to experiences, partly communicated by negation. They are nonetheless generally understood, if only after some verbal clarifications.

One of the principal tasks of philosophy is to identify the main organizing concepts or principles, through which all the information given us in appearance can be summarized, ordered and understood. Some of these subdivide the world of appearance into smaller, variously interactive domains and classes. Others are concepts of number, which make measurement of these various elements of appearance feasible, in the realms of space and time, or in statistical contexts like modality and causation, or in other, more specific issues.

In this context, it would be necessary to hypothesize how the distinction arises phenomenologically. That is to say, are there phenomenal marks or events that promote and justify such distinction? For example, is matter simply more vividly manifest than mind, or otherwise evidently qualitatively different, or do we make the distinction with reference to intuitions of our own inner actions, such as looking in the direction of the senses versus looking in the direction of memory or of one’s own intentions. As we shall see, my conclusion in many contexts is that phenomenal marks or events are not sufficient differentia, and we must refer to self-experience to explain certain primordial distinctions.

If we proceeded according to the natural or logical ‘order of things,’ our account of the foundations and development of knowledge would begin with meditation on and discussion of present Appearance, by which I mean the totality of appearance, in a given moment or cumulatively over time. Then we would dissect such totality into its constituent appearances, in an appropriate order, and investigate the various reasons and ways such distinctions arise, as well as the measurements involved in making them. This is of course an enormous task, and I do not propose to fulfill it exhaustively in the present volume but merely to begin it and thus illustrate it.

The topics treated in this work cannot be presented in such strictly orderly fashion without losing the reader’s interest. Some segments will grab the reader’s attention, others may seem tedious; so the writer must gauge what to put where. The important thing is to try and make clear within the text what the correct ordering of information would be. Some topics will barely be mentioned, because they have been or will be dealt with in considerable detail in other works of mine, and I see no point in repeating myself. Nevertheless, some repetition is inevitable, if only in the way of summary, if my discourse is to be understood.

The following are some of the most important organizing concepts or principles, which we shall try to elucidate to some extent in the coming pages. This catalog is not intended as exhaustive or systematic, but rather as suggestive and associative.

  1. Large concepts:
  • Distinction between appearance, existence and reality (and their respective negations); ontology.
  • Discerning object, consciousness and subject; epistemology.
  1. Analytic concepts:
  • Distinction between phenomena (material or mental), intuitive (self and its immediate functions), abstract (concepts about phenomena, intuitives and/or abstracts); comparison, confrontation, verbalization, classification; inductive and deductive logic.
  • Distinction between matter, mind and spirit.
    • Matter: surrounding world (atoms and molecules, quarks and stars, fields) and own body (sense and motor organs, brain); physics, physiology.
    • Mind: memories, imaginations, anticipations, mental feelings; psychology.
    • Spirit: self/other; soul, cognition, volition, valuation; psychology, ethics.
  1. Concepts of mathematical relation (measurement):
  • Discerning number (unit, plurality, proportion); arithmetic (algebra).
  • Discerning time (present, past and future), space (distances; adjacent, apart; inner, outer), motion and change (all of which, in matter or mind); chronology, geometry.
  • Discerning modality (necessary, actual, potential, and their negations) and causality (spontaneity, causation, volition, influence), in all their modes; statistics, tropology, aetiology.

2.     Appearance and Other Large Concepts

By ‘appearance’ is meant, first of all, anything and everything – but upon reflection, more specifically anything which ‘comes to mind,’ by whatever means. This is not a definition, but an indication. The term appearance is too fundamental to be definable without circularity, we can only ‘point to’ its instances; indeed, whatever we can point to, in any sense of the term (physically with a finger, mentally by projecting a boundary, verbally by defining or intentionally by focusing on), is an appearance. Thus, ‘appearance’ refers to any object – of consciousness (but of course, ‘consciousness’ is itself too basic to be definable – see further on).

The concept of appearance differs from that of ‘existence’ as of when we assume that things exist before or after we are aware of them, and therefore by extrapolation that things exist that we are never aware of. This assumption that there are things (existents) we are not conscious of, serves to explain or integrate, among others, the appearance that things disappear and reappear (signifying continuity of existence in the interim – granting reliability to memory). It also expresses our belief that other selves beside oneself exist (as opposed to solipsism), each of which is aware of (and reports) some things one is not aware of, or unaware of some things one is aware of.

Thus, although the two concepts may initially coincide, at some stage we come to regard appearance as a subcategory of existence, implying that whereas all appearances exist, some existents are not apparent. Non-apparent existents are, note well, hypothetical; i.e. ‘nonappearance’ is a word whose content is by definition unknown but not in principle unknowable. Non-existents do not, of course, exist; which means that the word ‘nonexistence’ has no ideational content, but is just a verbal construct by negation (an artifice we use as a sort of garbage can for incoherent hypothetical concepts or propositions).

We may here also mention, in passing, the subsidiary concept of actuality, or ‘present existence,’ which arises in the specific context of natural modality, to distinguish between potentiality with present existence and that without present existence.

The concept of appearance likewise to begin with coincides with that of ‘reality.’ But as of when we come to the conclusion, as a way to explain certain illogical appearances (like contradictions between experiences or between our beliefs/predictions and experiences) that some things are illusory, i.e. that consciousness errs occasionally, we posit that reality is a mere subcategory of appearance, and therefore of existence. The complementary subcategory of appearance, unreality or ‘illusion,’ also has the status of existence, note well. There are also appearances that we are at a given time unable to classify as reality or illusion; these are temporarily problematic.

One cannot claim that all appearance is illusion, without thereby contradicting oneself, since such a claim is itself an appearance that is being assumed a reality; it is therefore logically self-evident that some appearances are realities.

The deductive relation between these concepts is therefore this: appearance is the common ground of reality and illusion, i.e. implied by both but not implying either. Reality and illusion are mutually contradictory concepts – both cannot be true/applicable, but one of them must ultimately be so. Thus, every object of awareness can be claimed as appearance offhand, without prejudicing the issue as to whether it is real or illusory.

However, appearance and reality are also inductively related, as follows: every appearance may be assumed a reality unless (or until, if ever) it is judged (for logical reasons, as mentioned) to be an illusion. Just as the concepts of appearance and reality are initially (at an uncritical, naïve level) the same, so in every instance they remain equal except where illusion is demonstrated (or at least, doubt is instilled). This principle, indeed, underlies and justifies all inductions.

Note well that the above differentiations between existence, appearance and reality are not immediately obvious, neither in the development of an individual’s knowledge nor in the history of human thought. They are not a priori givens, or self-evident deductive certainties or an axiomatic absolute truths, but conclusions of rational (conceptual and logical) process. That is, they express a set of hypotheses which inductively, over time, have been found to satisfactorily integrate and explain a mass of appearances, i.e. to fit-in in a comprehensive and convincing world-view. Thus, to mention these differentiations ab initio, as we do here, may be misleading – they are only at this stage vague notions and assumptions, which are in the long run further defined and found confirmed by the absence of any equally credible hypotheses, any other conceptual constructs which prove as coherent and consistent both internally (as theoretical postulates) and externally (in relation to cumulative appearance, and especially experience). Their being hypotheses does not per se invalidate them, for the claim that all hypothesizing is invalid is itself equally hypothetical and so self-invalidating.

We shall again anticipate, with reference to what we mean by ‘consciousness’ or ‘awareness’ or ‘cognition.’ This may be defined as the relation between Subject and Object, whatever activities or states either may undergo within such relation[11]. The fundamental given is appearances – but we have no reason to believe that all appearances appear to each other, i.e. we seem to have a privilege among existents in being aware of other existents. We suppose thereby that the fact of ‘appearance’ is different from mere ‘existence,’ and occurs only relative to a conscious Subject.

The ‘Subject’ of this relation is identified with the intuited self (me, in my case – you, in yours), but such intuition has at first only the status of an appearance; it is initially a vague and uncertain notion rather than a fully developed and justified concept. The other pole in the putative relation of consciousness, the ‘Object,’ refers to the appearances involved (which are here given another name to stress their being taken into consideration specifically within the said relation).

To posit such a relation does not tell us anything much about it, admittedly – we merely have a word for it, referring to something supposedly too primary in knowledge to be definable. But the trilogy Subject-consciousness-Object is posited by us in a bid to understand and explain how and why appearance differs from existence. The meaning and validity of this hypothesis, including the new ideas of a Subject and consciousness, are not immediate, but established with reference to the cumulative thrust of experience and reasoning, including consideration of conflicting hypotheses. It is only after the latter are found less coherent and consistent than the former that we inductively conclude that our hypothesis is convincing and reliable.

Let me emphasize preemptively that to postulate that appearance signifies existence within awareness is not meant to imply that the existence of appearances is caused by awareness, but only to differentiate putative non-apparent existents from appearances. The relation of consciousness is postulated as per se neutral, affecting neither the Subject nor the Object. Existents remain essentially unchanged by it when they enter the field of awareness and are labeled more specifically as ‘appearances.’ To presume the contents of consciousness ‘subjective’ (in the pejorative sense of the term), implying a dependence (creation or modification) of the Object by the Subject, is a very different hypothesis; one, indeed, hard to uphold, since if we apply it to itself we put it in doubt. Moreover, if such subjectivist hypothesis were claimed true, there would be no need for it, for ‘appearance’ and ‘existence’ would be coextensive. So our hypothesis of consciousness is inherently rather ‘objectivist.’ Evidently, there is lots of reasoning behind such concepts and postulates; they are not arbitrary assertions (as some philosophers contend). Also, such reflections and clarifications are not and need not be consciously made before at all embarking on the enterprise of knowledge; they flower gradually in response to specific doubts and questions.

3.     Material, Mental, Intuitive, Abstract

Now, of all appearances, those labeled ‘phenomena’ are the most manifest, the most evidently present to our consciousness. They are so called to stress that we should not immediately take for granted their apparent reality, having over time become aware that some are best judged illusory after due consideration. Phenomenal objects seem more directly or immediately knowable than others – apart from the issue of reality or illusion just mentioned – so we assign them a special kind of consciousness or cognition called perception and label them ‘percepts.’

Among phenomena, some are more ostentatious and permanent than others and seem relatively far and independent of us – these we refer to as ‘material’ or ‘physical.’ The remainder we label ‘mental’ or ‘imaginary,’ distinguishing them by their relative poverty, transience, intimacy and dependence on us. Most of our common ‘world’ (cumulative appearance) is composed of material phenomena, and all or most mental phenomena seem to be derivative replicas of them or of parts of them. Among material phenomena, some are considered ‘in our own body’ or ‘physiological,’ and the others ‘outside our body,’ our ‘body’ being distinguished by its relative proximity (to the observer) and the peculiar events occurring in it (sensations and sentiments). Some bodily phenomena (such as sentiments and ‘actions’) seem to have mental origins, and so are called ‘psychosomatic.’ Conversely, many mental phenomena are regarded as having bodily causes.

In addition to mental phenomena, we should distinguish the non-phenomenal appearances we may call ‘intuitive’ appearances, which are our impressions of self-knowledge (one’s self, cognitions, valuations, volitions). These differ from imaginations, in that they per se have no phenomenal expressions, yet they share with mental phenomena the appearance of intimacy and being in our power to some degree. They are assigned a specific kind of consciousness called intuition (whence their name here) or apperception.

Phenomena (mental or material) and intuited objects have in common a status of immediate evidence, which we express by calling them ‘empirical’ or ‘experiential.’ Experiences are ‘givens’ in a way other appearances (namely abstracts) cannot match. Considered purely in and for themselves, without interpretation or inference, they are unassailable, not requiring any proof. To distinguish them from abstracts, they are called  ‘concrete’ appearances or concretes.

Abstract’ appearances or abstracts may be classed as last in that they seem derived, by various means, from the preceding, experiential (concrete) varieties of appearance. These means are collectively labeled ‘rational’ (implying they proceed from a faculty of reason). The term abstract refers to the primary act of reason, namely abstraction (which depends on identification of sameness or difference, i.e. on comparison and contrast between two or more appearances).

Abstract appearances share with intuitive ones the lack of phenomenal manifestation; we have nothing to directly show for them, they are phenomenally blank. But abstracts differ from intuitive appearances, in that getting to know the former requires a process (comparison and contrast), whereas the latter are directly known (in self-experience). Furthermore, abstract objects are ‘universals’ and essentially ‘external to us,’ whereas intuitive objects are ‘particulars’ and very much ‘part of us.’

Consciousness of abstracts is called conception, so they are also called ‘concepts.’ But the processes leading to concepts (our discourse) are far from simple and seem subject to many rules; the latter are labeled ‘logic.’ Abstracts require proof, and ultimately some sort of empirical grounding. The only exception to this rule is the case of self-evident propositions, which cannot logically be denied without committing a self-contradiction. But even in the latter cases, the concepts involved are never entirely ‘a priori,’ but require some preceding experience to have at all arisen.

Let me summarize here: perception is knowledge of material or mental phenomena; intuition is self-knowledge; perception and intuition are experiences, their objects are concrete particulars; conception is knowledge of abstracts, derived with the aid of logic from phenomenal or intuitive data. ‘Knowledge,’ of course, at first simply means consciousness or cognition – the term is rendered more precise later with reference to cumulative Appearance. ‘Thought’ and ‘idea’ are, by the way, catchall terms that may include a mix of conception (concept formation, conceptualization), imagination (visualization, verbalization, forming hypotheses) and logical discourse (inductive and deductive), all of course implying some experience (sensory or intuitive).

As I have indicated earlier, I am not convinced that qualitative differences alone suffice to distinguish material from mental phenomena. We tend to think of the latter as less clear or vivid than the former, but this is not always the case. Dreams are sometimes extremely vivid and colorful, and the physical world is sometimes misty and unclear. For this reason, I suggest that phenomenology must suppose that introspection is to some extent involved in making this fundamental distinction. We are presumably somehow aware of the direction of input of the concrete data. Material data is ‘felt’ as coming from or via the body, whereas mental data is ‘felt’ as coming from a closer source (called the mind). Granting that such ‘feelings’ of direction of source are not themselves phenomenal marks (otherwise we would be begging the question), we must interpret them more precisely as intuitions. To be consistent we must say that we do not intuit where the data comes from, but rather intuit in what direction we turn our attention to gain access to the data.

It should be noted that we have above effectively distinguished three substances or stuffs of existence, matter, mind and spirit. We have based their differentiation partly on the fact that some experiences (those intuited) do not have phenomenal characteristics; and partly (as regards the distinction between material and mental phenomena) on the differences in phenomenal properties and locations combined with assumed intuited differences. All three of these substances may give rise to concepts. We may also presume souls, i.e. spiritual entities, other than our own through their apparent phenomenal effects and by conceptual means.

Just as the phenomenal modalities and qualities and their behaviors are considered as mere varieties of matter and mind, so the cognitions, volitions and affections of the soul need not be assigned yet another substance, but may be considered as events or properties of that same substance. Abstracts relating to material, imaginary or spiritual givens do not, likewise, require a further substance, but may be considered as mere expressions of these three substances. There is nothing epistemologically unreasonable in assuming substantial differences between the said three classes of object. It remains possible that the three substances are ultimately different versions or degrees of one and the same stuff.

The concept of substance is introduced relative to those of static attributes and dynamic movements, implying a presumed substratum for them. It allows us to presume continuity of something, an individual entity, in the midst of motion or change. The various attributes and movements are thus conceived not as mere happenstances but as all ‘belonging’ to and ‘caused’ by an abiding, unifying entity[12][2]. We also assume that different instances of that kind of entity remain essentially the same (i.e. of same substance) although some of their attributes and movements may differ. Note well that both ‘substance’ and ‘entity’ are abstracts. Although material and mental phenomena have phenomenal character, while soul has not, the latter may nonetheless equally legitimately be conceptually posited as being concrete.

These beliefs, in substances and entities, are not immediate certainties but constitute conceptual hypotheses. This fact alone does not disqualify them, contrary to what some philosophers suggest. If a hypothesis gives rise to a world-view that is always, all things considered, consistent and confirmed, and no alternatives serve the same purpose as well or better, then it is inductively worthy of adoption. This seems to be the case with regard to the concepts of substance and entity. Without them, we would find ourselves unable to ‘make sense’ of (integrate, explain) all our experiences and intuitions; no one has to my knowledge managed to construct in detail equally credible and useful counter-hypotheses.

4.     Number, Space and Time

As will be explained, concepts are measurements that experiences have in common. Measurement means use of number, i.e. selection of a unit (distinct entity or feature), identifying and counting pluralities of such units (frequencies), and comparing such pluralities (proportion). Number is, in particular, implied in our subdivisions of time and space, and in considerations of modality and causation; but the scope of measurement is of course much larger. The detailed study of these issues gives rise to the sciences of mathematics, including arithmetic, geometry, algebra, statistics. I will not go into them here, save for a few remarks that seem pertinent.

Phenomenology has to note that numbers imply intuitive acts. To define a unit of something, we must mentally delimit some segment of appearance. This selection is an intention, a subjective act. Furthermore, when we count a plurality of things, we need to decide what common feature we will refer to so as to group them. That is to say, to count things we need to classify them (whether simply as ‘any objects of thought,’ or more specifically as ‘the white horses in my field’ or whatever). Here again, an intention is involved. The same is true when we move on up to the abstract realms of algebra. Thus, even in the background of pure mathematics, we must acknowledge introspection.

With regard to space and allied concepts. In the visual field (which is the first domain we relate space to), space refers to the length of a line (in comparison to some other line) between any points the observer focuses on, and eventually to the direction of that line (again relative to some other line). The visual field ordinarily contains many different colors, shades and outlines: these shapes commonly guide our choice of points to measure distances and angles between. Thus, gradually, we evolve geometrical concepts, including the concepts of dimension (more on all that in a later chapter). Concepts like: contiguous, separate, overlapping, inside, outside, near, far, etc. all of course derive from situations we encounter in the visual field. Many of these concepts are then carried over into other fields, and even into general logic.

It is important to distinguish the concept of ‘empty space’ from the more general concept of ‘space.’ Many philosophers seem to get bogged down due to failure to make this distinction. We effectively see space (at least surfaces) whenever we see anything; space is a concept with concrete referents, viz. any area of the visual field. In contrast, empty space is a hypothetical concept, because we never see instances of it. If we look at the sky, we see a curtain of light blue or white or black – we never see nothing at all there. If we look at the space between two objects, we may only call it empty by deliberately ignoring all the things (colors, shades) in foreground or background between them. It is only by inventing a ‘third dimension’ (an abstraction) that we ‘create’ the emptiness between the two objects. Thus, space as a receptacle of objects, something objects move in, something apart from objects – these are constructs, that we find useful, but whose status is that of hypotheses.

Another comment worth making concerns the different phenomenal modalities of space. We have the impression that we know ‘analogies’ of space through the various sensory organs, but it is not strictly speaking the case. Space is essentially a visual phenomenon. As mentioned previously, we mentally project this visual space and its properties into the other sensory modes[13]. This allows us to effect an inner correlation between sensory events or sense-modalities. Thus, different tactile or auditory events may be regarded as points in a continuous trajectory, by mental projection of (visual) lines linking them. Or again, the direction of a sound or odor may be hypothesized by mentally placing it within a (visual) mental space. Or again, the touch sensations inside the mouth can be used to form a mental visual image of objects in it (this is, by the way, possibly why babies often get information on objects by putting them in their mouth).

Thus, we should not multiply ‘spaces’ unnecessarily. There is, however, one important duplication of space, implied in what we have just said. In addition to the visual space seen through the physical eyes, there is an analogous visual space seen through our ‘mind’s eye’ – that is to say, in the mental domain. That concept is unavoidable, since just as with a material visual field we can all construct space concepts, so with a mental visual field we can likewise do. These two spaces can be known independently of each other. They are similar, but not one and the same. They may overlap somehow, as is evident from the experience of hallucination and from the use of mental space in tactile, auditory and other such situations; but they do not apparently interact, at least not directly.

The spiritual domain, i.e. the soul and its functions, does not (as far as I can tell) have noticeable spatial characteristics. But the soul is sometimes ‘represented’ by visual images (e.g. as a ghost coextensive a body). Such ‘representation’ is nothing more than symbolic or hypothetical, not based on concrete phenomena. It can however be useful conceptually, as for instance to suppose that one part of the self monitors or controls another part of the self.

Another important organizing concept to consider is that of time. This arises as an explanation of apparent movement (motion or change) within any present Appearance (minimal version, assumed independent of memory) and of apparent change or plurality of Appearances (enlarged version, relying on the hypothesis of memory). Note this well. A concept of time is indeed possible within a single present Appearance, be its constituents material (external time) or mental or intuitive (internal time). This concept of time is independent of that of memory (and could be labeled ‘objective time’ for that reason), but is not our whole concept of time. The latter is based also on comparisons between successive present Appearances, and therefore only possible by hypothesizing the concept of memory (because of the necessity of such introspection, this may be called ‘subjective time’).

The concept of memory must therefore also be considered as one of the basic ‘organizing principles’ of our knowledge. It is a hypothesis, through which we try and enlarge our concept of time, to include not only events experienced in the present but also those allegedly experienced in ‘previous’ presents. The concept of anticipation enlarges time still further, in another ‘direction,’ time being conceived as a line, a fourth dimension of existence, by analogy to space, though with a distinctive irreversibility. But memory and anticipation are not conceived as fully equivalent functions, differing only in the temporal placement of their objects. Memory is conceived as containing (if anything) residues of facts (experiences), whereas anticipation is normally conceived as at best educated guesswork (projection).

We cannot prove memory, except by inductive appeal to our memories, taking their apparent suggestions at their face value, except in cases where they turn out erroneous. Digging deeper, phenomenology now asks the following question: precisely on what empirical bases do we distinguish non-present from present appearances, and subdivide the non-present appearances into past and future ones? I will try and propose an answer to this question, without claiming it to be complete and final.

The ‘present’ portion of time is firstly the overall duration of the present Appearance, the moment. Within the present Appearance, we distinguish constituent phenomena and intuitions that seem hazier, less forceful, than others, and yet resemble those others and give the impression of continuity with them. These presentations are presumed and classed as not in themselves present, but as mere ‘representations’ of presentations which occur in an extrapolation of the present (short) time-line, in one direction or the other. Some of these representations seem to refer to previous present Appearances; these are classed as memories and located on one side of the time-line called the ‘past.’ The remaining such representations seem not to refer to previous present Appearances, but to be inventions, mental projections (imaginations) of things to come; these are classed as anticipations and placed on the other side of the time-line called the ‘future.’

Here again (as in the case of the distinction between material and mental phenomena), I doubt that we can distinguish between present impressions of present events (the present) and present impressions of past events (the now remembered past) or of future events (the now projected future), only with reference to marks (like degree of vividness). I think we have to assume that there is also an intuition by the Subject as to where his experiential data is coming from – from his senses (the present), or from his memory (the past), or again from his creative imagination (the future). The recourse to an intuitive faculty here is similar to that for distinguishing between material and mental, because after all memory of material events means their conversion into mental events. Memory of mental events is less of an issue, since recall of past imaginations is simply re-imagination of same; and in this case intuitive knowledge of the difference is more easily assumed.

These kinds of considerations and reflections serve, in my view, to add weight to the hypothesis that we have intuitive empirical knowledge in addition to inner and outer perceptual empirical knowledge. Conversely, the hypothesis of intuition reinforces the hypothesis of memory; they mutually buttress each other. Additionally note that while intuition is initially proposed as knowledge of self, own cognitions, volitions and valuations, we have here somewhat expanded or further elucidated the powers of intuition, by assuming its ability to assess the direction of incoming concrete data (from senses, memory or creativity, or from mind or matter).

As the above discussion shows, philosophers who wish to discard the idea of subjective intuition, or direct self-knowledge of some of our inner workings, are hard-put to explain some of the other basic concepts that they effectively accept, such as distinction between matter and mind, or between past (memory) and present (sensation) and future (anticipation). However, none of this means that whatever someone carelessly declares to be an intuition is indeed an intuition. Our introspections remain fallible. Logically, they are admitted as hypotheses to be gradually confirmed or rejected in each instance with reference to the totality of experience and logic. This avoids all danger of arbitrariness, or circularity in justification, or eventual contradiction.

With regard to the abstract constituents of an Appearance, they are thought permanent rather than transient like phenomena or intuited events, although (a) they are usually conceived by comparisons between past and/or present appearances, and (b) of course the event of their conception is located in the past or present and it may go on over time, and (c) once generated they are stored in memory and (d) by their nature they anticipate future appearances. All this relates the conceptual to time, but does not mean that its contents are temporal like percepts or intuitions. Concepts have no existence other than as measures of experiences; when the experiences cease to recur, the concepts in a sense continue to exist in the minds of men, in that men may remember or infer their past existence. If later the experiences recur, we may say ex post facto that the concepts remained in potential existence during their actual absence.

I will stop here, save for a couple more comments.

The first is that although I have herein placed consideration of space and time after the distinctions between phenomenal (material or mental), intuitive (subjective) and abstract appearances, it is evident that many of the things said about space and time do not depend on these distinctions. Thus, for instance, we can measure a visual field without specifying its substance (material or mental). On the other hand, some issues relating to space or time are not independent of these distinctions. For instance, when discussing memory or the concept of the past, we had to refer to the concepts of matter, mind and intuition. With regard to the concepts of modality and causality, the concepts of space and time play important roles in their development, rather than the reverse. Thus, when issues of the ‘order of things’ in knowledge arise, we must be attentive to the specific issues we are dealing with, and not refer to concepts in bulk.

The other point I want to make is that although I do not here mention the space-time concept of Einstein, which ties the two concepts together in novel and much firmer fashion, I have no doubt that Relativity is of radical importance to all the issues treated here. I would particularly like to eventually think about the impact of his insights on the theory of universals, since presumably waves in a relativistic milieu do not have the same properties as those in an absolute space. But for now at least I am not qualified to comment on this.

5.     Modality and Causality

Modality and causality are also major organizing principles in our knowledge.

I have treated the concepts of modality in great detail in my work Future Logic, and I am treating the concepts of causality in great detail in my work Causal Logic. So I will not here go into them in any detail. Suffices to say that they are essentially statistical concepts, variously related to each other, through which we record, or try to forecast, the (proportional or absolute) frequencies of occurrence of appearances, alone or in conjunctions with other appearances. These concepts therefore rely on numerical concepts; and they help us to order information within a present Appearance, and more broadly in cumulative Appearance.

The underlying concepts of conjunction (indicated in propositions by the word ‘and’) and non-conjunction (denial of conjunction, ‘not-and’) are of course crucial. Conjunction can be directly apprehended (we can experience two things as both present in a given cognitive field), whereas negation of conjunction is a more rational object (we look for a projected presence and fail to find it). Conjunction is however not in itself a concrete phenomenon or intuitive experience, but an abstract relation between phenomena, intuitions or abstracts.

Thus, both conjunction and its negation are conceptual objects, though to different degrees; the former is more directly known than the latter. Note well: this does not make them artifices; there is nothing arbitrary in their apprehension or judgment. These concepts are needed to formulate hypothetical and other conditional propositions, and the causal propositions built up from them.

Modality and causality are very radical principles of knowledge, because they are involved in its organization at a notional level long before they become clearly formulated concepts, and because they can be utilized before we make (i.e. even without making) distinctions like those between concrete and abstract, or material and mental, for examples. At an explicit level, they imply number; but on a notional level, they may be grasped and used without such references.

I have identified many ‘modes’ or types of modality and causality. The main mode, an ontological consideration applicable to individual existents, is the ‘natural’ mode (and its subsidiary ‘temporal’ and ‘spatial’ modes). Another important mode is the ‘extensional,’ which treats classes as individuals. The ‘logical’ mode is an epistemological version, which refers to contexts of knowledge, instead of circumstances of existence. Some modes relate to volition, as for instance the ethical or teleological mode, which refers means to ends.

Within each mode, there are various categories of modality and causality. Thus, the categories of modality are: presence or absence; necessity, contingency (possibility and possibility-not) or impossibility; probability or improbability. These are variously defined: possibility, as presence under certain conditions; necessity, as presence under all conditions; and so on. Their interrelations follow: necessity implies presence, which in turn implies possibility; and so forth. In particular, the concepts of incontingency follow inevitably, by negation, from those of possibility to be and possibility not to be, so that one cannot logically both uphold the latter and deny the former[14]. The categories of modality may be given more specific names in each mode. For instances: in natural modality, presence is called actuality and possibility is called potentiality; whereas, in ethical modality, possibility is called permissibility.

Attention must also be given to derivatives of modality, concepts like seemingly, allegedly, etc., that imply modality in some sense (e.g. possibility, probability), but which additionally define the experimental or experiential or report-based or hearsay epistemological basis of the modal nuance.

A phenomenological approach to modality would ask such questions as: ‘where do potentialities that are not actual at a given time actually reside?’ Our answer to that one will be (as it was in Future Logic) that the common idea of potentiality as referring to some ‘substantial quality or entity’ actually resident in the ‘nature’ of the thing having it, as a presence that changes form when it actualizes, seems redundant, a breach of ‘Ockham’s Razor’ of conceptual economy; it suffices to assume that the potential resides ‘in actual surrounding circumstances only.’[15] The potential may be viewed as a lesser ‘degree of being’ than the actual, which in turn is a lesser one than the necessary, with reference to the frequency of occurrence over the whole ‘existence’ of that which has it. But this difference between transience and permanence, or variability and constancy, does not have to be reified. Concepts may refer to abstractions, as well as experiences.

A phenomenological approach to causality would begin with consideration of events or things of any sort as ‘happenstance,’ before deciding whether or how they are ‘caused’[16]. I myself use the term ‘causality’ in its widest possible sense, as applicable to any answer to this question. I thus accept, as at least conceivable, spontaneity, causation, volition and influence. Whether these philosophical concepts relating to ‘causality’ all have expression in our world is an issue open to debate; but we may and must first try to elucidate and interrelate them. The issue is to be resolved without prejudice, by due consideration of experience and how to convincingly organize it. Thus, if physicists (such as Niels Bohr) considered that some subatomic events could not credibly be assumed to have causes, we may concede the hypothesis of ‘spontaneity’ in the physical domain at the levels concerned as an explanation.

Causality, then, is not to be equated at the outset (as it has been by some in the past) to causation, meaning physical and (by extension) psychological determinism. The negation of causation may also be considered as a ‘causal’ explanation. Similarly, volition cannot be simply waved-off, but must be granted due consideration. And indeed, we need to persevere in this open-minded attitude, for whereas causation and with it spontaneity are relatively easy to define with reference to frequencies of conjunction of phenomenal events or abstracts about them, defining volition or ‘free will’ is very difficult. No one to my knowledge has succeeded so far, let alone proving that volition exists, i.e. that people and animals have this power. The concept of influence is subsidiary, since we can define it as ‘making it easier or more difficult’ to will something.

Phenomenology may take as experiential data of sorts the anthropological fact that most or all people in practice if not in theory consider that they have powers of choice, of decision, of initiation of mental thoughts and physical movements. Such beliefs do not prove volition, but constitute corroborative evidence in an inductive hypothesis. Another public sector fact to consider is that the concept of volition precedes that of causation in mankind’s history (and still does so today, I believe, in the personal development of individuals). Long before we reached an understanding of things as having ‘natural causes,’ we were explaining the movements of stars or stones or our own fate or moods with reference to ‘spirits’ or ‘gods’ or later (with the advent of monotheism) to God.

Our concept of ‘force’ is obtained by abstraction from the introspected physical sensations of pushing, pulling and squeezing. This notion is then used to help us understand by analogy the determinism of events we (today, at least) consider as natural and not as involving any volition. Thus, Newton conceived gravity as a “field of force,” and this terminology has remained with us for other fields. Even in our modern statistical concept of causation, we explain the constant conjunction observed as being symptomatic of a “causal connection,” i.e. an underlying (natural) ‘force.’ Similarly, we would imagine spontaneous generation as a sort of ‘forcible’ gushing forth!

The 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume acknowledged this subtext in his critical discussion of alleged causal ‘connection.’ For him, such a ‘tie’ between events was dubious, first because we never perceive instances of connections, but only instances of mere conjunction.

“All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tie between them. They seem conjoined but never connected.” (P. 360.)[17]

This argument of Hume’s is, note incidentally, based on an observation relative to (and which assumes) human will, a form of causality more difficult to conceive than causation! In the human (volitional) domain, we do distinguish between (a) conjunctions of events that occurred accidentally relative to human will, i.e. coincidences, and (b) conjunctions of events that were deliberately intended. It is significant that Hume’s ‘mere conjunction’ is intelligible to us due to our experience of (a), while it is (b) that makes his discussion of contrasting ‘connection’ meaningful to us. Hume does not define what ‘connection’ would be in the natural (i.e. non-volitional) domain, before rejecting it. At best, then, his argument amounts to saying that the notion is too vague to be scientific.

Moreover, Hume explains away our belief in connection as due to a mental habit produced in us by repetition.

“But there is nothing in a number of instances, different from every single instance, which is supposed to be exactly similar; except only, that after a repetition of similar instances, the mind is carried by habit, upon the appearance of one event, to expect its usual attendant, and to believe that it will exist. This connection, therefore, which we feel in the mind, this customary transition of the imagination from one object to its usual attendant is the sentiment or impression from which we form the idea of power or necessary connection.” (P. 361.)

We could retort, for a start, that his thesis is internally inconsistent, if it is understood as a denial of methodological validity to generalization. For it is clear that Hume’s own statement about human habits is a generalization from his own observations. He generalizes from some moments of his experience to all moments, and from his own experience to everyone else’s. Moreover, his statement is presented as an explanatory thesis, regarding what ‘causes’ us to (erroneously, according to him) infer a fact of causation from such mental association. He thus implicitly lays claim to some knowledge of some sort of causality, that of the force of habit. Is his thesis, then, that causation is more knowable in the psychological domain than in the physical? I doubt it; rather he did not notice the inconsistency.

“The appearance of a cause always conveys the mind, by a customary transition, to the idea of the effect. We may, therefore, suitably to this experience, form another definition of cause, and call it, an object followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that other.” (P. 362.)

For Hume, then, what we call causation is only an association of ideas. That is, we think events to be causally connected because they happen to be constantly conjoined in our memory. Whence, he effectively ‘infers’ that causation is a figment of the imagination. But his thesis is a result of his imprecise thinking. What he seems to refer to are situations like the following: e.g. a man first met his wife-to-be when a certain musical tune was playing; since then, whenever he hears (or remembers) that tune, he is reminded of his wife[18]. But we would not regard such a situation as indicative of causation, since in fact he does not physically see his wife again every time he hears the tune again! For this reason, we would call this conjunction through mental association of wife and musical tune coincidental (although the mental sequence of memory of tune and memory of wife might well be called a causal relation of sorts). On the other hand, if every time someone played the tune his wife was physically conjured, we would suspect a causal connection. [19]

If we put all this in clear, formal language, all doubt is easily dissolved. Four forms may be distinguished:

  1. X causes Y
  2. X causes the thought of Y
  3. The thought of X causes Y
  4. The thought of X causes the thought of

These four forms refer to very different relations, but all four have in common the relation “causes”. The terms differ, but the copula remains the same. To prefer (as Hume does) one of these forms to the others, as the appropriate description of the events at hand, does not succeed in discrediting the common factor of causation, but on the contrary supports it. Hume’s reasoning is self-defeating!

In my view, apparent causal relations may be real or illusory. Unlike Hume, I do not see the fallibility of our judgments about causal connection as proof of our inability to establish causal connection. In this context as with all other conceptual judgments, processes of generalization and particularization are involved. There are two generalizations involved, we might say. The first is from observed particular conjunction to general conjunction (including unobserved instances). The second is a generalization from such constant conjunction of events to a presumed ‘connection’ between them (i.e. something deeper and more forceful than mere conjunction). If we admit the (occasional, so long as empirically confirmed) validity of the first generalization, we may not deny it of the second process, which is in principle no different. We could only at best deny it in specific cases, as a particularization; though I do not see how we might justify such a discrimination or partial particularization.

In other words, how does Hume himself know (granting that ‘connection’ is meaningful, though difficult to define in words) that ‘constant conjunction’ does not imply some deeper ‘connection’? He can only consistently claim that it sometimes might not. But in that case, his argument loses all its force, which depends on generality. Nothing precludes us from formulating hypotheses about constant conjunction and about causal connection, provided we validate our theories in each case in accord with the rules of adduction, testing our propositions with reference to consistency and experience, and by comparison to alternative theses.

In addition to the above-mentioned physical sensations, our introspection suggests that ‘we’ have some degree of control over some of the physical movements of our body (and through it of other bodies) and over some of our mental imaginations. It is at this level, that of intuition (and not that of sensation), that the concept of volition arises. This inner cognition of self as actor in the mental and physical world may well ultimately turn out to be an illusion, but it must be granted credence at least to begin with as raw data. Any sincere claim like this has to be respectfully acknowledged, as an appearance to be taken into consideration in the overall arrangement of data. There is no methodological justification in outright denial (as indulged in by some dogmatic modern Mechanists).

Many experiences and abstractions, as well as intuitions, suggest volition. For instance, certain sensations depend on movement, be it movement of an object in the mouth, of one’s skin against an object to feel its texture or mobility, torsion of one’s body parts in different directions like the eyes for seeing or head for hearing, of a part of our body relative to the others such as an arm, walking through space to experience depth, or even speaking out to produce sound. Also, attention towards present phenomena, looking at the past or trying to forecast the future, all seem like acts of volition. Similarly, imagination, concept formation and logical insight are experienced as often calling for effort, or at least as acts of choice. Consequently, the concepts of time and space may be said to be dependent on volition. Similarly, volition seems involved in verbal thinking.

We undeniably have some sort of personal awareness that we have a certain power of action in the phenomenal environment. It is not an absolute and unlimited power, but it is ‘felt’ as there all the same. No sensible qualities can be said to be volitional acts; but many may be considered as signs of volition. Rather, we ‘know’ internally and directly whether or not our volition was involved, at least most of the time; it is an object of intuition. Indeed, this function is, together with cognition and affection, regarded by us as essential aspects of our identity. Volition is certainly an integral part of our logical discourse in sorting out other experiences, as for instance when we correlate different sense modalities. I may for example formulate a proposition about perspective: ‘if I turn around this object, it will change shape thusly and thusly,’ projecting a volitional series (turning around object) and predicting a certain phenomenal sequence (visual and other changes).

3.   Experiences and Abstractions

In the present chapter[20], we shall try and classify appearances in various ways (please refer to Figures 1, 2 and 3 for a useful summary and illustration). The objects of knowledge, contents of consciousness, or appearances to cognition, include: firstly, the concrete phenomena we perceive either through the senses or as mental projections; secondly, the concrete but non-phenomenal objects of intuition (self-knowledge); and thirdly, the abstract appearances we conceive through inductive and deductive logic in relation to the aforesaid experiences (i.e. phenomena and intuitions).

1.     The Objects of Perception

Perceptual objects, i.e. the ‘things’ we perceive, also called percepts or phenomenal appearances, are counted as experiential or empirical data, i.e. concrete (non-abstract) evident givens, on the basis of which knowledge is gradually constructed. Percepts are of two kinds (or sources), the material (or sensory) and the mental (or imaginary), which may be phenomenologically distinguished as follows.

(a)        Material phenomena (or ‘sensa’) are at least seemingly perceived through the senses. They include the following appearances (and some of their components).

  • Visual phenomena: the different intensities of light and colors (among which we discern various shapes, sizes, distances, directions) that seem to be perceived through the eyes (organs of sight).
  • Auditory phenomena: sounds (including loudness, pitch, tonality, direction and other features), and sense of balance[21] (from which, bodily inclination) that seem to be perceived through the ears, organs of hearing.
  • The olfactory and gustatory experiences: odors (fragrant, pungent, fetid, etc.) sensed in nose (the smell organ), and flavors (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, etc.) sensed in mouth and tongue (the taste organs).[22]
  • Tactile phenomena: the feelings we experience as ‘within the body or on it (at the skin)’ – contact, resistance to pressure/push and tension/pull (hard/soft, rigid/elastic, heavy/light), texture (rough/smooth), temperature (hot/cold skin or body), electricity (shocks), bodily posture (stand, sit, etc.), movement (of parts or all of body), and visceral pleasure and pain (or their lack, indifference), whether physically caused (sensational) or caused by mental phenomena (sentimental), which we classify as aspects of the sense of touch[23].

The field of material phenomena is subdivided into two spaces: one, experienced as close to oneself (the center of experience or observer) and relatively constant (for us, at least in the short term), is called ‘one’s body’; and the other, lying further away and more variable, is called ‘the environment’. Both the physical body and the matter beyond it have visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory manifestations.

Additionally, certain parts of the body, called the five ‘senses’ or ‘sense organs’, are regarded as specifically involved somehow in the perception of these manifestations. These organs, located roughly in the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin and inside the body, can be observed more precisely using scientific instruments (such as a microscope). They are found to be respectively comprised of mechanoreceptors (for touch, position, hearing), chemoreceptors (for taste, smell), photoreceptors (for vision), temperature receptors and receptors for the sensations we recognize as pleasure and pain[24].

That the sense organs are a sine qua non to material perception is evident from the fact that when such an organ is blocked temporarily, damaged, amputated or missing from birth, the corresponding perception is lacking or distorted. But the sense organs are not alone sufficient conditions of such perception: our attention to what they reveal is necessary too. Therefore, sensory perception cannot be equated to possession of sense organs. It is not the sense organs that perceive. One cannot rightly say that it is the eyes that see or the ears that hear.

Material objects are therefore classed as ‘sensory’, in contrast to ‘mental’ phenomena (considered below). The perceived body and sense organs are, of course, themselves mere appearances, although are later given a leading role in the mental-construct constituting the naive world-view. The above-listed five kinds of material phenomena are called the sense-modalities[25], and their subcategories are called sense-qualities.[26]

What is the common property of the various sense-modalities, and the various sense-qualities, which allows us to group them together under these common names? For example, something in front of me both has shape and color and makes a noise, why do I class the shape and color as sights and the noise as a sound? In truth, shape and color are as different in appearance from each other as sight and sound! Their common character has to be supposed merely relational. That is, we may classify them together not because of their intrinsic ‘natures’, but because they seem related to us observers by sensory experience, through certain bodily organs.

Note well however that the exact role of the senses in perception remains a mystery. For we have to affirm that we perceive what impinges at entrance of the senses, and not (as naïvely supposed by many) end products of transmission by the senses. Otherwise, we are faced with a logical problem: we are not perceiving the objects we claim to perceive, but alleged images thereof. In the latter case, we have no way to compare such representations to their alleged origins, and even no right to suppose the ‘original’ objects existent. In which case, in turn, the sense organs, as themselves objects of perception, are put in doubt; which brings us full circle to a doubt of the initial premise that we perceive images of objects. But granting, therefore, that we perceive the objects themselves, the question arises: what is the use of the senses, then?[27]

(b)        Mental phenomena are appearances resembling material phenomena, but which do not seem to be perceived through the sense organs. Thus, we should more precisely and broadly refer to phenomenal modalities (visual, auditory, etc.) and phenomenal qualities (shapes, light-intensities, colors, etc.), and regard the so-called sense modalities and qualities as referring specifically to those apparently manifested via the senses (the material ones).

Although individual mental phenomena seemingly exist independently of temporally simultaneous material ones, this does not exclude the possibility (which I believe[28]) that they are only edited representations of previously encountered material phenomena (memories taken as a whole selectively, or taken as bits and pieces and reshuffled). For this reason, it seems proper to define mental phenomena negatively (as above done), as not arising directly through the senses, implying that they probably arise indirectly through creative projection of memories of material phenomena.

Mental phenomena are imaginations, projections that may be involuntary or voluntary to various degrees, including memories of recent or long-past events and fantasies of past, present and/or future events (the latter being anticipations). These may be brought forth for cognitive purposes, or for idle entertainment or other psychological motives. Among mental phenomena, then, we may to begin with distinguish the retrospective from the prospective.

Retrospective phenomena, or memories, appear as the past incarnations of the ‘present moment,’ which we assume to have unity and continuity of sorts with the present ‘present moment’ and to have been brought into the present through a faculty of memory. The consciousness of past claimed to be possible, directly or indirectly through this faculty, is called remembering.

An automatic confidence in our ordinary interpretation of these phenomena would be naïve, but a renewed confidence after due reflection may legitimately occur. What matters to us here is that these phenomena take part in the present, and that they seem to refer us back into some ‘past’ existence. This dual presence and absence is a distinguishing feature of the class of retrospective phenomena. The explanations proposed for this mysterious quality of such phenomena (e.g. that we have a faculty of memory that somehow stores information obtained at other points of something called time[29]) require eventual evaluation.

Prospective phenomena, or anticipations, project specific scenarios regarding the future. They thus suggest that what we face in the present moment will have some sort of prolongation in the following moments. But we do not in this case posit for ourselves a faculty like memory; we only claim here at best an expectation that things will continue to be or become, and that other ‘present moments’ will replace the current one (till we ‘die,’ at least).

Just as our here and now is tainted, at least peripherally, with an awareness of a before, a past, so it is with a look forward, to a future, which is not quite part of the present and yet seems potential in it. Whether justified or not, what concerns us here is that these prospective phenomena take place in the present and yet refer to another extrapolation of what we call time, in a direction opposite to the objects of memory.

Both remembering and anticipation are essentially inductive forms of consciousness, note well, in that the Subject projects some interpretation on the basis of certain minimal data. The ‘data’ are the present phenomena (of apparent past existence or potential future existence, as the case may be), while the ‘interpretations’ include the acceptance of things pointed-to by these present phenomena as having some existence beyond the present (in a hypothetical past or future part of something called time). This is in contrast to sensory phenomena, which taken in themselves are devoid of theory (though starting points of theory).

My inclusion of prospective phenomena in this list of components is a debt to Husserl. However, he does not see the inductive nature of anticipation, nor for that matter of remembering. Furthermore, I must add that awareness of these components is no 20th Century novelty. It is found in the mystic traditions (e.g. Meister Eckhart, in Christian mysticism, or to give an Eastern example, in Zen Buddhism), wherever we are encouraged to “live in the eternal present” or to “be here now.” What the latter make clear is that remembering and anticipation are not mere adjuncts to awareness of the present, requiring an effort; they are for some reason for most humans compulsive and very difficult to avoid. If one thinks about it, this is very surprising, and requires an explanation.[30]

Retrospective and prospective phenomena are conceived as mental projections made to some extent by their observer, and so have the initial status of imaginations. Indeed, both are essentially hypothetical, in that they are about things no longer or not yet present to sensory perception, and therefore (this is said without pejorative intent) uncertain as far as it is concerned. I expect, however, that the initial elements in memory of visual and auditory imagination are produced (in the recent or distant past) by sense-perceptions (sight and hearing, at least). This question might be resolved empirically by trying to ask people who are born blind or born deaf whether they, respectively, see or hear anything ‘in their heads;’ If, as I expect, they cannot, then the mental phenomenal modalities are ultimately side-products of the physical ones. If, as may be the case, they can imagine sights or sounds, then mental phenomena have independent genesis.

Imagination (the projection of ‘images’) could also be called ‘perceptualization.’ More specifically, in the case of visual phenomena, we say visualization; in the case of auditory ones, we could say ‘auditorization;’ similarly for the other cases, though there are doubts concerning them, as presently explained.

Memories and anticipations are classed as imaginations, note, even though their contents or intentions are not necessarily mental, but may relate to outside material events. Unless we suppose a direct awareness of remembered or forecast events across past or future time, we must regard them as in-themselves mental apparitions, even if their objects did or will indeed exist as projected in past or future, respectively. When their contents happen to be true, such mental acts may be viewed as indirect awareness of sorts.

As we shall see, imagination is a basic function of intelligence. The observer’s creative capacity, to project images in or around himself, makes possible rational acts like comparison, confrontation and hypothesizing which are bases of conceptualization, and logical induction and deduction of propositions. In practice, imaginations are rarely purely perceptual but usually involve conceptual and verbal factors.

Conversely, memories, fantasies and anticipations are never merely abstract or verbal, but always involve perceptual factors. Note in particular the various constituents of our hypothesizing, in everyday pursuit of knowledge. Ideas and theories are mentally formed in reaction to information and as attempts to predict further data. Such anticipations of reality (which have to be tested eventually, of course) include not only our words’ intentions or conceptual contents, but a mass of concrete memories and fantasies, which may involve visual, auditory or other constructs, and of course the verbal aspect of our abstract thoughts.

Memories and anticipations involve concrete visual and auditory, and perhaps other, phenomenal modalities. Allegedly mental visual and auditory phenomena are not counted among the objects of alleged sensory origin, because they can seemingly[31] be experienced even with one’s eyes shut or ears plugged, respectively. As for the sense-modalities other than sights and sounds, I am not sure that they are imaginable; their apparent imagination may just be an interpretation of present sensations (see below).

Another relevant feature of mental phenomena is that they are intimate, i.e. perceived by the observer only (colloquially, in the case of visual ones, through a ‘mind’s eye’), and although they do not seemingly interact with material phenomena, projections are experienced or at least regarded as due to an agency of the observer – signifying an act of will, a volition by a supposed soul or spiritual entity (see further on). Imagination is not per se a case of ‘mind over matter;’ i.e. material objects (except perhaps the underlying brain) are not affected. Rather, we seem to create a hologram of dots, lines and shadings – and sounds, etc. – in our inner and/or outer mental space.

Mental phenomena may be internal or external, note well. Internal imaginations seem to be located (roughly) inside of one’s ‘head’, as if they are projected onto some ‘matrix’ there constituting an inner space. In contrast, external imaginations seem to be projected out into the outer space occupied by matter, seemingly sharing the same extension and intermingling without however directly impinging on it (transparency). Clearly, external projection may involve ‘extrapolation’[32]. We need not consider these two categories of imagination as fundamentally different: they may in fact inhabit the same transcendent space but simply be closer or further from the observer, respectively.

External mental phenomena may be quite commonplace hallucinations, like having the impression that one still has one’s glasses on after removing them (one still ‘sees’ the frames, and does not just feel the residual pressure at one’s temples). But there are more extreme manifestations, like meditative or psychotic or drug-induced hallucination[33]. For example, someone may claim to be a prophet who received the visit of an angel, but in fact just have a strong power of external projection[34].

In addition to imaginations, we commonly tend to believe in another class of intimate mental phenomena, which might be referred to as ‘mental feelings,’ including moods, perhaps esthetic responses, and other such subtle experiences[35]. These should not be confused with (although they may give rise to) psychosomatic sentiments, which we have already mentioned above and classified as material (in the sense that they occur viscerally in the body, though mentally caused)[36]. Whether we should count mental feelings as phenomenal, let alone existent, is open to debate. We could, so as to acknowledge common belief, hypothetically assume them to be perceptually discernible although very faintly and vaguely. Mental feelings, though diffuse, might phenomenally occur, like imaginations, in a mental space (extending in and around the head and body). Perhaps they are mental equivalents of material feelings, just as mental sights and sounds are equivalents of material ones. If the latter is true, then mental feelings can simply be classed as imaginations, and the parallelism between the material and mental domains is greatly increased.

Another possible explanation of our knowledge of mental feelings might be with reference to intuition. In such perspective, they are merely expressions of the self, valuing what it has cognized with a view to eventual willing. They are not objective, in the sense of ‘apart from’ the self, but subjective, i.e. items of self-knowledge. (More on this topic below.)

Retrospective and prospective phenomena differ from sensory phenomena, in that the former are representative (they contain for-other claims, they have informational ambitions beyond themselves), whereas the latter are usually merely ‘presentative’ (they are to be taken in-themselves)[37]. All experiences are primarily data ‘in-themselves,’ and as such, no matter what their ‘quality’ (clarity, persistence, etc.), they are indubitable. Some experiences additionally appear as channels to other phenomena, as ‘for-other’ data, and in this role they are open to legitimate doubt.

Mental feelings (like feeling good about the world or finding a painting beautiful) and psychosomatic sentiments (like feeling warm love in your chest or fear in your stomach) may of course refer to something outside the one feeling them (i.e. may be ‘referential’). In a sense, this may be counted as information about the object (specifically, in relation to the one feeling them). But feelings are not essentially intentional: they can be felt without knowledge of their object. Indeed, usually we experience a feeling, and then wonder what its object might be, and waste much time speculating, proposing alternative explanations.

(c) The distinction between matter and mind is open to discussion at this stage. Most people (at least those in our time and culture) regard matter and mind as different; this is considered a ‘common-sense’ fact. But in the 17th Century, the French philosopher Descartes put this seemingly obvious observation in doubt, suggesting that we have no way to tell the difference. I think he was in many respects right, but not entirely.

The clear inner echo of outer sights and sounds, our vivid short-term memory, is easy but of limited duration. The recall of longer-term memory of such phenomena is usually more difficult and approximate, as is the fantasy of inner sights and sounds. The following is also evident (in my head, at least[38]):

Mental visual phenomena seem to be more vivid and clear while dreaming or in other special mental states, than they do while normally awake. In ordinary mental states, we can usually barely imagine (reproduce or produce) vague outlines and some flashes of color; our will has little control over our inner visions. Whereas in extraordinary states, such as in strong dreams[39] or in deep meditation[40] or psychosis or under the influence of strong psychotropic drugs like LSD, our visual experiences (be they spontaneous or willed) seem more three-dimensional, intense, precise and colorful.

Mental auditory phenomena, such as verbal thoughts, on the other hand, seem equally strong whether we are apparently awake or asleep, or in other mental states. Clear inner sounds are reproducible or producible at will in all mental states (except, of course, in exceptional cases of amnesia, sickness or brain damage).

Thus, in the case of sights and sounds, there are notable similarities and differences between mind and matter, which justify our conventional dichotomy between these domains. With regard to the other phenomenal modalities, the differences are even greater – between apparently sensed objects, and short– or long-term memories of these, and imaginations awake or asleep or in other states.

It is seemingly impossible (in my mind, at least) to readily reproduce or produce in the mental domain phenomena equivalent to material sensations of smell, taste and touch (in the large sense), so their existence is debatable. This is at least true while awake: neither involuntarily nor at will do I ever recall or imagine, whether clearly or feebly, any of these three phenomenal modalities. I do not remember having experimented this issue while (that was long ago) under drugs, but it would be worth trying.

However, I have often noted seeming smells, tastes, touch-sensations and visceral sentiments in my dreams. However, the question always remains, did I in such cases experience these phenomena in the mental domain, or did my visual and auditory dream cause physical odors or flavors to be secreted by my body, or even just make me attentive to residual molecules in my nose and mouth, or in the surrounding air, which I then sensed and perhaps fancifully interpreted (verbally or by wordless intention) to fit a certain context, i.e. as required for the dream scenario under construction? There is a big difference between mentally (from memory or by fantasy) projecting such phenomena, and mentally reinterpreting physical phenomena as mental phenomena.

The issues involved can best be illustrated with reference to an erotic dream, because that usually involves all the phenomenal modalities. For example, suppose I dream of making love to a beautiful girl:

When I awake, I get the impression that the visual and sound aspects of my dream (the girl’s features, her verbal expressions of joy, etc.), and the smells (her skin), tastes (her saliva), touches (our bodies embracing) and emotions (our feelings for each other), were all inside the dream. But upon reflection, it seems to me rather that the two sources of information (the mental and physical) were in fact quite separate. Although some mental aspects may be stimulated by physical ones, and vice versa, each remains in its own domain. Only, we ‘mix’ them intellectually, so as to give ourselves the impression that they occur in the same domain.

Her face and her voice have to be imagined by me, but the points of contact between us need not be imagined, because it suffices for me (in my sleep) to concentrate awareness on my lips or my sex organ to obtain an about equivalent sensation. I thus ask: were the feelings of having sexual intercourse with her and feeling love for her in my dreams (like the sights and sounds of it), or was I just feeling my sex organ physically rub my underwear and experiencing newly generated sentiments of desire and pleasure?

This question is difficult to answer, but as we shall see our apparent ability to ‘recognize’ such phenomena seems to logically require and imply admission of their mental ‘reenactment’ at least as faintly perceptible memories. Though perhaps such recognition can be explained entirely with reference to the intuitive faculty, somehow.

It thus seems evident that ‘sensed materiality’ and ‘the mental stuff of dreams’ are not quite as similar as Descartes and others imply, in their critique of the common-sense view. The two domains have some phenomena of light and sound in common, though not always of comparable quality (i.e. intensity and clarity), and certainly not with equal volitional properties. Other phenomena occurring in the material field have no apparent equivalent in the mental field. And so forth.

Another difference worth noting is that the memory of dream experiences is usually more elusive and tenuous than the memory of awake experiences. Personally, upon awakening I may remember brief flashes of my dreams, but almost as soon as I try to remember more, I forget everything! However, it should be noted that, according to yoga teachings, one can train oneself to clearly recall dreams, by sustained daily effort (including perhaps writing down what one does recall). Thus, my own ineptitude may just be due to my essentially indifferent attitude to dreams[41].

All this is, of course, very close to the common-sense view. What is the essence of ‘materiality’ if it is not precisely resistance to personal bodily pressure or pull[42], i.e. specifically a touch sensation upon contact between some part of one’s body and another body (or another part of one’s body). If this, as well as various other differences already mentioned, were equally producible ‘in the mind’ (at will or as memory recall) the domain of matter would not seem at all different to us from that of mind.

Thus, in conclusion, I very much doubt the Cartesian contention that the mental and material domains contain all similar phenomena. They simply do not. Matter and mind may have seemed indistinguishable due to a hasty generalization. An equation might be justified as a starting position, but has to soon be abandoned once a distinction between mind and matter is introduced to account for observed qualitative or behavioral differences. If our above analysis of differences in the phenomenal modalities present in these two domains is correct, we would indeed be justified in distinguishing the mental matrix from the physical world as an explicatory hypothesis.

One could, even admitting the above objections, maintain that awake living might still be dreaming. Specifically, one could say that there are (at least) two kinds of dream, the primary dreams (which we call awake living) in which touch, smell and taste are experienced, and so on (listing all distinctive features), and secondary dreams (which we regard as occurring in sleep or under other specific conditions like drugs or natural chemical imbalances), which are dreams within the primary dreams, and which are distinguished by a more limited range of phenomenal modalities.

The position is consistent, so that Descartes’ doubt remains legitimate, and even the idealistic posture of Berkeley and others. There is a Buddhist saying to the same effect, that: “Mind is a dream that can dream that it is not a dream.”

However, one could upon further reflection argue that that position involves a stolen concept. The meaning of the words dream or mental is grasped as against the awake experience that we call materiality. If, as the Berkeleyan posture does, we dissolve the distinction, and call everything dream, then the word dream loses its initial meaning.

The whole impact of idealism (or mentalism or subjectivism), the provocation inherent in it, is due to our previous experiential grasp of materiality (as hardness, etc.) as distinct from mind-stuff; if we honestly started with the consideration of ‘external objects’ as mental just like ‘inner objects,’ there would be no shock value.

That is, there would be no comprehensible distinction between the words ‘matter’ and ‘mind.’ That we understand something different by each of those words shows that their content is different for us and justifies maintenance of a distinction. Matter may be a specific category of mind, or mind may equally well be a very subtle form of matter, but in any case they as experienced are qualitatively different objects in many respects, and those differences cannot legitimately be swept away in one go, as Berkeley and the like do.

2.     The Objects of Intuition

Intuitive objects, i.e. the ‘things’ we intuit within ourselves, are also (as we shall now argue) to be counted as concretes, evident givens, or experiential or empirical data, on the basis of which knowledge is gradually constructed.

Our above attempt to parse experiential data into ‘material’ and parallel ‘mental’ phenomena of various modalities and qualities, is obviously incomplete, in that it does not reflect all the items found in ordinary belief (whether the latter is ultimately right or wrong). Many of our common abstract ideas and statements relate to more intimate data, not included in the above list. This suggests the need to postulate an additional class of objects, of immediately apparent particulars, like percepts (material or mental phenomena), and yet not as manifestly displayed (colorful, noisy, etc.). The type of consciousness by which such appearances may be supposed to be apprehended may here be called intuition or apperception (although in practice, note, people often broaden the term ‘perception’ to include such self-experience).

Under this heading, I here refer to things and events such as: one’s own cognition (I know what I am experiencing or thinking, what I currently believe or remember), volition[43] (I know what I willed, i.e. I was aware and remember I ‘caused’ the act), imagination (this is my imagination, I imagined it – even if in some cases I have had thoughts and dreams beyond my control), valuation (I like her, I want her, etc. – what might be called ‘intuitive feelings,’ leaving aside their eventual phenomenal effects, like feeling lust for her or enjoying sex with her), or again the intuitive sense of ‘I’, of being an observer, judge and actor at the center of cognition, valuation, volition, imagination (I know that, I value this, I did so, I imagined so and so).[44]

If we reify such presumed objects of cognition, we might be tempted to refer to them paradoxically as ‘concrete abstracts’ or ‘conceptual percepts’, or the like, because they seem to have a dual character, as it were straddling the domains of perception and conception, of concrete and abstract. More precisely, such apparently introspected certitudes (relating to ‘oneself’), on the one hand resemble abstracts, in that they have no expression in the listed sense-modalities, but on the other hand they apparently share with phenomena the properties of immediacy (i.e. their being directly cognized, without assistance of a reasoning process) and particularity (they are individual objects, not common features). For this reason, it is best to regard them as a separate class of concrete objects, to be called intuitive appearances[45].

We are here considering the most inner of internal cognitions, where the observer observes himself (or herself) and his (or her) most intimate deeds – the awareness of anything, all volitions (i.e. the first move in all actions, be it the willing of imaginations or of bodily movements) and valuations (preferences, which are not actions but presumed inner antecedents of actions). Intuition differs from the objects of imagination (including memory and anticipation, eventually mental feelings), in that the latter are the products of the imaginative act, whereas intuition has as its object (among others) the presumable causes of the imaginative act, i.e. the Agent and the agency. Such intuitions constitute literally subjective knowledge, in a non-pejorative sense of ‘in or part of the Subject’, in comparison to which other mental events, viz. memories and fantasies of whatever sense-modality, are quite ‘objective,’ i.e. the latter are neither the Subject, nor creases or movements within him, though they are indeed often regarded as caused by the Subject.

The pejorative sense of ‘subjective’ is of course that the Subject or consciousness cognizing something is thereby creating that thing (as one creates imaginations), and that this thing exists only in or through such artistic cognition. But if one says that everything cognized is imagination, it follows that this very statement about cognition is nothing but a fantasy too. So we cannot do that, logically; sure, we can put the words side by side, but their intended meaning is in fact self-contradictory. The correct view is therefore that some of the objects of cognition exist independently of cognition, they are objective. In this sense, not only are material and mental phenomena objective, but so are putative abstracts relating to matter or mind, and so even are the putative objects of self-knowledge (soul, cognitions, valuations and volitions). These are all placed in the role of objects in the event of cognition, and could exist without such cognition (though in some cases their lifespan might well be equal to the duration of that cognitive act, of course).

‘Introspection’ in a broad sense includes apperception as well mental perception. Similarly, a broad concept of ‘mind’ would (and ordinarily does) include not only the mental phenomena listed earlier, but equally the observer him/her self and his/her most intimate expressions (awareness, willing, preferring), i.e. all objects of intuition. It may be that the latter are not essentially different from mental phenomena, i.e. that they display very fine, very subtle, very subliminal, very faint – almost but not totally imperceptible – phenomenal qualities; in that case, intuition would be regarded as a kind of deeper inner perception. I leave the question open.

Note well that to adduce such ‘intuitive’ objects is not to admit just any fanciful candidate for membership in their class. If it is legitimate to (at least hypothetically) admit self-knowledge as an additional faculty akin to perception, it does not follow that all other claims to intuition or intuitive appearances (such as direct awareness of God, or reading other people’s minds, etc.) are offhand logically guaranteed (or excluded). In my view, we surely have to admit the observer’s claims to direct knowledge (experience) of and about himself (or herself); but with regard to other claims there is no such certainty.

It is not because I see and feel my hand move that I think and claim I moved it – if I exist and moved my hand, then I have to know I moved it because my will to do so came from me (the hand movement being but a distant consequence of that). We give this kind of circular argument (which Buddhist philosophers would reject, denying existence of a self) merely to express that inner certainty, not as a justification thereof. It is here claimed to be evident data, not interpretation. Sometimes, such inner movements or states (metaphorically speaking) are uncertain; one may well honestly report “I don’t you know if I believe or want or did so and so”, but this too is a case of self-knowledge!

As earlier mentioned, Buddhists, presumably on the basis of their meditation experiences, claim that the self (and thus its having attributes and powers of agency) is an illusion, a conventional (i.e. conceptually generated) shell with nothing (emptiness, vacuity) at its center. Be that as it may[46], our interest here is to describe man’s thinking processes as they appear within ordinary thinking, and these seem to include intuition of self and of expressions of self. Consciousness somehow appears to us as having a Subject; and cognitions, valuations and volitions somehow seem to ‘belong to’ and be ‘acts of’ that Subject. On this basis we construct propositions like I believe, I prefer, I do, etc. If such objects are not granted some credible reality and knowability[47], then all statements of this sort are meaningless and to be excluded at the outset from all human discourse. What shape grammar would then take, I do not know; no one has proposed a convincing model. Fact is, philosophers who deny such propositions theoretically, nevertheless continue to discourse in such terms in practice!

3.     Correlations between Experiences

We correlate experiences in various ways. There are apparent correlations between sense-modalities. This refers to the associations we record and rely on between sensations in the material domain, in various combinations. For example, the sight of my hand in contact with something with such and such a shape or texture is associated with the touch sensations that accompany it.

Very often, correlation between the mental and material domains is involved. In this respect, there are various possible combinations. One example is sight, visualization and touch: with my eyes closed, the visualization of my hand and an object held by it, is a tool of interpretation of the corresponding touch sensations. Another common complex involves sight, visualization, sound and ‘auditorization:’ I hear a sound apparently coming from a sight, the sight disappears from view, I associate the sound to a visualization instead; then the sound goes, I ally the images of sight and sound in my memory. Also, we have the ‘gourmet’ complex: the sensations in our mouth are not mere tasting, but a mix of visual images based on sight of the food before ingesting it, smelling, touch sensations of shape, texture and movement, muscular sensations of mouth, tongue and throat movements, and even the sounds of chewing!

It is important to note that what at first sight seems like direct correlation between sensations is often mediated by mental projections. We often loosely speaking refer to the different phenomenal modalities of space. That is, there seems to be a visual space, an auditory space, a tactile space, etc. We have the impression that we know analogies of space through the various sensory organs, but it is not strictly speaking the case. We in fact mentally project visual space and its properties into the other sensory modes.

We localize the tactile phenomena in our body (contacts, pains, etc.) with reference to a visual image of the body. This image is based on our external visual perceptions (through the eyes) of the body, like a photograph in memory. When the eyes are closed (or simply unused or otherwise occupied), the visual image is inwardly projected in lieu of the actual eye-vision of the body. This is used as a coordinate system, through which we map touch sensations within our body or on its surface. For instance, close your eyes and put two fingertips apart on your desk; with regard only to touch sensations there is no distance between them, they are just two isolated events. You do not ‘feel’ the space between them, but rather interpose a space between them by imagination. Similarly, if you run a finger over your desk, it is only by mentally tracing a line between its various points of contact with the desk that you can say that the finger had a continuous trajectory. The sounds we hear and other sensations may likewise be mapped in a mentally projected equivalent of space, extending out beyond one’s body.

There are, of course, yet other correlations – equivalences and causal relations – between the mental and material domains. For instances, the relations between thoughts (verbal and non-verbal cogitations, based on immediate experience or memory) and sentiments (visceral feelings), or between emotions (evaluations and their mental and bodily expressions) and breath (as e.g. when it is speeded or deepened by desire or fear).

4.     Conceptual Objects

The objects of conception, i.e. the ‘things’ we conceive, also called[48] concepts or abstract appearances, are not counted as empirical data (unlike percepts, and eventually objects of intuition) but must still be granted due consideration as appearances. Abstracts may be phenomenologically distinguished from material or mental concretes as having none of the phenomenal modalities – we cannot see them, hear them, smell them, taste them or feel them in any way, on a material or mental plane. Abstracts may also be distinguished from objects of intuition, in that they are not particulars. Abstracts are the assumed common features or measures or degrees of two or more percepts and/or intuited items and/or other abstracts in simple or complex combinations.

Not to confuse here, the words we conventionally, by intention, attach to abstracts, which thereby and thenceforth become for us the material and mental phenomenal manifestations of abstracts, tools to facilitate recording, storing and transmitting of information. Words may be facial expressions or bodily gestures, visible shapes or colors, hearable sounds or touchable epigraphs or Braille – but what they symbolize (their intended references or meanings) may have no phenomenal qualities and no intentions.

By ‘abstract,’ then, is simply meant any object of discourse other than the phenomenal or intuited. Many abstracts seem somehow almost ‘given in experience,’ and yet they cannot be pointed-to as clearly as experiences. For instance, ‘squareness’ is something we seem to see in all phenomenal squares, whether in the outside world or in our heads; yet we cannot show it except by drawing a sample square of particular size and color. We have no access to the universal except through individuals. Thus, the conceptual is in a sense apparent, like the experiential, but its epistemological status is inferior, because while the perceptual or intuitive is immediately accessible as a singular thing, the conceptual requires a plurality of data, out of which it is gradually differentiated by comparisons and contrasts between different parts of the field of appearance, and more broadly between different fields of appearance over time.

We call abstract object of cognition any thing or relation we infer (or at least suppose or assume) by conceptual/logical means, including terms, propositions and arguments. Although they are per se imperceptible, and not intuited, abstracts may be (indeed ultimately have to be) associated to experiential phenomena. We might characterize them as rational objects, because logical insight and discourse are involved in their cognition[49]. They are end products of reasoning processes of varying type and complexity, (which may be hypothetical and probabilistic), based on and guided by (sensory or introspected) empirical evidence. What lies behind an abstract term like ‘quark’ or ‘happiness’ – what the term seems to us to refer to, what makes it meaningful to us – is what we reify as an ‘abstract’ thing. Like an experience, it is granted possible if not actual reality of sorts (while admitting that in specific cases, it can be shown that what we assumed was illusory – e.g. ‘unicorn’).

It should be noted that I count logical insights (such as awareness that there is a conflict or harmony between different percepts, intuitions or concepts) as abstractions. They may be described as virtual ‘sensations’ of imbalance among certain appearances, whence arises in us an incredulity, a question requiring an answer, and equilibrium is recovered only when a convincing answer to the question seems found[50]. We feel ‘compelled’ by honesty to resolve logical issues when they arise. Logic is thus based on a certain affectivity, a capacity for intuition of our level of belief in or peace with certain appearances, within a specific context of knowledge and degree of attention.

If we have even a mere impression (‘rightly’ or ‘wrongly’) that a given experience or a given hypothesis is somewhat ‘misplaced’ or otherwise ‘inappropriate,’ this impression must be counted as part of the sum total of appearances on which judgment is to be based. It is with respect to all our impressions in a given moment (however vague or clear, right or wrong to start with) that we develop considered judgments on any one of these impressions. It follows that we are correct (ab initio, at least) in counting logical insights as objective, in the sense that they belong to Appearance and not to the Subject. That we may also regard them as ‘feelings,’ or again as ‘compulsions’ of sorts, does not detract us from this position. It is not an arbitrary preference, but itself logically convincing.

Note well that logic is not, as some modern commentators have come to imagine, an issue of language or even of form (these are but technical aspects). It is primarily an apprehension of problems inherent in appearance (or between appearances), and of possible solutions to such problems. The problems and solutions are themselves apparent! Aristotle has identified three broad classes of logical issues. identity (acknowledgment of things as they present themselves), non-contradiction (conflicts between phenomena and their apparent resolutions) and the excluded middle (dealing with gaps in knowledge and otherwise unsatisfactory ideas).

Conception of the simplest sort has to begin with a simple insight, a direct consciousness of some abstract aspect of some perceived or intuited particulars. This position is needed to explain the comparisons and contrasts that determine conceptualization, and likewise the logical confrontations that order knowledge. ‘Similarity,’ ‘difference,’ ‘more or less,’ ‘contradiction,’ ‘consistency’ and other such immediate objects, are obviously not perceptible or intuitive qualities, but undeniably abstract[51]. More complex conception is ‘built up’ from such simple conceptions, but not like bricks piled up on each other. Relations more complicated than mere ‘addition’ are involved, with terms inside terms, inside varieties of propositional forms, buttressed and intertwined by varied arguments.

Thus, the term abstraction should be understood very broadly as including simple insights and summaries of qualitative or quantitative similarity or difference between experiences; more complex conceptualization, interpretations or explications requiring adductive trial and error; propositional relations between concepts; logical insights, judgments and tests; deductive and inductive principles; specific logical methods and techniques of all kinds. Note well that abstraction is based, not only on similarities (as some philosophers absent-mindedly seem to suggest), but also on differences. The negative aspect is as important as the positive. Note that another factor, which I also often forget, is the insight of degree or proportion. Things not only seem the ‘same or different,’ but also ‘more, equally or less’ this or that. A full account of comparison and contrast must mention this quantitative aspect, which is not reducible to the polar issue of mere qualitative presence or absence.

Abstracts are unconscionable without some sort of prior experience, be it material or mental perceptions or intuitions of self. If we had never observed anything, we would have nothing to ever conceptualize. This is a basic principle, thanks to which many errors can be avoided. Philosophers often use a concept to criticize or deny the very percepts on which it was originally based, committing a variant of the ‘stolen concept’ fallacy. If one keeps in mind the order of things in knowledge, one will not waste one’s own and everyone else’s time with such stupidity. Many philosophers, out of a failure to carefully observe and fairly evaluate cognitive processes, have fallen into skepticism and peddled confusions which have caused much damage in people’s minds and in society. We shall in the course of the present research review some of our core assumptions with regard to abstract knowledge, with a view to justify it in principle. What will hopefully be made manifest is that the principal justification of abstraction is its grounding in empirical data; it is not something ‘a priori’ or ‘transcendent.’

The essence of concepts is that they provide summaries, interpretations or explanations of phenomenal or intuitive particulars. Their primary orientation is thus more objective than subjective, whether what they refer to is self or other. That is to say, when the Subject forms an abstraction about the self, it treats itself as a cognitive object like any other in that context. Also, although such comparison and contrast constitutes work by the Subject concerned, it does not follow that it is ‘subjective creation;’ it is dependent on a performance of the Subject, but it does not ‘invent’ its object.

The proposed ordering of the data, emerging from the activity of abstraction, is inevitably inductive as of when it takes longer than a single moment. For only what is given within a moment is pure evidence, whereas the putative links and other relations between moments are mere hypotheses confirmed by these moments (and others eventually), since as we have said beyond a given moment we depend on memories and anticipations. For this reason, the conceptual has a lower status than the empirical. Not as some suppose, “because the abstract is not inherent in the experiential,” but because the extraction of concepts from percepts and intuitions depends on time-consuming and therefore potentially faulty processes.

Terms, propositions and arguments may therefore ultimately, all things considered, be found ‘true’ or ‘false,’ in one sense or another. The false ones may be deliberate pretenses, or sincere but unsuccessful attempts to report information. The fact that some abstractions are erroneous in no way justifies a skeptical judgment about abstraction as such, since such judgment is itself abstract. No one can consistently advocate the elimination of all abstracts from human knowledge. One cannot even tell oneself (verbally or in wordless intention) to stop using them, since such comprehension or collective intention itself involves abstraction. Some abstracts must thus be logically admitted; the only question remaining is, which? If the basic abstracts of similarity and difference or of compatibility versus incompatibility are understood and thus granted, there is little reason for denying other abstracts – for to deny some abstracts only does not have the same force as denying them all.

Abstracts are the objects and outcomes of discourse, but should not be viewed solely in this perspective. Their epistemic role is not their whole story. They may be serious or playful, in the foreground of consciousness or in its background or underground. As already stated and as we shall see in more detail, abstracts involve and are usually in turn involved in imagination, meaning memory, fantasy, and anticipation; for instances, memory of their perceptual basis, fantasy of the words symbolizing them, or anticipation of hypotheses. Abstracts are also affected by and affect our innermost life; for instances, an emotional prejudice can affect one’s philosophizing or a philosophy of self can modify one’s choices.

5.     Degrees of Interiority

It is important to note well, in the above dissertation, the implied degrees of interiority, with reference to ‘distance’ of events from the observer.

Five (or six) degrees of interiority are distinguished regarding emotions or feelings (taking such terms in their broadest sense), with (starting from the most distant):

  • sensations felt when one touches something with one’s skin or in one’s mouth or nose (these might not be counted as emotions, but one is said to feel them);
  • visceral sentiments, pleasures and pains experienced as in the region of the body (including the head), whether through purely physical causes (e.g. the pain of burned fingers or hunger or a stomach ache after eating something hard to digest or a headache due to noise) or due to mental causes (or psychosomatic – e.g. fear felt in one’s solar plexus or sexual enjoyment or the warm feeling of love in one’s chest);
  • ‘mental feelings,’ i.e. concretely felt, not in any bodily location, but in the mental plane, if such things can be said to exist;
  • eventual mental representations (as memories, imaginations, dreams) of these sensory (and possibly mental) experiences, thanks to which we can remember and recognize them, and often evoke them;
  • the self-expressions of the Subject, the attitudes implied by velleities and volitions, the value-judgments or valuations implicit in his choices; and
  • abstract implications of behavior and of introspected emotion (of the preceding four types), known by reasoning processes.

A particular emotion (mood, urge, whatever – any ‘affection’) to which we give a name, is usually a complex of many or all of these types of feeling, relatively concrete and passive ones like (a), (b), (c) or (d), or relatively abstract and active ones like (e) or (f). Rarely do we refer to ultimate units of emotion alone. By distinguishing the various meanings of ‘emotion,’ we are better able to analyze and understand particular emotions. For example, “I am in love with her” cannot be reduced to pleasant feelings in one’s ‘heart’ or in one’s sex organs or even to self-knowledge of one’s abstract evaluation. ‘Being in love’ may mean that one experiences concrete sensations (the feel of her skin) and sentiments or mental feelings (pleasure, desire, admiration, pain, fear, guilt, shame, pity, etc.), while in contact with or when thinking of the person concerned, or it may refer to a very platonic direct (I like her) or indirect (she’s nice, worthy of love) evaluation and a resolve to a certain line of action (doing good to the person loved), or both (usually). One’s consequent voluntary and involuntary actions (over a long term) would also be considered important empirical tests and indices, relative to which one could objectively judge whether and to what degree love effectively exists or is pretentiously claimed (a fantasy).

The knot of emotions may, for instance, be iterative, with observation of certain conjunctions of sentiments or deeds causing additional sentiments (for instance, one may feel guilt in view of one’s desiring or kissing someone). Also, one may have conflicting emotions; there is no ‘law of non-contradiction’ with reference to emotions. ‘I like X’ and ‘I dislike X’ (or ‘I like non-X’) are not considered logically contradictory but merely, say, incoherent or at odds, in that they call on ultimately mutually destructive courses of action (cross-purposes). That is, ‘I like X’ (in a given respect and time) denies ‘I do not like X’, but does not logically imply ‘I do not dislike X’ (or ‘I do not like non-X’). We view the soul as potentially ‘a house divided’, with parts of it inclining one way and others inclining other ways. Indeed, our psychology is built on fragmentation between our ‘conscience’ charged with moral supervision (to different extents, according to the person – some may even have no such reserved segment of self) and our impulsive tendencies (which conscience may disapprove).

Returning to degrees of interiority, the same distinctions apply to the allied faculties of the human psyche. We have of course cognition of the five or six types of ‘emotion’ listed above – they do not just exist, they are cognized by the Subject. And similarly, volition can be viewed at various levels or depths. If I move my hand, I can focus on the tactile or visual sensations of my hand, the feeling and sight of its motion, or the pleasure or pain such motion may give rise to, or the visual imagination of my hand moving (with eyes closed), or the purpose or causes of its movement (i.e. on the mentally projected achievement sought by such movement, or on the conceptually supposed processes by which it occurs), or lastly on the intuited act of willing. A particular volition may involve any or all of these aspects.

Strictly-speaking only the most inner act of willing, known by self-knowledge, may be labeled as volition – all subsequent events are regarded as mere effects of it, mental or physical reactions to it. The will is never involuntary, only imagination or bodily movement can be involuntary. In the mental realm, images can be projected involuntarily, as in dreams. In the physical realm, forces outside the body can move it and it may have internal dysfunctions (e.g. paralysis) or missing organs (e.g. a cut hand). Whereas the presumed will (within a limited range) is always within our power, a free act of the soul, and the first act in any ‘volitional’ series. Thus, volition as such is regarded as a spiritual act impinging on the other two domains, the mental matrix of imagination (which matter can also impinge on) or on matter (which imagination per se cannot however impinge on).

These domains cannot directly or mechanically impinge on the spiritual, but only through their cognitions by the Subject. Cognition is always (or at least usually) antecedent to volition, giving the Subject issues to respond to, but not determining the response. Cognition gives rise to value judgments and attitudes of the Subject, i.e. events in the spiritual realm. But even these subjective antecedents of volitional action do not definitively determine volition; the Subject still has to will an action in the direction they suggest. Cognition (and its objects) and valuation (or more broadly, emotion) are thus said to ‘influence’ actions (make them more likely than others), but only volition can be said to determine actions. ‘Volition’, thus, refers most precisely to subjective movements of the Subject – he is their sole cause, in the sense of Agent (or Author or Actor). Such movements have no existence without the Subject, they are not end products of his acts, they are his acts. He is directly responsible for them, their perpetrator. Subsequent events (e.g. hand moving) are not volitions, but (usual) effects of volition, though loosely called ‘volitional’. For the latter, he has (usually) only indirect responsibility, for other forces can affect them.

By means of the stratification of objects here proposed, we are better able to understand what we mean by freedom of the will. But deeper considerations of causality and causal judgments shall be dealt with separately.

4.   Conceptualization

In the present chapter, we shall try and clarify the processes of conceptualization, i.e. how we develop abstract ideas from the data of experience. Many philosophers have previously attempted this difficult task, but have strayed into error or irrelevancy due to their failure to grasp all the logical issues involved. We need to explain how comparisons and contrasts are effected, without engaging in circular reasoning. We need to show that logical tests are not arbitrary standards, as some accuse, but constitute the only honest and sane way to assess any data input. We need to clarify verbalization, and ensure that it does not skew our ideas. We may also try and propose a theory of ‘universals.’

1.     Sameness and Difference

Alleged apprehensions of sameness and difference are the primordial basis of all concept-formation, that is of grouping and naming or classification. These are of two kinds, particular sameness or difference, which relate to purely perceptual (material or mental) or intuitive (self-known) items; and later abstract sameness or difference, which relate to conceptual products of the former. Or we could say more precisely, sameness and difference on a particular level are the foundations of abstraction, i.e. whatever we judge same to each other and different from other things become thereby members of the first abstracts, all others being ultimately derived from them.

An important insight or principle we may suggest at the outset is that similarity is not something we apprehend – it is dissimilarity we apprehend; similarity is just the absence of dissimilarity. Thus, despite the polarities we have given the words, similarity is something negative, whereas dissimilarity is something positive. Everything seems the same to us, till we discern some difference. We judge things singular or same, if we have noticed no plurality or difference between them. Thus, strictly speaking, dissimilarity can be experienced, whereas similarity is a rational object.

Let us first consider certain percepts (material or mental objects of perception) in the visual field (specifically, shapes), and then we shall turn to other visual percepts, as well as auditory percepts and those in other sense-modalities.

When faced with two visible material percepts (phenomena appearing at the same time in the visual field), we ‘compare’ them mainly by mentally projecting (externally imagining) parallel lines from points on the one to points on the other (the points being imagined subdivisions of the phenomena, into light or dark dots – digital 1s and 0s). If all such lines pair-off dots which are both alight or both dark, the objects are judged to be completely similar (identical); if no dots thus correspond, the objects are judged completely different, if only some correspond, the objects are judged in some respects same (similar) and in other respects different (dissimilar). There are thus degrees of sameness or difference.

Such comparison (in its widest sense, including both comparison with the positive aim of finding points of similarity and that with the negative aim of finding points of dissimilarity, i.e. ‘contrast’) thus involves an imaginative act (specifically, a hallucination of mental lines into the material region of space), but its result is given by the visual phenomenon (there evidently are or are not pairs of light or dark dots at the two ends of the lines).

Another, less direct way we compare visual material objects is by externally projecting a mental image of one object (usually one perceived previously, whose image is thus stored in memory) onto the other material object (currently present in the visual field). Such juxtaposition primarily occurs when the two material objects are not simultaneously present, or so far apart in space that focusing on one turns one’s attention away from the other so that they cannot strictly be regarded as sharing the same visual field at the same time. In such case, we overlay an image of one object on the other, and consider and count how many dots cover each other over and how many do not[52]. Here again, an imaginative act is involved (projection into external space of a mental image or memory), but the judgment is based on passive observations.

A third, still less direct way is to compare and contrast mental images of both the material objects under scrutiny – this may be used for instance if neither object is present long enough, both being too ephemeral. Other ways are experimental: the observer may seemingly move himself relative to the two objects so that they are in the same line of vision (appeal to perspective) or seemingly move one object so that it is physically on top of the other and blanks it out in every direction[53]. Such physical experiments do not per se involve mental projections.

In practice, all these various ways might be used in combinations, reinforcing each other or mitigating our judgments somewhat (as to the degree of similarity and dissimilarity). Physical experiments may be criticized as actually changing the visual field, in that what is compared after said movement is not the original scene, but a new scene – in which case, we have to in fact appeal to a memory (i.e. a mental image) of the object moved, juxtaposed on its alleged new manifestation, and judge the two as the same by an inference (image 1 is like object 1 and like/unlike object 2, therefore objects 1 & 2 are like/unlike). Therefore, even such experimental comparisons involve imagination.

In addition to comparisons of shape, we must consider comparisons of size – that is, the measures or degrees of things. Two things may have the same shape, but different sizes. To deal with this problem, we introduce the concept of proportion. Comparative measurement is an experimental act in that, in imagination or physically, we bring to bear a standard of measurement, a graduated measuring rod. In visual imagination this simply means that, instead of comparing dots (as above), we compare collections of dots – dashes (lines of two or more points), while ignoring or making note of the differences in their numbers of constituent dots (according as we are satisfied with imprecise proportions or need to be exact).

Considerations of ‘scale’ often involve a mental act of ‘zooming in.’ In Buddhist Illogic[54], I state:

Now, the zooming in is merely production of a new image – so we are not even, in fact, repeatedly subdividing the same image; we merely say ‘suppose this image is a detail of the preceding.’ The new image has the same size as the preceding, but its scale is declared different.

It is worth stressing here that this declaration need not be verbal, and is more precisely an intention. That is, we intend some visualized line to be considered as a portion of another visualized line, even though both lines are in fact (about) the same size when projected in our heads. Neither the mental projection of images, nor a verbal declaration, can fully explain ‘proportion’ – we additionally must, note well, refer to the intuited intention that this line ‘represents’ a fraction of that line. Thereafter, we can specify how many such fractions would equal the whole.

The mental drawing of lines first mentioned may also be criticized as taking time and involving shifts of attention, so that by the time the lines are drawn it is no longer the original two objects that we are comparing but our many mental images (memories) of them. However, these various images have each in succession passed the test of correspondence with their original objects (image 1 matches object 1, image 2 matches object 2) – we express this fact by calling them ‘representative’ – so that we may justly infer the resulting judgment (that objects 1 & 2 are the same/different) from the equality or inequality of their images. In conclusion, the comparison and contrast of material objects may well generally involve mental projection of images of their objects, though many rely mainly on projection of lines between objects too.

It should be mentioned that visual experiences do not only involve shapes, but also light-intensity (shadings) and frequency (colors). How for instance do we recognize various colors as all green, say, although they range noticeably? For such qualities, an argument by analogy seems called for. It is also by analogy that we must here try to explain comparisons with respect to the experiential fields of the other sense-modalities, sounds, smells, tastes and touch phenomena. Presumably, we mentally cut up the experiences into elementary phenomena, which we then compare to each other or to imaginary substitutes, or experimentally determine in some way (e.g. at later stages in development, we could record sounds into a computer and have it project on its screen visible waves which mathematically correspond to the sound waves concerned).[55]

Whereas material phenomena of light or sound have obvious mental equivalents – we can think visual images (including colors) or speak to oneself (i.e. in one’s head) at will – it is not immediately evident that we can produce mental images (memories) of smell, taste and touch phenomena at will while awake (though my own introspections suggest they do occur in dreams while asleep). Be that as it may, unless we can think up some fitting alternative theoretical scenario, we have to assume the doctrine that imagination (or at least memory) of these sense-modalities is possible, since we evidently are able to recognize such phenomena![56]

We should also consider comparison of mental objects of perception. With regard to the visual field, first, internal or external imagination of lines, joined at will from point to point of any two objects, would be a sufficient hypothesis. There is no logical need, here, to produce a mental image of either mental image, since just as soon as the primary mental objects are thought of (with a view to compare them) they are present in the mental visual field and such imagination would be redundant. But one can, rather than mentally draw lines between them, mentally move one mental object over to the other, juxtaposing them for point-by-point confirmation of similarity or difference. Such moving seemingly does not require further confirmation by images, since it is as it were guaranteed by the observer’s introspected will. Similarly supposedly for the other sense-modalities.

Comparisons and contrasts between intuited particulars, on the basis of which abstracts concerning the psyche are assumed, are more difficult to trace. They evidently occur introspectively somehow, but I cannot at this stage suggest just how, so I will leave the issue wide open.

The above-mentioned first abstracts are only among the most basic. From their application a whole world of more specific or generic abstracts is gradually inferred, adduced or assumed. For example, there are also, we assume by analogy from phenomenal and intuitive feelings, ‘abstract feelings’ inferred from the value judgments and behavior patterns of the observer. These are not to be confused with pleasure/pain[57] sentiments (which are physiological phenomena, i.e. concrete material phenomena experienced within the body), which may occasionally be caused (we believe) by abstract feelings. Nor should we confuse these with what I have earlier named ‘mental feelings’ (if any such exist) and ‘intuitive feelings’ (which are raw data for abstraction). Abstract feelings are hypothetical entities, stretching terms by analogy; they are more judgmental, or rational in nature.

With regard to cognition of more abstract sameness or difference, then, we should in principle regard our identifications as hypotheses subject to the laws of adduction. The concepts of concrete sameness and difference are by analogy extended to include presumed/alleged/postulated abstract sameness and difference. We do not directly ‘see’ abstracts as same or different, as we do concretes. Rather, we postulate that something akin to sameness or difference relates two given abstracts (respectively inferred as above described), and then test this theory by adductively confirming or rejecting it, in competition with conceivable alternatives. The process of comparison is here less direct, and less permanently sure in its results.

In practice, the objects we compare are rarely simple visual shapes, but complexes with many aspects. All the above-described concrete processes, and additionally many abstract ones, will be called upon in tandem for any given act of comparison. So it is difficult to describe comparison in a succinct manner. For instance, let us compare two carpets on my living room floor. I can basically relate them in respect of their rectangularity by drawing lines from the corners of the one to those of the other. This is possible even if they are different in size or differently placed, by calling on perspective adjustments. But if one were round and the other square, this would be inconclusive, and I would have to refer to their color or texture (a touch phenomenon), or more abstractly to their fabric (wool or cotton) or even their function (warmth, decoration, etc.). Or comparing two trees, I would not expect their overall shape to be always similar, but would refer instead to bark and leaves, or cells viewed under a microscope, or more abstractly to observed biological processes (themselves complex).

In conclusion, sameness or difference are geometrical judgments at the simplest concrete level of visible shape, but at more complex levels, other sense-modalities as well as abstract hypotheses and inferences (themselves somewhat based on previous concrete experiences) are generally taken into consideration in determining sameness and difference[58]. Nevertheless, I have attempted here to postulate a scenario, which would credibly explain how we apprehend sameness or difference, already to some extent, at the simplest concrete level. I personally see no alternative explanation yet, and so regard it as a good working hypothesis, justifying our comparisons (to the extent that we have been attentive enough, of course). It is acknowledged, however, that even apparently simple cases are usually far more complex in fact, and it is difficult to describe such processes precisely, as they vary tremendously (involving many sense-modalities, and conceptual/logical work too).

Direct or indirect comparison/contrast may be considered as principles of logic, insofar as it is on their basis that we begin conceptualization. Once percepts of any kind are thus declared same or different in certain or all respects, we mentally group their images in our minds (probably more precisely, link their memories in the networks of our brains) and, usually but not always, label them with a name (i.e. a physical or imaginary sound – and in the case of written language, a visual symbol). The value or utility of naming is that it provides us with an easily invoked substitute for experiences difficult to bring to mind (like smells, tastes or touch phenomena) or more abstract concepts.

It must be emphasized that the mystery of sameness and difference cannot (as some philosophers have tried) be explained-away by just saying that the arbitrary names we give to things are their only common grounds. Logically, this hypothesis begs the question, in that names too have individual instances, which must be judged same or different!

The prime concepts resulting from such grouping and naming (effectively these are propositions, like ‘x is same to y, therefore both shall be symbolized by z’) may then serve as objects in eventual derivative ‘abstract’ comparisons, which in turn may yield more abstract ones still, as classification progresses higher or deeper. It should be clear, at least if the above explanations are naturally convincing, that the role of imagination in comparison processes does not detract from the objectivity of the sameness or difference concluded. The mental projections involved do not affect the material objects they try to represent (and are shown to do so by matching) – they are not ‘mind over matter’ type volitions, arbitrary manipulations – they are merely juxtaposed. For this reason, we can fairly regard our prime concepts (and their eventual derivatives by inductive logic) as ‘empirically’ based and epistemologically justified.

2.     Compatibility or Incompatibility

Allied to sameness and difference are the concepts of compatibility or incompatibility, which underlie what Aristotle has called the three ‘laws of thought’ – identity, non-contradiction and exclusion-of-the-middle. How do we apprehend things (percepts, intuitions, concepts and propositions about them) as able to coexist (compatible) or as unable to do so (incompatible) or problematic (not established as either compatible or incompatible)? We must answer this question urgently, if we admit that these logical processes of confrontation (or facing-off) are as basic as those of identifying sameness or difference. The whole of logical science is built on their assumption, and we must explain how we know two things to be harmonious or mutually exclusive or of undecided correlation.

An important insight or principle we may suggest at the outset is that consistency is not something we apprehend – it is inconsistency we apprehend; consistency is just the absence of inconsistency. Thus, despite the polarities we have given the words, compatibility is something negative, whereas incompatibility is something positive. Everything seems harmonious to us, till we discern some conflict. We judge things consistent, so long as we have no logical insight of inconsistency between them. Thus, strictly speaking, inconsistency can be directly ‘seen’, whereas consistency is normally assumed till found lacking. In some cases, consistency is indirectly put in doubt, without some direct inconsistency having been found, so that an uncertainty arises.

Aristotle formulated his three ‘laws’ firstly with reference to percepts or concepts by stating them as ‘A is A’, ‘A cannot be non-A’ and ‘Either A or non-A’. In a later stage, they are formulated with reference to propositions. As I argue extensively in Future Logic[59], these laws are not laws in the sense of a-priori principles or arbitrary axioms, as some have claimed, though they are self-evident in that to deny them is self-contradictory[60], but have to be regarded as given in their objects somehow. Psychologically, they are profound impulses (which may be ignored or followed), which make humans rational; ethically (in the ethics of knowledge gathering), they are indispensable tools and imperatives to actively respond to certain epistemic situations in certain ways (though one can be dishonest or unaware and ignore the facts, or evasive or lazy and ignore the imperative).

Identity brings to mind the visual image and sensation of calm or attraction or a tendency to merge of two things (equation), contradiction that of conflict or repulsion or explosive collision between them (because they cannot occupy the same place), while exclusion of the middle refers to a gap or deficiency between them (raising doubts and awakening questions). These may be imaginative representations for philosophical discussion like here, but they are not always (if ever) involved in concrete identification of identity, contradiction or research needs. Their involvement is more technical or abstract, straddling as it were the experiential domain and the conceptual knowledge domain. Although formulated as a triad, the laws of thought are three aspects of essentially one and the same necessity.

The law of identity, simply put, tells us “what you see is what you get” – it is a mere acknowledgment that the data of phenomenal experience are the fundamental givens of any knowledge enterprise; that there is ultimately no other data to base inference on, so that all their details must be paid attention to and taken into consideration in any inference. With respect to its formulation as ‘A is A’, with reference to terms rather than propositions, this law would simply mean that, if we for instance compare the constituent points in any two material or mental complex phenomena, we have to acknowledge that wherever dots appear (or fail to appear) to us, we can definitively say that there are (or are not, respectively) dots (at least phenomenal dots) – at least for now, until if ever the situation changes or further scrutiny tends to belie the first observation (because many later observations supplant the first, by their statistical weight).

Identity is a law, because there is no other way to conceive things – at this phenomenal level to ‘seem’ is to ‘be’. You can deny your phenomenon’s reality, but not its very occurrence or existence. If you try to deny your actual phenomenon by immediately hypothesizing some invisible conflicting ‘phenomenon’ behind it (a noumenon, to use Kant’s word), you are condemned to being basically unempirical and therefore without epistemological justification for your own act. You have nothing to show for your case, since by definition you appeal to the unseen, whereas you must acknowledge the seen as seen to at all deny it. The baselessness and circularity of such refusal to accept the phenomenon (as a phenomenon, no more, at least) merely reflects that the phenomenon experienced is the given to deal with in the first place (for this reason any denial of it is bound to admit it, implicitly and explicitly by referring to it). All such argumentation is of course very conceptual, and so only at best lately and peripherally significant in any actual act of acceptance of the phenomenon as such.

Phenomenologically, the law of identity means that an image of a material entity, mentally projected externally onto that entity, does not blank out the entity (being as it were in a parallel space, transparent). When such mental image seemingly shares outer space with the material body it is projected on, then the phenomenon as a whole has changed, though the material entity stays on (perseveres as an appearance), having been augmented in respect of a mental image. That is, the new phenomenon is enlarged (by an additional image) in comparison to the originally given phenomenon. This means that postulation of a noumenon merely adds a mental component (including additional phenomena) to the first presented phenomenon, and does not succeed in erasing the first phenomenon, precisely because it is introduced in relation to the first phenomenon (specifically, as an attempt to explain it or explain it away).

The law of identity is an impulse, a call to empiricism, which we normally obey without doubt or question. It acknowledges that appearances might in the long run change or prove misleading, taking into consideration all other appearances. It does not deny, nor accept ab initio, that behind the seen appearance there might be unseen or invisible events or things; but such outcome can only be arrived at through an overall consideration of all experiences and much pondering. That is, ‘noumena’ might well exist beyond a given field of phenomena – but they would have to be end products of an evaluative process and could not be first assumptions. Since evoking noumena does not in itself annul phenomena (merely adding more phenomena to them), the questions inherent in phenomena and their apparition to us remain unanswered.

The reason why the thesis of noumena seems at first sight credible, is that we have experience of different sense-modalities, each implying that the others are incomplete, and we have memory of changes in our experience and/or its interpretation over time, so that our conceptual knowledge (or its suppositions) has naturally come to conclusions that ‘things are not quite or always what they seem’. But in such case, the term noumenon is trivially but another name for abstracts or concepts. In Kant’s coinage and use of the term, however, the noumenon is not a hidden extension of the phenomenon, but purports to discard and replace the phenomenon altogether. The noumenon is by definition unknowable (universally) – though Kantians never tell us how come they themselves have the privilege to even know enough about it to know that it exists and is unknowable! The correct statement would rather be that noumena (i.e. less abstrusely, abstracts, concepts) are not concrete experiences, but merely logically assumed derivatives of percepts. They are hoped to be ontologically ‘more real’ than percepts, digging deeper into reality than the visible surface of things (to which we are supposedly restricted somewhat by the limited range of sense-modalities open to cognition), even as they are epistemologically admitted to be less reliable.

The laws of non-contradiction and of the excluded middle are intertwined with that of identity, as evident in the arguments above. But how do we know that ‘A is not non-A’ or that it is either-or between them? Consider our basic dot of light or its absence (darkness) in the visual field – such a dot is evidently never in contradiction with itself. We never simultaneously perceive a dot and not-perceive it – in any given place we mentally chose to focus on, there either appears or does not appear a lighted (or dark) dot. At this level, where the object is reduced to a single character (light) and precise place (the smallest possible size), we cannot honestly, sincerely answer ‘yes and no’ or ‘neither yes nor no’ to the question. It is there or it is not. If it seems there, it is. If it does not seem there, it is not. We cannot even pretend we don’t see what we see – at least not in words, for we would have to acknowledge their meanings, and therefore the actual phenomenon.

These laws are indeed in the phenomenal world, insofar as positively no phenomena ever appear in contradiction or as neither-nor, i.e. by absence of empirical evidence to the contrary. They are in, because their negations are not in. But they relate to mind, inasmuch as when a dot A appears and we start speaking of the unseen non-A, we are in fact imagining non-A in our heads, and so bring a new (mental) element into the picture. By the law of identity, this non-A phenomenon (which is mental) must be distinguished from its alleged opposite A (the given, which may or may not be mental), and admitted as an addition in the experiential field. But it remains true that A and non-A themselves are not in fact coexisting or both absent in the field – rather what we experience is coexistence of the given A with a projected non-A.

The law of contradiction does not deny the possibility that two different things might coexist, like a dot of light and the imagination (or memory) of absence of such dot of light; such things are merely contrary. The law of the excluded middle does not deny the possibility for something and the idea of its absence to be both absent from a field of experience; in such case, we can still suppose, as we indeed see as experience, that the thing itself is absent (even though the idea of its absence is allegedly absent – until mentioned as absent, that is!)[61]. Thus, these laws are empirical, in the sense that they do not impose anything on the phenomenon, but accept it as is. They merely push the observer back into the fold of experience, should he venture to stray. They do not involve a modification or manipulation of the phenomenon, but on the contrary make the observer openly and carefully attentive to what is phenomenal. They involve a distinction between primary phenomena (be they ‘material’ or ‘mental’), as given ab initio, and imaginary alleged representations (ideas, mental phenomena) of eventual phenomena, which merely introduce additional phenomena.

It is very important to emphasize again that negation is a logical act. It is never a pure experience, but always involves conceptual interference by the Subject. In formal logic, terms like A and non-A are neutral and formally indistinguishable. That is, they function in interchangeable ways, so that the negation of non-A (non-non-A) is technically equivalent to A (by obversion); and we might label non-A as ‘B’ and A as ‘non-B’ without affecting inferential processes. But at the phenomenological level, these labels are quite distinct. Something appearing would be labeled positively (say, A), whereas something not-appearing would be labeled negatively (as non-A).

What we here labeled A is a phenomenon or percept. What we here labeled non-A is not apparent per se, but only effectively ‘apparent’ in that A did not appear. Non-A signifies that we have asked a question ‘is A there (i.e. in the phenomenal field)?’ and after further scrutiny answered it by ‘no, I do not find it there’. The former (presence) is directly known, the latter (absence) is indirectly known through a mental projection (imagining A, i.e. inventing it or remembering it from previous perceptions) coupled with an experimental search (whose result is unsuccessful). Clearly these are very different cognitions – one being purely passive and empirical, the other involving an active inquiry and referring to observation only by the failure to confirm an anticipated equivalent of one’s imagination. The later is useful and informative, but it is a construct.

Negative concepts or statements are thus never strictly-speaking empirical, and negation is a fundamental building block of reason. A negation is at the outset, by its very definition when introduced by the Subject as a cognitive artifice, logically contradictory to something. It cannot then be said empirically that both percepts A and non-A occur (since saying I ‘see’ non-A in the present field of perception just means I looked for and did not see A in it), nor that neither A nor non-A occur (since if I look and do not see A in the present field of perception, I would conclude non-A for it – though I may remain open-minded about other eventual fields of perception containing A)[62]. A negative concept or statement is therefore fundamentally different from a positive one, and can at best only indirectly ever be characterized as ‘empirical’.

The three laws of thought are logical primaries, involved in all discourse about any phenomenon (and similarly relative to intuitive data, and at a later stage with respect to conceptual discourse itself). They jointly operate in identical ways in every observation, pushing us to admit what we see (identity), not to contradict what we see (non-contradiction), and not to ignore and add possibilities to what we see (exclusion of a middle). To fail to apply them is simply to confuse the given data with additional mental ingredients (fantasies), which neurotically either deny the evidence (mentally replacing it with its contradiction) or question it (by mentally proposing a ‘middle’ term). These laws can be stated as propositions, but they nevertheless have no conceivable alternatives. Any doctrine proposed has to be reconciled with experience somehow, since all discourse is a reaction to experience, an attempt to solve the mystery it presents, so merely ignoring experience does not qualify as reconciliation.

In that sense, it is accurate to say that these laws are laws of thought; they are laws for the mind (the observer). We may say that something is A and not A, or neither A nor not A. But these words have no meaning in experience, no phenomenal referents. They are just words, sounds or drawings that signify nothing, not even an imaginable circumstance. The way we ‘imagine’ them is to stupidly or deliberately confuse a thing and an image of a thing, and project the idea of non-A (instead of non-A itself) next to A (or next to the idea of A) or some such artifice. In other words, the propositions claiming to deny the laws of thought have only a superficial meaningfulness and credibility, due to in fact having referents (ideas) other than those they pretend to have (things). With regard to the original objects of perception, they are in fact silent.

Note well that application or obedience the laws of thought does not involve an imaginative act (a volition); it is on the contrary attempts to ignore or deny them which do, requiring interference of the observer’s imagination in the cognitive process (preempting experience). That is, the laws of thought themselves are objective, it is only their denials that are subjective (in the pejorative sense). The laws of thought thus remain empirically, and epistemically, and therefore epistemologically, undeniable. So much with regard to applications of the laws of thought to perceptual evidence.

With regard to concepts (which derive from comparisons and contrasts, or from subsequent imaginations recombining such concepts) and propositions (imaginations of relations between concepts), they remain always open to doubt, hypothetical, so long as equally credible alternatives are imaginable. Credibility is found in everything experienced or thought, it is merely admittance that such and such has been experienced or thought (thought being a sort of experience, though mental). Ab initio, any two concepts or propositions are compatible, having both been thought. Incompatibility is a later judgment, which follows realization that the concept or proposition somehow directly or indirectly contradicts experiential evidence or leads to internal inconsistency in knowledge or is inherently self-contradictory.[63]

If two such ideas or thoughts are found or not found to be in utter conflict, they both retain the minimal credibility of being at least imaginable, at least till one or both of them is found incoherent with some experience(s) or for some reason unimaginable. If for some reason they are considered to be in conflict, they separately retain some credibility, though their interaction raises a doubt and it is understood that we have to ultimately eliminate at least one of them, removing its temporary credibility with reference to further experiences or abstract considerations. During the phase of doubt, we may refer to their frequencies of confirmation in experience, and regard one as more credible (or likely or probable) than the other.

The job of Logic is, note well, not to exclude as much as possible, but to find ways to include as much as possible, so that all opinions and points of view (which all have some basis and so represent some kind of experience) are accounted for and explained or explained away. Logic is thus not merely, as some contend, search for contradictions, but (this in order to) search for harmonizations.

3.     Words and Intentions

Words are sounds, sights or touch[64] symbols that conventionally refer to phenomena, intuitions and abstracts. As sounds, sights, etc. per se, words are of course themselves phenomena, which can be expressed either materially or mentally as outer or inner speech or writing, being used for personal thought and memory or social communication and knowledge accumulation. Many words have rich natural and historical roots, but they are nonetheless conventional (i.e. arbitrarily chosen), in that they can always be changed at will by consent. Also note, the equations between word-sounds and word-sights (and likewise, felt-words) are also conventional[65].

Words evidently differ from language to language, from one population group to another. A language is a collection of words (vocabulary) used by someone or some group, in accordance with certain accepted rules (grammar). Words, for old or new things, are almost daily coined and adopted by individuals, social groups and societies. Whoever coins a word, for whatever purpose, must intend (chose, convene) some more or less stable signification for it. Without such an intuitive understanding, words cannot have any semantic content.

Words are not mere phenomena, but refer to things; i.e. these auditory, visual or touch phenomena are signs for things (phenomena, intuitions and abstracts) other than themselves. Whether the things they refer to are real or illusory, clear or vague, is not logically relevant to the fact of signification. Signification is a relation, one of equation of sorts, saying (i.e. intending, to repeat) ‘when I mention this word, please think of this thing.’ Words are labels, they have meaning. There are wordless thoughts; indeed most of thought is wordless. In the case of wordless thought, one is conscious of the meaning without use of the label.

Indeed, it is ultimately impossible to understand, use or discuss words without appealing to wordless thoughts. If (as some philosophers claim) words obtained their meanings only by equations to other words, there would be need for an infinity of words; and since that is not possible (language is limited in size, and anyway man has no time for infinite regression), the most basic of words, from which all others derive, would be meaningless; and thus all words would be meaningless. But to claim (in words) that ‘words are all meaningless’ or that ‘words refer only to other words’ is self-contradictory, since such claim itself purports to have understandable and communicable meaning. Such claim is thus not a consistent thesis, and can be rejected once and for all[66]. Therefore, it is logically self-evident that some words are meaningful, and that as well as words with explicit meanings, there are wordless implicit meanings.

The meanings of words, as we said, may be phenomenal objects (e.g. ‘Avi’ refers to an individual physical person, but also ‘person’ refers to all persons), intuitive objects (e.g. ‘I’ or ‘I want’) or abstract objects (e.g. ‘personhood’ or ‘wanting’). But moreover, more importantly, every word implies an intuition – the intention that the word concerned be associated with such and such a meaning being itself an intuitive object. We intend the meaning of a word, not only the first time, when we coin it or learn it, but every time thereafter, whenever we use it. Without such intention, the word remains a mere noise or shape, devoid of meaning for us. Words in themselves are inert; it is our intentions that give them life and power.

Each of us knows (in the way of self-knowledge, intuition) what he means by the words he uses at a given time, whether clearly or vaguely (and whether correctly or erroneously according to previously accepted conventions). This is evident in the fact that when we think or communicate, we do not and do not need to explicitly list out all the words in our language and map all their proposed interrelations; thus, our discourse at any given time is mostly wordless and the words we do use at the time concerned must be admitted to be ultimately wordlessly intended to refer to certain things, whatever they be.

It is therefore incontrovertible that we have self-knowledge of our intentions, with regard to words at least – i.e. the fact of intuition is unavoidably implied at least by the fact of language. This is an interesting and important rational proof of the existence and knowability of at least some intuitive objects (objects of self-knowledge), incidentally. We can confidently say that intuitive objects exist, as any attempted discourse to deny them meaningfully itself logically implies intentions (as to the meanings of the words used) and therefore (some) intuitive objects. Thus, the postulate that there are intuitive objects is not an arbitrary claim, but a hypothesis for which we have found empirical (concrete) confirmation in the fact of language and its rational (abstract) implications.

Putting our ideas (terms, propositions, arguments) into words is called verbalization. Regarding the meaningfulness of words, what misleads many skeptical philosophers is the observation that words often have uncertain, vague and variable meanings. Starting from the assumption that words have to have real, precise and unchanging meanings to be at all meaningful, they conclude that words are otherwise meaningless. But this is a mistaken view, based on the misapprehension of word-meaning as equivalent to definition (by means of other words, as above described) and on a model of knowledge as a closed-circuit and static body of (verbal) information.

In truth, as careful observation of our actual behavior reveals, knowledge acquisition is gradual and adaptive. Our experience is cumulative and our rational reaction to it is a developing and evolving thing. There is no single item or total body of knowledge that stands alone and final; and the interrelationships between items, including the rules of interrelation, are always subject to review and revision. Knowledge is inevitably contextual, implying an unending trial and error process. It is not (verbal) definition that gives meaning to words; definition is only an attempt to put into words and delineate what we already wordlessly intend. A definition is like any other proposition subject to empirical, intuitive and rational checks and balances. It is an inductive product, not a deductive preliminary.

When we come across a new appearance (be it phenomenal, intuitive or abstract), we may find fit to label ‘it’ for purposes of memory and further discourse. What we mean by ‘it’ (a physically, mentally, intuitively or verbally indicated, i.e. pointed-to, object, a ‘this’) is always tentative and open-ended. As we proceed further, thanks to new experiences and reasoning, this intended meaning may become firmer or shift or even entirely dissolve. First, ‘it’ may seem clearly understood; then we come across new phenomena or have new thoughts which make us realize that the initial intention is uncertain or unclear and we have to adjust our focus, and make further differentiations so as to pin-point more precisely what we ‘really’ intended by it; and so on, successively. Sometimes the intention remains unchanged, but our initial verbal definition (if any) may turn out to be inaccurate (too broad or narrow or otherwise inappropriate) and require modification. In some cases, we come to the conclusion that there was no need for a new word, and either abandon it or accept it as a mere synonym. In some cases, we realize that the term was already assigned to some other object, and keep it mind that it is a homonym.

Words are primarily intended to express (assumed) facts, but they may also be used – inadvertently as well as consciously – to signify fictions. We are quite able to distinguish a sensory phenomenon from an imaginary one without demonstrated sensory equivalent, and register the names for each with appropriate caveats. The intended object of a word may at first be thought real (as all appearances tend to be), and then after further information and reflection (which sometimes stretches over centuries), be found illusory. In such cases, the word may be dropped altogether – or kept for historical or literary purposes with the understanding that what it refers to is fictional (e.g. ‘unicorn’). These observations in no way justify a general condemnation of verbalization, but are events we take in stride without difficulty.

4.     A Theory of Universals

Universals’ (a venerable philosophical term) is another word for abstracts, referring firstly to the presumed something underlying identifications of distinct sameness (e.g. the squareness of two square objects[67]), and at a later stage to whatever may lie behind more complex products of conception (involving imagination as well as logic); that is, all the end-results of interpretation, of reasoning about the perceived outer and inner world[68]. Furthermore, we assume that there are also objects of intuition (i.e. self-knowledge)[69], and these may also be compared and reasoned-about, and give rise to concepts.

We can safely assume that, in some cases at least, universals/abstracts/concepts have an ontological significance, and are not merely mental constructs referring to nothing beyond themselves. For to deny all concepts such reality, is to deny truth and meaning to one’s own assertion too, since that skeptical assertion itself is wholly composed of concepts. It follows that at least some concepts must be admitted as having a presence independent of any thought about them. (Precisely which concepts are to be admitted is what the science of Logic is all about.)

As to the nature of universals, my own theory (derived largely from modern physics and Buddhist ideas) would be that universals are, effectively, mathematical formulas. If I compare two waves, all the measurements I perform in doing so can be expressed by means of the algebra of coordinate geometry[70]. Such formulas, or rather the relative measures of the waves’ features, motions and relations signified/implied by the formulas, are what we call ‘universals.’

If the waves making up two particulars are wholly or partly equal or proportional, in respect of their varying shapes and sizes (length, amplitude), positions, trajectories (directions), speed, frequencies of conjunction or non-conjunction with others, then the particulars seem are ‘similar’ to us, and their common measures can be used to define concepts. Thus, universals (portions of waves, or of their histories) can be found in two or more particulars (full waves); and further abstracts can in turn be based on such abstracts (in the way of portions of portions of waves).

The magnitudes or degrees of the features, movements and interactions of waves (universals) are not the waves themselves (particulars), yet the waves cannot exist without having measures. We perceive the waves and we conceive the formulas[71], but both are in a sense equally there, apparent in the phenomenal object of experience. For this reason, even abstracts are sometimes regarded as quasi– or virtually experienced (thus broadening the term ‘experience’ to cover all appearances).

The waves and their measures cannot be dissociated within the field of experience, being respectively entities and attributes or behaviors of entities. What reason does to ‘draw out’ (abstract) the measures, is to focus on them while mentally ignoring the waves (or any images of or symbols for the waves). One cannot normally directly know the measure of a single object; one can only do so by considering and comparing a plurality of (two or more) objects. Even when the intuited self conceives of ‘a self,’ although it has no direct experience of other selves, it refers to the many times it has intuited itself.

Thus, a universal can be said to transcend experience, yet be somewhat in it or immanent – it straddles experience. A universal is not in some metaphysical Platonic repository of Ideas, nor merely in the mind of its beholders (though it may also be there, when some external wave induces a like internal wave in a mind); it is inherent in every complex of wave-forms with the selected common mathematical characteristics.

This explanation is not intended as a mere metaphor– it need not be limited to imagined waves, but can be extended to all concrete existents. If light and gravity are waves, elementary particles are complicated bundles of such waves, sound is a wave (movements of air masses), and if the other sense-modalities are ultimately wave-like (as the electrochemical events associated to sensation suggest), then all material and mental phenomena, including living beings, may be said to be waves.

These waves all occur and travel and interact within a space and time as voluminous as the universe, conceivably as moving deformations of some primordial fabric (the stuff of ‘existence’)[72]. They vary in complexity, ranging from brief and short events (unit waves, say) to the 3-D pulsations of quarks, photons, neutrinos, electrons or atoms, molecules, and to larger and larger collective wave motions of the later. Not just sights and sounds, but all sense-modalities, material or mental, including whole living organisms, are in this view varieties of wave or wave-motion formations.

And perhaps not only objective phenomena, but also subjective (i.e. intuited in/by the Subject) things and events might be supposed to have this fundamental wave character.

Wherever waves (particulars) appear, their measures (abstracts) are inherent in them. So we can say that, although universals are not normally additional extensions in the experiential field (i.e. not themselves discernible wave events), they are still somehow present in it. They are normally only known through interpretative efforts (comparing and contrasting two or more waves). This theory of universals as mere measures of things assumes all things are reducible to wave activity (in some primordial substratum, perhaps – yet not an ether, somehow[73]).

In that case, the complex waves we call the sensations can well be construed as wave signals transmitted from one end of the sense organs via the spine and/or brain[74] over to their other end where the observer observes them. Similarly, memories may be supposed to be wave signals stored and sustained within the brain for occasional recall. That is, the senses transmit energy or fields onward to the Subject, from the ‘outer’ region of his experience, comprising his apparent body and its material surrounds. Memory may thereafter be produced, reverberating with the same vibration.

With this thesis, we are not forced to assume that the waves are distorted in transmission or storage, since our premise is that the terminal wave is a continuation of the initial wave. In such case, the message received (by the observer) does not just resemble the original message (captured by the sense organ’s receptors or stored in memory); it is the original message, which has vibrated through the senses, and possibly memory, to us without refraction. Assuming uniformity, the beginning and end waves are just the same object at a different time – a single traveling (wave) object. They may be of different substance (material, in whatever way, or even a mental product of material waves) and even magnitude (though with due proportions), but their form must remain the same. The universal is that form – the mathematical characteristics (including motions and interactions, as well as features) of the wave.

Thus, when I see or remember a bird, say, I can rightly consider that I am in direct contact with the bird; I am experiencing the waves emitted by the bird that reach over (via the senses, or memory) all the way to me the observer. The waves are the bird, the part of it that flows over into my body. This is not a mystical statement, but one quite physical. Any delimitation of the bird (or any object) in space and time elsewhere than at the very limits of its range of physical effects is arbitrary.[75]

In this view, then, the sense organs (themselves wave complexes, like all matter) are filters for particular classes of waves (fine light waves, gross sound waves, atomic wave bundles, electrochemical bundles of waves, whatever). Each sense organ is capable of receiving and passing on only specific wave-forms[76], leaving out all others; each specializes in a sense-modality (or group of sense-modalities), insensitive to others. The eyes exclude sound waves, the ears ignore light-waves, etc.[77] These waves would be the same in form if they had been encountered immediately and not vibrated though the senses; the senses only isolate them from their context. Therefore, we may indeed not see all the waves out there[78], but those we do see we generally accept as equivalent, as mere continuations of the original disturbance in space and time.[79]

We should also in this context account for another kind of filtering, that of perceptible objects we do not care or take care to perceive. Thus, for example, I ordinarily do not pay attention to the glasses I am wearing or to the chair I am sitting on, and a mass of other sensations. I do not think such uninteresting items are ignored by the sense organs, because then we would not have the choice of perceiving them on occasion. Rather, I think we perceive them faintly, but discard the message, or allow it to enter memory subliminally, without giving it full conscious attention.

Similar comments can be made with regard to memory, note well. Once the sense-object has been perceived by the Subject, after relaying the waves concerned by sensory processes, the wave is stored (electrochemically, as neuroscientists teach us) in the brain. That is, we can well suppose, the wave itself is artificially made to continue existing in the way of some activity in the brain. Thus, in this view, the neurological ‘imprint’ is not a mere coded symbol of the original message, it is the original mathematical message. In such case, even while admitting that the message may occasionally be dampened, hard to recall or even lost, there is no need to figure out how come it (usually) stays the same. When we evoke a memory, or recognize a repetition of a sense-object previously encountered, we merely use the ongoing physical wave deep in the brain to produce a perceptible mental wave, identical in form to the stored one and to its sensory origin, projecting it (as an more or less vivid image) apparently inside our mind (for reminiscence) or outside it (for comparison to the new sense-object).[80]

What is true of memory of sensations is equally applicable to memory of abstracts based on such sensations, since as above postulated such abstracts are merely mathematical aspects of the wave-forms of the original sensations. Thus, we can understand without difficulty how abstracts are concretely stored in memory. As for mental projections (imaginations, perhaps feelings) and objects of intuition, and abstracts derived from them, supposedly they have allied physical vibrations in the brain (i.e. each of those thoughts has a specific physical effect, which therefore ‘corresponds’ to it), which may be stored in memory and recalled.

Some philosophers would object that the waves sensed or remembered may well, for all we know, change form as they tumble through the sense-channels, or within their memory storage. But in such case, we still have to appeal to the senses and memory to invalidate particular sensory or memory experiences – otherwise, how do we claim to know that error occurred? So we can only logically suppose occasional distortion.

They could instead argue that the waves we experience are not as they seem end products of sensory processes, but independent events merely contiguous with them. But in such case, the impressions that we have a body, with a brain, spine and sense organs boiling with activity, would remain unexplained phenomena, leaving a gap or loose end in our understanding of the world experienced. To integrate all phenomena into our world-view, we need to include consideration of the phenomena we call the sense organs, etc., and suggest why they are there, what their role might be in the wider context of experience.

Thus, extreme skepticism is self-defeating, whether by inconsistency or by incompleteness. At first sight, the sensory and memory processes might be supposed refractive, producing an image very different from its origin[81]. We however cannot logically claim that this is definitely true, because such statement would require cognition of sense-objects without reliance on the senses, or of memory-objects without reliance on memory. The critic would be claiming special cognitive privileges not granted to the rest of us.

Our present account approaches the issues from another angle – phenomenologically. Start with the phenomenon as a whole as given; the only issue at stake is then: what is the possible relation between these two aspects of it (the objects classed as external and those classed as mental-images produced by the senses or the brain)? In that case, we may assume that the senses and memory relay the information and do so without affecting it, with much less pretensions. For we only claim to relate together two factors (the material object allegedly sensed or remembered, and the subsequent sensory or memory processes presenting a mental image at the interface with the observer) which are already in the field of consciousness and accepted as existing (whereas the opposite view lays claim to things outside its own awareness by its own admission).

We are only attempting to explain the existing situation, that a process takes place through the senses during perception of physical matter or in the brain during its recognition – what is the role of these evident processes, we ask? If we assume there is always refraction, we are making a statement denying our experience of the matter at hand. But we may well, i.e. consistently, assume that not all sense or memory information is faithfully transmitted, so long as we can determine the matter by some other, more reliable sense-data (and, often, of memory-data). We thus prove that (some) sense and memory data is trustworthy.

We may wish to confirm sense evidence scientifically, by means of experiments showing that the information indeed stays the same from reception by the senses to presentation to the observer, in the way of a physically discernible persistent vibration, whatever its comparative size, depth or substance. Similarly, we could look for an ongoing physical vibration of some sort in the brain, before definitively concluding that memory is stocked as specific wave-forms. But the issue is really not empirical – it is logical (which means in practice that even if we don’t immediately find something, we have to keep looking).

Say we find no evidence of persistent wave-forms; we would alternatively look for fixed formulas that ‘translate’ the original wave in some regular manner, so that even if the final wave does not resemble it they can be correlated. Claiming codification of sense or memory data is not the same as claiming lawless refraction; for uniform refractive processes would simply require that we ‘correct’ our world-view by ‘translation’, whereas random refraction (such that no correspondences whatever can be established) would leave us in confusion. But in the last analysis, even assumption of a regular code is not a viable theory, because it too ultimately makes contradictory claims, that matter is perceived and yet – because of sense or brain interference – is not perceived correctly (which means, not perceived period).

So we must conclude, whatever experiment reveals, that ‘some sense and memory experience is valid’ is a logical truth. That is, no experiment being possible without this truth, none can belie it!

We do not need an epistemological ‘axiom’ to defend sensation and memory as universally reliable. It suffices to consider the products of these faculties as true until and unless found false. That is, the assumption of their essential correctness is an inductive principle, rather that a deductive credo. No artificial forcing of the issue is involved. Every event of sensation or memory is granted initial credibility, while remaining open to eventual sensations or memories that may put the preceding in doubt. When and if particular contradictions occur, they must be sorted out in accordance with normal logic.

It should be noted that the wave theory of universals proposed is the only coherent theory available. If we consider other proposals in the history of philosophy, we find them all to be logically flawed, and so in fact incapable of dealing adequately with the problem of universals. Thus, Plato’s Idealism, according to which the explanation of the common characters of different things experienced in our world are that they reflect certain transcendental “Ideas,” gives a wrong impression of solving the problem while in fact only sweeping it under the carpet. The Ideas existing in a higher world are only less numerous than the things in our lower world, but they are still a plurality with some common characters. In that case, what of their common characters, such as “transcendentalism,” “ideality,” or existence – are they in turn representatives of a single, unitary, top world? And how would this One Grand Idea break down into the Lesser Ideas?

A more immanent view of universals, which could be regarded as effectively the current “common-sense” view, would be that different primary substances are scattered throughout the universe and combine in different ways to produce the things we perceive through the senses. Alternative theories can be proposed as to what to regard as these material substances: they might be distinct sensa (i.e. units of sensed light, sound, etc.), or perhaps qualities (the minimum number required to construct things) rationally inferred from sense data. Some suggest instead that universals may be mental or verbal constructs – i.e. imaginations or subjective inventions or mere words in our heads. Whatever we construe them to be, the (material or mental) theories of universals as substances suffer from the same flaw as Plato’s theory: we are still left with the need to explain a plurality (albeit a smaller one), and derive it from a unity (existence).

5.     Unity In Plurality

The above ‘wave’ theory of universals, granting its premise that everything is ultimately reducible to ‘waves,’ i.e. mobile vibrations in some sort of continuum, leads to the very radical conclusion that ‘all things are one.’

The world as it appears to our touch-organs or to the naked eye – or even the eye aided by microscope or telescope – may give the impression that dimensionless points, lines or surfaces exist in nature, but as Physics has evolved it has become clearer that physical objects do not have precise corners, sides or facades – but fuzzy limits, arbitrarily defined by the visibility to our senses (specifically, sight and touch), aided or unaided, of concentrations of matter or energy.

For example, the tip of my penknife may seem like a sharp “point” to my touch or sight, but it is really – according to physical science (i.e. upon further investigation and reflection) – a rough, voluminous conglomerate of atoms, which are themselves complexes of smaller and smaller particles (electrons, protons and neutrons, seemingly some distance ‘apart’ from each other, etc.), which are themselves without beginning or end being really vague clusters of waves. Similarly with regard to the cutting edge or flat sides of my penknife.

Indeed, if one takes these considerations to their extreme conclusion, one could say that no object has a beginning or end, every object stretches to the ends of the universe or to infinity, and what we refer to as a specific individual object is merely the most humanly visible or concentrated part of that whole, which we arbitrarily or conventionally consider a separable unit (and habitually name, to solidify our viewpoint). So that ultimately, there are in fact no individual objects, but only ripples in the single object that is the universe as a whole.

Where does an atom (or any other body) begin or end, granting that all consists of waves? If we see a star billions of miles away, on what basis do we say that the star ends over there, while the “light from the star” is here? Rather, we ought to say that the light we see is part of the star, i.e. that it extends all the way to us (at and through our visual sense organs, and on to our memory) and beyond. At what distance from the star do the gases or the light it emits cease to ‘belong’ to it, and are to be considered as ‘separate’ bodies? The cut-off point can only be arbitrary, i.e. mere convention. Gravity operates at astronomical distances. What objective ground do we have for distinguishing a field from its apparent origin? Furthermore, stars are in constant flux, arising in time and disappearing in time. At what point in time (as well as space) may we claim that the matter and energy we now call a star is ‘not yet’ or ‘no longer’ a star? Surely, the quarks from which the star emerged were already ‘the star’ and when the star bursts or is absorbed into a black hole it is still ‘the star.’ We ourselves are stardust – does that mean that the stars in question became us, or that being a star – from the beginning of time to its end – includes eventual human forms?

In this view, every entity in the universe stretches out with every other to fill the whole space and time of the universe! And if we say this, we might as well say  – without any mystical intent, though in agreement with Buddhist mystics – that all things are one. There are just more intense concentrations of matter or energy here and there, now and then, in one continuous field, but nowhere dividing lines. Because we perceive only fractions of the totality, only the aspects involving the sense-modalities, we isolate small blobs of the whole as individual phenomena. All phenomena perceived are centers of complex wave activities in the universal fabric; We ‘individuate’ phenomena with reference to the sense-modalities they exhibit which are accessible to our senses. We regard as delimiting an individual object in space and time such perceivable fraction (visible to the senses) of the wave activity stretching to the ends of the universe – ignoring its larger invisible extensions, later induced by reason. Thus, all individuation is fantasy (this can be known by rational considerations, as here), reinforced by naming (itself a sense-modality phenomenon, by the way). In which case, strictly speaking, nothing is divisible at all.

That would seem to be a correct view of our physical world in the context of present knowledge – the hypothesis most consistent with experience, experiment and current scientific theorizing. We thus, provided we anticipate the results of Physics and claim that some sort of unified field theory is sure to be established, and provided we stretch that assumption to include wave explanations of the mental and spiritual domains, arrive at a concept of the world as ‘unity in plurality’ – a harmonious marriage of the philosophies of Pluralism and Monism. Heraclitus was right – everything is ultimately motion (i.e. waves) and Parmenides was right too – everything is ultimately one thing (i.e. the medium subject to waves).

We could even view this conclusion as a justification of the Buddhist view that “all things are empty!” For instance, the message of The Diamond Sutra seems to be that all objects material or spiritual are infinite vortices with no beginning and no end. They are neither categorical as they seem; nor can they be surely declared hypothetical, being delimited merely by our naming of them, but having no sure limits in themselves so far as we know so that they are therefore effectively boundless.

We have already, inspired by Buddhist doctrine, concurred with them that individuation is a man-made artifice. But even granting that we might legitimately, out of mere convenience, focus on specific places and durations of the universe, because a disturbance ‘stands-out’ there and then in relation to our senses – we are still left with the question as to what it is that is disturbed? What is the medium or substratum of all wave motions? We are tempted to view it as a stuff and call it “existence,” or like Descartes call it “the ether.” The problem is that since the Michelson-Morley experiment on the velocity of light such a substance underlying waves has apparently been discredited. These physicists measured the velocity of light in the same direction as our planet’s motion and in the opposite direction. To everyone’s surprise, they found the velocity identical either way. This was eventually explained by Albert Einstein as indicative that there is no absolutely stationary substratum or “ether” relative to which wave motions occur, and he built his famous theory of Relativity as an alternative world-view (such that space and time coordinates are depend on the velocity of the observer relative to what he measures).

Thus, although when we think of waves, and mathematically work out their motions and interactions, we regard them as disturbances within some medium, it turns out that there is no such medium according to experimental indices! On this basis, we can agree with Buddhist philosophers that (surprisingly, incomprehensibly) nothing is being waved – i.e. that the ultimate nature of “existence” is “emptiness.” And there is no need of high meditation or mystical insight to arrive at this conclusion – it is seemingly justified by ordinary experience and reason (scientific experiment and theory).

5.   The Self

1.     The Self

According to our account, the ‘self’ is first noticed experientially, through a faculty of intuition. This same assumed faculty (of the self) is able to experience the self’s cognitions, volitions and affections (i.e. its ‘functions’), as well as the self itself. Neither the self nor its said immediate functions have any phenomenal characteristics, so they cannot be perceived. The fact that they cannot be perceived does not however imply that they do not exist; in their case, to repeat, another kind of experiential cognition is involved, that of ‘intuition.’ Cumulative experiences of self and its functions allow us to construct concepts of self, cognition, volition and valuation.

Additionally, we regard self and its functions as having mental and material effects. Imaginations and mental feelings, as well as bodily movements and sentiments, are considered (within our current world-view) as indirectly caused by the self, through its more immediate exercise of cognitive, volitional and emotional powers. What is caused by the self is not strictly speaking ‘part of’ the self, yet it still ‘belongs to’ the self in the sense of being its responsibility. This extended sense of self may be said to have phenomenal characteristics.

Moreover, apparently, the moment we but experience anything phenomenal, or think in abstract terms, or make choices or take action or feel emotions of any sort, a person as the grammatical subject seems logically required. That is, an ‘I’ doing these things seems to us implied. Every object appearing give rise to a parallel awareness of a Subject to whom it appears and a relation of consciousness between it and the object. Similarly, every act of volition or valuation, however devoid of phenomenal characteristics, arouses in us the conviction that an Agent (or author or actor) is involved. This is called ‘self-consciousness,’ but it is somewhat inaccurate to do so, because what is involved here is not only intuition of self, and eventual perceptual experiences, but also a logical insight, something abstract and conceptual.

We conceive the self, in its strict sense, as composed of a uniform substance that we label ‘spiritual’ (to distinguish it from matter and mind). We also conceive it as an entity that we call ‘soul,’ which underlies all events and changes relative to the self (i.e. its functions), constituting an abiding and unifying continuity[82].

Contrary to what some people presume and some philosophers (pro or con) suggest, to assume (whether intuitively or conceptually) a soul or spiritual entity underlying cognition, volition and valuation, does not logically necessitate that such entity be eternal. Constancy in the midst of variation does not imply that a soul has neither beginning nor end in time (or space). Just as a material or mental entity is conceived as something permanent relative to certain transient aspects of it, and yet as a whole transient relative to the universe, so in the case of a spiritual entity, it too may well have a limited world-line in space-time.

Intuition, perception and logical insight only necessitate the existence of one self – the Subject of these acts of consciousness. Solipsism remains conceivable. Our common belief that there are many souls like our own one in the world is a conceptual construct and hypothesis, which as such is perfectly legitimate and indeed helps to explain many experiences. Also not excluded is the belief that there is really only one big Soul (that perhaps pervades or transcends the universe of matter and mind), underlying the apparent small soul(s) – this is the belief of monotheism. That is, belief in a soul does not prejudge the issue of individuation. Just as material entities may, upon reflection, be considered as all mere ripples in a universal fabric, so possibly in the case of spiritual entities.

But such ripples might be permanent or transient. There is no logical necessity to assume that upon dying the soul lives on elsewhere (in a heaven or hell), or that it remains or is reborn on earth in some form, though such possibilities are not to be excluded offhand. The difficulty with any idea of transmigration is to experientially demonstrate some sort of transfer of spirit or energy (karmic reaction) from one incarnation to the next. To imagine some such transfer, to assert it to occur, is no proof. I cannot either think of any theory for which a ‘law of conservation of spirit’ might be a hypothetical necessity to explain certain empirical data.

Moreover, to posit the existence of a soul does not necessarily imply that this substance, anymore than the substance of imaginations, can exist outside and independently of the material substance. The spirit may be just an epiphenomenon of the peculiar cluster of matter which constitutes the biological entity of a living, animal, human body, coming into being when it is born (or a few months earlier) and ceasing to be when it dies.

(Notwithstanding, we may just as well posit that matter and mind are more complex arrangements of spiritual stuff, as claim that spirit and mind are finer forms of matter; ultimately, the distinctions may be verbal rather than substantial.)

The question as to where in relation to the body the soul is located, whether somewhere in the region of the brain or throughout the body, remains moot. Also, the soul might be extended in the space of matter or a mere point in it. But such issues are for most purposes irrelevant.

Many philosophical questions arise around the concept of self, and it is legitimate to try to answer them if possible. But one should not forget the central issue: who or what if anything is the Subject of consciousness? This question arises as soon as we are conscious, and cannot be bypassed by any sleight of hand.

As already mentioned, some Buddhist philosophers deny existence to the Subject, self, soul or spirit. Insofar as their argument is based on the impossibility of pinpointing perceptible qualities of the soul, it carries some conviction. In the West, David Hume presented a similar argument. But their attempt to explain away the common impression that we have a soul by making a distinction between relative/illusory existence and independent/real existence is confused[83].

Buddhist philosophers explain our belief that we have a self as an illusion to due the overlap of innumerable perceptual events (sensations and imaginations), called dharmas, which we mentally integrate together by projecting a self at their center. They have an ontological theory of ‘co-dependence’ or ‘interdependence,’ according to which not only the self but all assumed essences are mere projections arising in our minds, due to things having no existence by themselves (solitary and independent) but existing only in (causal and other) relations to all other things[84].

I want to here suggest in passing how the co-dependence theory itself may have erroneously arisen. Every theory has a kernel of truth, which gives it credence; the problem with some theories is that they have a husk of falsehood, which must be separated out. In the case of this theory, the error is a confusion between ontology and epistemology. I would agree that no item of knowledge is true independent of all others. Any appearance has by virtue of at all appearing (as an experience or as a claim in abstract discourse) a quantum of credibility. This basic minimum does not by itself definitively suffice to make that appearance ‘true.’ It merely grants the appearance consideration in the overall scheme of things. Only after each and every item has been confronted and weighed against all other items, may we terminally declare those that have passed all tests ‘true.’ Thus, the truth of anything is not only due to the initial drop of credibility in it, but to the final combined force of all drops of credibility in all available data.

Buddhist philosophers have, by imprecise thinking, turned this methodological fact into an idea that there is ‘real’ universal co-dependence. Moreover, their theory is that existents are apparent only because an infinity of ‘relations’ crisscross. These relations are claimed ‘empty’ of terms, i.e. they are relations relating ‘nothings’ to each other. It is not said what sort of existents these relations themselves are, and why they are exempt of being in turn mere products of yet other relations ad infinitum. It is not said how an infinity of zeros can add up to a non-zero. By way of contrast, note that in my epistemological version each item of appearance has an initial drop of ‘credibility,’ and the final product has a truth value that can be equated to the sum of all such initial quanta. It is not an interdependence of zeros.

As for consciousness, Buddhists regard it as directly accessible to itself, in high meditation at least. This is what they seem to intend by expressions like ‘no-mind,’ or consciousness ‘empty’ of any content, without object other than itself. They thus seem to posit the possibility of an instance of the relation of consciousness turned on itself (as against the ordinary view of ‘self-consciousness’ – which is ‘consciousness of consciousness of something other than consciousness’[85]). This could be interpreted as a tacit admission by them of the possibility of intuition. Observe also, they often use the terms Subject, consciousness and mind interchangeably, which gives rise to confusions and errors.

It is worth noting in passing that terms like ‘no-mind’ or ‘emptiness’ are negative – and, as earlier pointed out, negation is a rational act. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to regard these concepts as based on ideational construction. Buddhists who use them claim them to refer to a positive experience. The negative names are only intended to stress that the content of such experience is incomparable to any other.

The phenomenological approach to the above issues is different. To begin with, it is sufficient to stress the doctrinal aspect of Subject and consciousness. Whether we grasp them intuitively, through perception or conceptually, what matters most is the role they play in our arrangement of knowledge, in our view of the world. If their assumption enables us to propose a consistent and repeatedly confirmed explanation of the appearance of phenomena, i.e. that they appear (somehow, we do not know just how) primarily through senses or using memory and imagination, to an entity with a mind and a body surrounded by a physical world, and so forth – then their worth and truth is inductively proved.

The concepts of Subject and consciousness are not loose, arbitrary inserts in the puzzle of knowledge, but interdependent items in a complex structure. They are part and parcel of the collection of concepts through which our experiences are made to seem intelligible; that is all. They need only be claimed to be hypotheses; we need not reject alternatives offhand, if any credible alternatives are proposed. Our security is based not on an anxious attachment to one more dogma, but on the track record of these concepts together with others like them in putting certain issues to rest.

The ‘self’ could be considered as phenomenal, in the sense that phenomena are perceived as modified (refracted or somewhat shifted) by some presumed presence, which is assumed to be the self of the perceiver. The self is thus phenomenal indirectly, by virtue of being ‘inferable’ from phenomena. This is normal inductive procedure: some empirical event stands out and is explained by some hypothesis or other, which is found coherent and thereafter repeatedly confirmed (unless or until specifically refuted by logic or experience).

To illustrate the thinking involved: If I look at the surface of a body of water and see that the general pattern of the waves is broken someplace, I mentally outline the area that seems affected (i.e. which has a different ripple pattern) and also propose some reason for the modification (e.g. rocks below the surface, a gust of wind, the passage of a boat, and so forth). Similarly, if I see a shadow, I assume something to be casting it (i.e. to be blocking the light); and according to the shape of the shadow, I estimate what that thing might be.

Buddhism seems to intend to interdict this thought process. It tells us not to infer anything behind the perceived ‘modification’ in the phenomenal field, but take it as is. For Buddhism, to speak of ‘modification’ is already an artificial isolation and thus a distortion of fact; it is a projection of ‘form’ onto content, implying extraneous activities of comparison and contrast. Moreover, to seek a ‘cause’ that explains the modification is merely to add another layer of projection to an already eclipsed empirical reality. This is true not only with regard to assuming things have underlying ‘essences’, but also regarding the assumption of a ‘self’ perceiving and inferring. Better, we are told, to look upon phenomenal events (the visible ripples or shadow, for instances) and see them as they are, rather than see them as indicative of other things and get lost looking for such phantasms.

This argument may seem to carry conviction, but it is not consistent. Being itself a conceptual discourse of the kind it criticizes, it throws doubt upon itself. We may well admit the interferences involved in conceptual thought (as in the functions of isolation, projection of outline, comparison and contrast, causal reasoning, hypothesizing), without thereby having to deny its validity when properly carried out. Indeed, this is the only consistent position.

Furthermore, my own position is that our own soul (or self) is not only inferred from the appearance of phenomena, but also directly ‘intuited’ – or at least inferred from intuitions. Certainly, the soul’s non-phenomenal functions (consciousness, volitions, preferences) have to be directly intuited, as they cannot be fully explained with reference to mental and material phenomena. Possibly, the soul is in turn inferred from these intuitions; or equally possibly, it is itself directly intuited. To my knowledge, Buddhism does not take this phenomenological thesis into consideration, nor of course refute it.

2.     Factors of the “Self”

With regard to the concept of self, we need to identify the various ways we develop belief in a self, i.e. the bases for such a concept in practice, i.e. what we rightly or wrongly identify ourselves with. The following are some examples to be expanded upon:

  1. We personally identify with sensations of and in the body, including touch and other sensations that present us with its extension and delimit its boundaries in relation to a perceived more “outside” world, as well as visceral physical sensations and sentiments. Thus, we feel and see and hear and smell and taste our “own” body, or parts thereof, and identify with the sum of these perceptions. This is due largely to the enormous ‘presence’ of the body in our experience, its insistent and loud manifestation. It demands so much of our attention that we become focused on it almost exclusively.

Consider how (most) people confuse themselves (to a large extent) with their sensual urges and emotions. If they feel hunger pangs, they rush for food. If they feel a sex urge, they either grab a mate or masturbate. If they feel like alcohol, tobacco or a drug, they readily indulge. In search of sensations they engage in endless chatter, or watch movies or listen to music. People commonly think that when they feel pride or self-pity, or love or hate for someone, they are in contact with their innermost being[86]. We confuse every urge or sentimentality with ourselves, and therefore uncritically think that satisfying it is imperative to do ourselves good.

  1. We identify with our perceptions of the world beyond our “own” body, the “outside” world. Although these experiences are considered external to us and transient, they serve to define us personally in that they are a specific range of actualities within the larger field of possibilities. That is, we identify with our life story, our personal context and history, our particular environment and fate. We forget that we are fallible, and ignore the role chance plays in our lives.

We learn a lot about ourselves, not only by introspection while alone, but also by observing one’s behavior in relation to the external world, the challenges of nature and interactions with other people. We also learn about ourselves through observing other people’s behavior, and recognizing our own similar patterns of behavior in them.

  1. We identify with our memories and fantasies (including anticipations of the future, our ideals and plans, idle dreams, etc.) – our mental projections. We see our identities in terms of our specific past experiences and adventures, and our present desires and expectations for the future. Obviously, this aspect is not merely perceptual, but implies a conceptual framework, which generates certain thoughts and emotions. Even if these are gradually changing, we identify with their evolution and direction of change, as well as with their constant elements[87].
  2. We identify with our past and present beliefs and choices. This aspect relates to Consciousness and the Will, which format our distinctiveness and identity, as well as our insights, thoughts, behavior, whims, values, pursuits and emotions. Implied here is what I have called the intuition of self – i.e. self-knowledge in a serious sense. We also identify with our presumed future choices, that is to say what we expect or intend or are resolved or plan to do.
  3. Similarly, we identify with our verbal and pre-verbal discourse. As evident in meditation, not all thoughts are in fact generated by ourselves. We are passive recipients to many or most of them. They just pop up in our minds as non-stop mental noise, repetitive nonsense, compulsive chatter. But most of us usually assume possession of such internal events, regard ourselves as their authors, and therefore define our selves in relation to them.
  4. A very important self-identification is that with our mental image of oneself, be it largely realistic or fanciful. This includes memories and fantasies – in all the sense-modalities – of our facial and bodily features and expressions, character traits, voice and handwriting, and other aspects of personality, as well as of our thoughts and actions. The memories and fantasies are based on reflections in mirrors and pictures and other visual and auditory recordings of oneself, as well as direct perceptions of parts of one’s body and its movements and of one’s inner world.

This self-image is what we would most readily refer to if asked to point to one’s self. The important thing to note about it is that it is a construct, a mental projection – it is not to be confused with the self that cognizes, wills or values. It is an effect, not a cause. It has no power of cognition, volition or emotion, but is only an image that may influence the real self.

Egotism or self-love is having an exaggerated opinion of one’s own worth (beauty, intelligence, etc.). One of the main attributes or behavior-patterns of the “ego” (in the colloquial pejorative sense) is its stupid conceit.[88]

  1. In formulating our personal identity, we are also influenced positively or negatively by how other people see us or imagine us. Their perceptions or conceptions about us may, of course, be true or false. We must also be aware of the distinction between: how we know them to see us or imagine us – and how we imagine that they do.

These issues are further complicated by the fact of social projection: we often try to project images socially, through our discourse and behavior, in attempts to influence our own and other people’s judgments about us. Thus, we may deliberately subconsciously edit our self-image for ourselves – modifying, withholding or adding information – till we lose track of realities concerning ourselves. And even when we do it just to confuse or mislead other people (in order to gain material or social benefits from them), we may end up ourselves losing track.

This factor plays an important part in social bonding and regulation, but it can also become tyrannical. So many people pass all their lives trying to influence other people into seeing them in a certain way, so as to gain their love, respect or admiration. And if they cannot in fact fit in to assumed social demands, they will pretend to fit in.[89]

  1. As the Buddhists rightly point out, our ego also defines itself with reference to its alleged external “possessions”. “Who am I? – I am the one who owns this and that… I am the husband of this woman, the father of these children, the descendant of these ancestors, the owner of this house and these riches, the leader of a corporation, the recipient of a literary prize, the winner of a competition, etc.” Note well, included here are not only material possessions, but also possession of people in whatever sense (sexual conquest, political domination, etc.) and abstract possessions (I wrote this essay, etc.).

To some extent, this identification of “me” with “mine” is an expression of the earlier listed more internal factors: “This is my shadow, because I have this body,” “I own these things or people, because I have certain character traits and made certain choices, thus developing a certain history,” we tell ourselves. But additionally, as Buddhists stress, it serves as territorial expansion for the ego, solidifying its existence, further anchoring it to the world.

Egoism or selfishness is looking after one’s own (assumed) interests, exclusively or predominantly. One of the main attributes or behavior-patterns of the “ego” (in the colloquial pejorative sense) is its arrogant grabbing, irrespective of who is harmed thereby. ‘Looking after Number One,’ as the saying goes.

  1. The fact that each of us may be referred to by a proper name (or pronouns that temporarily replace it) also, as Buddhism stresses, serves to impose and solidify in our minds the idea that we have a distinct self. Things referred to only by means of a common name (e.g. “a man”) have less identity for us.

We can include here all the conventional aspects of our identity: our ID card, for instance. This relates to considerations of group membership: membership in a family (family name, birth certificate), a nation (naturalization certificate, passport), a social class (rich or poor, commoner or ruler, different educational levels and professions), a religious denomination, an organization or a club. All these factors add to our “identity” largely[90] by mutual agreement, as does a name.

  1. The theoretical concept of self or soul is also projected onto one’s self – “I am this abstract entity”. Whether this concept is true or false is irrelevant here; what matters is that there is such a theoretical projection for most educated people, i.e. we do identify with the self conceived by religions, philosophies and psychologies.

For religion, the focus is on the enduring substance of the self (soul, spirituality) and on its moral responsibility and perfectibility (freedom of the will). The main feature of the philosophical self is that it is reflexive: it points back to the person who is conscious and willful, it is both Subject and Object, both Agent and Patient. Psychology is more focused on the existential intricacies of the self, some of which are indicated herein.

As colloquial use of these terms makes clear, the concept of ego is not identical with that of self. The ego is a creature of the self. When we feel insecure, we may seek to reassure ourselves by engaging in ‘ego-trips.’ This refers to comparative and competitive tendencies, such as domination, pursuit of admiration, or acquisitiveness. Power, fame and/or fortune gives us the impression of having an advantage over other people, and thus of being better able than them to cope with life. What we call our ego, then, is the petty side or product of ourselves. By giving this a name, we can distance ourselves from it, and discuss it and hopefully cure it. This field of psychology of course deserves (and gets) much study and elaboration.

3.     Identification-With

The recurring term in the above treatment is “identify with” – just what does it mean and indicate? It refers to some sort of epistemic and psychological mechanism, through which each of us assumes for a while himself or herself to have a certain identity described in imagination and verbally.

With regard to the mechanism through which we identify with each of these aspects of selfhood, consider how after meeting an impressive person, or reading a book on ethics or a novel, or hearing a song or seeing a movie, one may be susceptible to identifying for a while with the person or personality-type or protagonist encountered. One may go so far as to virtually become one with this role model for a while – not by conscious artifice, role-play or imitation, but by a sort of “personality induction”.

One’s thoughts, attitudes and actions echo the model’s, and one may even experience that one’s body feels like his[91]. The way the latter experience occurs is that one interprets one’s body sensations through the memory image one has of the model. More precisely, the touch sensations coming from one’s face or the rest of one’s body are mentally unified by means of that image (instead of one’s own). This integrative mechanism relates to the ‘correlation of modalities,’ and involves a visual projection (either internal or hallucinatory).

I[92] posit two senses of “self” – (a) the real self, a natural entity with some continuity while existing, perhaps a spiritual epiphenomenon emerging within living matter of some complexity, which self is the Subject of consciousness and Agent of Will; and (b) the imagined self or ego, a constructed presumed description of the self, which has no consciousness or will, but is itself a product of them. The former is our factual identity, the latter is what we delusively identify with, by confusing it with knowledge of our identity.

Initially, the ego is constructed as a legitimate attempt to summarize information directly or indirectly produced by the real self. But the project gets out of hand, in view of its extreme complexity and the superhuman demands of objectivity and honesty involved. So in contrast to our identity – or more precisely, knowledge of our identity – we find ourselves facing a partly or largely fanciful construct, which does not entirely correspond to the original. This falsely projected identity influences the real self negatively, causing it to lose touch with itself. The ego thus involves some self-awareness, plus a lot of bull. It is a half-truth, which interferes with proper cognition, volition and valuation, and so presents us with epistemological, psychological, behavioral, emotional and social problems to be solved. The best solution is regular meditation, which allows us to gradually sort out the grain from the chaff, and return to a healthy and realistic self-knowledge.

Thus, we have two concepts of self, logically distinguished as follows.

  1. One concept is ideal, in that its object or content is the real self, the self as it really is however that be. This is a hypothetical, philosophical concept, because it points to something that we know somewhat but not really in detail; we need it to be able to say something about the assumed real self, so we have this separate, minimalist concept, which is by definition true, i.e. the receptacle of whatever happens to be true.
  2. The other concept is the practical one, wherein we readily build up our knowledge and imagination concerning the self. This one is by definition flawed, because all knowledge is somewhat flawed since we are fallible, and all the more so knowledge of the self, because of the subjectivities and psychological and social pressures involved in its formulation. The object or content of this concept is partly the real self (basic knowledge) and largely the imagined self (some true propositions, some false). For this reason, we distinctively name the referent “ego,” to stress that for most of us the concept is bound to be considerably untrue.

Thus, it is correct to say, as the Buddhists do, that the self, in the sense of ego, does not exist. For it is the object or content of a concept known to be partly untrue for most people (all except the “Enlightened”, if they exist). In a strict sense, then, there is no ego, the concept is empty, has no real referent[93] – what it intends in practice does not in fact exist, but involves projections of the imagination and verbal constructions. Nevertheless, the self, in the minimalist sense, exists. The concept of it collects only our true and sure knowledge about the self, to the exclusion of any fanciful details.

The reader may have remarked that even while valiantly fighting the Buddhist doctrine of “no-self,” I remain intrigued and attracted by it[94]. Especially since that philosophy seems to claim that it is only by throwing off the idea that we have a self that we can achieve enlightenment and liberation. I do not want to make the proverbial mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water. One possible interpretation of this doctrine, that would explain it while retaining the concept of soul (which to me still seems unavoidable), would be that it is intended to counteract our above described tendency to identify with some of the factors of self.

When we identify with some theoretical or fantastic idea of the self, we are merely projecting a phenomenal self and saying “that’s me!” A projected image is confused with the one projecting it. This is very different from being aware of one’s real self through direct intuition of it. Thus, we are effectively told, “if you want to find yourself, don’t look for yourself in different concepts or images, but simply look into your soul. Rather than thinking of yourself or worse still thinking up a self for yourself, just be yourself and you will thus naturally get to know yourself.” Perhaps it is that simple.

The self-ego distinction can be illustrated with reference to Figure 2.

The innermost concentric circle (called soul, and including the functions of cognition, volition and valuation) symbolizes the self in the most accurate sense of the term. This is sometimes called the real or true self, or higher or deeper self, to variously signify its relative position.

The circles labeled mind and body (including their stated functions) together constitute the ego, or ‘self’ in an inaccurate sense of the term. This is sometimes called the illusory or false self, or lower or shallower self, to variously signify its relative position. (To be sure, more materialistic people identify especially with their body, whereas more mental people identify especially with their mind. But mind and body are inextricably intertwined, in their sensory, motor, emotional and intellectual functions.)

The important thing to realize is that soul (the self) is of a different substance (spirit) than mind or matter (the ego). The former is the core of one’s existence; the latter are mere outer shells. When we identify with the ego instead of soul, we lose touch with our actual position as observer, doer and feeler.

4.     Ideal and Practical Concepts

Now, the above insights concerning the concept of self can be generalized to all concepts. That is, the same logical analysis can be applied in relation to any predication. We have on the one hand an ideal concept of some established object, which by definition contains only truths, known or yet unknown, about the object. And on the other hand, we have the practical concept, which we know to be inductive, subject to change – development, correction and improvement – and therefore by definition to some knowable but unknown extent untrue. The ideal concept thus has a wholly real (though relatively bare) content, whereas the practical concept has a partly real and partly unreal (though much richer) content.

Strictly speaking, then, the practical concept intends a non-existent object, while the ideal concept allows us to intend the nevertheless existing object. We need both of them for our discourse; they are complementary. The ideal concept is one portion of the practical, which also includes more doubtful elements or aspects. Careful knowledge acquisition, which may be aided by meditation, consists in being at all times aware to the maximum extent of the epistemological status (true or false, or certain or uncertain to what degree) of each item of knowledge. That is, to know at any given time what part of each concept is the basic-ideal part and what remainder is the tentative-practical part. To remember at all times that knowledge is something always in flux, which it is our responsibility to evaluate repeatedly to remain in touch with reality.

Just as the Buddhists deny “selfhood” to people, they deny “essence” to all other things. For them, this is one and the same error; the former being just a special case of, or alternatively causing, the latter. Our explanation of their position would be that they are referring to what we have just called practical concepts: their contents are indeed unlikely to fully correspond to real essence or selfhood. As for ideal concepts, they are not “empty,” since their intention is by definition whatever happens to be real, whether or not it is known. Even in Buddhism, concepts like those of “mind ground” or “nirvana” must be admitted to be exceptions to the rule of emptiness, since they are effectively treated as the ultimate essence of things and people.

Notwithstanding, with a view to keeping an open mind in relation to this interesting Buddhist doctrine, we should at least experimentally attempt to construct a meditation and discourse gradually free from projections of self and the subject-predicate relation (predication).

For instance, in meditation, instead of thinking “I must become aware of my breath”, think “become aware of breath” (thus diverting attention away from self, though still with an injunction), then think “awareness of breath” (thus getting away from a sense of active willing, of intensifying awareness and directing it towards the breath), then think “breath” (thus removing the relation implied by “of”), then just be wordlessly aware of breath (a pure phenomenon).

Thus, without adhering to Nagarjuna’s fallacious discourse[95], gradually pursue wordless awareness, dropping the “I” (Subject), then instead of propositions (which use subjects and predicates) use only lone terms (verbalized concepts), then focus on the content of such terms (the event intended, without the word), then abandon the injunction to “think” of it and just experience such content inactively. All this merely goes back down the chain of conceptualization, and it is of course easier to learn not to go up it in the first place (at least not during such meditation).

5.     Fallacious Criticisms of Selfhood

Since writing Buddhist Illogic, I have been reviewing Buddhist arguments against selfhood more carefully, and I must say that – while they continue to inspire deeper awareness of philosophical issues in me – I increasingly find them unconvincing, especially with regard to logical standards.

Buddhists conceive of the self as a non-entity, an illusion produced by a set of surrounding circumstances (‘causes and conditions’), like a hole in the middle of a framework (of matter or mind or whatever). But I have so far come across no convincing detailed formulation of this curious (but interesting) thesis, no clear statement that would explain how a vacuity can seemingly have consciousness, will and values. Until such a theory is presented, I continue to accept self as an entity (call it soul) of some substance (spirit, say). Such a self is apparently individual, but might well at a deeper level turn out to be universal. The individuation of soul might be an illusion due to narrow vision, just as the individuation of material bodies seems to be.

Criticisms of the idea of self are no substitute for a positive statement. It is admittedly hard to publicly (versus introspectively) and indubitably demonstrate the existence of a soul, with personal powers of cognition, volition and affection. But this theory remains the most credible, in that the abstract categories it uses (entity, substance, property, causality) are already familiar and functional in other contexts. In contrast, the impersonal thesis remains mysterious, however open-minded we try to be. It may be useful for meditation purposes, but as a philosophical proposition it seems wanting.

Generally speaking, I observe that those who attempt to rationalize the Buddhist no-self thesis indulge in too-vague formulations, unjustified generalizations and other non sequiturs. A case in point is the work Lotus in a Stream by Hsing Yun[96], which I have recently reread. The quotations given below as examples are from this work.

“Not only are all things impermanent, but they are also all devoid of self-nature. Having no self-nature means that all things depend on other things for their existence. Not one of them is independent and able to exist without other things” (pp. 86-87).

Here, the imprecision of the term “existence” or “to exist” allows for misrepresentation. Western thought would readily admit that all (or perhaps most) things come to be and continue to be and cease to be and continue to not-be as a result of the arrival, presence, departure or absence of a variety of other things. But that is very different from saying that their being itself is dependent: for us, facts are facts, i.e. once a thing is a past or present fact, nothing can change that fact, it is not “dependent” on anything. Yet, I contend, Buddhists seem to be trying to deny this, and cause confusion by blurring the distinction between change over different time and place, and change within identical time and place.

“The meaning of the word ‘things’ in these statements is all phenomena, both formed and formless, all events, all mental acts, all laws, and anything else you can think of.”

Here, the suggestion is that impermanence concerns not only phenomena, which strictly speaking are material or mental objects of perception, but also abstract objects. The terms “formless” and “laws” and “anything you can think of” suggest this. But of course such a statement surreptitiously slips in something we would not readily grant, though we would easily admit that phenomena are impermanent. The whole point of a “law” is that it is a constant in the midst of change, something we conceive through our rational faculty as the common character of a multitude of changing phenomenal events. The principle of Impermanence is not supposed to apply to abstracts. Indeed, it is itself an abstract, considered not to be impermanent!

“To say that nothing has a self-nature is to say that nothing has any attribute that endures over long periods of time. There is no ‘nature’ that always stays the same in anything anywhere. If the ‘nature’ of a thing cannot possibly stay the same, then how can it really be a nature? Eventually everything changes and therefore nothing can be said to have a ‘nature,’ much less a self-nature.”

Here, the author obscures the issue of how long a period of time is – or can be – involved. Even admitting that phenomena cannot possibly endure forever, it does not follow that they do not endure at all. Who then is to say that an attribute cannot last as long as the thing it is an attribute of lasts? They are both phenomena, therefore they are both impermanent – but nothing precludes them from enduring for the same amount of time. The empirical truth is: some attributes come and/or go within the life of a phenomenal thing, and some are equally extended in time. Also, rates of change vary; they are not all the same. The author is evidently trying to impose a vision of things that will comfort his extreme thesis.

We can, incidentally, conceive of different sorts of continuity of conjunctions of phenomena (see Figure 4). An essential attribute of a thing would coexist fully, like an underlying thread of equal time length. A weaker scenario of continuity would be a chaining of different events, such that the first shares some time with the second, which shares some with the third, and so forth, without the first and third, second and fourth and so on having time in common. In some cases, continuity may be completely illusory, in that events succeed each other contiguously in time without sharing any time.

Hsing Yun goes on arguing:

“the body… is a delusion caused by a brief congregation of the physical and mental components of existence Just as a house is made of many parts that create an appearance, so the body… When those parts are separated, no self-nature will be found anywhere.”

That a house or human body is an aggregate of many separable elements, does not prove that when these elements are together (in a certain appropriate way, of course) they do not collectively produce something new. The whole may be more than its constituent parts, because the whole is not just the sum of the parts but an effect of theirs. The bricks of a house do not just add up to a house, but together become a house when placed side by side in certain ways; if placed apart (or together in the wrong way) they do not constitute a house (but at best a pile of bricks). Similarly for the atoms forming a molecule, the molecules forming a living cell, the cells causing a human organism. At each level, there is a causal interplay of parts, which produces something new that is more than the parts, something we call the whole, with its own distinct attributes and properties.

It is thus quite legitimate to suppose that when matter comes together in a certain way we call a live human body, it produces a new thing called the self or soul or spirit, which thing we regard as the essence of being human because we attribute to it the powers of consciousness and volition that we evidently display (and which the constituent matter in us does not, as far as we can see, separately display). That this idea of self is a hypothesis may be readily admitted; but to anyone conscious of the inductive basis of most human knowledge that does not constitute a criticism (all science develops through hypotheses). The important point to note is that Buddhist commentators like this one give arguments that do not succeed in proving what they purport to prove.

Here are some more examples, relating to the notion of “emptiness”:

“Dependent origination means that everything is produced from conditions and that nothing has an independent existence of its own. Everything is connected to everything else and everything is conditioned by everything else. ‘Emptiness’ is the word used to describe the fact that nothing has an independent nature of its own” (p. 94).

Here, the reader should notice the vagueness of terms like “connection” or “conditioning”. They are here used without nuance, without remark that very many kinds and degrees of causal relation may be involved. The impression made on the reader is that everything is equally bound to everything else, however far or near in space and time. But that is not merely untrue – it is conceptually untenable! Concepts of causality arise with reference to a specific relation, which some things have with each other and some things lack with each other. If all things had the same causal relation to all other things, no concept of a causal relation would arise nor be needed. We can very loosely say that the cause of a cause of a thing is “causally related” to it, but causal logic teaches us that the cause of a cause of a thing is not always itself “a cause” of it in the strict sense. And even if it is, it may not be so in the same degree. It follows that Hsing Yun is here again misleading us.

“Emptiness does not mean nothingness… all things have being because they all do exist interdependently” (p.97).

Here, the image communicated to us is that each thing, although in itself empty of substance, acquires existence through its infinity of relations (dependencies) to all other things, each of which is itself empty of substance. We must ask, is this theoretical scenario credible? Does an infinity of zeros add up to a non-zero? What are those “relations” between “things”? Are they not also “things”? Are they not also empty, in which case what gives them existence? The concept of relation implies the pre-existence of things being related (terms); if all that exists are relations, is the concept still meaningful?

Furthermore, what does interdependence (a.k.a. co-dependence) mean, exactly? Is an embrace in mid-air between two or more people equivalent to a mutual support? If I cannot support myself, can I support you? The notion is unconscionable.

“Nothing is unchangeable or unchanging. All phenomena exist in succession. They are always changing, being born, and dying.”

Here, the author has simply dropped out the (previously acknowledged) and very relevant fact of enduring. To convince us that the world is nothing but flux, he mentions birth, change and death – but eclipses the fact of living, if only for a little while! The phrase “they are always” does not necessarily mean “each of them in every moment.”

“A cause (seed) becomes an effect (fruit), which itself contains the cause (seed) for another effect, and so on. The entire phenomenal world works just like this” (p. 98).

Here, we are hastily dragged into a doubtful generalization. The description of the cycle of life, with procreation from generation to generation, does not necessarily fit other causal successions. Causation in the world of inanimate matter obeys its own laws, like Newton’s Laws of Motion for example. There is nothing truly equivalent to reproduction in it, to my memory. To convince us, the author would have to be much more precise in his analogies. Philosophers have no literary license.

“If we were to break a body down into its constituent parts, the body would no longer exist as a body.”

So what? Is that meant to explain or prove “emptiness”? If you kill an animal and cut it up, of course you will not find the life in it, or the consciousness it had, or its “animal nature”. It does not follow that when the animal is alive and well, it lacks these things!

“The meanings of the words ‘above’ and ‘below’ depend on where we are. They do not have absolute meanings, It is like this with all words and all relationships between things” (p. 99).

Again, a hasty generalization – from specifically relative terms to all words. Every grammarian knows that relative terms are just one type of term among others. That the former exist does not imply that the latter have the same character or properties. Similarly, Hsing Yun argues that the relativity of a word like “brightness” (our characterization of the brightness of a light is subjective and variable) exemplifies the relativity of all terms. But here again, he is passing from an obvious case to all cases, although many qualifications are based on stricter, scientific measurement. Moreover, describing how a piece of cloth may have various uses, as a shirt or as a skirt, he argues:

“It is the same piece of cloth in all cases, but since it is used differently, we have different names for it. All words are like this; their meanings depend on how and where they are used.”

This is supposed to convince us that words are “false and wavering” and help us to better understand emptiness. But the truthfulness and accuracy of language are clearly not at stake here, so the implied negative conclusion is unwarranted. The proof is that we all understand precisely his description of the changing practical role of the piece of cloth. “Cloth can be used as shirt or as skirt” is a perfectly legitimate sentence involving the natural modality “can” and two predicates in disjunction for a single subject (A can be B or C). Of course, if one starts with the idea that language can only consist of sentences with two terms and one modality (A is B), then one will be confused by more complex situations. But if one’s understanding of human thought is more developed, one does not fall into foolish conclusions.

Lastly, Hsing Yun refers to “the relative natures of our perceptions” to justify the idea of emptiness. He describes two people watching a snowfall, one is a poet sitting in his warm house, the other a homeless man shivering outdoors. The first hopes the snow will continue to fall, so he can enjoy watching it; the second fears that if the snow continues to fall, he may freeze to death. The author concludes:

“Both are seeing the same scenery, but since their conditions are different they perceive it very differently.”

Thus, perceptions are “false” and emptiness “underlies” them. Here again, his interpretation of the situation is tendentious, designed to buttress his preconceived doctrines. To be precise, the two people correctly perceive the (more or less) same snowy scene; what differs is their evaluation of the biological consequences of what they are perceiving (or more precisely still, what they anticipate to further experience). There is no relativity of perception involved! We have two quite legitimate sentences, which are both probably true “I’ll enjoy further snow” and “I’ll be killed by further snow”. “I” being the poet in one case and the poor man in the other case, there is no contradiction between them.

By arguments like those we have analyzed, Hsing Yun arrives at the overall conclusion that:

“The universe can only exist because all phenomena are empty. If phenomena were not empty, nothing could change or come into being. Being and emptiness are two sides of the same thing” (p. 100).

But none of his premises or arguments permits us to infer or explicate such conclusion. It is a truism that if your cup is full, you cannot add to it; or if you have no room to move into, you cannot move. But this is not what the author is here talking about; the proposed thesis is of course much more radical, though still largely obscure. All we are offered are dogmatic statements, which repeat on and on what the Buddha is claimed to have said.

I am personally still quite willing to believe that the Buddha did say something enlightening about interdependence, impermanence, selflessness and emptiness, but the words used were apparently not very clear. I just hope that his difficulty was merely in finding the right words to express his insights, and that the reasoning behind those words was not as faulty as that I have encountered in the work of commentators so far!

Still, sentences like the following from the Flower Garland Sutra are deliciously pregnant with meaning, challenging us to keep digging[97]:

“When wind moves through emptiness, nothing really moves.”

6.     What “Emptiness” Might Be[98]

The following is an attempt to eclectically merge the Western and Indian idea of a ‘soul’ with aspects of the Buddhist idea that we are “empty” of any such substance. What might the ‘soul’ be, what its place in ‘the world’, what its ‘mechanics’? Can we interpret and clarify the notion of “emptiness” intellectually?

The Buddhist notion of “emptiness” (in its more extremist versions) is, as far as I am concerned to date, unconvincing. If anything is empty, it is the very concept of emptiness as used by them – for they never clearly define it or explain it. Philosophy cannot judge ideas that remain forever vague and Kafkaesque accusations. The onus is on the philosophers of emptiness to learn to express their ideas more verbally.

6.1       Imagine the soul as an entity in the manifold, of (say) spiritual substance, a very fine energy form somewhat distinct from the substances of the mental domain (that of imaginations) and of the material domain (that of physical phenomena, regarded as one’s body and the world beyond one’s body).[99]

6.2       While solipsism is a logically acceptable proposition, equally conceivable is the notion that the soul may be one among many in a large population of souls scattered in the sea of existence, which includes also the coarser mental and material energies. These spiritual entities may well have common natures and behavior tendencies, and be able to impact on each other and become aware of each other.

Those many souls may conceivably be expressions of one and the same single Soul, and indeed mind and matter may also be expressions of that one Soul, which might perhaps be identified with (a rather Hindu viewpoint) or be a small emanation of (a more Jewish view) what we call God. Alternatively, the many souls may be interrelated more in the way of a network.

The latter view could be earmarked as more Buddhist, if we focus on its doctrine of “interdependence.” However, we can also consider Buddhism compatible with the idea of a collective or root Soul, if we focus on its doctrine of an “original, common ground of mind.” This refers to a mental ocean, whence all thoughts splash up momentarily (as seemingly evident in meditation). At first individual and psychological, this original substance is eventually regarded as universal and metaphysical, on the basis of a positivistic argument[100] that since even material sensations are known only through mind, we can only suppose that everything is mind. Thus, not only ‘thoughts,’ but all ‘things’ are mere turbulences in this primordial magma. Even individual ‘selves’ are merely drops of this mental sea water that momentarily have the illusion of separateness and personal identity.

6.3       For each individual soul (as for the greater Soul as a whole), the mind, the body, and the world beyond, of more matter, mind and spirit energies, may all be just projected ‘images’ (a viewpoint close to Bishop Berkeley’s in the West or Yogachara philosophers in Buddhism). This is not an affirmation by me, I am merely trying to demystify this theory and take it into consideration, note well.

The term image, here, does not signify image of anything else. Such images are perhaps media of self-expression and discourse of the soul (or Soul). That is, the ‘world around me’ may be a language the soul creates and uses to express itself and communicate with itself (and with other eventual souls).

Granting there are objectively are many souls, we can observe that these souls have many (perhaps most) of their images in common. This raises an important question, often asked in relation to such Idealism. If our worlds (including the physical aspects) are personal imaginations, how come so much of their contents agree, and how is it that they seem to be subject to the same ‘laws of nature’?

One possible answer is to assume the many souls to be emanations of a central Soul (animal, human or Divine). In that case, it is no wonder that they share experiences and laws.

Alternatively, we could answer that like images just happen to be (or are by force of their nature and habits) repeatedly projected by the many souls. In this way, they seemingly share a world (in part, at least), even though it is an imaginary one. Having delusions in common, they have perceptions in common. They can thus interact in regular ways in a single apparent ‘natural environment,’ and develop collective knowledge, society, culture, technology, ethics, politics and history. Thus, we are not forced to assume one common, objective world. It may well be that each soul projects for itself certain images that other souls likewise project for themselves, and these projected images happen to be the same upon comparison.

6.4       Viewed as a ball of subtle energy, the soul can well have its own spiritual ‘mechanics’ – its outer and inner shapes and motions, the creases and stirrings within it and at the interface with the mental and material (and spiritual) energies around it, the mathematics of the waves which traverse it and its environment, like a creature floating in the midst of the sea.

Consciousness and will, here viewed as different powers of projection, are the ways the soul interacts with itself and its supposed surrounds.

These wave-motion capacities of the soul, are naturally subject to some ‘laws’ – although the individual soul has some considerable leeway, it is not free to operate just any way it pleases, but tends to remain under most circumstances in certain fixed or repeated patterns. These (spiritual, psychological) ‘laws’ are often shared with other souls; but each of them may also have distinct constraints or habits – which gives each its individuality. Such common and individual ‘laws’ are their real underlying natures, as distinct from the image of ‘nature’ they may project.

In the event that the plurality of souls is explained by a single great Soul, there is even less difficulty in understanding how they may be subject to common laws. On the other hand, the individualities of the fragmentary souls require explanation. Here, we must suppose either an intentional, voluntary relinquishment of power on the part of the great Soul (so that little souls have some ignorance and some freedom of action) or an involuntary sleep or weakness (which latter thesis is less acceptable if we identify the larger soul with God).

With regard to the great Soul as a whole, it may either be subject to limitations and forces in its consciousness and volition – or it may be independent of any such natural restrictions or determinations, totally open and free. Our concept of God opts for the latter version, of course – whence the characterizations of omniscient and omnipotent (and all-good, granting that evil is an aberration due to ignorance and impotence).

6.5       The motive and end result of theses like the above is ethical. They aim and serve to convince people that the individual soul can find liberation from the constraints or habits it is subject to, by realizing its unity with other individual souls. ‘Realizing’ here means transcending one’s individuality by becoming aware of, identifying oneself with and espousing the cause of, other entities of the same substance, or the collective or root Soul. Thus, enlightenment and liberation are one and the same. Ultimately, the individuals are to abandon individuation and merge with all existence, melting back into the original source.

This doctrine presupposes that the individual soul self-constructs, and constructs the world around, in the sense that it defines (and thus effectively divides) itself out from the totality. This illusion of individuation is the sum of its creativity and activity, and also its crucial error. The individual soul does not of course create the world (which is its source); but it produces the virtual world of its particular world-view, which is its own prison and the basis of all its suffering, its “samsara.”

Realizing the emptiness of self would be full awareness in practice that the limited self is an expression of the ignorance and stupidity that the limited self is locked into because of various beliefs and acts. Realizing the emptiness of other entities (material, mental and spiritual) around one, would be full awareness in practice that they are projections of the limited self, in the sense that such projection fragments a whole into parts. Ultimately, too, the soul is advised to realize that Soul, souls and their respective projections are one continuum.

Those who make the above-implied promises of enlightenment and liberation claim justification through personal meditative experiences or prophetic revelations. I have no such first-hand experience or authority, but here merely try to report and elucidate such doctrines, to check their conceivability and understand them. To me, no one making philosophical utterances can claim special privileges; all philosophers are equally required to present clear ideas and convincing arguments.

6.6       The way to such realization is through meditation, as well as altruistic and sane action.

In the framework of the above-mentioned Buddhist philosophy of “original ground” (also called “Buddha mind”), meditation may be viewed as an attempt to return to that profound, natural, eternal calm. Those who attain this level of awareness are said to be in “nirvana.” The illusion of (particular, individual) selfhood arises from disturbances[101], and ceases with their quieting. The doctrine that the illusory self is “empty,” means that we must not identify with any superficial flashes of material or mental excitement, but remain grounded in the Buddha mind.

For example, the Tibetan work The Summary of Philosophical Systems[102] warns against the self being either differentiated from or identified with “the psycho-physical constituents.” I interpret this statement (deliberately ignoring its paradoxical intent[103]) to mean that there is nothing more to the illusory self than these phenomenal manifestations, and therefore that they cannot be the real self. Dogmatic Buddhists provocatively[104] insist that no real self exists, but moderates do seem to admit it as equivalent to the universal, original ground.

Buddhist philosophers generally admit of perception and conception, but ignore or deny direct self-awareness. Consistently enough, they reject any claim to a soul (spiritual substance), since they consider that we have no real experience thereof. For them, the “psycho-physical constituents” are all we ordinarily experience or think about, so that soul must be “empty” (of anything but these constituents) and illusory (since these are not enough to constitute a soul). But this theory does not specify or explain the type of consciousness involved in the Buddha mind, or through which “emptiness” is known!

Another way to view things is to admit that there are three sources of knowledge, the perceptual (which gives us material and mental phenomenal manifestations), the conceptual (which gives us abstracts), and thirdly the intuitive (which gives us self-knowledge, apperception of the self and its particular cognitions, volitions and valuations). Accordingly, we ought to acknowledge in addition to material and mental substances, a spiritual substance (of which souls are made, or the ultimate Soul). The latter mode of consciousness may explain not only our everyday intuitions of self, but perhaps also the higher levels of meditation.

What we ordinarily consider our “self” is, as we have seen earlier, an impression or concept, based on perception and conception, as well as on intuitive experience. In this perspective, so long as we are too absorbed in the perceptual and conceptual fields (physical sensations, imaginations, feelings and emotions, words and thoughts, etc.), we are confused and identify with an illusory self. To make contact with our real (individual, or eventually universal) self, we must concentrate more fully on the intuitive field. With patience, if we allow the more sensational and exciting presentations to pass away, we begin to become aware of the finer, spiritual aspects of experience. That is meditation.

(See also Appendix 2).

6.   Additional Topics

1.     Present Appearances

1.1       The Present Appearance. The starting point of human knowledge (or opinion[105]) is what I shall here call the present Appearance (with a capital A), referring to the undivided totality of one’s experience and thought at a given moment, taken at face value. This is to be distinguished from appearances (with a small a), the constituents of the present Appearance, whose discrimination from each other require additional acts of thought, although the present totality may well include among its constituents discrimination between some of its constituents. It is also to be distinguished from cumulative appearance (or Appearance), a theoretical concept including not only the present moment, but also memory of all past Appearances, although the present Appearance may well include some memories of past Appearances.

These distinctions may seem like hair-splitting, but the point of the exercise is to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that moment by moment each of us is face to face with a limited sum total of objects or contents of consciousness (whatever their nature and status, at this stage), and that this totality includes both:

  1. experiential presentations – perceived material or mental phenomena and supposedly intuited[106] items of self-knowledge, be they real or illusory; and
  2. rational presentations – products of conceptual or logical insights and processes, be they inductive or deductive, correct or incorrect.

Before any item of knowledge (or opinion) is isolated from its context for evaluation, it is immersed in the body of data in our present awareness; my intent here is to focus your attention first on this (varying) whole.

My initial goal here is simply to enlarge the phenomenological stance or approach, and apply it equally to all appearances, i.e. not only to perceptual phenomena, but equally to objects of intuitive experience and to rational objects and processes. The present Appearance is a complex intertwining of all these, logically prior to making any distinctions between them, acknowledging them all at this stage as just there.

Just as, before we can identify the nature of the phenomena of perception and judge whether they are real or illusory, we have to first simply be aware of and admit their existence and manifest configurations – so with regard to the objects of intuition and the abstract products of conception and logic, the first step is to take into consideration their contents and claims. This ab initio stance or approach does not in itself prejudice our final judgment concerning the identity or validity of reason, anymore than it affects our evaluation of experience. It is merely ascertaining just what is under scrutiny and discussion. Nevertheless, such open-minded consideration does indeed, in the long run, strongly determine epistemological and ontological conclusions. Many philosophical conundrums and perversions are due to failure to adopt this ‘objective’ frame of mind, taking all things at their ‘face value’ to start with, as appearances or presentations.

‘Phenomenon’ is a philosophical term intended to deal with objects of perceptual consciousness, without regard to various epistemological and ontological issues concerning them, such as whether they are real or illusory, material or mental, results of physiological sensory processes or mere fantasies, and so forth. Before such issues can be debated and hopefully resolved, we have to just ‘look and see’ what data we have in hand. Some distinctions between things are possible already at the phenomenal level – we can for instance distinguish the various ‘phenomenal modalities’ or the ‘phenomenal qualities’ within each phenomenal modality, without prejudice as to whether their source is sensory (although we label them conventionally as ‘sense-based,’ we only mean ‘which naïve realism considers as sense-based’) or imaginative. Or again, we can distinguish between ‘material’ and ‘mental’ phenomena (again using the words merely conventionally, with reference to people’s everyday assumptions – but also somewhat with noticeable differences in their contents and qualities).

Philosophy has no terms similar to ‘phenomenon’ to refer to an intuitive experience or to an object of conception, prior to consideration of their exact nature and status. Kant’s term ‘noumenon’ is inappropriate (and self-contradictory), in that it historically purports by definition to concern (and thus know) something unknowable. Locke’s term ‘idea’ is also inappropriate, because its connotation of mental entity prejudices discussion at the outset and leads to serious problems and paradoxes. I propose here to henceforth[107] consider the term ‘appearance’ (or ‘presentation’) as more generic than ‘phenomenon,’ including concrete phenomenal appearances (i.e. percepts), concrete intuitive appearances (items of self-knowledge) and abstract appearances (conceptual and logical intentions). This larger term focuses on and emphasizes the primary ‘manifest’ or ‘given data’ aspect of all objects of consciousness, considering them phenomenologically, i.e. neutrally with regard to various philosophical issues.

The denotation of ‘appearance’ is the same as that of ‘object,’ but the former has the advantage of not tending to immediately connote the conscious Subject and his cognitive relation to the object (both of which some philosophers, notably Buddhist ones in the East and Hume[108] in the West, deny). Furthermore, the latter is often used with a naïve realist outlook, or with reference specifically to material entities, which we want to avoid, although strictly speaking the term is equally neutral (in my usage, at least). Similarly, the term ‘thing’ may have unwanted connotations (not clearly distinguishing existents and mere objects of thought), and in my opinion is best reserved for formal logic contexts. Thus, ‘appearance’ is the most appropriate term for phenomenology – and it is should be understood that phenomenology (despite its name) concerns all appearances not just phenomena.

And finally, to repeat, note that by ‘Appearance’ I mean the sum total of appearances at a given moment. So much for terminological issues, which are also of course clarifications of what we are trying to discuss here.

Before proceeding further, however, I want to here remind the reader not to confuse the present philosophical discussion of knowledge (starting with the concept of the present Appearance, etc.) with the subject-matter itself. Our words (and their underlying ideas and arguments) about the present Appearance and its eventual transformations are, as themselves objects, parts or components of our common present Appearance, but they are not all of it. There are Appearances (most of our conscious life) that do not actually include the present philosophical discourse, though they are here being claimed to potentially (logically, upon reflection) implicitly do so. There are Appearances that are completely wordless, and also Appearances involving words but not the words of this here philosophical discourse, which is a late arrival in the development of knowledge.

1.2       A Meditation. Our above verbal definition of the present Appearance will not by itself provide a good idea of my intent, if the reader merely imagines a field of non-descript ‘appearances.’ The best way to grasp it is to actually sit down and meditate, zazen-style, and become fully aware of the panorama of sights and sounds and tastes and smells and sensations and of the images appearing in one’s mind’s eye and the words thought inside and their understood meanings – i.e. to become more fully conscious of whatever presents itself to one’s attention right now. These experiences and thoughts are in flux, with one’s attention shifting from one factor or process to another, often without rhyme or reason; they cannot be pinned-down or stopped, though continuous sitting over a long period tends to calm things down noticeably. What I mean by the present Appearance is the sum total of these multimedia events and characteristics at any given moment.

Consider for example the Appearance I am facing right now (over the next few minutes, to be exact). I am sitting at my desk, in front of my computer, writing. Many things fill my awareness, though to different degrees. I feel parts of my body, my behind weighing down on my chair, my back leaning against the back of it, my legs crossed, a pain in my knee, a foot on the floor, my hands on the keyboard, my fingers hitting the keys. I see the sunlight, the frame of my glasses, the desk and computer, its screen and the words on it. I hear a bird sing, a plane overhead, a car drive by. All these are sensory experiences, physical phenomena in my field of awareness. I may at times experience them more intensely, at others only peripherally, at others still become so absorbed in my work as not to notice them at all. Additionally, there are mental experiences. As I write words, I hear them inside my head. Occasionally, a relevant pictorial representation may flash in my mind’s eye – a body in motion, a Cartesian space-time diagram, whatever. Extraneous mental words or images may come and go – such as ‘remember to do so and so tomorrow’ or a scene from a movie I saw yesterday.

Moreover, apart from the phenomenal aspects of my current consciousness, we have to take note of its intuitive and abstract aspects. The thoughts I am having are mine, I have to call on discipline to keep sitting and writing, I am trying to be as intellectually honest and fair as I can – these are intuitive components of my conscious content. The words I think and write have intended meanings, they are not mere sounds and letters, behind them is a large context of knowledge that I draw on, and I am constantly applying logical skills to ensure a quality product – these are abstract components of my conscious content. The present Appearance, then, is the sum of these three aspects, the phenomenal (material or mental), the intuitive (self-awareness) and the abstract (conceptual and logical). I am not at all times aware of them with equal intensity. Most of the time, I am absorbed in the subject-matter of my discourse, but I must still half-consciously look at the desired keys and guide my fingers to them as I type. My attention shifts from this detail to that, one moment into the meaning of a word, the next into a logical issue, then I feel a pain in my arm and press on it, and so on.

Thus, no two momentary appearances are identical, although the various factors and processes mentioned above may together last several hours. The scope of a given moment’s awareness will include only some of these items, though over time all may appear. Over time, some will momentarily come to the fore, others recede; some will be the center of my attention, others only vaguely present on the periphery. Such variations and differences may be understood as changes in direction and intensity of awareness (as regards the Subject) or more phenomenologically as comings and goings and changing intensities of manifestation (as regards Appearance).

What we call appearance is a very complex and varied thing, which cannot be reduced to or limited to the more obvious sensory data. Note that the various constituents of appearance may not all be actually present in a given present Appearance. It may be correct to say, however, that most are usually present, if only peripherally. Perhaps we should consider that each constituent is potentially present, though it may not be a major focus of attention at a given moment, compared to the others. Note also that our turning of attention on one or the other factor may be experienced as spontaneous or as the result of will.

The present Appearance, then, is whatever appears to someone at any time, considered as a whole, temporally or logically prior to any discrimination or judgment concerning it or its constituents, i.e. before or irrespective of any further reflection of reason. It is mere presentation, raw data. At this stage of things, we may be completely absorbed in it and unconscious of precise details. There is no prejudice, at this primary stage, as to whether what appears is ‘true’ or ‘false,’ ‘reality’ or ‘illusion,’ ‘representative’ of anything or not, ‘absolute’ or ‘relative.’ All these and similar characterizations are later developments (rational acts), though within some moments they may well be present as themselves ‘constituents of’ the present Appearance.

We have not or not yet discriminated between the ‘parts’ or ‘components’ of the present Appearance. We have not or not yet compared and contrasted its parts or components, finding them same or different to each other or to memories in various respects. We have not or not yet applied any logic to it; at this stage we have just a single ‘A’ and have not said ‘A is A’ or ‘A cannot be non-A’ or ‘either A or non-A.’ We have not either considered whether what we face is perceptual or conceptual, concrete or abstract, physical or mental, objective or subjective, internal or external, or whatever. We have not or not yet made a distinction between its various ‘sense-modalities’ (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste), nor between the various ‘sensible qualities’ (e.g. shape, size, intensity or color, in the case of visual aspects). We have not or not yet located things in space, or developed notions of perspective or space dimensions. We have not or not yet separated pure present from memories and anticipations, or located things in a dimension of time. We have not or not yet engaged in the ordering of given data by which we divide it into Subject, consciousness, Object, self, intimate events and characters, mind, own-body, sense-organs, other physical bodies.

We have not or not yet performed any such rational acts (rational in the sense of proposed by reason, whether rightly or wrongly). If later we are able to and do subdivide the present Appearance into such factors and processes, the particular appearances such subdivisions constitute (whatever their own nature, whatever they themselves happen to be – even if abstract, conceptual and logical) are themselves parts or components of the present Appearance at the time they occur. Thus, the present Appearance may sometimes indeed well include ‘philosophical’ reflections, but we here consider them as at the time concerned inherent in the given particular present Appearance. It always remains a comprehensive whole, in this perspective.

Some may argue that such a totality is unconscionable, that we can never in practice absorb ourselves in the whole without at the same time discriminating at least some of its aspects. Others will agree that ordinary consciousness is compulsively discriminative, but claim that we can overcome such handicap through meditation. But what I refer to here is just being aware of whatever you happen to be aware of right now, or at any given moment, including any eventual discriminations themselves involved in the whole. This is accessible to all, at all times, without special skill or training, at least for a brief while. In any case, the present Appearance is at least theoretically comprehensible, ex post facto, by logical aggregation of its constituents into the intended whole.

1.3       Temporal Aspects. Now, granting the above is understood, it is important next to clearly acknowledge the present Appearance’s temporal aspects.

By a moment, I here mean a duration of time (as distinct from an instant, which is a point in time, the beginning or end of a duration) spanned by one’s attention. And I refer to it verbally for the purposes of this analysis, but in the moment itself there may not be or not yet be any concept of time or of attention. It is merely mentioned to direct the reader to the situation under consideration, namely that the present Appearance is extended to some extent over what we later refer to as time (objective or subjective). The boundaries of the moment may well be unclear, such uncertainty being itself a ‘constituent of’ the present Appearance. But the latter is still undifferentiated, so one’s eventual doubt about limits has not yet crystallized.

Moment after moment, we are presented with a ‘new’ present Appearance. We refer to it as new, with reference to ‘memory,’ implying that a comparison is occurring between the present Appearance and a preceding Appearance, and that these are found in some respect(s) different. Such comparison or contrast is of course a rational act, full of assumptions about the ‘validity’ of memory. This is not denied, and we may return to the issue. But for now let us merely note this evidence, that the present Appearance seems limited in ‘time.’ Notwithstanding that the present Appearance is something singular in its temporal existence within our consciousness, there are seemingly a plurality of Appearances anyway. The remembrance of ‘past’ Appearances is itself of course part of the ‘present’ Appearance, and its distinction from the whole is an artificial, i.e. rational, act.

Next, we have to be aware that if in any given moment, relative to the given present Appearance, a new rational act occurs (such as the ones just proposed, of distinguishing memory of past Appearances within the present one or anticipating future Appearances), the present Appearance is thereby changed. That is to say, the addition of a new thought produces a new present Appearance, so that the one we seem to have faced a moment ago is strictly-speaking not quite identical to the one we face now. The present Appearance currently under scrutiny includes this new thought, which was intended to transcend the preceding present Appearance without affecting it. Thus, if I face a present Appearance and even just name it ‘A,’ I am no longer in present Appearance A but (momentarily, at least) in a new present Appearance which includes ‘name A’ in its composition, and so would have to be named something else, say ‘B,’ which in turn would cause the occurrence of yet a third, and so on.

This fragility of any present Appearance has to be clearly realized. More generally stated, the moment we focus on any aspect of a present Appearance, or distinguish its parts or components, or characterize it or them in any manner whatsoever, we perform a rational act. Such rational event involves phenomenal aspects (e.g. images and words) as well as non-phenomenal ones (intuitions, conceptualizations, logical verifications), whose appearance (whatever the cause of such appearance might be: spontaneous generation, a mechanical brain, or a Subject’s volition) modify the original present Appearance, presenting us with a new present Appearance including the rational act and possibly all of the preceding present Appearance. In some cases, the rational act, by its very nature, not only adds to the preceding Appearance, but also erases parts or components of it. Thus, when I concentrate my attention on the outlines of a figure, I see the outlines more intensely than before and somewhat or entirely cease to see its color and perhaps other figures in my field of vision. These now seen outlines are not quite identical to those seen a moment ago, and any comparison between them (between the present and my memory of the immediate past) would constitute a rational act. The latter would in turn modify the present Appearance, presenting me with a new one, and so forth.

Thus, we cannot claim to rationally ‘transcend’ any present Appearance and discuss it without admitting our discussion as itself within the (next) Appearance[109]. We can only seemingly produce (or find ourselves faced with) new Appearances, which by further rational acts (involving reliance on memory and other judgments) are successively transformed into still newer Appearances. Being aware of this fragility, we are better able to delimit what we mean by a single present Appearance or the current totality of experience and other conscious content. We are always bound to present Appearance.

Furthermore, we are all aware (or ought to be) that our minds are constantly and almost irrepressibly a-buzz with thoughts. This is especially evident when we try to still our mind during meditation; it is a very, very difficult task. That is, the present Appearance is not merely occasionally changed by thought, it is almost always in flux. Only mastery of meditation can ever (supposedly) stop this constant activity. Even sitting still in the middle of a static environment (say a plain room where no sound enters, etc.), thought continues to affect the present Appearance (e.g. I notice the right side and then the left, or reflect on the color, etc. – not to mention extraneous thoughts such as my recent conversation with someone or what to add to my ‘things to do’ list or ongoing philosophical discourse or personal injunctions to be thoughtless), so that the present Appearance is always short-lived and changing. What this means, is that we can even generate a notion of time by referring only to the shifts in our attention, and more generally to our changing intuitive contents of consciousness and rational responses to experiences.

However, such so-called subjective time inextricably relies on analysis of a present Appearance and the assumption of memory. It is only by distinguishing a fraction of that Appearance as being a lingering image or memory residue of a preceding Appearance, and comparing that fraction to the remainder, that we can and do conclude that (subjective) ‘time’ has passed. But there is, I am convinced, a more ‘objective’ concept of time, based on the content of some Appearances without reference to memory. That is, we see (in the sense of ‘perceive, by whatever means’) some phenomenal contents move or change (in place or otherwise) within the current span of attention. We may of course additionally remember that the entity, character or event concerned (whatever it be, real or illusory, physical or mental) was different in a previous present Appearance, but here what interests us is movement within a single, present Appearance.

Such movement within the moment, i.e. perceivable without reference to and assumption of memory, and so without rational activity, is purely experiential movement. It means that ‘the present’ we perceive is not a point in time, but a stretch of time, a duration. That is, our consciousness of events is not instantaneous, but straddles time (at least, a bit of past to the present instant). This portion of time that our awareness can span is what I here call a phenomenal ‘moment.’ How long precisely such moments are is hard to say. It may be that they are all equal or they may differ from one present Appearance to another or one person to another. To affirm the experienced present as extended does not, by the way, logically exclude that time be infinitely divisible (continuous). Appearances may well constantly overlap and flow into each other, without affecting the fact that our consciousness of phenomena is extended in time.

It makes no difference whether one considers perceived movement as objective or subjective – in either case, the phenomenon still occurs, still exists. To say ‘objects do not move, but are stationary world-lines in a space-time continuum; it is the Subject’s awareness of them which moves (scanning) or comes on and off and on again (like a stroboscope)’ does not explain-away or erase the phenomenon of movement – for then we would still have to acknowledge and explain the Subject’s motion over or through the continuum or the changes in his awareness. Similarly, whether we regard movement as continuous or as composed of instantaneous starts and momentary stops, is irrelevant – since in the latter case, too, we still have to deal with change from start to stop and vice-versa (i.e. that too is ‘movement’).

Our very concepts of time and memory are based on the direct experience of movement, so we cannot logically claim to know time only indirectly through memory. If we claimed that all experience was instantaneous, and that we only conceive of movement by rational acts – i.e. by mentally outlining within static Appearances a ‘memory’ segment and a ‘non-memory’ segment, and comparing these segments find that the former has enough similarities and dissimilarities to the latter to conclude that ‘movement’ has occurred – we would be begging the question. For all these mental acts are presumably themselves events, which in turn alter the present Appearance however slightly; and anyway we would be left with only a static picture of things or a static string of meaningless words! The image or concept of a geometrical time-dimension or time-line, however useful for purposes of measurement, is inextricably and infuriatingly static, and incapable of reproducing or representing movement. Only through experience can movement itself be known and understood. Rational constructs such as time and memory are merely attempts to interpret and explain our experiences of movement somewhat, and cannot deny or replace them.

2.     The Concepts of Space and Time

I have already made some comments about space and time in the chapter on Organizing Principles and in the above section. I wish to here make some additional comments.

2.1       Time and space are fundamental aspects of world of appearance, because they constitute for us logical solutions to apparent problems in momentary experiences or straddling experience over time. The apparent ‘contradictions’ inherent in multiplicity, non-uniformity, movement and change oblige us to resort to these conceptual remedies. Such fundamental concepts are not ‘logical concepts’ (as e.g. Jean Piaget regarded them) but products of logic. They come to seem like ‘logical’ concepts, because they are so broad-ranging that they structure all our thinking. But they remain doctrines, as far as logic is concerned. That is, they are proposed responses to issues raised by our logical insight. While specific hypotheses of the special sciences of time and space may in some future context have to be revised, logical insight continues to reign unscathed.

2.2       Space is a conceptual construct, in that it we presume a relational arrangement between the different parts of an experiential (primarily the visual) field. We begin with a distinction between the first two dimensions of space and then find it wise to add the third dimension. The first two dimensions are more empirical; the third is more hypothetical. If one looks out at the world with one’s eyes (or at an inner image with one’s mind’s eye), one seems faced with a two-dimensional blob of light (of variegated color, intensity, brightness); the third dimension is eventually distinguished out from these first two (partly to interpret the said variations).

Our ‘sense’ of space is primarily based on sight, but eventually built up from data drawn from several senses, including hearing, touch and to a lesser extent smell and taste. It is with reference to the combination and correlation of these sense-modalities that we obtain our full concept, even though sight remains the central reference. Note however that blind or deaf people seem to have a sense of space, but I assume it is an imperfect one compared to persons with all their senses (this matter can be studied by experiment and questionnaire). Even smell and taste are related to space: we can seemingly tell the rough direction from which a smell came; we locate tastes within the volume felt inside our mouth. Correlations with visual imagination and the sense of touch are of course involved, here. Smell and taste, per se, play a relatively secondary, passive role in our grasp of spatiality, but the same is perhaps not true for animals, or even babies.

Parallelisms between the sense-modalities are first gradually established for two dimensions, and then extended into the third with reference to phenomena of motion and perspective. I must apparently move my hand or body to there to touch that place; sounds may vary in consequence of such displacements; things change shape as I or they move and I explain such changes through the laws of perspective.

Another set of factors involved in our construction of space is temporal. Space is not merely a moment-by-moment construct, but one that appeals to memory and anticipation. We collect memories of static and dynamic sense data concerning space and refer to these past occurrences to interpret present ones. Also, we use mental projections to express our interpretative hypotheses. For instance, I may think: “I would need to stretch out my hand thusly to touch that” to express spatial depth. Such imaginations may or not be put into action (of course, they must occasionally be or have been, to be confirmed), but may in any case be viewed as a futuristic aspect of our space concept.

All this goes to show that space is not apprehended immediately (merely as extension or distance in a visual screen), but is a complex concept built up using many factors. The Subject is active (whether instinctively or consciously) in this build up, intellectually in having to correlate very various experiences over time (a trial and error process) and even physically in having to experimentally move about, the whole body or members of it. It follows that volition is involved; one is not a mere passive observer. Yet, for all that, I do not conclude like Kant seems to that space is a subjective invention.

All it means is that the concept of space is a complex hypothesis, consisting of many subsidiary hypotheses (like perspective or volition, to mention two). We do not simply see space (though sight is involved), nor can we deduce it from our experiences – we have to induce it. We propose it as a way of ordering of the various data of our experience. It remains conceivable that we are wrong. Indeed, we have been wrong for long periods, thinking of space as having Euclidean properties, until mathematicians suggested this did not have to be so and Einstein found need for a non-Euclidean approach in Physics. We may well be called upon by new experiences to tailor our view yet again; even conceivably completely overturning it somehow.

Meanwhile, in the context of experience and hypothesis so far, it seems logically the best ordering, ensuring the strongest correlation and least conflict between our masses of different sense impressions. We acknowledge thereby Appearance as a multiplex, and at the same time manage to ‘make sense’ of it to an additional extent.

2.3       Time is also a conceptual construct. The direct experience of time consists in awareness of the present, moment by moment – the “eternal present” (so-called, though it is only as long-lasting as the Subject lives). I say ‘direct,’ to differentiate it from the intimations of past and future involved memory and anticipation, which we may regard as an indirect experience of time[110]. And I stress ‘experience’ to distinguish all this from the more intellectual construction of time, which comes later. Now, the present seems to have some duration or stretch, which is why I refer to it as a moment rather than as an instant. This temporal extension may not be constant for all observers at all times; sometimes we seem to be able to experience a larger chunk of time than at others.

For it seems evident that motion (i.e. movement in space or change of any kind) is in part phenomenal; it seems observable within a given moment, and is not merely a construct based on the comparison and contrast of the phenomenal situations in different moments. In other words, I am proposing that our consciousness can straddle a stretch of time and thus cognize segments of motion without appeal to memory or prediction. Such visible bits of motion are to be distinguished from larger segments, which are constructed with reference to alleged memories and predictions. The former motion is empirical; the latter involves certain assumptions.

The concept of time is built in response to the paradox inherent in all motion, whether phenomenal or inferred from memories or expectations. Movement or change, however gradual, signifies that something is so-and-so ‘at one time’ and something else ‘at another time.’ If we do not insert the qualifications ‘at one time’ and ‘at another time,’ the preceding definition of motion is self-contradictory, saying that something both is and is-not so-and-so. By means of these differentiating inserts, we dissolve the paradox. Thus, time is a hypothesis proposed to deal with a logically disturbing aspect of certain common experiences. We project an extension called time, similar in some ways to the spatial extensions[111], in which phenomena have partial existence – so as to explain how it is possible for them to vary before our very eyes (and indeed all our cognitive instruments).

Thus, time ‘comes from’ man in a sense, but it is also somewhat ‘given in experience.’ It is an inductive construct seemingly corroborated by experiences, rather than something directly experienced or an abstraction in the ordinary sense. In my view, the experience of phenomenal motion is indubitable; if motion were only known through memory and expectation, it would itself be hypothetical. In that case, time would not be a logically necessary response: we could also (and better) explain away the paradox inherent in motion by denying the reliability of memory and prediction. We must admit what we all experience daily, that (some) motion is empirically given.

This means that “the present” is extended, a duration and not a mere point of time. The hypothesis of time includes the distinction between past, present and future, which three elements it joins in a continuum. Note well, three elements, not two. If we arbitrarily cut time in two (past and future), viewing the present as but an instant, where would the present moment fit? Would it be part of the past or of the future or a bit of both? It is hard for us to tell, because a moment is so brief. I think the present is neither past nor future, so that the dichotomy past or future is artificial. The present is neither a residue nor an inchoate; it is distinctively here and now.

The above remarks do not of course even begin to fathom the mysteries of time; many queries remain. Why do we only directly experience the present? Are we stationary and events pass or is the world stationary and our spirit flies over it? Is the present always changing, or is it things that change while the present remains the same? What happens to the past or to past things, where do they go, or do they cease to be and what does that mean? Where are the future and future things, where do they come from, or do they come to be and what does that mean? Why are past, present and future different in their existential properties? What is the direction of time? These are some sample questions that come to mind, which I would not pretend to have (or have seen) answers to.

2.4       Some small additional comments on the distinctions between inner and outer (i.e. mental and physical) space and time. In this context, it is well to keep in mind that the phenomenal modalities and qualities perceptible in our mental world (color, shape, sound, etc.) are identical or similar to those perceived through the senses as being in the physical world. Such analogies force us to regards these domains as parts of one world.

With regard to space, it is more acceptable to posit an inner space in contrast to an outer space. For two different substances (the mental and the material) seem involved, and therefore two different fields or matrices are conceivable for them. We consider mental space as somewhat placed within material space, in that we tend to locate it in our heads[112]. Yet, even here we should perhaps not rush to judgment. For we must take into consideration the fact of hallucination: when we seemingly imagine things occurring outside ourselves. It may be that we think of imagination as in the head, because we usually do it with our eyes closed or because it is usually clearer that way. But there are circumstances when we are able to imagine with our eyes open[113]. It remains conceivable in my view that the two spaces, the inner and outer, are one and the same.

Some philosophers apparently distinguish between inner and outer time, or psychological time and physical time, with reference to the common experience that little time o’clock may subjectively seem a lot and long hours may seem like minutes. Admittedly, one’s happiness or patience or age[114], or whatever, evidently often have an effect on one’s guesstimates of duration without measuring instruments. When I meditate in the middle of the night, when everything is quiet, time seems to pass much faster than when, in the day, there are enervating traffic noises all around. But this does not mean that there are literally two time dimensions.

The Subject, whether faced with imaginary events or physical events, has the same logical reaction for both, the positing of a time dimension. It has to be a single framework for both kinds of event, or else it would not be possible to order them relative to each other, as indeed by the way the ‘psychological time’ proponents unthinkingly do anyway. (I of course do not mean here to contest the relativity of time measurement, as explained by Einstein, which concerns even physical time.)

3.     Apprehension of the Four Dimensions

The four dimensions of our experience do not arise in knowledge in the same way; they are not all equally empirically based, involving different kinds and varying degrees of intellection, and they differ also in their assumed properties.

3.1       The first two dimensions of space refer to the flat field of (mainly) visual perception as presented to us phenomenally by the optical (and other) sense organs or by imagination in the mental matrix. This visual field is without depth, but testifies that the world of experience, whether physical or mental, is extended – a phenomenon we label space, distinguishing in it two aspects (called dimensions – length and breadth). The latter mental act of differentiation could rightly be characterized as an act of intelligence[115]. It requires a creative mental activity (consciously or not, projecting N-S and E-W lines – an imaginary grid – onto the visual field), and therefore (presumably) a certain involvement of the will.

Another act of intelligence, occurring already in a context of two dimensions, is the idea of direction, which includes not only projecting an angle of vision relative to some origin (a line on our grid), but also pointing one’s finger or tracing a from-to trajectory with it. Direction is often also communicated symbolically, by the very prehistoric image of an arrow (this aspect being pure analogy to a specific visual experience of actual arrows, their trajectory along our line in space); the arrow can traverse the line in two ways, called directions, according as it eventually reaches one or the other end of the line. This concept is later reused in the other two dimensions.

Visual experience is of course amplified by experiences in other sense-modalities. Thus, the frequent roving of one’s eyes up and down or left and right amplifies our sense of two-dimensional space. Other touch sensations, such as running one’s hand over a surface, likewise play a role, as do sensations of sound (and to a much lesser extent – for adult humans, at least – smell and taste).

3.2       The third space dimension arises in the observer in a more complex manner, involving more abstract considerations and a more active role for the observer. In the physical visual field, the assumption of depth (relative to the observer, me or you) serves to account for various phenomena, such as the different intensities of light and shade, apparent movement of distinct forms (i.e. shapes and colors selected by the observer as distinguishable), movement that may occasionally be experimentally assumed by the observer (potential involvement of volition) – things (granting continuity of phenomena) moving away-towards us (the origin or center of perception), getting bigger-smaller. Events that seem bizarre in a flat world become more understandable (explained, unified, predictable) in an assumed voluminous world.

In addition to such visual aspects, the touch-sensations in our eyes as we focus or unfocus them play a considerable role in convincing us of depth. Still other experiences must be taken into consideration too, such as feelings of bodily movement as well as pressure and roughness (touch sensations), sounds of varying loudness (hearing), smells in different directions and even the cavity in one’s mouth.

In the mental field, the third dimension (broadening the term dimension to include it) is admittedly often virtually absent from the inner visual field; but that the third dimension can be projected in the mental matrix is doubtless being proved by the very question (which presumes – thus, admits – that it has been imagined). Furthermore, we can introspect our apparently doing it and dreams often seem three dimensional, anyway.

The third dimension arises to resolve puzzles inherent in experience, such as correlating different perspectives on a seemingly continuous phenomenon (throughout a movement) or correlating the messages in distinct sense-modalities (or due to different sense-organs), and more broadly to integrate various experiences (e.g. the apparent unity between different apparitions, allowing one to regard them as one phenomenon in motion). The observer imagines this new dimension and presents it to himself as a credible hypothesis so as to explain or explain away his various inquiries and concerns. In each specific situation, the initial hypothesis is taken for granted, though it might later be supplanted by another that seems equally or more credible (the process is inductive, an adduction).

The main puzzle we try to solve through the third dimension is the apparent contradiction in different perspectives of an object. As the observer apparently moves around (that is, as his own body goes through certain variations in shape or feel), the external object seems to change in certain respects. Man has found that by projecting a third dimension of space, he could account for the perceived variations in experience of the first two dimensions. He formed the concept of perspective – he discovered (to some extent invented, insofar as a mental projection was involved) the relativity of appearances and their possible interconnections.

In this proposed description of the emergence of the third dimension, we see that it arises as a quasi-experience, but on closer inspection clearly involves inductive processes and imaginative projections of ideas and explanations. This is not a criticism, but intended to underline the different – more abstract, more conceptual, more active – status of the third dimension, in comparison to the first two. It is called a dimension by stretching of the meaning of the term dimension. It is assumed to have the same nature of extension, but more thought processes are required to conceive of it than to mentally separate the first and second dimensions from each other. These are acts of intelligence (a faculty of the observer), formulating concepts and frameworks, using imagination and inductive (including deductive) means, attempting to ‘make sense of things.’

3.3       The fourth dimension – that of time – has a yet more distinct emergence. Time relates distinctively to the puzzle of movement. Movement (including forms of change, qualitative or structural, other than motion in space) is I suggest a primary object. That is, together with objects like shape or color it is an experiential given, empirical fact in the strictest sense of the term[116]. All such primaries contain puzzles to our minds, and we itch to resolve them somehow (by curiosity – or perhaps biological need).

In the case of movement, the puzzle is an apparent contradiction inherent in any movement: how can what the observer has assumed is the ‘same’ thing, be somewhat ‘different’ in each of its many apparitions. The concepts of same or different are logical primaries; comparison and contrast are basic thinking processes. The impression that something is the same or different, following mere observation and followed by grouping and naming, gives rise to (or is at least the basis of) all abstraction, concept-formation, classification. For these reasons, movement stirs the observer to reconcile his conflicting impressions through some conceptual device. Man has chosen as his device against movement the idea of a fourth dimension.

But here, the concept of dimension must be stretched again, to allow for various distinctive characteristics of the proposed fourth. For a start, its different genesis, as described above. But then also, this additional dimension cannot be (however phenomenally) walked into like the others and only a single ‘direction’ (instead of two, like the others) must be posited for it (in order to account for the non-return of/to objects once overtaken in time, as against the apparent possibility of moving back and forth to or from an object stationary in space). A distinction arises between past and present and, at a later stage, future.

Clearly, one’s understanding of the other dimensions is also tainted by time, although more implicitly, in that one’s experimental body movements in search of perspective changes take time. But such understanding is ex post facto because the concept of time does not arise until (or unless) the fourth dimension is postulated. More precisely, the notion of time historically (and in individuals) arises well before that of a fourth dimension; but as man has further reflected on the subject, he has realized (or come to believe) that time logically implies/requires a fourth dimension. Similarly, of course, space arises as a notion first, and is then further structured and buttressed as a concept by introduction of the three dimensions.

3.4       Clearly also, the concept of memory is deeply linked with those of change, time and a fourth dimension. The hypothesis of memory is one of the postulates in the complex theory that seeks to resolve the puzzle of movement. Its role is to explain, not where things go after they are past us (that’s a purely time puzzle, an ontological one), but more introspectively how come we continue to be aware of something after it is gone (an epistemological puzzle). A “memory faculty” is proposed as at least an ability to store past impressions and observations (shunting aside the possibility of direct consciousness of past events as too heavy a postulate, initially at least). Just how such storage is possible is still mostly a mystery, but it suffices to suppose that it does occur somehow.

Memory is thus conceived to account for our apparent knowledge of past events that are no longer immediately present (in the phenomenal field currently observed). To account for the evident disappearance or waning of certain memories, we admit the idea that memory varies in permanence and intensity and vary its reliability accordingly. In this context, various degrees and kinds of memory must be distinguished, based on our experiences of remembering – and forgetting. Sometimes it takes us more time and effort than others to recall something. Sometimes we can, voluntarily or not, recollect a representation (inwardly project an image) of past events with varying clarity and precision, while at other times we are only able to recognize an event reminded to us (that is, after it reappears to us in some guise) as similar to a past one (for instance, looking at an old school photo and recognizing a face one had totally ‘forgotten’ – in the sense that one had to be reminded of it).[117]

3.5       On the other hand, for the future, we propose no special faculty. We normally distrust apparent anticipations of phenomena, and regard them as fantasies. They are mental projections of what the future might but will not necessarily hold, and not sure forecasts. Some people believe in prophecy of the future, by themselves or by other people; but most people doubt this notion. The concept of a future as such arises by the intelligence that “if past events were once present, then present events ‘will at some time’ be in their turn past.”

The fourth dimension thus arises in three stages, first comes the currently experienced present, then comes the past in the form of mental images that we relate to other present events, calling them the ‘same’ entity at ‘different’ times, and only lastly comes the future, by way of the said intellectual act.

But though we believe that there is a future (without offhand denying the possibility that it might not happen), we do not necessarily subscribe to the idea that we always know what that future will contain. We do not therefore normally presume a faculty of seeing into the future itself, not even an imperfect one like memory. We do however believe we can ascertain what the future might or could hold (a more modal knowledge), and even estimate that such possible event will more likely occur than such other (probability rating – another logical act). That is, the content of the future is thought of as accessible by inductive means (including deductive means). An indirect knowledge through concepts, propositions and logical tests – a knowledge not imprinted by its object, since its object does not ‘yet’ exist other than within the mind conceiving it as a possibility or potentiality, and indeed such object may never actually (come to) exist.

3.6       Clearly, we must say that the fourth dimension, assigned to time, is considerably different in its foundation and properties to the preceding three, assigned to space. I say ‘preceding,’ not to insist that the conceptualization of time is temporally after that of 3-D space, but only to reflect the increasing difficulty and complexity of their respective genesis. I can conceive of space (of one, two or three dimensions) without time, a static phenomenon, but not time without space (since time only arises given an experiential field of changing forms – we know of no movement without a manifest field of phenomena in an apparent space of one or more dimensions).

Another question would be, does time require a world of three dimensions of space? The answer would be that even one dimension suffices to give rise to the concept. We can certainly imagine a world without a third dimension of space, a phenomenal field of flat forms shifting around. The puzzle of perspective would be absent from such a world, but the puzzle of movement would remain, calling for the same conceptualization of time as did a three-dimensional world. Similarly, perhaps, for a world with one solitary dimension: segments of the world-line might be seen (if a mere line can at all be seen) to shift back and forth along it, which movements would be explicated by means of the time concept. But not of course, a zero dimensional world – such a point of existence is inconceivable (it would manifest nothing and therefore not be visible to any observer).

3.7       An issue that should be mentioned here is that of definition of “the present.” In one view, the present is a point in time without extension, the current instantaneous boundary between the past and the future. However, this view is by its very nature the more intellectual, since points are not perceivable, but inferred from extensions (to repeat, as boundaries between them). A more empirical view is to regard the present as extended in time, a moment, including a recent segment of the past (or perhaps straddling a bit of past and future, though that is a more difficult and conceptual position). This view is suggested by our apparent perception of movement (motion or change).

That is, if we grant movement to be an empirical given, a primary phenomenon, it means that we can apprehend some movement with one look without using our memory. If, on the other hand we said that movement is only knowable through memory, our above description of the concept of memory, as together with time an intellectual device for resolving the contradiction inherent in movement, would be weakened as being without empirical grounding. We may thus prefer to regard that we perceive, not merely static photographs of the phenomenal world, but indeed a cinematic display covering a certain stretch of time (the present moment). The static view of the phenomenal does not seem credible considering that the flash would be too ‘quick’ for us to register that anything at all occurred!

This view of the present as momentary does not exclude that memory come into play peripherally, in addition to perception, to further ground the present into the past. Such memory work is of course intellectual, involving judgments of continuity and causality (between the experienced moment and preceding ones no longer actual but suggested by memory). Inductive processes are involved, in that memory is of varying reliability and has to always be reevaluated contextually. Moreover, we tend to think that the moments we perceive are of varying breadth, according to our mental states. In some states, they are very narrow, in others wider (some people even claim prophetic ability to perceive very large chunks or all of time – the ‘timeless or eternal’ present).

3.8       The above accounts only attempt to detail the early stages of apprehension of the four dimensions. Many additional questions are eventually encountered and answers proposed, as these concepts are further scrutinized and developed.

For example, questions as to whether space and time are infinite[118] or finite (and in the latter case, what its size might be), and what geometrical axioms/system(s) is/are applicable to them. Gradually other kinds and degrees of interdependence between space and time have thus been proposed. Notably[119], the idea of additional dimensions (conceived by post-Cartesian mathematicians by algebraic methods, generalizing from the initial dimensions), Einstein’s view of space and time as bound together more deeply still (for instance, in his theory of Relativity, events separated by space cannot readily be granted simultaneity[120]), and Hawking’s suggestions that time has a beginning if not an end, and that space may expand (the Big Bang) and perhaps contract (the Big Crunch)[121].

These are however much later stages in development of the concepts of space and time, which arose in response to a large array of puzzles in the behavior of objects (e.g. the constancy of the velocity of light) as well as through complex theoretical reflections and calculations. Epistemologically, such further reflections on the possible nature of space and time are clearly highly intellectual and inductive. For most individuals, throughout most of history, advanced notions like Einstein’s do not play a role in their concepts of space and time. What matters to everyone are the said basic puzzles, such as that of movement (in response to which the very concepts of perspective and a third dimension and of time and a fourth dimension arise).

Many questions about space and time remain unanswered to date. For instance, the notion that things ‘travel in time’ (at least in one direction), or the notion that ‘time flies,’ to which we colloquially refer, is open to debate. As we have seen, the concept of time arises in an effort to understand movement in space (first the perceptible, later any conceptually assumed movement). Would not the idea (by analogy) of movement along a time-line be a doubling of the concept of time, calling perhaps for a further time-like dimension – is this not a redundancy, an unnecessary complication? Bound with this issue is the difficult ontological question as to what might be the meaning of ‘ceasing to exist’ or ‘not yet existing.’ Where do past things go when they disappear (do they remain in existence ‘somewhere’ in the past) and where do future things come from (are they waiting to appear in some repository ‘placed’ in the future)?

Clearly, until such problems are fully solved, our conceptual constructs of space and time remain scientifically immature. A theory has to always eventually resolve all puzzles, fill in all blank areas, tie up all loose ends – and do so better than any other – before it can be granted as finally trustworthy. Until then, some degree of epistemological doubt has to be maintained. Our concepts of space and time admittedly still need to be fleshed out a lot; but as for their competitiveness, we don’t seem to have any ideas to replace the above described basic assumptions. So we may rely on them with some confidence – we don’t seem to have much choice, anyway!

The very latest theoretical discovery of physicists is ‘M-Theory’, according to which our world involves ten dimensions of space and one of time (another theory, given less credence thus far, called F-Theory, proposes to add a second dimension of time to those). It is evident even to an amateur onlooker like me that these ideas (which have developed from String Theories of matter) are immensely interesting and far-reaching, addressing many of the issues just mentioned.

To conclude, though the four dimensions are all called dimensions, they do not arise in knowledge in the same way, they are not all equally empirical and they involve different kinds and varying degrees of rational activity (so that their epistemological status is not identical), and they differ also in their assumed ontological properties (in particular, time is conceived as different from space in various respects). These considerable differences may be glossed-over in some contexts, but should not be completely ignored in any discussion of the four dimensions.

4.     Contents of Thought Processes

I wish to now briefly draw your attention to thought in the sense of the stream of verbal and non-verbal discourse in our heads, or in written or oral discussions between us. That is, consider the so-called ‘phenomenon’ or ‘experience’ of thought, which is part and parcel of our daily life, and cannot just be ignored as incidental. As is easy to see in the early phases of meditation, thought in one form or another is itself a constant intruder in our life experience. It does not stand aside and let us watch, but functions on and on. It is normally very hard for us to avoid, often grinding on even when we do not want or need it, oblivious to our will. Nevertheless, such involuntary thought may be erratic, and effort may be required for specific directions of thought.

The term ‘thought’ is pretty vague and used variably. Thinking, in the sense of a process, includes not only words – mentally or physically spoken (or written) verbal sequences, consisting of sounds (or other signs) with meanings, which point our attention to things other than themselves – but also: ongoing current perceptions and intuitions; occasional plunges into our memory banks; imaginations of things and events; intentions to mean; conceptual and logical insights, conceptualizations; evaluations and emotional responses; intentions to do, acts of will or velleities; imaginations of thoughts, intentions, wills or velleities by oneself or some other(s).

Thought, then, in its minimal form of inner or outer meaningful speech, is to varying degrees an act of will. In its more complex forms, thought involves further acts of will (e.g. if I mentally project or intend the response someone else might have if I hit him). It also involves affections, being usually if not always driven by some desires and/or aversions, which stimulate not only its start, but also its directions and stop.

5.     Universals and Potentiality[122]

Speculation is always permissible and valuable, to show we can muster at least one possible scenario, or two or more alternative scenarios. Every theory should be argued for, as well as against, as much as possible.

Whatever it is that particular existents (appearing in experience)[123] have in common, is referred to as a ‘universal.’ The term is also applied to any common character of such universals, in turn. A number of theories have been proposed to explain what these abstract things we call universals might be. Some accounts were transcendental, some substantial, some mental and some verbal. The issue is very important, because we need to justify our conceptualizations, on which all our knowledge is based.

In my view, the problem of universals should be approached mathematically. According to this theory[124], each universal is immanent in the particulars manifesting it, but it has no individual existence of its own anywhere else. Only in our minds is the separation between particulars and universals made. We have here a harmonious marriage of Idealism and Materialism.

Imagine all existents, all phenomena be they physical or mental or whatever, as consisting of ‘vibrations of energy’[125]. These vibrations of energy are differentiated somehow, in any of various ways waves vary, but they also have common aspects with many though rarely all others. To exist is to be a wave.

All waves co-exist in the concrete world. Furthermore, waves are related abstractly by their similarities, i.e. by the wave characteristics they have in common (except for their space and time coordinates, else they would be one and the same). Everything consists of vibrations, which affect each other over time, so that the waves change and move in a multitude of ways.

The result is a network, intense vibrational activity every which way, in constant flux. We perceive existents as they flash before us, by way of the senses, setting our own bodies, brains and souls in vibration (how precisely, has to be looked into). The world as a whole may be viewed as the additive and therefore common resultant of all particular vibrations. The overall noise or music they make, the orchestral symphony of existence.

The tree of classification of all existents that we constantly build up in our minds, judging and memorizing the interrelations between different concepts, has no objective counterpart, but our ‘classes’ are indeed to be found in the concrete world, in the way of comparable fractions or aspects or measures of vibrations, or of their motions, or of their interrelations.

A big question for the theory of universals to answer is the existence of potentiality[126]. For our universals are not always actual in a given moment of the world as we experience it. This issue is not unrelated to that of causality, as we shall see.

The universal is generally thought to remain constant while its manifestations in various points of space-time are the particular variations of it that we experience in our journey through space and time. Where is this ‘constancy’ expressed? It would seem that without actual particular manifestation, the universal does not actually exist. Does it suffice to say that false universals exist in mind instead of matter? But what of the potentiality of a universal that has not yet had a particular, nor been thought about?

We should in this context mention attempts to solve the problem of potentiality with reference to a multitude (or an infinity) of universes, like ours or unlike ours. This position is found in Buddhism, and has become interesting to scientists in recent years.

According to this view, the world in its largest sense would include multitudes of universes, which like ours constitute momentary, local explosions of manifest turbulent, plural being in the grand fabric of serene monist existence. Or like molecules of water in the ocean.

Such multiple universes might be connected somehow (Einstein speculated on this issue), or totally unconnected. The ‘laws of nature’ operative in these universes might be wholly or partly the same or different (as Newton speculated).

There might also be universes within universes, related as microcosm and macrocosm. Each quark in our world may be a universe on a smaller scale of space and time, full of black holes, galaxies, stars, planets, living beings, atoms and quarks, with its own Big Bang. Our world may in turn itself be but a quark in a larger universe.

In that case, potentiality (and other modes of possibility) could mean continued existence in another universe of the grand world, while impossibility means nonexistence or cessation of being “in all possible worlds” (a phrase we owe to Liebniz, I think). Whether man can really hope to resolve such issues is questionable. All this is speculation, of course.

A more down to earth answer would be as follows. For a start, the wave-form constituting a ‘potential but not actual’ universal is a mathematical potential of space-time, together with all other ‘potential but not actual’ universals. That is to say, the potentiality has no specific shape and form stored anywhere specific, but is merely a potentiality inscribed in space-time itself by the very fact of the mathematical possibility of this wave-form and all others in it.

If so, then perhaps everything is potential. Whether the course of the world ever gives rise to all its potentials is then another question. It would at first sight depend only on whether the previous positions of the world process allow for such outcome, given enough time. But if we consider the facts of causation, we see that the situation is more restrictive still.

Not all conceivable wave-forms occur for the simple reason that there are interactions between existing wave-forms. The few fundamental ‘laws of physics’ are supposed to summarize the given condition of the material world, and predetermine that certain wave-forms that pure mathematics would allow (if antecedents were ignored) will never in fact be actualized. Similarly, supposedly, in the mental domain.

Our knowledge of these ‘laws of nature’ is not given us in advance, so it has to be based on gradual accumulation of empirical information. Anything is conceivable, but not everything is potential. In most situations, we only know potentiality from actuality, though in some contexts we can predict it from earlier information.

This is where causation is sought out: so and so occurs when this or that occurs and only then. The potential is thus what occurs in specific circumstances. Therefore, the actuality wherein potentiality is ‘stored’ is in the surrounding circumstances, or their antecedents. Potentialities are inscribed in nature’s actualities, and passed on from moment to moment, by virtue of the interactions of all waves in the universe.

6.     Social vs. Personal Knowledge

Each person has knowledge (experiences and insights, as well as introspections) that no one else has. Some of this personal knowledge is verbally shared – i.e. transmitted to others. Much of our individual knowledge comes from other people in this way. We absorb a bit from each of many people (family, friends, neighbors, books, teachers, media, etc.); but not, note well, from all people. Thus, social knowledge is diffuse, more a network of partly overlapping limited circles, than a totality we plug into and feed.

The ‘collective ownership’ of humanity’s knowledge is a theoretical ‘potential’, rather than an actuality. We do not each have all available knowledge – no one has that: we couldn’t in fact ever have it, it is just too vast. Thus, the idea is not just a fiction – it is not even possible.

For these reasons, it is not really accurate to speak of science as a common possession, the sum total of all scientific knowledge. Rather, science is a mutual process of communication, data-exchange, and peer acknowledgment or criticism – whose result is broader and more precise, though still limited, knowledge within each of the participants in science.

7.   The Active Role of Logic

1.     Principles of Adduction[127]

The concepts and processes of adduction are fundamental tools of human cognition, which only started becoming clear in recent centuries thanks to philosophers like Francis Bacon or Karl Popper. Even so, many people are still today not aware of this important branch of logic. Logic is the art and science of discourse. Like all logical principles, those of adduction are firstly idealized descriptions of ordinary thinking, and thereafter prescriptions for scientific thought.

Anything we believe or wonder about or disbelieve may be considered a theory. Everything thinkable has some initial credibility at first glance, but we are for this very reason required to further evaluate it, otherwise contradictories would be equally true! Adduction is the science of such evaluation: it tells us how we do and should add further credibility to a theory or its negation. To adduce evidence is to add logical weight to an idea.

A theory T is said to predict something P, if T implies P (but does not imply nonP). A theory T may predict the negation of something, i.e. nonP; we might then say that T disclaims P; in such case, T implies nonP (but does not imply P). A theory T may not-predict P, or not-predict nonP, which are the same situation by our definition (i.e. where T does not imply P and does not imply nonP); we might then say that T is neutral to P (and to nonP).[128]

A theory T has always got at least one alternative nonT, at least to start with[129]. Normally, we do not have only one theory T and its negation nonT to consider, but many theories T1, T2, T3, etc. If any of these alternatives are compatible, they are improperly formulated. Properly formulated alternatives are not merely distinct but incompatible[130]. Let us henceforth suppose we are dealing with such contraries or contradictories, so that the alternatives in the disjunction ‘T1 or T2 or T3 or…’ are mutually exclusive[131].

Theories depend for their truth on internal consistency and consistency with all other knowledge, both the theoretical and the empirical. Here, we are concerned in particular with the estimating the truth, or falsehood, of theories with reference to their predictions or lack of them.

  • By correct (or true) prediction we mean that T predicts P and P indeed occurs, or that T disclaims P and nonP indeed occurs.
  • By incorrect (or false) prediction is meant that T predicts P whereas nonP is found to occur, or that T disclaims P whereas P is found to occur.

Ultimately, occurrences like P or nonP on which we base our judgments have to be mere phenomena – things which appear in our experience, simply as they appear[132].

If a theory seems true at first sight, it is presumably because its alternative(s) was or were quickly eliminated for some reason – for example, due to inconsistency, or because of obviously untenable predictions. If no alternative was even considered, then the first theory – and its alternative(s) – must be subjected to consistency checks and empirical tests. By the latter term we refer to observation (which may be preceded by experiment) of concrete events (and eventually some of their abstract aspects), to settle issues raised by conflicting theories.

It is conceivable that only one theory concerning some issue be at all thinkable; but this situation must not be confused with that of having only succeeded in constructing one theory thus far. For it also happens that we have no theory for the issue at hand (at present and perhaps forever), and we do not conclude from this that there is no explanation (we maintain that there is one, in principle). It must likewise be kept in mind that having two or more theories for something does not ensure that we have all the possible explanations. We may later (or never) find some additional alternative(s), which may indeed turn out to be more or the most credible.

Alternative theories may have some predictions in common; indeed they necessarily do (if only in implying existence, consciousness and similar generalities). More significant are the differences between alternative theories: that one predicts what another disclaims, or that one predicts or disclaims what another is neutral to; because it is with reference to such differences, and empirical tests to resolve issues, that we can confirm, undermine, select, reject or establish theories.[133]

If a theory correctly predicts something, which at least one alternative theory was neutral to, then the first theory is somewhat confirmed, i.e. it effectively gains some probability of being true (lost by some less successful alternative theory). If a theory is neutral to something that an alternative theory correctly predicted, then the first theory is somewhat undermined, i.e. it effectively loses some probability of being true (gained by a more successful alternative theory). If all alternative theories equally predict an event or all are equally neutral to it, then each of the theories may be said to be unaffected by the occurrence.

Thus, confirmation is more than correct prediction and undermining more than neutrality. By our definitions, these terms are only applicable when alternative theories behave differently, i.e. when at least one makes a correct prediction and at least one is neutral to the occurrence concerned. If all alternatives behave uniformly in that respect, they are unaffected by the occurrence, i.e. their probability ratings are unchanged. Thus, confirmation (strengthening) and undermining (weakening) are relative, depending on comparisons and contrasts between theories.[134]

Furthermore, we may refer to degrees of probability, (a) according to which and how many theories are confirmed or undermined with regard to a given occurrence, and (b) according to the number of occurrences that affect our set of theories. If we count one ‘point’ per such occurrence, then (a) in each event the theory or theories confirmed share the point, i.e. participate in the increased probability, while that or those undermined get nothing; and (b) over many instances, we sum the shares obtained by each of the theories and thus determine their comparative weights (thus far in the research process). The theory with the most accumulated such points is the most probable, and therefore the one to be selected.[135]

Note that it may happen that two alternative theories T and nonT, or a set of theories T1, T2, T3… are in equilibrium, because each theory is variously confirmed by some events and undermined by others, and at the end their accumulated points happen to be equal. This is a commonplace impasse, especially because in practice we rarely do or even can accurately assign and compute probability ratings as above suggested in the way of an ideal model. We end up often relying on judgment calls, which people make with varying success. But of course, such decisions are only required when we have to take immediate action; if we are under no pressure, we do not have to make a stand one way or the other.

If any prediction of a theory is incorrect, then the theory is rejected, i.e. to be abandoned and hopefully replaced, by another theory or a modified version of the same (which is, strictly speaking, another theory), as successful in its predictions as the previous yet without the same fault. The expression ‘trial and error’ refers to this process. Rejection is effective disproof, or as near to it as we can get empirically. It follows that if T incorrectly predicts P, then nonT is effectively proved[136]. So long as a theory seemingly makes no incorrect predictions, it is tolerated by the empirical evidence as a whole. A tolerated theory is simply not-rejected thus far, and would therefore be variously confirmed, undermined, unaffected.

A theory is finally established only if it was the only theory with a true prediction while all alternative theories made the very opposite prediction. In short, the established theory had an exclusive implication of the events concerned. Clearly, if nonT is rejected, then T is our only remaining choice; similarly, it all alternatives T2, T3… are rejected, then the leftover T1 is established[137]. We may then talk of inductive proof or vindication. Such proof remains convincing only insofar as we presume that our list of alternative theories is complete and their respective relations to their predictions correct, as well as that the test was indeed fully empirical and did not conceal certain untested theoretical assumptions. Proof is deductive only if the theory’s contradictory is self-contradictory, i.e. if the theory is self-evident.

Once a theory is selected on the basis of probabilities or established because it is the last to withstand all tests, it retains this favored status until, if ever, the situation changes, i.e. as new evidence appears or is found, or new predictions are made, or new theories are constructed.

It is important to note that, since new theories may enter the discussion late in the day, events which thus far had no effect on the relative probabilities of alternative theories or on a lone standing theory, may with the arrival on the scene of the additional player(s), become significant data. For that reason, in the case of selection, even though correct predictions or neutralities may previously have not resulted in further confirmations or undermining, they may suddenly be of revived interest[138]. Likewise, in the case of establishment, we have to continue keeping track of the theory’s correct predictions or neutralities, for they may affect our judgments at a later stage.

Certain apparent deviations from the above principles must be mentioned and clarified:

  • Note that well-established (consistent and comparatively often-confirmed) large theories are sometimes treated as ‘proofs’ for narrower hypotheses. They are thus regarded as equivalent to empirical evidence in their force. This gives the appearance that ‘reason’ is on a par with experience with respect to evidence – but it is a false impression.

More specifically: say that (a) I guessed or ‘intuited’ the measure of so and so to be x, and (b) I calculated same to be x. Both (a) and (b) are ‘theories’, which can in fact be wrong, yet (a) being an isolated theory (or offhand guess) is considered confirmed or rejected by (b), because the latter being broader in scope (e.g. a mathematics theorem) would require much more and more complex work to be put in doubt.

The more complicated the consequences of rejecting an established hypothesis, the more careful we are about doing such a thing, preferring to put the pressure on weaker elements of our knowledge first.

  • Note also here the following epistemological fallacy: we often project an image, and then use this imagined event as an empirical datum, in support of larger hypotheses. In other words, speculations are layered: some are accepted as primary, and then used to ‘justify’ more removed, secondary speculations. By being so used repeatedly, the primary speculations are gradually given an appearance of solidity they do not deserve.

The term ‘fact’ is often misused or misunderstood. We must distinguish between theory-generated, relative fact and theory-supporting, absolute fact.

  1. ‘Facts’ may be implied by one’s theory, in the sense of being predicted with the expectation that they will be found true, in which event the theory concerned would be buttressed. Such ‘facts’ are not yet established, or still have a low probability rating. We may call that supposed fact. It is properly speaking an item within one’s theory, one claimed to be distinguished by being empirically testable, one that at first glance is no less tentative than the theory that implied it.
  2. In contrast, established fact refers to propositions that are already a source of credibility for the theory in question, being independently established. The logical relation of implication (theory to fact) is the same, but the role played by the alleged fact is different. Here, a relatively empirical/tested proposition actually adds credibility to a proposed theory.

2.     Generalization is Justifiable

The law of generalization is a special case of adductive logic, one much misunderstood and maligned.

In generalization, we pass from a particular proposition (such as: some X are Y) to a general one (all X are Y). The terms involved in such case are already accepted, either because we have observed some instances (i.e. things that are X and things that are Y) or because in some preceding inferences or hypotheses these terms became part of our context. These terms already overlap to at least a partial extent, again either thanks to an observation (that some things are both X and Y) or by other means. The generalization proper only concerns the last lap, viz. on the basis that some X are Y, accepting that all X are Y. There is no deductive certainty in this process; but it is inductively legitimate.

The general proposition is strictly speaking merely a hypothesis, like any other. It is not forever fixed; we can change our minds and, on the basis of new data (observed or inferred), come to the alternate conclusion that ‘some X are not Y’ – this would simply be particularization. Like any hypothesis, a generalization is subject to the checks and balances provided by the principles of adduction. The only thing that distinguishes this special case from others is that it deals with already granted terms in an already granted particular proposition, whereas adduction more broadly can be used to invent new terms, or to invent particular as well as general propositions. To criticize generalization by giving the impression that it is prejudicial and inflexible is to misrepresent it. We may generalize, provided we remain open-minded enough to particularize should our enlarged database require such correction.

Some criticize generalization because it allows us to make statements about unobserved instances. To understand the legitimacy of generalization, one should see that in moving from ‘some X are Y’ to ‘all X are Y’ one remains within the same polarity of relation (i.e. ‘are,’ in this case); whereas if one made the opposite assumption, viz. that some of the remaining, unobserved instances of X are not (or might not be) Y, one would be introducing a much newer, less justified relation. So far we have only encountered Xs that are Y, what justification do we have in supposing that there might be Xs that are not Y? The latter is more presumptive than assuming a continued uniformity of behavior.

Note this argument well. When we generalize from some to all X are Y, we only change the quantity involved. Whereas if, given that some X are Y, we supposed that some other X are also Y and some are not Y, we change both the quantity and the polarity, for we are not only speculating about the existence of X’s that are not Y, but also saying something about all X (those known to be Y, those speculated to also be Y and those speculated to be not Y). Thus, the preference on principle of particularization to generalization would be a more speculative posture.

Whence, generalization is to be recommended – until and unless we find reason to particularize. Of course, the degree of certainty of such process is proportional to how diligently we have searched for exceptions and not found any.

To those who might retort that an agnostic or problematic position about the unobserved cases would be preferable, we may reply as follows. To say that, is a suggestion that “man is unable to know generalities.” But such a statement would be self-contradictory, since it is itself a claim to generality. How do these critics claim to have acquired knowledge of this very generality? Do they claim special privileges or powers for themselves? It logically follows that they implicitly admit that man (or some humans, themselves at least) can know some generalities, if only this one (that ‘man can know some generalities’). Only this position is self-consistent, note well! If we admit some generality possible (in this case, generality known by the logic of paradoxes), then we can more readily in principle admit more of it (namely, by generalization), provided high standards of logic are maintained.

Moreover, if we admit that quantitative generalization is justifiable, we must admit in principle that modal generalization is so too, because they are exactly the same process used in slightly different contexts. Quantitative generalization is what we have just seen, the move from ‘some X are Y’ to ‘all X are Y,’ i.e. from some instances of the subject X (having the predicate Y) to all instances of it. Modal generalization is the move from ‘(some or all) X are in some circumstances Y’ to ‘(some or all) X are in all circumstances Y,’ i.e. from some circumstances in which the XY conjunction appears (potentiality) to all eventual surrounding circumstances (natural necessity). It is no different a process, save that the focus of attention is the frequency of circumstances instead of instances. We cannot argue against natural necessity, as David Hume tried, without arguing against generality. Such a skeptical position is in either case self-defeating, being itself a claim to general and necessary knowledge!

Note that the arguments proposed above in favor of the law of generalization are consistent with that law, but not to be viewed as an application of it. They are logical insights, proceeding from the forms taken by human thought. That is to say, while we induce the fact that conceptual knowledge consists of propositional forms with various characteristics (subject, copula, predicate; polarity, quantity, modality; categorical, conditional), the analysis of the implications on reasoning of such forms is a more deductive logical act.

Thus, generalization in all its forms, properly conceived and practiced, i.e. including particularization where appropriate, is fully justified as an inductive tool. It is one instrument in the arsenal of human cognition, a very widely used and essential one. Its validity in principle is undeniable, as our above arguments show.

3.     Logical Attitudes

Logic is usually presented for study as a static description and prescription of forms of proposition and arguments, so that we forget that it is essentially an activity, a psychic act. Even the three Laws of Thought have to be looked at in this perspective, to be fully understood. To each one of them, there corresponds a certain mental attitude, policy or process…

  1. To the Law of Identity, corresponds the attitude of acknowledgement of fact, i.e. of whatever happens to be fact in the given context. Here, the term ‘fact’ is meant broadly to include the fact of appearance, the fact of reality or illusion, or even the fact of ignorance or uncertainty. Also, the attention to eventual conflicts (contradictions, incompatibilities, paradoxes, tensions) and gaps (questions, mysteries); and by extension, other forms of oppositional relations.
  2. To the Law of Non-contradiction, corresponds the policy of rejection of contradictions. Contradictions occur in our knowledge through errors of processing of some kind (e.g. over-generalization, uncontrolled adduction, unsuccessful guessing), which is ultimately due to the gradual presentation of information to the human observer and to his limited, inductive cognitive means. The Law is an insight that such occurrence, once clearly realized, is to be regarded not as a confirmation that contradiction can occur in reality, but as a signal that a mere illusion is taking place that must be rejected.
  3. To the Law of the Excluded Middle, corresponds the process of searching for gaps or conflicts in knowledge and pursuing their resolution. This is the most dynamic cognitive activity, an important engine in the development of knowledge. And when a contradiction or even an uncertainty arises, it is this impulse of the human thinking apparatus that acts to ask and answer the implicit questions, so as to maintain a healthy harmony in one’s knowledge.

Thus, the exercise of logic depends very much on the human will, to adopt an attitude of factualism and resolve to check for consistency, look for further information and issues, and correct any errors found. The psychological result of such positive practices, coupled with opportunity and creativity, is increasing knowledge and clarity. The contraries of the above are avoidance or evasion of fact, acceptance of contradictions, and stupidity and laziness. The overall result of such illogical practices is ignorance and confusion.

Whereas ‘consciousness’ refers to the essentially static manifestation of a Subject-Object relation, ‘thought’ is an activity with an aim (knowledge and decision-making). The responsibility of the thinker for his thought processes exists not only at the fundamental level of the three Laws, but at every level of detail, in every cognitive act. Reasoning is never mechanical. To see what goes on around us, we must turn our heads and focus our eyes. To form a concept or formulate a proposition or construct an argument or make an experiment or test a hypothesis, we have to make an effort. The more attentive and careful our cognitive efforts, the more successful they are likely to be.

4.     Syllogism Adds to Knowledge

People generally associate logic with deduction, due perhaps to the historic weight of Aristotelian logic. But closer scrutiny shows that human discourse is largely inductive, with deduction as but one tool among others in the toolbox, albeit an essential one. This is evident even in the case of Aristotelian syllogism.

A classic criticism of syllogistic logic (by J. S. Mill and others) is that it is essentially circular argument, which adds nothing to knowledge, since (in the first figure) the conclusion is already presumed in the major premise. For example:

All men are mortal (major premise)
Caius is a man (minor premise)
therefore, Caius is mortal (conclusion)

But this criticism paints a misleading picture of the role of the argument, due to the erroneous belief that universal propositions are based on “complete enumeration” of cases[139]. Let us consider each of the three propositions in it.

Now, our major premise, being a universal proposition, may be either:

  • axiomatic, in the sense of self-evident proposition (one whose contradictory is self-contradictory, i.e. paradoxical), or
  • inductive, in the way of a generalization from particular observations or a hypothesis selected by adduction, or
  • deductive, in the sense of inferred by eduction or syllogism from one of the preceding.

If our major premise is (a), it is obviously not inferred from the minor premise or the conclusion. If (b), it is at best probable, and that probability could only be incrementally improved by the minor premise or conclusion. And if it is (c), its reliability depends on the probability of the premises in the preceding argument, which will reclassify it as (a) or (b).

Our minor premise, being a singular (or particular) proposition, may be either:

  • purely empirical, in the sense of evident by mere observation (such propositions have to underlie knowledge), or
  • inductive, i.e. involving not only observations but a more or less conscious complex of judgments that include some generalization and adduction, or
  • deductive, being inferred by eduction or syllogism from one of the preceding.

If our minor premise is (a), it is obviously not inferred from any other proposition. If (b), it is at best probable, and that probability could only be incrementally improved by the conclusion. And if it is (c), its reliability depends on the probability of the premises in the preceding argument, which will reclassify it as (a) or (b).

It follows from this analysis that the putative conclusion was derived from the premises and was not used in constructing them. In case (a), the conclusion is as certain as the premises. In case (b), the putative conclusion may be viewed as a prediction derived from the inductions involved in the premises. The conclusion is in neither case the basis of either premise, contrary to the said critics. The premises were known temporally before the conclusion was known.

The deductive aspect of the argument is that granting the premises, the conclusion would follow. But the inductive aspect is that the conclusion is no more probable than the premises. Since the premises are inductive, the conclusion is so too, even though their relationship is deductive. The purpose of the argument is not to repeat information in the premises, but to verify that the premises are not too broad. The conclusion will be tested empirically; if it is confirmed, it will strengthen the premises, broaden their empirical basis; if it is rejected, it will cause rejection of one or both premise(s).

In our example, conveniently, Caius couldn’t be proved to be mortal, although apparently human, till he was dead. While he was alive, therefore, the generalization in the major premise couldn’t be based on Caius’ mortality. Rather, we could assume Caius mortal (with some probability – a high one in this instance) due to the credibility of the premises. When, finally, Caius died and was seen to die, he joined the ranks of people adductively confirming the major premise. He passed from the status of reasoned case to that of empirical case.

Thus, the said modern criticism of syllogism (and by extension, other forms of “deductive” argument) is not justified. Syllogism is a deductive procedure all right, but it is usually used in the service of inductive activities. Without our ability to establish deductive relations between propositions, our inductive capabilities would be much reduced. All pursuit of knowledge is induction; deduction is one link in the chain of the inductive process.

It should be noted that in addition to the above-mentioned processes involved in syllogism, we have to take into account yet deeper processes that are tacitly assumed in such argumentation. For instance, terms imply classification, which implies comparison, which mostly includes a problematic reliance on memory (insofar as past and present cases are compared), as well as perceptual and conceptual powers, and which ontologically raises the issue of universals. Or again, prediction often refers to future cases, and this raises philosophical questions, like the nature of time.

The approach adopted above may be categorized as more epistemological than purely logical. It was not sufficiently stressed in my Future Logic.

5.     There is a Formal Logic of Change

In an article in the December 1997 issue of Network[140], “Goethe’s Organic Vision”, Bortoft[141] exposes the limitation of modern scientific thinking to static relations, and how it could have been avoided had we paid more attention to Goethe’s[142] more dynamic way of looking at things.

Bortoft argues, in effect, that when science adopted its mathematical approach to the description of nature, as of the 18th Century under Neoplatonistic influences, in its enthusiasm it missed out on a valuable epistemological opportunity which Goethe had presented it.

The latter, in his The Metamorphosis of Plants, considers that “it may be possible out of one form to develop all plant forms”. Bortoft explains that this was not meant to be interpreted, as it has been by many, as a search for the commonalties of plant organs (and plants) – but rather, as Rudolph Steiner[143] had done, as an attempt to capture a supposed biological transformation of some original unitary organ (or plant) into a multiplicity of organs (or plants).

That is, Goethe was not referring to Platonic universals concerning a ‘finished product’, but to a living process. He was looking for the multiplicity ‘emerging from an original unity’, rather than for an ‘unity underlying multiplicity’.

I want to here let it be known that the linguistic/logical tools needed to implement Goethe’s programme already exist. Propositional forms through which to verbally express change (including metamorphosis), and the deductive logic (oppositions, syllogism, etc.) concerning such forms, have already been worked out in considerable detail in my work Future Logic[144].

Aristotle had, in his treatises on logic, crystallized and surpassed the work of his predecessors, and in particular that of his teacher Plato, by formalizing the language of classification and the reasoning processes attending it.

The common characters (including behaviors[145]) of things were expressed as predicates of subjects, in categorical propositions of the form “X is Y” (where X, Y… stood for universals). The relation expressed by the copula ‘is’ was clarified in the various deductive processes, and in particular by syllogism such as “if X is Y and Y is Z, then X is Z”. This is all well known, no need for more detail.

While Aristotle limited his formal treatment to such static relations, essentially the relations between particulars, species and genera, he did in his other works investigate change informally in great detail. He was bound to do so, in view of the interest the issues surrounding it had aroused in Greek philosophy since its beginnings. His approach to change was, by the way, distinguished by his special interest in biology.

What concerns us here is the distinction between being and becoming, which Aristotle so ably discussed.

In “X is Y”, a thing which is X is also Y – it has both characters at once, in a static relation expressed by the copula of being (is). In contrast, in “X becomes Y”, the particular in question is at first X and at last Y, but not both at once; it ceases being X and comes to be Y, it undergoes change – the copula of becoming expresses a dynamic relation.

The latter copula can easily be subjected to the same kind of logical analysis as was done for the simpler case. The formal treatment in question may be found, as I said, in my above-mentioned work[146]. What I want to stress here is the significance of the introduction of propositions concerning change into formal logic.

Our philosophical view of classification has been distorted simply because Aristotle stopped his logical investigations where he did. Perhaps given more time he would have pursued his research and extended our vision beyond the statics of classification into its dynamics.

For, finally, it is very obvious that things do not just fall under classes once and forever, but they also pass over from one class to another.

And this is true not just in biology, but in all fields. The baby I was once became an older man. The water used in the hydrolytic process became hydrogen and oxygen. Logicians have no need to invent a special language, and there is nothing artificial in considering changes in subsumption. We all, laymen and scientists, speak the language already and reason with it all the time.

No change of paradigm is called for, no metaphysical complexities, note well. The only problem is that philosophers have lagged behind in their awareness of the phenomenon. Nothing said here invalidates the static approach; we merely have to enrich it with awareness of the dynamic side.

Let me add, in conclusion, that Bortoft’s article has made me realize that the subject term (X) of “X becomes Y” may be seen as a sort of ‘genus’ in relation to the predicate term (Y)[147]. For, in addition to reawakening us to the dynamic aspects of our world, Goethe is pointing out[148] that the root form, the common historical source of present forms, has a unifying effect, distinct from that of mere similarities in present characteristics.

Upon reflection we see that here it is not “X” per se which is a genus, but the derivative term “came out of X” which is obviously different in its logical properties. After an X becomes a Y, we can classify that Y under the heading of things that came out of an X (though not under things X). The closer study of this more complex predicate, involving both tense and course of change, would constitute an enlargement of class logic.

For evidently, a broad consideration of class logic has to recognize a distinct existence and identity to terms which are not only present and attributive (is X), but past (was X) or future (will be X) in the mutative (came out of X, will come out of X) or alterative (got to be out of X, will get to be out of X) senses. For each of these terms is legitimate (and oft-used in practice) and sure to have its own behavior patterns[149].

The scope of class logic studies has so far been limited so as to simplify the problem; but once the simpler cases are dealt with, we are obliged to dig deeper and try and give an account of all forms of human reasoning.

6.     Concept Formation

Many philosophers give the impression that a concept is formed simply by pronouncing a clear definition and then considering what referents it applies to. This belief gives rise to misleading doctrines, like Kant’s idea that definitions are arbitrary and tautologous. For this reason, it is important to understand more fully how concepts arise in practice[150]. There are in fact two ways concepts are formed:

  1. Deductive concepts. Some concepts indeed start with reference to a selected attribute found to occur in some things (or invented, by mental conjunction of separately experienced attributes). The attribute defines the concept once and for all, after which we look around and verify what things it applies to (if any, in the case of inventions) and what things lack it. Such concepts might be labeled ‘deductive’, in that their definition is fixed. Of course, insofar as such concepts depend on experiential input (observation of an attribute, or of the attributes imagined conjoined), they are not purely deductive.

Note in passing the distinction between deductive concepts based on some observed attribute(s), and those based on an imagined conjunction of observed attributes. The former necessarily have some real referents, whereas the latter may or not have referents. The imagined definition may turn out by observation or experiment to have been a good prediction; or nothing may ever be found that matches what it projects. Such fictions may of course have from the start been intended for fun, without expectation of concretization; but sometimes we do seriously look for corresponding entities (e.g. an elementary particle).

  1. Inductive concepts. But there are other sorts of concepts, which develop more gradually and by insight. We observe a group of things that seem to have something in common, we know not immediately quite what. We first label the group of things with a distinct name, thus conventionally binding them together for further consideration. This name has certain referents, more or less recognizable by insight, but not yet a definition! Secondly, we look for the common attribute(s) that may be used as definition, so as to bind the referents together in our minds in a factual (not conventional, but natural) way. The latter is a trial and error, inductive process.

We begin it by more closely observing the specimens under consideration, in a bid to discern some of their attributes. One of these attributes, or a set of them, may then stand out as common to all the specimens, and be proposed as the group’s definition. Later, this assumption may be found false, when a previously unnoticed specimen is taken into consideration, which intuitively fits into the group, but does not have the attribute(s) required to fit into the postulated definition. This may go on and on for quite a while, until we manage to pinpoint the precise attribute or cluster of attributes that can fulfill the role of definition.

I would say that the majority of concepts are inductive, rather that deductive. That is, they do not begin with a clear and fixed definition, but start with a vague notion and gradually tend towards a clearer concept. It is important for philosophers and logicians to remember this fact.

7.     Empty Classes

The concept of empty or null classes is very much a logical positivist construct. According to that school, you but have to ‘define’ a class, and you can leave to later determination the issue as to whether it has referents or is ‘null’. The conceptual vector is divorced from the empirical vector.

What happens in practice is that an imaginary entity (or a complex of experience, logical insight and imagination) is classified without due notice of its imaginary aspect(s). A budding concept is prematurely packaged, one could say, or inadequately labeled. Had we paid a little more attention or made a few extra efforts of verification, we would have quickly noted the inadequacies or difficulties in the concept. We would not have ‘defined’ the concept so easily and clumsily in the first place, and thus not found it to be a ‘null class’.

One ought not, or as little as possible, build up one’s knowledge by the postulation of fanciful classes, to be later found ‘empty’ of referents. One should rather seek to examine one’s concepts carefully from the start. Though of course in practice the task is rather to reexamine seemingly cut-and-dried concepts.

I am not saying that we do not have null classes in our cognitive processes. Quite the contrary, we have throughout history produced classes of imaginary entities later recognized as non-existent. Take ‘Pegasus’ – I presume some of the people who imagined this entity believed it existed or perhaps children do for a while. They had an image of a horse with wings, but eventually found it to be a myth.

However, as a myth, it survives, as a receptacle for thousands of symbolizations or playful associations, which perhaps have a function in the life of the mind. It is thus very difficult to call ‘Pegasus’ a null-class. Strictly speaking, it is, since there were never ‘flying horses’. But in another sense, as the recipient of every time the word Pegasus is used, or the image of a flying horse is mentally referred to, it is not an empty class. It is full of incidental ‘entities’, which are not flying horses but have to do with the names or images of the flying horse – events of consciousness which are rather grouped by a common symbol.

Mythical concepts in this sense are discussed by Michel Foucault in his Order of Things.

We can further buttress the non-emptiness of imaginary concepts by reminding ourselves that today’s imaginations may tomorrow turn out to have been realistic. Or getting more philosophical we can still today imagine a scenario for ourselves, consistent with all experience and logical checks, in which ‘Pegasus’ has a place as a ‘real’ entity, or a concept with real referents. Perhaps one day, as a result of genetic manipulations.

Another example interesting to note is that of a born-blind person, who supposedly lacks even imaginary experience of sights, talking of shape or color. Such words are, for that person, purely null-classes, since not based on any idea, inner any more than outer, as to what they are intended to refer to, but on mere hearsay and mimicry. Here again, some surgical operation might conceivably give that person sight, at which time the words would acquire meaning.

But of course, there are many concepts in our minds, at all times, which are bound to be out of phase with the world around since we are cognitively limited anyway. It follows that the distinction here suggested, between direct reference and indirect (symbolic – verbal or pictorial) reference, must be viewed as having gradations, with seemingly direct or seemingly indirect in-betweens.

Furthermore, we can give the cognitive advice that one should avoid conceptualization practices that unnecessarily multiply null-classes (a sort of corollary of Ockham’s Razor). Before ‘defining’ some new class, do a little research and reflection, it is a more efficient approach in the long run.

One should also endeavor to distinguish between ‘realistic’ concepts and ‘imaginary’ concepts, whenever possible, so that though the latter be null classes strictly speaking, their mentally subsisting elements, the indirect references, may be registered in a fitting manner. Of course, realistic concepts may later be found imaginary and vice-versa; we must remain supple in such categorizations.

Imaginary concepts are distinguished as complexes involving not only perception and conception, but also creativity. The precise role of the latter faculty must be kept in mind. We must estimate the varying part played by projection in each concept over time. This, of course, is nothing new to logic, but a restatement for this particular context of something well known in general.

8.     Context[151]

We may here refer to as a ‘text’ any word, phrase, sentence or collection of sentences, or indeed any meaningful symbol (such as a traffic sign or a Chinese character[152]). A text may be explicit in thought, speech or writing; or it may be implicit, yet to be made explicit. When two or more texts come together in a body of knowledge, or in a selected framework under consideration, they form a combined text, and each text is said to be taken ‘in the context of’ the other text(s) present or under consideration. Note also: If a text logically implies some other text or parts of a text, the latter text or parts is/are called a ‘subtext’ of the former.

Each text taken alone carries with it a certain range of meaning or semantic charge, which is all the possible intentions or interpretations inherent in it, with reference to all possible contexts. This is of course a theoretical notion, since we are never omniscient: it is an open-ended concept; as our knowledge develops, more and more of these possible meanings come to light. Nonetheless, we can represent this eventual totality as a circle for the sake of argument. Thus, contextuality can to some extent be illustrated as the intersection between two (or more) such circles of meaning, as in Figure 5.

Obviously, the texts must be compatible, to give rise to a combined text[153]. As this diagram makes clear, the intersection of texts may not give rise to just one joint meaning (a point); it may well give rise to a range of meanings (an area, though one smaller than the original areas). The meaning(s) that they share is/are their compatibility, and the areas outside their intersection are their distinctions and incompatibilities. Note that some, perhaps most, of the “meanings” under consideration are bound to be experiential (actual or at least potential experiences): they are far from entirely conceptual.

But, the essence of contextuality is the mutual impact that combined texts have on each other. When two texts intertwine, if the meaning of neither of them is apparently affected by the presence of the other text, they cannot be regarded as constituting a context for each other. Contextuality is joint causation by the combination of texts of some new, or more specific, meaning. The combined text has a semantic charge somewhat different from the separate texts that constitute it. Either some “new” meaning is caused to appear for us by such fusion (i.e. though it was in the theoretical semantic charge, we were not yet made aware of it in actuality); or though the meaning was foreseen as potential, the fusion of texts has narrowed down the scope of possibilities and so brought that meaning to the fore or into sharper focus.

A one-word text has a broad range of potential meanings (all its eventual denotations and connotations, now known or not yet known). When you combine it with other words, in a phrase or sentence, you inevitably fine-tune its range of meanings, since only its occurrences in such conjunction are henceforth under consideration. But if you had not till now been aware that this word was combinable with those others, the moment of discovery was an enrichment of meaning for that word, as far as you are concerned. The fine-tuning aspect may be viewed as “deductive”; the enriching aspect may be viewed as “inductive”.

In this way, bringing texts together in thought or common discourse serves to naturally enlighten us as to their meanings, to increase our understanding or the precision of our insights. This is no mystical event, but is a natural consequence of logic, an operation of the reasoning faculty. And by logic, here, understand inductive as well as deductive logic. After all, what is the whole thrust of this science – its analysis of the forms (categorical, conditional, etc.) and processes (oppositions, eductions, syllogisms, adductions) – but to evaluate once and for all the effect of terms and propositions on each other.

A formal example is syllogism. The premises are two texts, say “X is Y” and “Y is Z”, and the conclusion “X is Z” is the context, i.e. the common ground (or part of it) of meaning in them. Each text in isolation includes this proposition (X is Z) and possibly its opposite. But when the two are brought together, this meaning (X is Z) in them is selected.

Of course, some mystery remains. We may well wonder at the ultimate universality of logical insight. Contrary to the beliefs of certain naïve logicians, it is not by means of conventions that reason keeps us in sane contact with experience. It is rather a sort of orderliness, by careful attention to the laws of thought. It is an ethical choice and habit, not a compulsion. Many people fail in this duty of sanity much of the time, and most people do so some of the time (hurting themselves and others).

9.     Communication

Logic and language are used primarily for individual thought, and only thereafter for communication between individuals and in groups. Some logicians and linguists seem to forget that, and stress their social aspect, considering the facts of biological evolution. There is no denying that the physiological organs that make human speech possible had to evolve before language could occur. It is also doubtless that the existence of social groups with common experiences and survival goals greatly stimulated the development of verbal discourse. Nevertheless, it is logically unthinkable that any social communication occur without there being first an equivalent movement of thought within the individual mind.

Moreover (as I explain earlier, in chapter 3.2), before verbal thought or dialogue there has to be intention. Words are phenomenal, first occurring in the way of sounds and images in the mind, whether they are taught by society or personally invented. Preverbal thought is intuitive: it is the self-knowledge of what experiences or abstractions we personally intend to refer to or understand by the words used or encountered. Before a logical insight is put into words, it occurs silently and invisibly, as something introspectively evident. To grasp the meanings we attach to words, we range far and wide in our present and past experiences and reasoning. All the factors thus scanned, which effectively contribute to the meaning of a text, are its ‘context’ for the individual concerned.

With regard to communication between people (or even with animals), additional factors must be taken into consideration. First, we have to note the empirical facts that, to all appearance, communication is sometimes successful and sometimes not. Both these facts are significant.

Secondly, successful communication may seemingly be nonverbal as well as verbal. Some nonverbal discourse occurs in the way of facial expressions, bodily gestures, tonalities of voice, etc. – this is still phenomenal, indeed material, communication, which largely relies on the common behavior patterns of individuals, and in particular the similarity of their emotional reactions. If I shout angrily or wail despairingly, you recognize the sounds as similar to those you emit when you have these emotions, and you assume I am having the same emotions (or occasionally, pretending to have them).

There may also exist nonverbal communication based on telepathy, i.e. apparently on a non-material vehicle, though possibly through some material field (e.g. electromagnetic waves). Thoughts might alternatively be transported in some shared mental domain; or telepathy might even be non-phenomenal, based on possibility of intuition into other people’s souls as well as our own. I tend to believe in telepathy (however its means), but readily admit that such a conjecture is not currently scientifically detected and justified. It is mentioned here in passing.

With regard to verbal communication between two (or more) players, the following is worth mentioning. It may be oral (speech) or visual (writing, alphabetical or using other symbols). In the case of speech, the emitter is a speaker and the receiver is an auditor. In the case of writing, we have a writer and a reader. There are different (variously related) languages, and even the same language is not necessarily fully shared. Obviously, both the players must have (part of) a language in common for verbal communication to at all occur.

Inevitably, two people who share the same text do not have exactly the same context for it. They may have both had a certain experience, but their perspectives and memories of it are likely to differ. They may both know and use a word or concept, but it means somewhat different things to them. They may agree on certain beliefs or principles, but understand them variously. For example, the word “logic” means different things to two logicians, and all the more so to a logician and a layperson. Or again, a scientist’s idea of “intellectual honesty” and that of a journalist are very different.

This brings us, thirdly, to the complexities of communication: the difficulty of transmitting what one intends to mean and that of interpreting what was meant. The one making a statement (call him or her A) may wish to reveal something and/or to conceal something; the intent may be sincere and transparent, or manipulative and distortive. The one interpreting the statement (call him or her B) must, as well as understanding its content at face value, critically evaluate its honesty or dishonesty. For both parties, both deductive and inductive aspects are involved.

A may call upon B to remember certain common experiences or to believe some reported experiences, to form certain concepts and propositions from them, and to draw certain deductive and inductive inferences from them. To achieve this end, A must guess what B knows or does not know, and how intelligent he or she is, and tailor the statement accordingly.

For example, a teacher may want to ensure the transmission of knowledge by adding more information or explanation, giving students sufficient indices so that there will be no misunderstanding. Or for example, a biased TV news team may slant a “report” by filming or showing only certain aspects of an event, and they may air with it comments that are either explicitly tendentious or that serve their aims through a cunning choice of words and tone of voice, or they may simply add background music that produces the desired emotional reaction of sympathy or rejection.

On the other side, B has to guess, or more or less systematically estimate, what A intended by the statement made, and how reliable a witness A is. This may involve looking into one’s memory banks for matching or conflicting personal experiences, researching in other sources (looking in a dictionary, the public library or the Internet, or interviewing people around one), thinking for oneself, spotting contradictions, using syllogisms, trying and testing different hypotheses, and so forth. This sort of inner discourse goes on usually unconsciously all day long when we are dealing with people, trying to understand their words and deeds.

8.   Epistemological Issues in Mathematics

The following are a few reflections on the Philosophy of Mathematics, which I venture to offer although not a mathematician, having over time encountered[154] treatments of issues that as a philosopher and logician I found questionable. The assault on reason throughout the 20th Century has also had its effects on the way philosophers of mathematics understood the developments in that subject. Having a different epistemological background, I can propose alternative viewpoints on certain topics, even while admitting great gaps in my knowledge of mathematics.

1.     Mathematics and Logic

Attending lectures on the work of Jean Piaget, I was struck by the confusion between logic and mathematics in his identification of learning processes. Some that I would label as mathematical, he labeled as logical; and vice versa. This is of course due to the blurring of the distinction found in a lot of modern logic. There are two aspects to this issue, according to the direction of viewing.

  1. Mathematics is used in logic. Mathematics, here, refers mainly to arithmetic and geometry; for instances, in considerations of quantity (or more broadly, modality) in the structure of propositions or within syllogistic or a fortiori arguments.
  2. Logic is used in mathematics. Logic is here intended in a broad sense, including the art (individual insights) and the science (concepts, forms and process) of logic; for instance, logic is used to formulate conditions and consequences of mathematical operations.

For example, the statement “IF there are 100 X at time t1 AND there are 150 X at time t2, THEN the rate of change in number of X was (150 – 100)/(t2 – t1) per unit time.” Here mathematical concepts (the numbers 100, 150, t1 and t2) are embedded in the antecedent (if) of a hypothetical proposition (implication), and additionally a formula (viz. (150 – 100)/(t2 – t1)) for calculating a new quantity is embedded in the consequent (then), derived from the given quantities.

The logical part of that statement here is the “if-then-” statement. What makes it logical is that it is a form not limited to mathematics, but which recurs in other fields of knowledge (physics, psychology, whatever). It is a thought process (the act of understanding and forming a proposition) with wider applicability than mathematical contexts; it is more general.

The mathematical part of said statement is the listed numerical concepts involved and the calculation based on them – the operations involved (in the present case, two subtractions and a division. The insight that the proposed formula indeed results in the desired knowledge (the resulting quantity) belongs to mathematics. Logic here only serves to conceptually/verbally express a certain relation (the implication) established by mathematical reasoning.

We should also note the mathematical elements found in defining the “if-then-” form – notably appeal to a geometrical example or analogy of overlapping circles (Euler or Venn diagrams). Nevertheless, there clearly remains in such forms a purely logical, in the sense of non-mathematical, element; such explanations cannot fully express their meaning. The quantitative part is merely the visible tip of the iceberg of meaning; the qualitative – more broadly conceptual – part is a more difficult to verbalize and so relatively ignored aspect.

Of course, we can also say that in the largest sense of the term logic – discourse, thought process – even mathematical reasoning is logic. The division is ultimately artificial and redundant. Nevertheless, these subjects have evolved somewhat separately, with specialists in mathematics and specialists in more general (or the rest of) logic. It is also probable, judging by the work of Jean Piaget and successors in child learning processes, that different logical or mathematical concepts and processes are learned at different ages/periods of early childhood, and there are variations in temporal order from one child to another.

Historically, it is a fact that we have adopted the separation of these investigations and a division of labor, so that logic and mathematics have been considered distinct subjects of study. Of course, there has been much communication and intertwining between these two fields, and indeed attempts at merger. Here, I merely want to indicate where the boundaries of the distinction might lie. Specifically quantitative concepts and operations are mathematics; whereas logic deals with thought processes found in other fields besides. In this view, mathematics is quantitative discourse, whereas logic is (also) non-quantitative discourse.

By making such fine distinctions, we can for instance hope to better study human mental development.

2.     Geometrical Concepts have an Experiential Basis

The idea that mathematical systems such as Hilbert’s[155] are “axiomatic” – that is, pure of any dependence on experience is a recurring myth, which is based on an erroneous view of how knowledge of this field has developed. I have discussed the source of this fallacy at length in my Future Logic (see chapter 64, among others); here I wish to make some additional, more specific remarks.

I do not deny that Hilbert’s postulates are mutually consistent and by themselves sufficient to develop geometrical science. My objection is simply to the pretentious claim that his words and propositions are devoid of reference to experience. We need only indicate the use of logical expressions like “exists,” “belonging,” “including,” “if – then –,” etc., or mathematical ones like “two,” “points” “line,” etc., to see the dependence.

Take for example the concept of a group (to which something “belongs” or in which something is “included”). The concept is not a disembodied abstract, but has a history within knowledge. The idea of grouping is perhaps derived from the practice of herding animals into an enclosure or some such concrete activity. The animals could all be cows – but might well be cows mixed with goats and sheep. So membership in the group (presence in the enclosure) does not necessarily imply a certain uniformity (a class, based on distinctive similarity – e.g. cows), but may be arbitrary (all kinds of animals, say). Thus, incidentally, the word group has a wider, less specific connotation than the word class (which involves comparison and contrast work). Without such a physical example or mental image of concrete grouping, the word would have no meaning to us at all. So, genetically, the word grouping – and derived expressions like belonging or including, etc. – presupposes a geometrical experience of some sort (a herding enclosure or whatever). We cannot thereafter, after thousands of years of history of development of the science of geometry, claim that the word has meaning without reference to experience. Such a claim is guilty of forgetfulness, and to claim that geometry can be built up from it is circular reasoning and concept-stealing.

It would be impossible for us to follow Hilbert’s presentation without bringing to mind visual images of points, successions of points, lines crisscrossing each other, this or that side of a line, etc. Those images at least are themselves mental objects in internal space, if not also end products of our past experiences of physical objects in external space. The value and justification of Hilbert’s work (and similar attempts, like Euclid’s) is not that is liberates geometry from concrete experiences of objects in space, but merely that it logically orders geometrical propositions so that they are placed in order of dependence on each other (from the least to the most).[156]

Geometrical “axioms” are thus not absolutes somehow intuited ex nihilo, or arbitrary rules in a purely symbolic system[157], but hypotheses made comprehensible and reasonable thanks to experience. That experience, as I argue below, need only be phenomenal (it does not ultimately matter whether it is “real” or “merely illusory”) but it needs to be there in the first place. That experience does not have to give us the axioms ready-made – they remain open to debate – but it gives us the concepts underlying the terms we use in formulating such axioms. In this sense, geometry – and similarly all mathematics – is fundamentally empirical (in a phenomenological sense) – even if much rational work is required beyond that basic experience to express, compare and order geometrical propositions.

It is futile to attempt to avoid this observation by talking of succession of symbolic objects, A, B, C. Even here, I am imagining the symbols A, B, C in my mind or on paper as themselves concrete objects placed in sequence next to each other! I am still appealing to a visual – experiential and spatial – field. Thus, any claim to transcend experience is naïve or dishonest. Experience is evidently a sine qua non for any axiomatization, even though it is clearly not a sufficient condition. The experiences make possible and anchor the axioms, but admittedly do not definitely prove them – they remain hypotheses[158]. Geometry is certainly not as some claim a deductive science, but very much an inductive one, and the same is true of other mathematical disciplines.

3.     Geometry is a Phenomenological Science

3.1       The so-called axioms of geometry have changed epistemological status in history as follows:

  1. At first, they seemed obvious, i.e. immediately proved by experience (naïve view). But the naïve view, not being based on reflection, is rejected as such once reflection begins.
  2. Then they were regarded as axioms, i.e. theses without possible credible alternatives (axiomatic view). But this view, which is a worthy attempt to justify the preceding, suffers upon further reflection from an apparent arbitrariness. The label “axiom” is found to be a pretentious claim to an absolute – when denial of it does not result in any contradiction.
  3. Then it was considered that they were merely credible hypotheses among other possibilities, i.e. that alternative hypotheses were conceivable and possibly credible (hypothetical view). One can even imagine that different geometries might be applicable in different contexts, and regard the Euclidean model as approximately representative on the human everyday scale of things, and thus consider that all or many of these alternative hypotheses are equally credible.
  4. Then they were thought to be pure inventions of the human mind, incapable of either verification or falsification (speculative view). This view may at first sight seem epistemologically unacceptable, since it claims to transcend the hypothetical view and posits to know a truth that is by definition beyond our testing abilities. However, it must be understood in the context of the doubt in the existence of geometrical points, lines or surfaces. That is, it is a denial of geometrical science as such.

However, as we shall see, these latter criticisms can themselves be subjected to rebuttal, especially on phenomenological grounds.

3.2       The arguments put forward against geometrical science as such[159] are indeed forceful. We have considered the main ones in the section on ‘Unity In Plurality,’ pointing out that physical objects do not, according to modern physical theories based on scientific experiments, have precise corners or edges or surfaces, but fuzzy, arbitrarily defined limits, so that we are forced to admit all things as ultimately just ripples in a single world-wide entity.[160]

There might be a fundamental weakness in such argumentation – a logical fault it glosses over. If the whole of modern physical science is itself based on the existence and coherence of geometrical science (by which I of course do not mean only Euclidean geometry, but all the discipline developed and accepted over time by mathematicians), can it then turn around and draw skeptical conclusions about that Geometry? Remember, all the mathematics of waves and particles, of space and time, were used as premises, together with empirical results of physical experiments, to inductively formulate and test the physical theories we currently adhere to – can the latter physical conclusions then be used to argue against these very mathematical premises?

Logically, there is no real self-contradiction in this. The sequence is “Math theory” (together with empirical findings) implies “Physical theory” that in turn implies doubt on initial “Math theory.” So what we have in fact is denial of (part of) the antecedent by the consequent, which is not logically impossible, though odd. The consequent is not denying itself, although it puts its own parent in doubt.

Thus, a more pondered and moderate thesis about geometry has to be formulated, which avoids such difficulties while taking into account the aforesaid criticisms regarding points, lines and surfaces. Waves and particles (which are presumably clusters of waves) may somehow be conceivable and calculable, without heavy reliance on the primary objects of our current geometry (points, lines and surfaces), which apparently have no clear correspondence in nature. In the meantime, our current geometry can legitimately be used as a working hypothesis, since it gives credence to our physical view.

3.3       Let us now consider where the extreme critics of geometry may have erred. We can accept as given the proposition that no dimensionless points, no purely one-dimensional lines, no purely two-dimensional surfaces (Euclidean or otherwise) can be pointed to in natural space-time accessible to us.

This is granting that to exemplify such primary objects of geometry we would need to find material objects with definite tips, edges or sides – whereas we know that all material objects are made of atoms themselves made of elementary particles themselves very fuzzy objects, apparently subject to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle.

Nevertheless, we tend to regard the ultimate nature of these nondescript bodies to be clusters of “waves of energy”. This is of course a broad statement, which ignores the particle-wave predicament and which rushes forth in anticipation of a unified field theory; furthermore, it does not address the question regarding what it is that is being waved, since the Ether assumed by Descartes has since the experiments of Michelson and Morley and Einstein’s Relativity theory been (apparently definitively) discredited.

But my purpose here is not to affirm this wave view of matter as the ultimate truth, but rather to consider the impact of supposing that everything is waves on our question about the status of geometry. For if particles are eventually decided to be definitely not entirely reducible to waves, then geometry would be justified by the partial existence of particles alone; so the issue relates to waves.

If we refer to the simplest possible wave, whatever it be, a gravitational field or a ray of light – it behaves like a crease or dent in the fabric of the non-ether where waves operate (to use language which is merely figurative). Such hypothetical simplest fractions of waves surely have a geometrical nature of some sort. That is to say, if we could look[161] that deep into nature, we would expect to discern precise points, lines and surfaces – even if at a grosser level of matter we admittedly cannot.

Thus, I submit, the possible wave-nature of all matter is not really a forceful argument against geometry. Even if we can never in practice precisely discern points, lines and surfaces, because there may be no material bodies of finite shape and size, geometry remains conceivable, as a characteristic of a world of waves.

All the above is said in passing, to clear out side issues, but is not the main thrust of my argument in defense of geometry. We admittedly can perhaps never hope to perceive waves directly, i.e. our assumption of their geometrical nature is mere speculation. But that is not an argument of much force against geometry as such, in view of its existence and practical successes, which mean that geometry is not speculation in the sense of a thesis incapable of verification or falsification, a pure act of faith, but more in the way of a hypothesis that is repeatedly confirmed though never definitely proved. Simply an inductive truth – like most scientific truths about nature!

But let us consider more precisely how geometry actually arises in human knowledge. It has two foundations, one experiential (in a large sense) and the other conceptual.

3.4       The experiential aspect of geometrical belief is that there seems to be points, lines (straight or curved), surfaces (flat or warped) and volumes (of whatever shape) in the apparently material world we sense around us as well as in the apparently mental world of our imaginings. This seeming to be is enough to found a perfectly real and valid geometry. The justification of geometry is primarily phenomenological, not naturalistic!

Seeming is (I remind you) the appearance, or (in this case) phenomenal, level of existence, prior to any judgment as to whether such phenomenon is a reality or an illusion. In other words, geometrical objects do not have to be proven to be realities – in the sense of things actually found in an objective physical nature – they would be equally interesting if they were mere illusions! Because illusions, too, be they mere ‘physical illusions’ (like reflection or refraction) or mental projections, are existents, open to study like realities.

The study of phenomena prior to their classification as realities or illusions is called phenomenology. At the phenomenological level, ‘seeming to be’ and ‘being’ are one and the same copula. Only later, on the basis of broad, contextual considerations, is a judgment properly made as to the epistemological status of particular appearances, some being pronounced illusions, and the remainder being admitted as realities[162]. If, therefore, geometrical science has a phenomenological status, i.e. if it is a science that can and needs be constructed already at the level of phenomena, it is independent of ultimate discoveries about the physical world.

The mere fact, admitted by all, including radical critics of geometry, that we get the impression, at the human everyday level of perception, that a table has four corners and sides and a flat top, suffices to justify geometry. This middle-distance depth of perception, even if it is ultimately belied at the microscopic level of atoms or the macroscopic level of galaxies, still can and has to be considered and analyzed. A science of geometry only requires apparent points, lines and surfaces.

And even if this last argument were rejected, saying that the points, lines and surfaces we seem to see in our table are just mental projections by us onto it, we can reply that even so, mental projections of points, lines and surfaces are themselves real-enough objects existing somehow in this world. They may be illusions, in the sense that they wrongly inform us about the external world, they may be purely internal constructs, but they still even as such exist. A subjective existent is as much an existent as an objective one – in the sense that both are equally well phenomena.

The mental matrix of imagination, at least, must therefore be capable of sustaining such geometrical objects. And if this restricted part of the world – our minds – displays points, lines and surfaces – then geometry is fully justified, even if the rest of the world – the presumed material part – turns out to be incapable of such a feat and geometry turns out to be inapplicable to it.

But the latter prospect thus becomes very tenuous! As long as geometry could be rejected in principle, by the elusiveness of its claimed objects under the microscope, there was a frightening problem. But once we realize that the very existence of Geometry requires the possibility somewhere of the concretization of its objects – even if only as a figment of our imaginations – the problem is dissolved. In short, our very ability to discuss geometrical objects, if only to doubt their very existence, is proof of our ability to at least produce them in the mind, and therefore of their ability to exist somewhere in this world. And if all admit that geometrical objects can exist in some part of the world (the mental part at least), then it is rather inductively difficult and arbitrary to deny without strong additional evidence that they exist elsewhere (in the material part). The onus of proof reverts to the deniers of material geometry.

3.5       The conceptual aspect of geometrical belief must however be emphasized, because it moderates our previous remarks concerning the experiential aspect. Conceptualization of geometrical objects has three components, two positive ones and a negative one.

  1. a) The primary positive aspect of geometrical conception consists of rough observation, abstraction and classification, (i) refers to the above mentioned concrete samples of points, lines, surfaces and volumes, apparent in the material and mental domains of ordinary experience – this is phenomenological observation; and (ii) observes their distinctive similarities (e.g. that this and that shape are both lines, even though one is straight and short and the other is long and curved, say) – this is abstraction; and (iii) groups them accordingly under chosen names – this is classification.
  2. b) The negative aspect of geometrical conception is the intentional act of negation, reflecting the inadequacy of mere reference to raw experience. Unlike their empirical inspirations, a theoretical point has no dimension (no length, no breadth, no depth); a theoretical line is extended in only one dimension – it has no surface; a theoretical surface in only two dimensions – it has no volume. Each theoretical geometrical object excludes certain empirical extensions. It is thus an abstraction (based on concretes, of course) rather than a pure concrete.

As I have explained elsewhere, negation is a major source of human concepts, allowing us to form them without any direct experience of their objects. That is, while the concrete referents of “X” may be directly perceivable; those of “Non-X” need not be so. We consider defining them by negation of X as sufficient – since every thing (except the largest concept “thing”, or existent) has to have a negation, since every thing within the universe is limited and leaves room for something else.

Such negative definition of the geometrical objects is not, however, purely verbal or a mere conjunction of previous concepts (“not” + “X”). There is an active imaginative aspect involved. I mentally, or on paper, draw a point or a line, and mentally exclude or rub-off further extensions from it. Thus, even if my mental matrix, or my pencil and paper, may be in practice unable to exemplify for me a truly dimensionless point or fine line or mere surface, I mentally dismiss all excessive thickness in my sample. This act may be viewed as a perceptual equivalent of conceptual negation.

  1. c) Another, more daring positive conceptual act may be called assimilation, which we can broadly define as: regarding something considerably different as considerably similar. This a more creative progression by means of somewhat forced simile or analogy, through which we expand the senses of terms.

For example, the concept of a “dimension” of space is passed on to time. The Cartesian fourth dimension is at first perhaps thought up as a convenient tool, but eventually it is reified and in Einstein we find it cannot be dissociated from space. Our initial concept of dimension has thus shifted over into something slightly different, since the time extension of bodies is distinctively one-directional and not as visible as their space extensions (see more on this topic in earlier chapters).

Another example is the evolution from Euclidean geometry, the first system that comes to mind from ordinary experience (and in the history of geometrical science), to the later Non-Euclidean systems. A shape considered as “curved” in the initial system is classed as “straight” or “flat” in another system. We have to assimilate this mentally – i.e. say to ourselves, within this new geometrical system, straightness or flatness has another concrete meaning than before, yet the role played by these previously curved shapes in it is equivalent to that played by straight lines or flat surfaces Euclidean system.

Note well how ordinary experience of everyday events and shapes are repeatedly and constantly appealed to by the mind in all three of the above conceptual acts. It is important to stress this fact, because some mathematicians try to ignore such experiential grounding and cavalierly claim that what they do is independent of any experience. The whole of the present essay is intended to belie them, by increasing awareness of the actual genetic processes underlying the development of mathematical sciences.

The academic exercise of formulating the starting assumptions (“axioms”) of the various geometrical systems does not occur in a vacuum. In order to understand whether “parallels” meet or not, I visualize ordinary (Euclidean) parallels, then imagine them curving towards each other or curving apart; then I say “even though they meet or spread apart, I may still call them parallel within alternative geometrical systems”. Without some sort of concretization, however forced, the words or symbols used would be meaningless.

3.6       Finally, I’d like to mention here in passing that many of the remarks made here about geometry apply to other fields of mathematics. Thus, arithmetic should also be viewed as a phenomenological science. That is, its primary objects – the unit (“1”) and growing collections of such units (“2”, “3”, etc.) – that is, natural, whole, positive, real numbers – do not require any reference to an established “reality,” but could equally be constructed from a sense field (visual or other) composed entirely of illusory events or entities. It is enough that something appears before us to concretely grasp a unit, and many things, to concretely grasp the pluralities.

4.     On “New Arithmetical Entities”

By arithmetic entities, we initially mean units and pluralities (the natural numbers). These objects, which are not unrelated to geometrical objects, need only be phenomenal. One can conceptualize a unit and pluralities of units equally well from an illusory or imaginary field of perception as from a real one. The sense-modality involved is also irrelevant: shapes, sounds, touch-spots, items smelt or tasted – any of these can be units.

What is the epistemological status of novel arithmetical entities? Some mathematicians apparently claim that a concept like the negative number –1 or the imaginary number √-1 is a “new entity” incapable of being reduced to its constituent operations (-, √) and numbers (1, etc.). The definitions of such abstract entities are given in series of equations like:

Where –1 + 1 = 0, –2 + 2 = 0, etc….


Where √-1 √-1 = –1, √-2 √-2 = –2, etc….

However, this means that the signs used (– , + , = , √ , , , etc.) are each in turn a new thing in each definition, even though presented to us in the same physical form (symbol-shape and name) as existing entities. Here, the sign that was originally an operator (a relational concept between two terms) has become attached to a term (making of it a new term) – so that the sign itself has changed nature.[163]

It seems clear to me that this doctrine of irreducibility and newness, while a good-faith try at explaining the leaps of imagination involved in such mathematical concepts, in fact involves some dishonesty since such definitions tacitly rely on the implicit meanings of the building blocks that are their sources both logically and in the progression and history of thought.

Rather we should, in my view, look at these leaps as indefinite stretching of meaning, i.e. we say: “let this concept (-,√, whatever) be widened somewhat (to an undecided, undetermined extent) so that the following analogy be possible….” This extending of meaning (or intention) is itself imaginary, in that we cannot actually trace it (just we cannot concretize the concept of infinity by actually going to infinity, but accept a hazy non-ending).

(Such development by analogy is nothing special. As I have shown throughout my work, all conceptualization is based on grouping by similarity, of varying precision or vagueness – or the negation of such. Terms are rarely pre-definable, but are usually open-ended entities whose meaning may evolve intuitively as more referents are encountered.)

We thus produce doubly imaginary hypothetical entities. And here an analogy to the concrete sciences is possible, in that the properties of such abstract entities are tested (in accordance with adductive principles), not only logically in relation to conventions and arbitrary laws initially set up by our imagination (as the said mathematicians claim), but also empirically in relation to the properties known to be obtained for natural numbers.

Natural numbers, therefore, do not merely constitute a small segment of the arsenal of mathematical entities (as they claim), but have the status of limiting cases for all other categories of numbers (negatives, imaginaries, etc.)[164]. If any proposed new abstract formula does not work for natural numbers, it is surely rejected.

This is evident, for instance, in William Hamilton’s attempted analogy from couples to triplets. He found that though complex numbers expressed as couples (with one imaginary number i2 = –1) could readily be multiplied together, in the case of triplets (using two imaginary numbers i2 = j2 = –1) results inconsistent with expectations emerged when natural numbers were inserted in the formula.[165]

Note particularly this reference to two (or more) different imaginary numbers, namely i and j whose squares are both equal to –1. Here, we introduce j as an imaginary extension of the concept of i that has no distinguishing mark other than the symbolic difference applied to it! We simply imagine that the meaning of j might somehow differ from that of i so that although i2 = j2 = –1 it does not follow that i = j = √-1 (or even that ij = –1). An unstated and unspecified differentia is assumed but never in fact provided[166]. This is yet another broadening of mathematics “by stretching” (i.e. by unsupported analogy, as above explained).[167]

The example here referred to clearly shows that, however fanciful its constructs (by definition and analogy), mathematics undergoes an occasional empirical grounding with reference to natural numbers, which limits the expansiveness of its imagination and ensure its objectivity. New mathematical entities, although initiated by mere conventions or arbitrary postulates, must ultimately pass the test of applicability to natural numbers, i.e. consistency with their laws, to be acceptable as true mathematics. Natural numbers thus fix empirical restrictions on the development of theoretical mathematics.

5.     Imagining a Thoroughly Empirical Arithmetic

If I may be allowed some far-out, unorthodox, amateur reflections consider the following concerning fractions of natural numbers[168].

A physical body can only really be divided into n parts, say, if it has a number of constituents (be these molecules or atoms or elementary particles or quarks or whatever) divisible exactly by n – otherwise, the expression 1/n has no realistic solution!

For example, a hydrogen atom cannot be divided by two, unless perhaps its constituent elementary particles contained an even number of quarks. Or again, if I wanted to divide (by volume or weight) an apple fairly among three children, it would have to have a number of identical apple molecules precisely divisible by three. Otherwise, each child would get 0.333… (recurring) part of an apple – which we have no experimental proof is practically possible and indeed we know is not!

The concept of an infinitely recurring decimal is a big problem – consider the debates about Π (pie) in the history of mathematics. How can I even imagine going on adding digits to infinity, when I know my life, and that of humanity, and indeed of the Universe are limited in time, and when I know that space is physically limited so that there would not be place enough for a real infinity of digits even if there were time enough? Surely, such a concept may be viewed as an antinomy.

What this means is that arithmetic as we know it is not necessarily a thoroughly “empirical” science – it is an ideal assuming infinite divisibility of its objects. The mere fact that I can imagine an apple or atom as divisible at will, does not make it so in the real world. Though in some cases the number ½ or 1/3 may have a real object, a realistic solution, in many cases this is in fact a false assumption. [169]

Even in the mental domain, although we can seemingly perfectly divide objects projected in the matrix of imagination (whatever its “substance” may be), it does not follow that viewed on a very fine level (supposing we one day find tools to do so) such division is always in fact concretely possible.

These thoughts do not invalidate the whole of arithmetic, but call for an additional field or system of arithmetic where the assumption of infinite divisibility of integers is not granted. That is, in addition to the current “ideal” or a-priori arithmetic (involving “hypothetical” entities, like improper fractions or recurring decimals), we apparently need to develop a thoroughly “empirical” or a-posteriori – one might say positivist – arithmetic, applicable to contexts where division does not function.[170]

The same may of course be said of the related field of geometry. Infinite divisibility is a mere postulate, which may stand as an adopted axiom of a restricted system, but which should not at the outset exclude alternative postulates being considered for adjacent systems. The mathematics based on such postulate may be effective – it seems to work out okay, so perhaps its loose ends cancel each other out in the long run – but then again, the development of other approaches may perhaps result in some new and important discoveries in other fields (e.g. quantum mechanics or unified field theory)[171].

Why should mathematics be exempt from the pragmatic considerations and norms of knowledge used in physics? Can it, like alchemy or astrology were once, be uncritically based partly on fantasies? Surely, every field of knowledge must ultimately be in perfect, holistic accord with every other field and with all experience – to be called a “science” at all. The division of knowledge into fields is merely a useful artifice, not intended to justify double standards and ignorance of seemingly relevant details. Once philosophy has understood the inductive nature of knowledge, it demands severe scrutiny of all claims to a-priori truth and strict harmony with all a-posteriori truths.

We could get even more picky and annoying, and argue that no material (or mental) body is as finite as it appears, as we did in the section on ‘Unity In Plurality.’[172] Since the limits of all material or mental entities are set arbitrarily, it follows that everything is one and the same thing, and that nothing is at all in fact divisible. However, such (almost metaphysical) reflections need not (and won’t) stop us from pursuing mathematical knowledge, since they gloss over issues to do with causality[173].

That mathematical science is like all knowledge inductive, and not merely deductive, is evident from any reading of the history of the subject. Mathematicians understand the word induction in a limited sense, with reference to leaps from examples or special cases to generalities (abstractions or generalizations) or to analogies (“as there, so here” statements). But I am referring here to many more processes. Individual mathematicians, as they develop mathematics, use trial and error (adduction), putting forward hypotheses and analyzing their consequences, rejecting some as inadequate. Initially accepted mathematical propositions have often been found mistaken by other or later mathematicians, due for instances to vagueness in definitions or to short-circuits in processing, and duly criticized and corrected.

Mathematicians are well aware of the breadth of their methodology in practice. Mathematics is a creative enterprise for them, quite different from the learning process students of the subject use. The latter have the end-results given them on a platter, so that their approach is much more deductive. Mathematicians do not merely recycle established techniques to solve problems and develop new content; to advance they have to repeatedly innovate and conceive of new techniques.

9.   Theology Without Prejudice[174]

1.     Applying Logical Standards to Theology

Most theologians discuss God without telling us how they came to know so much about Him; they think that to refer to “revelation” through some prophet or other, or to their own alleged “insights” is enough justification. On the other hand, some science-minded philosophers do not admit of any validity to theology; they argue that the concept of God is a figment of mankind’s imagination and therefore that nothing of scientific value can be said about it. Both these approaches are logically improper. Or, as it is written in Proverbs 18:13:

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”

Theology is undoubtedly a legitimate branch of philosophy. It is intrinsically speculative, in that we cannot ever hope to prove or disprove its basic premise that God exists, as I showed in Judaic Logic. Briefly put:

  1. When we try to prove the existence of God with reference to the existence of the universe, or to some empirical feature (such as the order or beauty of things) or content (such as life or mankind) of the universe, we inevitably get into circular argument. For then the same standard of judgment has to be applied to the concept of God, i.e. we need to explain His existence or attributes and cannot take them for granted. All the more so, since He is less empirically evident than the things we have appealed to the concept of God to explain.
  2. When we try to disprove the existence of God with reference to some empirical data or theoretical construct, we inevitably open the way to one-upmanship. However we depict the universe, the believer can always say: “well, that’s how God made it!” The scientist (physicist, cosmologist, geologist, biologist, whatever) may well argue that a Biblical or other account of things is incorrect according to current science, but the scientist will find no argument to deny the claim that the universe as he describes it may have its ultimate source in “God”. The scientist cannot deny “metaphysics” to the believer, without himself (i.e. the scientist) engaging in “metaphysics”. Claiming to know that something beyond the knowable is not, is as pretentious as claiming to know that it is!

The concept of God is indeed a theoretical construct, whether someone else’s or one’s own. This does not imply it to be invalid or irrelevant, for the simple reason that all conceptual knowledge is ultimately based on “theoretical construction”, including all orthodox science. A concept may be admittedly speculative, and yet of interest and relevance to human thought and action. On the other hand, it does not follow that the idea of God can be formed without regard to empirical and logical tests. Our discourse on this subject like any other has to be in reasonable accord with current knowledge and internally consistent.

Purely scientific knowledge follows the laws of induction very obediently: it generalizes when that is recommended and particularizes when that is recommended. When it does not find what it is looking for (e.g. a particle or a missing link) after diligent search, it assumes that what it sought was absent all along. By way of contrast, speculative knowledge remains a bit freer, refusing to generalize offhand from “not found” to “nonexistent”. Scientists also speculate, keeping their minds open on certain theories or predictions for a long time. Without this attitude, their thought would always be straitjacketed by excessive formalism.

Religious thinkers have a right to a similar allowance, and should not be discredited offhand by the very nature of their search by closed-minded pseudo-scientific totalitarians. Such rejection would not be science, but secularist dogma. Nevertheless, it is true that religious thought is very often excessively informal, and tends to proceed willy-nilly without regard for the rules of induction, ignoring empirical evidence and indulging in shamelessly manipulative pseudo-deductions. Here as in any other field, we have the right to demand honesty and sanity.

In particular, I would characterize as cretinism the debonair approach of some religious fundamentalists, consisting in simply refusing to accept the current findings and interpretations of science, like the Big Bang cosmological theory or the Evolution theory in biology (or in the not so faraway past, the Copernican system). Such theories are in no way (as far as I can tell) incoherent with Creationism, i.e. the simple idea that God created the material universe, even if some scientists provocatively declare them to be. Even the idea that the material universe is perpetual can be reconciled with Creationism, by considering it as a timeless emanation of God.

Such theories may well be in a state of tension with too literal a reading of the Bible or similar documents, however. In that case, the holy book defender ought not to discredit religion entirely by insisting on antiquated viewpoints, but should rather stick to basics and essentials, and progressively adapt his interpretations accordingly. Even if the current scientific theories are not definitely proved and scientists frankly admit to having difficulties with them, it is silly to fight a rearguard battle against sincere seekers after truth, by (for instance) forbidding the teaching of such theories in schools.

It is also worth stressing the immense riches of reflection involved in scientific thought. Those who resist progress should but consider the grand tapestry of evolving life taught by modern biology, which is just a continuation of the still broader narrative of the evolution of matter taught by modern cosmology. What a loss to humanity if these profound insights were lost, which teach us humility and solidarity.

The phenomenological approach to theology consists simply in remaining at all times aware of the processes through which our theological beliefs or disbeliefs are generated and built-up. Our reason can then evaluate the processes, and in a balanced manner (with neither excess rationalism nor excess emotionalism) arrive at moderate, non-ideological conclusions.

It is important to accept at the outset that God’s existence and attributes can, for us common folk who have not been privileged with direct and epistemologically indubitable experiences or visions of God, only be hypothesized, and indeed only be speculated upon. Concepts of God and His attributes can be built up and made cogent, but can never ordinarily be established. Some doubt always does and will remain, and this is where faith is brought into play (making certain actions possible despite legitimate doubt).

And by the way, if these limits to human knowledge are evidently true with respect to God and his defining attributes, how much more true they are with regard to all the stories, rituals and laws found in written and oral traditions. The latter do not follow automatically upon faithful acceptance of the former, and there are many conflicting theses (all the religions and sects).

2.     Conceiving the Divine Attributes

The epistemological question as to how we humans conceive the Divine attributes must not be confused with the issue of proving that the Creator has them (granting His existence, which is not easy to prove[175]). Explaining the arising of a concept (if only for speculative purposes) is easier than, and of course prior to, proving it. It is widely understood, by believers, agnostics and atheists alike, that we conceive God’s attributes by means of extrapolation from our own limited attributes. Even God’s unity, uniqueness, ubiquity and infinity are so conceived. Any valuable or virtuous power found in us in limited degrees, is considered as present in God in unlimited degree. Thus:

  • From our partial power of volition or freewill, we can conceive that God has or would have total power – omnipotence (or all-powerfulness).
  • From our partial power of knowledge, we can conceive that God has or would have total power – omniscience (or total knowledge).
  • From our partial power of loving-kindness and mercy, we can conceive that God has or would have total power – all-mercifulness (or complete kindness).
  • From our partial power of justice, we can conceive that God has or would have total power – perfect justice.

Likewise for all values and virtues, we pass from our own imperfect qualities to God’s extreme possession of them. We generalize from ‘some’ good in us to ‘all’ good in Him. This is an ordinary inductive movement of thought, requiring no special justification. From a relatively empirical concept, we project a hypothetical concept, which is thereafter open to discussion (further confirmation or eventual rejection). We do not need to actually stretch our minds as far as the extreme, and personally experience infinity, omniscience or omnipotence, to be able to conceive it[176]. Just as general propositions are knowable[177], so are hyperbolic concepts. However, to repeat, conceiving does not imply proving.

Note that, inversely, with regard to faults or vices, while we have some, God has none. Here, we do not go from some bad to all bad, but to no bad. This is done to maintain speculative consistency: we cannot affirm extreme positives, if we do not deny the corresponding moderate or extreme negatives. Some people hypothesize both positive and negative gods (the Zoroastrian religion, or the currents of Christianity which believe in an independent devil); but in those cases neither proposed entity has stricto sensu extreme attributes, since they are in competition.

As it happens, while these generalizations individually are logically acceptable, in some cases taken together with each other or with other items of knowledge or belief, they may cause logical difficulties. We are then called upon to try and reconcile the conflicting theses. Notably, Divine omnipotence may be viewed as in logical conflict with natural determinism (in the case of Divine Providence) or human freewill (as an abdication of power by God). Or omniscience may be regarded as conflicting with the unpredictability of human freewill. Or again, infinite mercy and total justice can be considered as in mutual conflict, as well as in conflict with the apparent facts of unpunished vice or unmerited enjoyment, or of unrewarded virtue or undeserved suffering.

But as we shall see, our conceptions of the Divine attributes are not just generated by such simple extrapolations of human attributes; more refinements are involved in each case.

  • Our concept of omnipotence is also based on the human analogy that just as a person (or group) can apparently interfere in the otherwise natural course of some events, so can God but only more so, i.e. whatever the events. Also, just as one person (or group) can physically or through mental (including verbal) influence delimit, force or block, incline or disincline another to engage in certain voluntary acts, so God can exercise His will on occasion without implying that Man in principle lacks freewill.
  • On the other hand, whereas human freedom of will is naturally limited, i.e. there are natural laws and human events (and possibly Divine decrees) no person or group can circumvent or affect, in the case of God as we conceive Him no such limitation exists, He is stronger than all other forces combined. Though God could make Nature lawless or prevent any human freedom of choice, He usually chooses not to act thus, but only exceptionally (according to Biblical accounts of miracles) interferes in natural or human affairs. Precisely that is His apparent will, that there should be natural law and human freedom of will, since that is what seems to be occurring.
  • Similarly, regarding omniscience, we can render our concept of God’s power more credible by considering the corresponding smaller-scale human power in greater detail. Some philosophers consider that Divine omniscience is logically incompatible with human freewill, since it would imply that God knows Man’s choices before he makes them. However, if we reflect, we can see on the human scale that these ideas are more compatible than that.
    • A person can, through memory or by inferences, see his own or other people’s past acts of will: such hindsight by us of volitional events does not seem contradictory. If we conceive God as located at the end of time (our own or all history or eternity), looking back at all our acts of will, the problem dissolves. That is, the said problem arises due to an assumption of foresight (as would be the case for humans), but seems less intractable if hindsight (for God) is assumed.
    • As I argue elsewhere (e.g. see chapter 6.2.3), we can experience motion directly within the present moment, i.e. without recourse to memory. It follows that the present is for us extended in time (a moment), and not just a point in time (an instant). The extent of this experienced stretch of time is admittedly small in our case, but it is conceivably larger for God’s span of awareness, covering what is for us a big chunk of time at once. This thesis is all the more conceivable, because the present seems even for us of variable breadth.
    • If God can thus overview human lifetimes or all of history or eternity in one grand ‘moment’, then He is always with regard to such stretch of time effectively in a position of hindsight, i.e. He can see our volitions without affecting them. Within the grand moment accessible to Him, all events are quasi-simultaneous, as if He could mentally travel instantaneously from its beginning to its end and back at will. Thus, what appears to us as paradoxical foresight would simply to him constitute hindsight.
  • Note additionally that omniscience does not only mean the ability to know across time, but more broadly to know all events everywhere, as well as all timeless events (abstracts). Seeing events many places at once could be viewed as almost as problematic as seeing events in many times at once. Yet, just as human perception can evidently overview a considerable amount of space, so by extension it is conceivable that God can perceive all space.
  • I think that a lot of the conceptual difficulty many have with the idea of God can be dissolved if we view God as positioned proximately and parallel to and at least coextensive with (and probably much greater than) the natural world we live in. By that I mean that the view of God as suspended far away from it all causes conceptual difficulty in relating Him to the natural world. But if we rather understand God as hidden behind (or underneath or above or next to) the natural world, separated from it only by the veil of our own blindness to Him, then He becomes more conceivable[178].
  • To modernize these ideas with reference to Relativity Theory, we could speculate that God (as regards the world we inhabit, at least) resides at the center (or better, throughout the inside and perhaps also beyond) of the four-dimensional space-time ‘sphere’ (whose ‘surface’ is our material world). In this way, God would always be equidistant from (or better, contiguous with) all places and times, all points in this world. He would both transcend space and time, and be adjacent to (or even also immanent in) it. Perhaps this describes what mystics and deep meditators refer to as the “eternal present”. (Note also that Albert Einstein’s arguments refer to the immanent material world and the maximum velocity of light signals in it: he does not consider or deny that consciousness may transcend matter, nor that its scope might be instantaneous.)[179]

The above comments are not intended as exhaustive. See also, concerning the issue of God and causality, my comments in preceding chapters as well as in Buddhist Illogic (2002) and The Logic of Causation (1999, 2003).

3.     Analyzing Omniscience and Omnipotence

In Judaic Logic[180], I expressed some misgiving concerning the consistency of the concept of omniscience. The following is an attempt to analyze the issue further.

The form (a) “I know that (I know nothing)” is inconsistent, since it implies “I know something” and “I know nothing” (i.e. “I do not know anything”).

The following forms are, however, consistent: (b) I do not know that (I know nothing); (c) I know that (I know something); (d) I do not know that (I know something).

Strictly speaking, the paradox in (a) yields the conclusion (b), rather than (c), i.e. it does not exclude (d) at the outset. Unless we regard “I know nothing” as inherently paradoxical too, in which case “I know something” is implied: I think this is justified by reflection, i.e. once “I know nothing” is affirmed, we can classify it as a claim to knowledge, and thus reject it as implicitly inconsistent. Another way to the same result is to say that the “I do not know…” forms, (b) and (d), are implicitly claims to knowledge, about the state of one’s knowledge or ignorance, so that they imply (c).

Self-consciousness, even of one’s ignorance, implies consciousness, and therefore knowledge. Or simply put, (c) is logically true of all self-conscious beings (i.e. humans and God, at least – perhaps some higher animals too). However, we cannot claim (c) true for seemingly merely conscious beings, we can only say for them “they know something”.

The form of omniscience is (e) “I know that (I know everything)”. The simpler form “I know everything” implies the reflexive, because if you know everything, then you must also know that fact. This is self-consistent, and therefore claimable for God. The form (f) “I do not know that (I know everything)” is not self-consistent, since it both implies “I do not know something” and allows for “I know everything”.

Similarly, (g) “I know that (I do not know everything)” is self-consistent, as is the prior form “I do not know everything”, and this is the situation for humans and perhaps some higher animals (in both cases) and merely conscious animals (in the non-reflexive case). The form (h) ” I do not know that (I do not know everything)” implies both “I do not know something” and “I do not know everything”, the former of which implies the latter of which: there is no inconsistency.

The difficulty in the concept of omniscience is not deductive, but inductive. Granting you know everything, then of course you know that you know everything. But it is also conceivable that you have arrived at total knowledge gradually, by inductive processes, in which case, how would you know for sure that you know everything? And if the latter possibility exists, then whoever is apparently in a state of total knowledge (even by non-inductive means) is also a bit in doubt about it. That is, in practice, “I know everything” does not imply “I know that (I know everything)”, or more precisely, even granting the fact that so and so knows everything, it does not follow that so and so knows it for a fact. That is, omniscience does not necessarily include the reflexive knowledge of one’s omniscience. In a sense, this result looks paradoxical, but in a way it confirms my general suspicion towards self-inclusive classes.

There is also to consider the conceptual compatibility between the Divine attributes of omniscience and freewill. Theologians have considered the compatibility of God’s omniscience and Man’s freewill, though in my view not satisfactorily; that is, those who have sought reconciliation have not so far as I know really succeeded – it was rationalization rather than true resolution (I attempt a more convincing argument above). But have they at all asked how God could have both freewill and omniscience? If God knows everything, including in advance what He will do, how can He be said to freely choose what He does? I think my attempted answer to the first question (in the preceding section) can also be applied to the second. For God, all of time is one moment, so there is no before or after, and all knowing and doing are effectively simultaneous.

With regard to logical issues in the concept of Omnipotence, the following should be added. Omnipotence cannot be consistently defined in an unlimited manner, as literally the power to do anything whatsoever. We must rather say: God can do anything do-able in principle.

What distinguishes Him from all other entities is that whereas we finite beings can only do some (indeed, very few) of the things that are in the realm of the possible, God can do all that can conceivably be done. What He cannot conceivably do is illogical things like “creating Himself”, or “creating things that are both A and non-A, or neither A nor non-A”, or “annulling His own omnipotence”, or “annulling the factuality of past facts”. We might presumably add to this list the impossibility of His self-destructing (which would contradict His eternity), or of destroying His other defining characteristics. Moreover, I would personally — perhaps because I am a Jew (I say this so as not to offend the sensibilities of Christians, Hindus and others) — consider God incapable of incarnating, i.e. concentrating His being in a finite body, while remaining infinite.

It is not however inconceivable that God would eventually annul, circumscribe or reverse natural laws that are logically (as far as we can tell) replaceable. Here a distinction has to be drawn between natural modality and logical modality (see my work Future Logic, in this regard). In this context, local and temporary “miracles”, as are described in the Bible (e.g. the parting of the Red Sea) or other religious books, are quite conceivable – as punctual exceptions to natural law. Natural laws that are not logical laws may well be conditional upon the non-interference of God – this concept would in no way diminish their effective status as laws. Notwithstanding, it must be remembered that many such laws are logically interrelated to others, so that they might not be by-passed in isolation, but God would have to make multiple or systemic changes to produce a desired effect.

But we do not need to consider God’s every interference in the world as an abrogation of natural law. God might well have reserved for Himself a role as a powerful player within Nature.

This remark can be understood, if we consider the analogy of human will (or, more generally, animal will). The latter is conceived by us as able to overpower the natural (i.e. deterministic) course of event; furthermore, one human’s will may be more powerful than another’s. Humans (and other animals) are nevertheless considered as part of Nature, in a broader sense. We can similarly, by extension, on a larger scale and at deeper levels, regard God’s providence. To refer again to Biblical examples: He may have split the waters of the sea as we would make waves in our bathtub; He may have influenced Pharaoh’s decisions as we would suggest things to weaker minds.

If we limit our concept of Nature to deterministic events, then even human and animal will, let alone God’s will, must be classified as unnatural. But if we understand the concept of Nature as covering whatever happens to occur, then not even God’s eventual ad hoc interference in the ordinary course of events (deterministic or of lesser volitions) is unnatural.

Thus, to conclude, God’s omnipotence cannot be conceived anarchically. God’s will, in contrast to ours, is undetermined by “external” or “internal” forces and influences. But the concept remains, as for the other defining attributes, subject to consistency and other rational and empirical checks, i.e. to the laws of logic.

4.     Harmonizing Justice and Mercy

Just as God’s existence cannot be proved (or disproved), so also His attributes cannot definitively be proved (or disproved). If an attribute could be proved, that to which it is attributed would of necessity also be proved. (If all attributes could be disproved, there would be no subject left.) We may however admit as conceivable attributes that have been found internally coherent and consistent with all known facts and postulates to date. (Conversely, we may reject an attribute as being incoherently conceived or as incompatible with another, more significant principle, or again as empirically doubtful.)

Among the many theological concepts that need sorting out are those of justice and mercy[181]. Justice and Mercy: what is their border and what is their relationship?

Mercy is by definition injustice – an acceptable form of injustice, said to temper justice, render it more humane and limit its excesses. But many of the things we call mercy are in fact justice. Often when we ask (or pray) for mercy, we are merely asking not to be subjected to injustice, i.e. to undeserved suffering or deprivation of well-being.

Justice is giving a person his due, either rewarding his virtues or punishing his vices. Asking (or praying) for either of these things is strictly-speaking not a request for mercy, but a demand for justice.

So, what is mercy? A greater reward than that due (i.e. a gift) or a lesser punishment than that due (i.e. partly or wholly forgiving or healing after punishing). In the positive case, no real harm done – provided the due rewards of others are not diminished thereby. In the negative case, no real harm done – provided there were no victims to the crime.

An excess of mercy would be injustice. Insufficient punishment of a criminal is an injustice to victim(s) of the crime. Dishing out gifts without regard to who deserves what implies an unjust system.

But in any case, this initial view of moral law is incomplete. Retribution of crime is a very imperfect form of justice. True justice is not mere punishment of criminals after the vile deed is done, but prevention of the crime. Our indignation toward God or a social/political/judicial system stems not merely from the fact that criminals often remain unpunished and their victims unavenged, but from the fact that the crime was at all allowed to be perpetrated when it could have been inhibited. In the case of the fallible and ignorant human protectors of justice, this is sometimes (though not always) inevitable, so they can be excused. But in the case of God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, this is a source of great distress and doubt to those who love justice.

There are, we usually say, two kinds of crime: those with victims and those without. The latter include crimes whose victim is the criminal himself (they are his own problem), or eventually crimes against God (who, being essentially immune to harm, and in any case quite capable of defending His own interests, need not deeply concern us here). With regard to crimes with victims, our concern is with humans or animals wrongfully hurt in some way. The harm may be direct/personal (physical and/or mental – or in relation to relatives or property, which ultimately signify mental and/or physical harm to self) or indirect/impersonal (on the environment or on society – but these too ultimately signify an impact on people or animals).

A truly just world system would require God’s prevention of all crime with innocent victims, at least – which He does not in fact do, judging by all empirical evidence, which is why many people honestly doubt His justice or His existence. To say (as some people do) that the failure to prevent undeserved harm of innocents is mercy towards the criminals, giving them a chance to repent, is a very unsatisfying response. It doesn’t sound so nice when you consider that it was ‘unmerciful’ (i.e. unjust) to the victims: they were given no chance. Perhaps, then, if not in a context of prevention, the concept of mercy has some place in the context of ex post facto non-retribution.

Avenging the victims of crime seems like a rather useless, emotional response – too late, if the victim is irreversibly harmed (maimed, killed, etc.). If the victim were not irreversibly harmed, his restoration and compensation would seem the most important thing, preferably at the expense of the criminal. But we know that vengeance also to some degree serves preventive purpose: discouraging similar acts by other potential criminals (raising the eventual price of crime for them) or educating actual criminals (so they hopefully do not repeat their misdeeds). To be ‘merciful’ to actual criminals with victims is therefore not merely to abstain from a useless emotional response, but to participate in eventual repetitions, of similar crimes by the same criminal or others like him.

It must be stressed that taking into account extenuating circumstances is not an act of mercy, but definitely an act of justice. Not to take into account the full context in formulating a judgment is stupidity and injustice. Perhaps the concept of mercy was constructed only to combat imperfectly constructed judicial systems, incapable of distinguishing between nuances of motive and forces. The law says so and so without making distinctions and is to be applied blindly without variation – therefore, ‘mercy’, an apparently ‘irrational’ exception to the law, is necessary! It would not be necessary if the law were more precisely and realistically formulated. Thusly, as well for allegedly Divine law systems as for admittedly human law systems. If the system and those who apply it are narrow-minded and inhumane, of course you need ‘mercy’ – but otherwise, not.

Another way the concept of mercy is used is in wish or prayer. We hope that the ‘powers that be’ (Divine or human) will indeed give us our due, rewarding our good efforts or preventing or punishing our enemies’ evil deeds, even though this is not always the case in this imperfect world. Such calls to mercy are a form of realpolitik – they are not really calls for injustice, but calls for justice clothed in humble words designed to avoid a more fundamental and explicit criticism the failure of true justice of the powers-that-be. Again, if absolute justice were instituted, there would be no need for such appeals to ‘mercy’; the right would be automatically done. Well, human justice is inevitably deficient: even with the best of intention and will, people are neither omniscient nor infallible, so uncertainty and even error are inevitable, and in such context ‘mercy’ is perhaps a useful concept.

But in the case of God, what excuses can we give? How can we justify for Him the imperfection of the world? We try to do so with reference to freewill – justice presupposes responsibility, which presupposes freedom of choice. But this argument is not fully convincing, for we can dig deeper and say: if the world couldn’t be made just, why was it made at all? Or if it had to be made, why not a world of universal and unvarying bliss – who ever said that freewill was required? For this question there seems to be no answer, and it is the ultimate basis of the complaint of theodicy. The counter-claims of ultimate justice – causes of seemingly unjust reward or punishment invisible to humans, balancing of accounts later or in a reincarnation or in an afterlife – seem lame too. If justice is invisible it is also unjust, and justice later is too late since for the intervening time injustice is allowed to exist. So we are left perplex.

Even when we see two equally good men unequally treated, one rewarded as he deserves and the other given better than he deserves, or two equally bad men unequally mistreated, our sense of justice is piqued. All the more so when the one with more free gifts is less deserving than the one with less free gifts. And all the more so still when the bad is not only not punished but given gifts and the good not only not rewarded but mistreated. For then all effort toward the good and away from the bad is devaluated and rendered vain. If there is no logic in the system of payment, then what incentives have we? Certainly, the resultant effect is not to marvel at the love and mercy of the payer, but rather at the injustice and lack of love that such chaotic distribution implies.

Perhaps then we should ask – what is good and what is bad? Perhaps it is our misconception of these things that gives us a false sense that injustice roams the world. The way to answer that is to turn the question around, and ask: should we construct our concepts of good and bad empirically, by simply judging as good all actions which seem to result in rewards and bad all actions which seem to result in punishment (the ‘market’ value of good or bad)? Such a pragmatic approach (which some people find convenient, until they bear the brunt of it themselves) is surely contrary to humanity’s intuitions. For in such case, criminals become defenders of justice (justiciers) and victimization should always be a source of rejoicing for us. This is the antithesis of morality, which is based on human compassion towards those who suffer indignities and indignation towards those who commit indecencies. These intuitions must be respected and supported, against all claims of religion or ideology or special interests.

Some say there are no innocent victims – implying (for example) that even those who perished in the Holocaust must have been guilty of some commensurate crime, in a previous lifetime if not in the current one. Some say there are no culprits – for instance, many Buddhists apparently hold this view, with reference to karmic law. These propositions are two sides of the same coin. As soon as you have a doctrine of perfect justice, divine or natural, you stumble into this pitfall. Only by admitting the imperfection of justice in the world can we become sensitive to the undeserved sufferings of people (others’ or one’s own).

5.     The Formlessness of God

Finally, I would like to share an insight I recently had at the synagogue, an aspect of “emptiness” not previously discussed by me. The God of Judaism, and more broadly of similarly monotheistic religions, is absolutely formless – which means, devoid of any shape or form, devoid of any sensible or phenomenal characteristics. (More precisely, this God is conceived as having no phenomenal characters, but as quite able to produce them.) How then is He to be at all known by us mere mortals?

Standing in worship, I gratefully realize that I am not projecting any image of God, since I have none, none having been taught or allowed to me. The God that I (as a Jew) celebrate is formless, very similar in that respect to the “emptiness” presumed by Buddhists to be the root and essence of all existence. Observing myself thinking of God, I note an effort of “intuition,” an intention to see through the material and mental world of appearance and to some degree apprehend the formless Existent that I assume to be present.

Thus, “knowledge” of God by us is based on an analogy or a generalization, from the intuition of one’s own self. By abstraction from my own self, I can conceive of other people’s selves and of the Self of God. If we attribute to God powers like cognition, volition and valuation and affection, in their extreme forms (as omniscience, omnipotence, and perfect justice and mercy, utter kindness), it is because we have inner consciousness of such powers (in miniature degrees) in ourselves. Our philosophical concept of God is not a conceptual construction derived from experience of Nature, i.e. based on phenomenal appearances and causation, but a product of introspection.

Some might argue that just as our soul has or inhabits a body, God may well inhabit the world (pantheism, animism) or be incarnated in it in human form (Hinduism, some branches of Buddhism, and Christianity have this belief) or be symbolized and represented by inanimate images, i.e. statues or drawings (this is called idolatry by Judaism, Islam and some branches of Christianity).

According to those who reject it, the fault of idolatry (the word is etymologically rooted in Gr. eidos = form) is to ignore the inner source of concepts of divinity, and to misdirect people’s attention onto physical or mental images, i.e. on phenomenal characters. Just as it is foolish to identify oneself with one’s body or imaginations, so God cannot be equated to or known through a form. Granting theism (which of course remains open to debate), the psychological advantage of monotheism is precisely its focus on the formless.

With regard to the concept of incarnation of God, which is central to many developed religions, I personally find it unconscionable: I do not see how the immensity of God can simultaneously be (and not merely project into the world) someone or something so small as a person or an inanimate form. Consider too our tiny size relative to that of the universe; and speculate on the possible infinitesimal size of our universe relative to the infinity of its Creator. Conversely, the apotheosis or deification of a human or animal is in my view unthinkable: a part cannot become the whole. But of course, that may just be my Jewish education; each one is free to think as they see fit. I am not interested in promoting religious intolerance or conflicts, but only seek to clarify concepts and debate issues as a philosopher.

What I want to point out here is that the analogy between God and human soul is commonly regarded as having limits. For whereas most theists (though not necessarily animists or pantheists) consider God as creating the material and mental natural world, most believers in a human soul do not consider that soul as creating the body associated with it. The soul may be assumed an outcome of the body (as in naturalism, where soul cannot exist without body) and/or an inhabitant of it (as in certain religions, where soul may leave body), with some degree of control over the body and influence from the body, but it is not assumed to produce the body. On the other hand, one of the main reasons that God is posited, in the monotheistic world-view (rightly or wrongly), is to fulfill the role of first cause and prime mover of the natural world.

All such discussions are of course considered irrelevant by naturalists, many Buddhists, and other atheists. But rather than come to some doctrinaire conclusion on topics so speculative, I think the important thing is to keep an open mind and focus on comprehending all aspects, nuances and options.

10.                Illustrations

1.     Existence, appearance, and reality

1. Existence, appearance, and reality
1. Existence, appearance, and reality

2.     Assumed material, mental and spiritual domains

2. Assumed material, mental and spiritual domains
2. Assumed material, mental and spiritual domains

3.     A classification of appearances


3. A classification of appearances
3. A classification of appearances

4.     Three types of continuity

4. Three types of continuity
4. Three types of continuity

5.     Contextual meaning

5. Contextual meaning
5. Contextual meaning

Appendices and References

1.     Using Meditation

In the present essay[182], my purpose is to introduce the reader to what is meant by ‘meditation’ and how the practice of such introspection affects one’s philosophical positions. I illustrate below how phenomenological insights may be generated by means of observations and reflections during or after meditation. The conversations below are not intended as lessons in meditation. They were not made in a single sitting, but over many sessions[183]. Of course, the result of my own meditations is not merely what is written below, but the whole of the present book. Many of the issues treated in it were really raised, clarified and resolved by such meditations.

Meditation is to a great many people something unknown or that smacks of mysticism. But, as the sample discourse below demonstrates, what goes on during meditation – in this case, the technique of ‘breath-awareness’ – is very down to earth and accessible to all. One is not turned into a zombie, but remains quite conscious and even active. Meditation for philosophical purposes obviously involves curiosity, asking questions, seeking answers. Notice the kind of detail one looks out for, and the kind of information one can draw from it. An effort is required, but the emphasis is on observation and memory, rather than on conversation (which can be done later).

I sometimes find it hard at first to get focused on the breath. So to try and generate and hold my attention, I may ask myself what my purpose and belief in doing it might be. But a mercantile attitude is counterproductive. One may think, to begin with, “I want to now meditate on my breathing,” so as to set oneself on course and avoid mental dispersion, but one should not hang on to this thought thereafter.

In general, meditation teachers recommend that we avoid using meditation as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. We are advised to go ‘above’ a mere pursuit of psychic rest, calm, serenity (which is what I often seem content with nowadays), or as here of philosophical knowledge (which can get nervous and verbose), or even of the greater ambitions of ‘illumination’ (the promise of oriental traditions that meditation leads to a radical review of reality).

This is also true with reference to a particular object of meditation, such as the breath. If I view breath-awareness merely as a technique (akin to a meaningless mantra or mandala) that will hopefully propel me into concentration and samadhi, then my interest in the breath itself is artificial. I therefore try to think of the breath as something special, on a biological and possibly on a metaphysical level (yogis regard it as in itself revealing as to the ‘nature of reality’).

The secret of success in breath-awareness meditation is to enjoy it. This is not meant in the sense of taking pleasure in it, but in the sense of having aroused one’s interest in it. Then one is able to patiently watch one’s breath in all its details, and persevere in this without especial effort for more than a brief while.

Breath-awareness is primarily a tactile meditation, in that I feel my body parts moving or the impact of air in different parts of my nostrils. Of course, one may experience other sensations, such as smells or sounds coming from the environment, or be subject to all sorts of imaginations and thoughts, but as one’s concentration on the breath increases all these tend to fall away. Also, the end result of breath-awareness is more mental than physical.

There is, at first or sometimes, an allied sound component, in that I hear the sound of air passing through my nose; but as my state-of-mind gets to be calmer, my breath gets to be less and less noisy, till I cannot rely on its sound at all to remain aware of it, but must concentrate on the touch and motion aspects purely.

An error in such meditation is to accompany each in-breath or out-breath with an internal sound (i.e. a sound in the head, a mental sound). It is as if the will needs to ‘play a tune’ or ‘sing a song’ for the breath to happen. This is evidence that you are not observing natural breath, but are interfering with your will, and you do so in such case by mimicking the sound of breath, as a means of producing breath.

I currently meditate with my eyes closed, to limit sensory inputs and get more inward. But if I consider the experience with eyes open, certain visual factors must be added to the above. Primarily, I see the movement of my body with the breath (rise and fall of my chest).

Also, I visualize the breath going in and out of my nose[184] and/or my abdomen. Such mental seeing or imaging is perhaps less strong with eyes open than with eyes closed. But in any case it constitutes the equivalent in the realm of the visual, to the inner sound mentioned above. This too is an error of meditation, in that the will is interfering with the phenomenon, artificially adding things to it.

However, upon reflection, I must temper the above remarks on errors of meditation.

First, to say that such internally generated sounds and sights can themselves be taken as objects of meditation. If one can stop them dead by willpower, so well and good: the meditation is made easier by being limited to natural objects. Often this is not feasible, and one must let the mind gradually calm down: in such case, creations of the will are to be accepted as a kind of natural object among others, and observed without being perturbed, without ‘fighting’ them.

Secondly, it must be noted that such inner auditory and visual appearances may not-be the work of a perverse will. They may simply be a biological necessity, having to do with the correlation between sense-modalities. To the tactile sensations of breathing, in the absence of corresponding physical sounds one needs mental sound substitutes, and in the absence of corresponding physical sights one needs mental image substitutes. Such equivalences may be a natural product, a sort of ongoing ‘dictionary’ translating experiences in the one sense-modality into experiences in the other.

But I must add that in my experience this parallelism evaporates after awhile (in some cases it is absent from the start, in some cases it comes and goes); so it cannot be an absolute need, but rather simply a tendency; i.e. we must admit that pure tactile experiences are possible, without visual-auditory accompaniments whether physical or mental.

Also, the impression that the will is involved is often, though admittedly not always, quite marked; so we must not generalize either way, i.e. mental events are sometimes willed and sometimes not.

Third, it should be noted that some yogic meditations involve visualization or auditory imagination[185] as positive techniques, aids to meditation. Some such techniques may be inventions of charlatans, but I can claim personal experience of effective methods (e.g. in ajapa jap[186], imagining ‘psychic’ breath going from the muladhara energy center to that of agya and back, and sounding so and hum as it does so). It follows that interference of the will cannot be regarded as automatically faulty, but may be used constructively.

In this context we must note that at least some Buddhists seem to regard the willed/mental and natural/external as ultimately one and the same. Their difference is an illusion; everything is ultimately mental or everything is ultimately physical, the distinction becomes meaningless. This may be an experience at deeper intensities of meditation or it may be a theory that seemed fitting to certain metaphysicians. In any case, it calls upon us to temper our reaction to the interference of will in meditation.

When I sit in meditation, I find it is best to ‘gradually become aware of the breath’ (as my teachers have taught me). For if I turn my attention to my breathing too suddenly, I produce a stir in it, it loses its natural regularity somewhat and becomes uneven. It is as if, almost inevitably, when we call upon our cognitive power, we awaken uncalled-for volitions. I infer that turning one’s attention is a very fine act of volition; if done heavy-handedly, the volition is too strong and has an impact on the object[187]. That is a defeat of the starting intention, to concentrate on the breath.

We must therefore learn, by trial and error, to be more delicate, and will just enough for pure cognition and not so much as to affect its object. The modification of the object may consist in addition or suppression or a combination of both (alteration). The infusion of imaginary sounds or sights are examples. A more extreme example is thought about the breath, which may totally erase all perceptual awareness of the breath and carry us into some long discourse involving verbal and dream elements, which may after awhile have nothing to do with the original object of meditation (our breathing here and now).

This brings us into the complexities of conflict between thought and meditation. Ideally, meditation is free of the interference of thought; it is empty-minded, serene observation. In practice, one has often to contend with all sorts of mental disturbances, and the trick then is to somehow get into a position of observer of these ongoing thoughts. Perhaps the way into the observer’s role is not so much to place oneself above, but to reserve a little place (a modest fraction of self) adjacent to the turbulent events. A commanding position is not easy to get into; all we need is to gain a foothold, to obtain a small observation platform. One should not fight the thinking or hope to smother the thoughts, but accept them and try only to at the same time be accepted by them as a curious spectator. After a while, thought may fade away, as if shy to be seen.

The above needs some further clarifications. The interference of will occurs especially when I try using the breath-counting technique proposed by certain Buddhists. This technique is useful, to force your attention on the breath immediately, after which you can hold it there more easily. It happens that such counting becomes divorced from the awareness of breath, but that is not the main problem. Rather, the disadvantage of such counting is that one usually (with very rare exception) gets involved in control of the breath.

  1. To make the breath more noticeable, one intensifies it or exaggerates it.
  2. There is also a tendency to lengthen one’s breath, so as to make it healthier and calmer.
  3. To fit it into one’s counting, one tries to make it more regular, i.e. to make each breath as a whole equal in length to the preceding (even if the in and out breaths are of unequal lengths).
  4. These distortions in tactile mode are exacerbated by inner sounds and sights that parallel the willed breath, helping to form it and direct it.

One must also avoid opposite reactions to these distortions, like trying to make one’s breath more natural by making it uneven! The goal is always to observe the breath as it is, in as much detail as possible. If the breath is unnoticeable, that absence is good enough to observe.

For these reasons, I have personally stopped using the breath-counting method (though I am of course free to use it occasionally if I feel like it[188]). I find it wiser to just let my mind calm down by itself, and then gradually become aware of my breath. This does not always work, it depends on my energetic state (how rested and well-fed I am, and so forth); but this dependence exists with the other method too. It seems illogical to me to disturb my mind in an attempt to calm it; it is like trying to stop turbulences in water or air by waving your arms about. Though sometimes, admittedly, jogging a bit improves one’s walking.

What ultimately makes breath noticeable and natural is the increased concentration on it one eventually acquires. At first, one is ‘distant’ from one’s breath; later, with skill, one is right there ‘in the midst’ of it. The sense of ‘physical’ distance between the observer and the observed is an expression of mental distance from one’s meditation. As one’s concentration on the breath increases, one feels oneself (the observer) to be placed in the nose or in the chest or solar plexus, where the breath (the observed) is being watched.

Watching carefully, one notices the differences between incoming and outgoing breaths. In my case (other people may differ), my in-breath seems usually somewhat rougher, louder and shorter than the out-breath. The former is more physical; the latter is more mental. Furthermore, one should note the differences in air intake or outflow between the two nostrils. In my case, these are partly due to a broken nose; but yoga teaches us that the use of our nostrils vary with the time of day, for instance.

Note well the above remarks are not intended as a guide to meditation. My own favorite guide is: Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (NY and Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1973).

2.     Feelings of Emptiness

There is another sense of the term “emptiness” to consider, one not unrelated to the senses previously discussed. We all have some experience of emotional emptiness.

One of the most interesting and impressive contributions to psychology by Buddhism, in my view, is its emphasis on the vague enervations we commonly feel, such as discomfort, restlessness or doubt, as important motives of human action. Something seems to be wanting, missing, urging us to do something about it.

These negative emotions, which I label feelings of emptiness, are a cause or expression of samsaric states of mind. This pejorative sense of “emptiness” is not to be confused with the contrary “emptiness” identified with nirvana. However, they may be related, in that the emotions in question may be essentially a sort of vertigo upon glimpsing the void.[189]

Most people often feel this “hole” inside themselves, an unpleasant inner vacuity or hunger, and pass much of their time desperately trying to shake it off, frantically looking for palliatives. At worst, they may feel like “a non-entity”, devoid of personal identity. Different people (or a person at different times) may respond to this lack of identity, or moments of boredom, impatience, dissatisfaction or uncertainty, in different ways. (Other factors come into play, which determine just which way.)

Many look for useless distractions, calling it “killing time”; others indulge in self-destructive activities. Some get the munchies; others smoke cigarettes, drink liquor or take drugs. Some watch TV; others talk a lot and say nothing; others still, prefer shopping or shoplifting. Some get angry, and pick a quarrel with their spouse or neighbors, just to have something to do, something to rant and rave about; others get into political violence or start a war. Some get melancholic, and complain of loneliness or unhappiness; others speak of failure, depression or anxiety. Some masturbate; others have sex with everyone; others rape someone. Some start worrying about their physical health; others go to a psychiatrist. Some become sports fanatics; others get entangled in consuming psychological, philosophical, spiritual or religious pursuits. Some become workaholics; others sleep all day or try to sink into oblivion somehow. And so on.

As this partial and disorderly catalogue shows, everything we consider stupidity or sin, all the ills of our psyche and society, or most or many, could be attributed to this vague, often “subconsciously” experienced, negative emotion of emptiness and our urge to “cure” it however we can. We stir up desires, antipathies or anxieties, compulsions, obsessions or depression, in a bid to comprehend and smother this suffering of felt emptiness. We furnish our time with thoughts like: “I think I am falling in love” or “this guy really bugs me” or “what am I going to do about this or that?” or “I have to do (or not to do) so and so”. It is all indeed “much ado about nothing”.

If we generalize from many such momentary feelings, we may come to the conclusion that “life has no meaning”. That, to quote William Shakespeare:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Macbeth (act V, scene 5).

Of course, we can and often do also react more positively, and give our life more constructive meaning. I believe this becomes possible once we are able to recognize this internal vacuum when we feel it, and make sure we do not react to it in any of the negative ways we unconsciously tend to react. Once we understand that this feeling of emptiness cannot be overcome by such foolish means, we can begin to look for ways to enjoy life, through personal growth, healthy activities, helping others, learning, creativity, productiveness, and so forth.

Regular meditation is a good remedy. Sitting quietly for long periods daily makes it easier to become and remain aware of emotional emptiness when it appears. Putting such recurring bad feelings into perspective gradually frees us from them. They just seem fleeting, weak and irrelevant. Life then becomes a celebration of time: we profit from the little time we have in it to make something nice out of it.

3.     Mental Projection

The following illustration is drawn from Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen (London: Penguin, 1997), being there reprinted from The Ape That Spoke by John McCrone (UK: Macmillan, 1990).


Now, Hagen (p. 28) asks us to look at this picture and try and see what it illustrates. At first sight, it may look to you like a reclining figure – it did to me. But it is in fact something else (as made clear overleaf). Hagen’s point in showing this is that something may seem very mysterious till you “get it” – but once you see it for what it is, it becomes obvious. He keeps repeating this “seeing” verb throughout his book, implying that enlightenment is like this – a sudden seeing of what was always there.


While I understand his point about enlightenment, and I assume this is the way it occurs, his interpretation of the mental process of recognizing the cow is highly debatable. It is not a mystical event of “seeing”, but a mental projection of a dividing line that forms the face of the cow, as done in the above retouched illustration. Such projections, as I argue in the present volume, are crucial to our construction of knowledge from experience.


4.     References

Bortoft, Henri.  “Goethe’s Organic Vision.”  Network (Dec. 1997).  [Ed. David Lorimer.  The Scientific and Medical Network, Gibliston Mill, Colinsburgh, Leven, Fife, Scotland.]

Curtis, H. and N. S. BarnesInvitation to Biology.  4th ed.  New York: Worth, 1985.

Guenther, Herbert V.  Buddhist Philosophy: In Theory and Practice.  Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1972.

Hamlyn, D. W.  A History of Western Philosophy.  London: Penguin, 1988.

Hsing, Yun.  Lotus in a Stream.  Trans. Tom Graham.  Trumbull, CT: Weatherhill, 2000.

Hume, David.  “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.”  The Empiricists.  Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1974.



5.     About This Book

This volume comprises essays on phenomenology and related topics, written in the years 1990, 1997-8 and 2002-3 (and expanded 2004-5).

My interest in phenomenology dates from the very beginning of my interest in philosophy. I was to start with, like everyone else at first, a “naïve realist” – until on a winter’s day in 1970-1, in a cheap flat in Montreal, when the full weight of the critique of that Lockean posture by Descartes, Hume and Kant struck me. Soon after, I realized that the answer to such doubts was simply that ‘reality’ and ‘illusion’ have a common ground – namely, that they both appear – and many things can be thought and said about things already on this level, that of ‘appearance,’ prior to any judgment as to whether that which has appeared is real or illusory. This insight has stayed with me ever since, protecting me against all sorts of silly philosophies. It was an important theme of my doctoral dissertation, Future Logic, many years later (in 1990).

In 1997-8, being unemployed, I followed various courses at Geneva University. Courses in philosophy, linguistics, psychology and astronomy. Some of the lecturers taught me new things; others caused indignation in me for the errors they passed on to their students. In either case, I wrote more notes, and some of these have ended up as part of this book. Another stimulant for this book was my increased personal interest in meditation in the last few years. This revived a long dormant interest in Buddhism. Writing Judaic Logic (1995) caused my thinking on religious issues to mature greatly, so that I could no longer read any text without being vigorously critical. So in 2002, reading a text on the “logic” of Nagarjuna, I was naturally confident and strong enough to quickly and easily produce my Buddhist Illogic. Simultaneously, I wrote the main chapters of the present book, bringing my writing on phenomenological questions in line with my current thinking.

The patient reader will surely find some important philosophical insights in the present volume. One general recommendation, dear reader, read my footnotes – they are, in my way of writing, an integral part of the text!

Much of my writing starts in the way of handwritten notes on scrap paper. A stray thought, a reflection while reading a book or after a verbal exchange with someone, is hastily committed to paper, knowing I will not remember it long. How many times have I lost what seemed like ‘the answer to everything’ because I took too long to put it in writing! The small slips pile up over the years, some apparently containing very important insights, others perhaps a mere word worth using one day. Once in a while, I will sort these notes into different folders, without regard to their temporal sequence but with reference to their main subject-matter – “general logic,” “causation,” “phenomenology,” or whatever. Occasionally, suddenly inspired or intent on discipline, I take up one or two of these folders, and start transcribing the notes into my computer. Of course, the original note is telegraphic in style, limited by the size of the piece of paper it was written on. The moment I transcribe a sentence, it grows. I naturally start developing the discussion, reviewing the initial thought more critically, expanding upon it. More notes are brought to bear. And thus an essay is born. When I have accumulated a set of essays, these in turn have to be harmonized before they make up a book. This task again stimulates an intellectual effort, further research, thinking a bit more about some topics, restructuring texts.










(C)  Avi Sion, 2004.

Protected by international copyright conventions.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, or stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, without express permission of the Author-publisher, except in case of brief quotations with due acknowledgement.

First Published 2004. With small revisions, 2009.


Volition and Allied Causal Concepts is a work of aetiology and metapsychology. Aetiology is the branch of philosophy and logic devoted to the study of causality (the cause-effect relation) in all its forms; and metapsychology is the study of the basic concepts common to all psychological discourse, most of which are causal.

Volition (or free will) is to be distinguished from causation and natural spontaneity. The latter categories, i.e. deterministic causality and its negation, have been treated in a separate work, The Logic of Causation. Volition may be characterized as personal causality, a relation between an agent (the self or soul) and his actions (acts of will). Unlike causation, this relation cannot be entirely defined using conditional (if–then) propositions. Although we can say that the agent is a sine qua non of his actions, we cannot say that the agent is invariably (in all or specific circumstances) followed by his actions. It appears that both an act of will and its negation remain possible to a soul in any given set of circumstances. This defines freedom of the will, and implies the responsibility of the agent for his actions. Introspection provides knowledge of particular acts of will.

The existence of freewill implies a distinction between necessary causation (determinism independent of volition) and inertial causation (determinism, except when some contrary will interferes). An act of will occurs on a spiritual plane. It may have natural (mental or physical) consequences; those that inevitably follow it may be regarded as directly willed, whereas those that vary according to circumstances must be considered indirectly willed. Volition presupposes some degree of consciousness. So-called involuntary acts of will involve a minimum of attention, whereas mindful acts are fully conscious. Even pure whim involves intention. Most volitions moreover involve valuation, some sort of projection of goals, deliberation on means, choice and decision. To judge responsibility, various distinctions are called for, like that between intentional, incidental and accidental consequences.

Volitional action can be affected through the terms and conditions of the world surrounding its agent, but also more intimately through the influence of concrete or abstract aspects of that world that the subject has cognized. The causal concept of influence, and its implication of cognition (of inner or outer information, including emotions), are crucial to measuring the effort involved in volition. Influences make willing easier or harder, yet do not curtail its essential freedom. All the causal concepts used in psychological explanation – affections, appetites, instincts, habits, obsessions, compulsions, urges and impulses – can be elucidated thanks to this important finding. Much of human (and animal) behavior can thus be both acknowledged as volitional and as variously influenced.

Volition and Allied Causal Concepts is a work of ambitious scope, intent on finally resolving philosophical and logical issues that have always impeded progress in psychology. It clarifies the structure and workings of the psyche, facilitating hygienic and therapeutic endeavors. The relation between volition and physical laws is discussed, as is the place of volition in biology. Concepts used in biology, analogous to that of purpose, are incidentally analyzed. Theological issues are also dealt with, as are some topics in ethics and law.

“And the Lord said to Qayin [Cain]:


 Why art thou angry? and why art thou crestfallen?

 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?

 and if thou doest not well, sin crouches at the door,

 and to thee shall be his desire.

Yet thou mayest rule over him.”



Genesis 4:6-7.  The Jerusalem Bible (Jerusalem: Koren, 1992).


1. Basic Causal Relations 142

  1. Causation and volition. 142
  2. Causality and modality. 144
  3. Spontaneity. 145
  4. Relative vs. absolute contingency. 147

2. Interactions between Volition and Causation. 148

  1. Necessity and inertia in causation. 148
  2. Direct and indirect volition. 150
  3. Matter-mind and spirit 151
  4. Conceiving Divine volition. 152
  5. The study of volition. 154

3. Further Analysis of Volition. 155

  1. Knowledge of volition. 155
  2. Freedom of the will 156
  3. Decision and choice. 158
  4. Goals and means 159

4. Consciousness and Responsibility. 162

  1. The consciousness in volition. 162
  2. The factors of responsibility. 164
  3. Judging, and misjudging, people. 166

5. Influence and Freedom.. 170

  1. Influence occurs via consciousness 170
  2. Knowledge of effort, influence and freedom.. 171
  3. Formal analysis of influence. 172
  4. Incitement 174

6. Further Analysis of Influence. 177

  1. Some features of influence. 177
  2. Processes of influence. 179
  3. Instincts in relation to freewill 181
  4. Liberation from unwanted influences 182
  5. Propositions about the future. 182

7. The Workings of Volition. 184

  1. Cultural context and epistemological considerations 184
  2. Theoretical context 185
  3. Stages in the process of volition. 188
  4. The scope of freewill 192

8. Volition and the Special Sciences 194

  1. Volition and the laws of physics 194
  2. Volition and biology. 196
  3. Therapeutic psychology. 199

9. Will, Velleity and Whim.. 202

  1. Cognition, volition and valuation. 202
  2. Velleity. 205
  3. Whim.. 206
  4. Inner divisions 207

10. Affections and Appetites 209

  1. Valuation. 209
  2. The main valuations 210
  3. Ethology. 213

11. Complications of Influence. 216

  1. Habits 216
  2. Obsessions and compulsions 217
  3. The ego abhors a vacuum.. 220

12. Urges and Impulses 223

  1. Physical urges and impulses 223
  2. Mental urges and impulses 227
  3. Formal analysis of physical and mental urges 228
  4. Are there drives within the soul?. 230
  5. Formal analysis of spiritual urges 231

13. The Quasi-Purposive in Nature. 234

  1. Purposiveness 234
  2. Organic functions 234
  3. The continuity of life. 237

14. Concepts of Evolution. 239

  1. The logical form of evolution. 239
  2. Evidence for evolution. 241
  3. Random mutation. 243
  4. Natural selection. 245

15. More about Evolution. 248

  1. Social Darwinism.. 248
  2. Spiritual Darwinism.. 250
  3. Theological perspectives 252

16. The Self 255

  1. Ungluing the mind. 255
  2. Abstract vs. concrete self 256
  3. Sundry reflections on the soul and God. 261

17. Some Topics in Deontology. 265

  1. Founding ethics 265
  2. Ethics concerns the living, thinking, willing. 267
  3. Conscience and conformism.. 269
  4. Tai Chi, karma yoga and faith. 270

18. More Topics in Deontology. 273

  1. Inducing ethics 273
  2. Ethical formulas 275
  3. Philosophy of law.. 277

Appendices and References 280

  1. Some formal logic guidelines 280
  2. Aristotle’s four causes 282
  3. References 284

1.   Basic Causal Relations

1.     Causation and volition

By the term Causality, we refer to the relation between a cause and an effect. Without attempting from the outset to define the causal relation, which we apparently all have some sort of insight into, we may nevertheless notionally distinguish two primary and radically different expressions of it, or genera, which we shall call Causation and Volition. The study of these matters may be labeled ‘aetiology’.

Causality is, note well, a relation of some sort between two or more individual things or kinds of things[190]. If two things are not related by causation or volition, they are said to be ‘not causally related’ – without intention to exclude the possibility that each might have one or the other causal relation to certain other things. The notion of Spontaneity, which refers to events thought to be uncaused by anything else, will be considered later.

‘Causation’ is the term that we shall apply to deterministic causality, which may be loosely described as the causal relation between ‘natural’ things, qualities or events, which ‘makes’ them, individually or collectively, behave with certain regularities of conjunction or separation. A cause in causation may be called a ‘causative’.

This natural form of causality is definable with relative ease, with reference to conditional propositions of various types and forms. We tacitly understand the different forms of natural, temporal, extensional and logical conditioning as being expressions of an underlying ‘bond’, which we label causality, or more specifically causation. The patterns of behavior of things are empirically, and then inductively or deductively, identifiable[191]; the underlying causal ‘bond’ is a widespread intuitive assumption which requires much philosophical work to elucidate and validate.

The idea of causation may be viewed as arising from the three ‘laws of thought’, insofar as the latter establish the fundamental “if–then” relations, as in “if X, then X” (identity), “if X, then not notX” (non-contradiction) and “if not X, then notX” (exclusion of a middle), which mean “X and notX together are impossible” and “not X and not notX together are impossible”. For, once such relations are found to exist in the world and in discourse, i.e. in all the modes of modality, with regard to any term X and its negation notX, it becomes conceivable that similar relations may be observed to exist in less obvious cases, between certain other pairs of terms, like X and Y.

‘Volition’ is the term we shall apply to indeterministic causality, which may be loosely described as the causal relation between an agent and any action thereof, i.e. between a ‘person’ (be it God[192], a human being or an animal) and his[193] will (be it a personal attitude or a mental or physical motion of some sort). Note well that in volition per se, the ‘cause’ is the one who wills (at the precise time of willing), an entity called the agent or actor or doer, and the ‘effect’ is a specific act of will by that agent immediately, or thereafter more remotely any product thereof (which may or not have been intended).

This personal form of causality is far less easy to define. The simplest approach is by negation – to affirm that there is a causal ‘bond’ of some sort, while denying that it takes the form of natural, temporal, extensional or logical conditioning. Thus, volition refers to behavior which does not display fixed patterns, but in which we all nevertheless intuit a punctual causality. Indeed, we ought to say that the notion of a ‘bond’ is primarily due to the inner sense of will; it is then by analogy broadened, to include the ‘bonds’ between events external to the will. This seems true for the individual, and presumably in the history of thought[194].

The development of this fundamental, common notion of causal bond from the will to natural events proceeds as follows: whatever remains evidently unaffected by our efforts, no matter what anyone wills, is regarded as naturally ‘stuck together’ or ‘connected’. Thus, whereas volition may be defined in part by denial of the forms of natural causality (conditioning), causation is in turn defined in part by denial of the power of personal causality.[195]

Natural or deterministic causality displays patterns, accessible directly or indirectly by empirical means (they proceed from concrete perceptions, which are then generalized; or inferences from such), but its underlying bonding aspect is known only by analogy, as a conceptual development. Personal or indeterministic causality, on the other hand, is grasped first empirically (in the way of an intuited abstraction, through an inner ‘sense’ of oneself willing), and then formally distinguished by denial of ultimate invariability.

Note again that causality is essentially a relation. Since we do not perceive the relation but only at best its terms, it is not phenomenal; i.e. it has no material sensible qualities or mental equivalents of such. It is apprehended by us, as already suggested, through intuition during acts of volition, and inferred by analogy (a conceptual act) to exist similarly in causation. It is thus better characterized as an abstraction.

The statistical aspect of causation – and, by negation, that in volition – is secondary, though also a relational aspect. The latter is ontologically a mere expression of the relation, and epistemologically a way for us to discern and classify the causality. Whether the underlying relation is, or ought to be believed to be, a real ‘substance’, or whether it is a convenient projection of the imagination, is a moot question. But pragmatically speaking it is not very important, if at all possible, to find the answer.

An interesting distinction between deterministic and indeterministic causality is that individual connections are known in the former case solely by virtue of general connections, whereas in the latter case they are known per se.

  • That is to say, causation involves natural laws or uniformities[196]: it is from our knowledge that one kind of thing causes another kind of thing that we know that an instance of the first kind of thing has caused an instance of the second kind of thing.[197]
  • In contrast, in volition we cannot refer to induced or deduced generalities of that sort to establish a causal connection between agent and will, since by definition such connection is always singular and unpredictable.[198]

As with any other concept, the concept of will ought not be regarded as devoid of terms and conditions (“terms” here referring to the ontological identities of the surrounding entities, and “conditions” to their current temporal and spatial alignments, and their states and motions). The indeterminism of volition is always bound and circumscribed by the determinism of certain terms and conditions, i.e. by causative factors. A power of volition does not mean omnipotence, total power to do just anything; it is an allowance for a limited range of two or more possible effects, whose cause is not a causative but an agent. The oft-used expression “causes and conditions” is usually intended to mean “volitions and causations”, i.e. volitional causes and surrounding causative conditions.

Volition seems closely allied to consciousness. The range of an organism’s volitional powers apparently depends on the range of its powers of cognition. Animals with simple organs of sensation have simple organs of movement. More complex sensory systems allow for proportionately more complex motor systems.

Evidently, each entity has its own ‘nature’, its own naturally given facilities and constraints, to be actualized directly or indirectly. For each entity, some things are ‘willable’, but some are not. Some things can be willed in certain circumstances, but not in others. Some things are easily willed at a given time, while at other times only with great difficulty.

Different species have different ranges in relation to each activity. Man can do things flies cannot, like invent a rocket to the moon. Flies can do things men cannot, like fly around without machines. Similarly, within each species, individuals vary in their range. I can do things you cannot do, however much you try, and vice-versa; though we also have many abilities in common. Yet even these common powers may differ slightly: you can perhaps run faster than I, etc.

2.     Causality and modality

‘Modality’ refers to attributes of relations such as: necessarily, possibly, actually, actually-not, possibly-not, impossibly, contingently, probably, improbably, which describe various degrees of being or knowing. These attributes are all interrelated in various ways; for example, impossibility is the negation of possibility. They are also all found in different contexts, known as types or ‘modes’ of modality.[199]

The concept of causation is closely related to that of modality. To each type of modality, there corresponds a mode of causation. We can distinguish three major modes: the logical, the extensional and the natural, if under the latter head we include the spatial and temporal modes as special cases. The logical mode is concerned with the reasons or explanations of theses; or with inductive or deductive arguments, i.e. the inferential processes from premises to conclusions. The extensional mode concerns subsumption between experiential data and concepts or between different concepts, or between the relationships among them. The natural mode deals with the phenomenal or abstract causes or effects of physical or mental events, or kinds of events.[200]

Volition is, to be precise, to be contrasted to natural causation, rather than to logical or extensional causation. Volition is of course involved in the rational processes through which logical inference and classification occur, but we cannot will such truths or relationships into being. We can identify them, or attempt or claim to, but no amount of will can make ‘true’ or ‘included’ what is not so in fact. Volition may thus be viewed as an exception to the operation of natural causation, specifically. The mode of modality or causality applicable to volition may be called the personal mode.

Some terminological conventions are worth making here, to avoid equivocations. Possibility in the natural mode may be called potentiality, and we can use the verb can in such contexts (the corresponding verb in the extensional mode would be may, and in the logical mode it would be might). In the personal mode, we may reserve the word ability for possibility and use the verb is able to; other terms we commonly use in volitional contexts are capability, capacity, potency, power. (By the way, in the ethical mode, which is a derivative of volition, we speak of permissibility and again use the verb may.[201]) Similarly for the other modalities (necessity, actuality, etc.), but no need to go into detail here.

The difference between potentiality (natural possibility) and ability (personal possibility) encapsulates the difference between causation and volition. Potentiality is actualized by natural causation, whereas ability is actualized by volition. Ability is a rather vague and ambiguous term, from a logician’s point of view, because there are many levels of readiness for volitional acts and the term ability does not specify which one is meant. I may be able to do something in principle if I take certain steps, and yet be far from able to do it right now, without further ado. Ability understood broadly is mere empowerment in principle; it merely means that some way(s) exists for volition to arrive at the result concerned, without specifying the way(s). But ready ability, depending on the wording used, may signify that we have approached the result considerably; maybe so much that it is at hand, available to us at will.

3.     Spontaneity

Before going further in this analysis, let us look briefly at the antithetical notion of spontaneity. In its primary sense, note well, the term ‘non-causality’ is a limited reference to the lack of connection between two individual or specific things, without implying that each of these specified things is not connected to yet other unspecified things. Two things may be completely unrelated – we commonly believe this occurs in the world, so the concept of non-causality must in any case be admitted as meaningful. ‘Spontaneity’ is a more radical variation on this conceptual theme, referring to things with a general lack of connection to anything else whatsoever.

Spontaneity should be contrasted to natural causation, specifically. We do not regard the logical or the extensional modes as involving spontaneity. It might be argued that ‘axioms’ and ‘experiences’, the apparent irreducible primaries of knowledge, are logically spontaneous – but this would be a misuse of the term, because no variation occurs in these givens: they just are, forever factual irrespective of when they entered our knowledge. On the other hand, the concept of natural spontaneity ought not be limited physical events, but may equally be applied to mental ones.

Most people credit the idea that some things are connected together, while others are not – though they may in turn be connected to other things. Some people deny the existence of spontaneity, i.e. claim that everything is interconnected with at least some other things, whether by causation (only, for extreme determinists) or by volition. But it should be clear that the concept of spontaneity is not unthinkable: it just refers to a general denial of causal relations. Spontaneity may be regarded as occurring in limited domains or pockets of the world, without denying causality to exist in other levels or parts of it. Some lay people and philosophers go so far as to claim that everything is spontaneous, nothing is connected to anything else; but belief in spontaneity need not be taken to such nihilistic extreme.

In any case, to discuss the issue at all, we must admit of both the notions of causality and of spontaneity, to begin with. It is logically conceivable that some things are connected to some others, but some things are not connected to any others. We do not have to admit spontaneity for all things if we admit it for some. Also, it should be clear that if spontaneity is indeed possible for some particular thing in some particular region of the world, it does not follow that just anything may arise in that context. There may be only a certain range of possible spontaneous events, and nothing beyond that range. This can be understood with reference to disjunctions.

It is conceivable that “A must be either B or C or D, but cannot be E or F, etc.” and that “there is no thing X such that ‘if X occurs, A is necessarily B’ or ‘if X occurs, A is necessarily C’ or ‘if X occurs, A is necessarily D’”. In such case, we can predict that one of B, C, or D is bound to emerge in A (to the exclusion of other thinkable alternatives E, F, etc.), and yet be unable to predict which one, because no causative X exists for any of them. The modalities ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ in the above propositions indicate some measure of determinism; while the expression ‘or’ signifies that there are alternatives and the absence of any causation for them implies some indeterminism. Thus, determinism and indeterminism may coexist; and spontaneity may be very circumscribed, and need not be unlimited.

Nowadays, the possibility of spontaneity in matter is taken very seriously. I refer to the Uncertainty Principle of Werner Heisenberg (1927), according to which the position and momentum of a subatomic particle cannot both be measured with precision. This has been interpreted as an indeterminacy principle, i.e. as having not merely epistemological but ontological significance, notably by Niels Bohr[202]. Since this physics discovery, which is apparently here to stay, we must admit that not all natural events are subject to causation; some are seemingly governed by a less extreme, merely probabilistic, form of law. This scenario must of course henceforth be taken into consideration in our philosophical and logical analysis of causality.

But keep in mind that just because we can imagine things popping in and out of existence without rhyme or reason, as in a Walt Disney cartoon, it does not follow that such things are in fact possible. The question may also be asked: is a universe composed of only singular happenings, devoid of any regularity whatsoever, unconnected to each other in any way, fundamentally different from one in which Natural Law, or God’s Will, reigns? It is far from clear. Spontaneity in the sense of pure chance, or ultimate anarchy, is extremely difficult to define precisely; i.e. it is not certain that it is fully conceivable!

We could say that chaos is the limit at infinity of ‘complexity of law’. Chaos implies frequent crises in regularity, sudden and repeated changes of order. As order decreases, the mathematical formulae that are capable of expressing it increase in complexity. Perfect order is ultimately monism; the pluralism of the world implies various degrees of order. Chaos may thus imply extremely complex order, as well as no order at all. In other words, the concepts of chaos and order ultimately converge!

Moreover, spontaneity, in the sense of chance, is in a way a form of ‘determinism’, insofar as what happens by ‘luck’ is not under the control of any volitional agent[203]! As far as we are concerned, such events are as much out of our power as events governed by natural law – in fact more so, since the latter can at least be relied on and used, whereas the former are unpredictable (or at best probabilistic). In a world of chance, we are even more passive than in one of natural law. In other words, the concepts of causation and natural spontaneity intertwine and ultimately tend to a common – mechanistic – reading of the world.

There is even a strong element of spontaneity in indeterministic causality, in that the will is somehow, to some degree (indeed, to varying degrees), free and unpredictable. Thus, in some respects spontaneity is akin to causation, and in other respects it is akin to volition.

We may also, at a deeper level, claim everything as ‘spontaneous’ in the sense of mere happenstance. For even causative relations, as themselves objects or events in the universe, ultimately ‘just are’ – they are irreducible givens. We cannot conceive of an infinity of layers of causation; the buck has to stop somewhere – a First Cause or Prime Mover. We can only speculate as to whether the primary ‘event’ is Natural Law or God’s Will or Chance Happening.

Another possible modern application of spontaneity is the Big Bang theory of Stephen Hawking. Whereas the previous application concerned the very small (quantum mechanics), this one concerns astronomical events: the beginning of existence. It is supposed that the universe – including matter, motion, space and time – started out of nothing some 15 billion years ago (give or take some). This thesis implies spontaneity in an even more radical sense. If physicists make such claims, then philosophers and logicians must of course give them plenty of attention.

The wise position, then, at least ab initio, would seem to be to accept all these concepts at face value and avoid extremist or generalizing doctrines. The mechanical realm, or causation in a wider sense, may well range from pure spontaneity, through various degrees of individual or collective probability, to 100% connection. The latter cover apparently the majority of Nature, or at least most events we encounter in our daily experience.

4.     Relative vs. absolute contingency

The concept of causation, or natural/deterministic causality, ultimately implies necessity. This means that when we come across a causative relation that is seemingly unnecessary, it seems so only due to our failure to uncover or to specify of all the partial causes making up the complete cause. In this context, everything is in principle predictable. Such contingency may be characterized as relative. This is how we ordinarily conceive ‘nature’ to operate, i.e. the world not counting ‘persons’.

On the other hand, the concept of volition, or personal/indeterministic causality, ultimately implies contingency. Here, contingency is meant as absolute. Such causal relations are punctual, singularities not being subsumed to generalities. Nevertheless, volition has its limits. As discussed further on, volition refers primarily to direct volition; indirect volition is a derivative concept, which considers the interplay of natural and personal causality. The latter explains why some acts of will do not necessarily have the desired result, without weakening the power of direct volition. As we shall also see, influence is another causal concept serving to realistically delimit volition: volition operates in an informational context, which can be modified by natural or volitional means. Though such context does not determine a person’s choices, it yet plays some role in their genesis, making them easier or more difficult.

Our view of nature has in fact lately become more complicated, since physics (as earlier mentioned) has come to accept real indeterminacy in subatomic mechanics and truly ex nihilo emergence of the universe. Thus, we cannot as just attempted, distinguish nature and volition simply by saying that the former implies necessity while the latter implies contingency. We must also draw a distinction between mechanical spontaneity and personal spontaneity, though they are both classifiable as absolute contingencies. We can, at least superficially, do this with reference to ‘agency’, saying that natural spontaneity has no apparent agent, whereas volition has one – a conscious agent.

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[204].

1.     Necessity and inertia in 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.

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[205]. 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.[206]

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[207], 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[208]) 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[209]. 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[210]. 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.

2.     Direct and indirect 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[211]. 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.[212]

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.

3.     Matter-mind and spirit

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.

4.     Conceiving Divine volition

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[213]. 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.[214]

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[215]:

“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.”

5.     The study of volition

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[216]. 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.

3.   Further Analysis of Volition

1.     Knowledge of volition

There is little mystery left as to how to theoretically define causation and how we get to establish it in practice. A mixture of epistemological and ontological issues is involved, which are resolved with relative ease. Causation in general may be expressed in terms of conditional propositions, or more profoundly with reference to matricial analysis. And particular causative relations can be established inductively, by observation of conjunctions and separations of events and their negations, and appropriate generalizations and particularizations.

Not so easy for volition. Many philosophers and psychologists are discouraged by the difficulties surrounding the concept of volition (or will). How is it known? How can it be defined in general? How are particular acts of will apprehended? How can we prove they belong to the agent, are his responsibility? How to conceive freedom of the will, let alone prove it? And so forth. But a thinker should not despair too early. We can gradually build up our reflection on the subject, and hope to clarify issues.

As earlier suggested, volition – unlike causation – cannot entirely be defined by means of hypothetical (if–then) propositions. However, we can partially delimit volition that way, as follows.

First, we focus on volition as the presumed ‘causal’ relation between an agent (soul) and certain events in or around him (called events of will), whatever be the exact form of that relation. That relation may intuitively be assumed to be other than causation, though some causation may be involved in it. A general causative statement “without an agent, there would be no volition” can be invoked to show partial involvement of causation.

Second, we point out that without that particular agent, those particular events would not – indeed could not – occur; they are reserved for that soul, it is irreplaceable in their genesis. This may be expressed as a conditional proposition: “if not this particular soul, then not those particular events”. The latter just means that the agent concerned (as an individual, and not just as an instance of a kind) is a sine qua non of the particular events (presumed ‘of will’) under scrutiny.

However, while the soul is thus a necessary causative of the events, it does not causatively necessitate them, i.e. it is not a complete causative of them. For it is clear that, in what we call volition, the soul is not invariably followed by those events (the presumed events of will), but remains at all times – till they do occur – also compatible with their negations. That is to say, with regard to causation, the compound conditional proposition “if this soul, not-then these events and not-then their negations” is true[217].

However – and therein lies the mystery of volition – we intuit that the agent alone does somehow ‘make necessary’ or ‘completely cause’ the events concerned when they do occur. At that time, the proposition “if this soul, then these events” becomes effectively true, although such a change of ‘natural law’ is not possible under the relation called causation. Therefore, some other category of causality must be involved in such cases, which we call volition.

That is about as far as we can get into a definition by means of ordinary conditional propositions. We can delimit the concept of volition to a large extent, and clearly distinguish it from causation, but that is still not enough to fully specify its formal structure. We can, however, go further by other means, step by step, as we shall see by and by.

Certain epistemological questions can be answered readily. To begin with, as I have argued in Phenomenology, the raw data for the concept of volition has to be personal ‘intuitions’ – in the sense of direct experience, self-knowledge – of one’s own particular acts of will.

Will has no phenomenal qualities: it should not be confused with its phenomenal products in the mental or material domains; volition cannot therefore be an abstraction from material or mental experiences. We evidently know introspectively – at least in some cases, when we make the effort of honest introspection – when we have willed, and what we have willed, and even the effort involved, i.e. to what degree we have willed. Such particular intuitions of will in the present tense give rise to the abstraction of will, i.e. the concept of volition.

Thus, the conception of volition is an ordinary inductive process, except that its experienced instances are not phenomenal percepts but intuitions. This of course does not tell us the definition of volition as a causal relation. But it does tell us that there is something to discuss and define, as in the above initial attempt.

But of course, we do not only assign volition to ourselves, but we assume it in other people (some of us assume it further in other animals[218], and also in God). Here, the thought involved is more intricate. A person knows from his own experience which externally visible actions of his are due to will (and which are not) – for example, moving one’s arm (as distinct from having it moved by someone or something). Having recorded the descriptions and conditions of willed (and unwilled) externally visible actions, we can by generalization assume that, when we see the same external behavior in others, we can infer a similar internal behavior in them.

In other words, whereas with regard to ourselves, we know the cause first and thereafter observe its effects, with regard to other agents, we infer the cause from the observed effect, by analogy.

Of course, none of this implies omniscience, either of our own acts, and much less of others’ acts. Sometimes, we have difficulties discerning our will – for instance, what we really wanted, or whether we acted voluntarily or involuntarily. Introspection is not always successful, especially if one has the habit of keeping one’s inner life murky and inaccessible to scrutiny. Sometimes, even if one is sincere and transparent, contradictory subliminal forces are at play, causing confusion in us. All the more so, with respect to other people: we may not have all the evidence at hand allowing us to draw a conclusion. What we observe of their behavior may be only a partial picture, leaving us uncertain as to their intentions. And so forth; no need to go into detail at this stage.

Thus, it should be understood that in this field of knowledge, as in all others, our conclusions are ultimately inductive rather than deductive. We have a certain database – consisting of our own self-observations and all other information – and we use it, and our powers of imagination, to formulate and test hypotheses. The logic involved is similar to that in the natural sciences. The only difference is the nature and source of some of the data used: it is non-phenomenal and personally intuited. This is of course a significant ontological and epistemological difference, but once realized the issues are much simplified.

2.     Freedom of the will

With regard to the concept of freedom of the will, the following can be said at the outset.

We can roughly define freedom of the will by saying that “agent A is ‘free’ to will or not will something (say, W) in a given set of circumstances, if neither W nor notW is inevitable in those circumstances”. This of course does not define ‘will’ for us; but granting the term willing (or doing, in the sense of volition) understood, its freedom is relatively definable. Note that strictly speaking it is the agent who is free, not his will.

This definition is rough, in that it does not tell us how we are to know that under the exact same conditions, either event W or notW is potential – since conditions are in fact never identical again. However, this is an epistemological issue regarding the degree of empiricism of our knowledge of freedom. We can suggest that we have intimate knowledge (intuition) of our freedom as well as of our volition; or we may propose that freedom is known more hypothetically, by way of extrapolation from approximately similar conditions, i.e. by adduction. The former would be direct, particular knowledge; the latter, indirect, general knowledge.

A way to distinguish causation and volition is with reference to identity. In causation, the cause is viewed as being ‘caused to cause’ the effects it causes, by virtue of the underlying natural characteristics or essences of the entities involved; whereas in volition, the cause is ‘free’ – its nature or identity does not allow a hundred percent prediction of all its actions. In comparison to a deterministic entity, what distinguishes a volitional agent is such lack of definite identity.

Even the agent of volition cannot till he acts definitely predict his own acts, for he may at the last moment ‘change his mind’ for some reason (or even, perhaps, for no ‘reason’ – in which case we characterize the will as pure whim or caprice). The agent of volition is distinguished by creating (some of) his own identity as he proceeds. His ‘identity’ at any given moment is the sum of previous such creations, but they do not fully determine his next creations, his later identity. The agent of volition has a distinctively ‘open-ended’ nature.

A way to express the freedom of (direct) volition is by reference to autonomy – that is, own (auto) lawmaking (nomy)[219]. Whereas natural objects are effectively subject to law, the agent of volition (to some extent, within certain natural boundaries) makes up his own laws for himself as he proceeds. These ‘laws’ may be ad hoc or they may have some regularity, of course. For the agent may choose to will on a singular basis, or may act by instituting personal rules, i.e. intended longer term patterns – predictable or repetitive behavior, plans, habits, etc.

We may, in the latter case, fashionably speak of self-programming. Such temporally stretched intentions may require a discipline of will to fulfill; often, however, by presetting personal conduct, we achieve an economy of effort, as comparatively less attention may be needed to perform. Many of the rules people adopt are of course collective, interpersonal promises. Some are imposed on them; still, most are ultimately self-imposed. Even when one fails to keep such personal or social promises, they may have considerable influence on action.

Perseverance of will (in the face of difficulty of some sort, over time) may be due to a series of punctual wills, or have some real continuity. Whether punctual or persistent, acts of will vary in the intensity of awareness and reflection they invest – some are the fruit of long and careful consideration (emotional or rational), others are seemingly impetuous (though often in fact merely the end product of a long gestation of more or less conscious thought).

The distinction of the freedom inherent in volition from that of chance must be stressed. Though there is an element of spontaneity in volition, it is not the blind spontaneity of chance. On the contrary, volition is in a way even more ‘deterministic’ than natural law, in the sense that the causal entity (agent) does not merely react into producing some effect (whatever is willed), but specifically chooses it out of two or more possibilities. Some awareness and intention is involved in all choice. At its most focused, choice is very conscious, with a clear goal in mind; the volitional act is normally purposive, it has an ‘end’ or, in Aristotelian language, a ‘final cause’. Notwithstanding, we should not at the outset exclude the possibility of truly purposeless acts of volition, with a strict minimum of awareness.

Volition may be influenced in some direction rather than another by the agent’s right or wrong view of the world in which he acts. But that influence is not determining: this is what we mean by freedom. You may coerce a man into doing what you want by threatening him with violence or other punishments, but even so, as experience shows, he can still disregard such threats, and even act in a suicidal manner. You may dangle great rewards under his nose, but he may still act seemingly against his own interests. Acts of will may equally well be rational or irrational, intelligent or stupid; they may be explicable by self-interest or altruism, or be quite whimsical. Their ‘logic’ may be sound or faulty; i.e. logic does not definitely determine them.

Another important concept is that of degrees of freedom. Freedom of the will is not absolute, except perhaps for God. And even in that case, He is supposedly limited by the laws of logic, and cannot create things without identity, or that both are and are-not, or that neither are nor are-not. In the case of humans, freedom of the will varies; from time to time in any individual, and from one individual to another, according to the health and structure of his or her many faculties.

Likewise, the freedom of our will is broader than the freedom of will of other animal species in some respects, and admittedly narrower in other respects. To affirm that animals have some volition does not imply that one has to regard them as having powers of choice equal to those of humans. Each animal species has specific volitional powers, some of which may be found in other species and some not. Similarly, we suppose by extrapolation, God’s will is the broadest possible of all.

But furthermore, one may have the freedom to do or not do something, and yet not have the freedom to do or not to do some other thing. One may have the freedom to do something conditionally, lacking it if certain conditions are not met. Some people (laymen or philosophers) are confused by the term ‘freedom’, thinking that freedom can only be total and unconditional! Freedom need not be viewed as limitless. We are quite able to develop a logical discourse about freewill, such that each specific freedom is predicated specifically to a given individual subject, at a given time or in given circumstances. We can then inductively generalize, and describe ranges of freedom applicable to classes of individuals, as the case may be.

Some people tend to deny volition to animals, because they confuse the issues and think volition has only one measure. Indeed, some deny volition even to humans, thinking that the concept requires absolute freedom. Not so. Each agent, according to his natural constitution, has or lacks freedom in relation to each kind of action. A duck can apparently choose to fly off or not, as you approach it; some do, some don’t. But a duck cannot apparently choose to add five and six together, nor can an elephant flap its ears and fly. Likewise, humans are favored in some respects and deficient in others.

Many, or perhaps all, freedoms are also conditional. One may be free to run or stay, except in cases of extreme fear, or under hypnosis, which might exceptionally ‘force’ one to behave mechanically (like a zombie). Emotions normally play a role in volition as influences, but in some more extreme circumstances, they might become determining factors that paralyze freedom of the will altogether or generate automatic reactions. Likewise, one may temporarily lose certain freedoms, as when one cannot move because one is physically tied up or sick; or more permanently, as when one is deprived of a limb. In such cases, volition is temporarily or permanently lost and causation takes over.

To construct a realistic logic of volitional causality one must take all such variations into consideration; i.e. consider its intertwining with causation. Each agent has specific powers and limits, which may vary in time and according to surrounding conditions for any given individual, and which may vary from individual to individual of a species and from species to species.

3.     Decision and choice

The precise relationship between consciousness and volition, or between the status of being a Subject and that of being an Agent, needs elucidation. Empirically, the two seem tied together, though it is not clear just why. Conceptually, at first sight at least, one can imagine a Subject, floating in the universe as a pure observer, unable to do anything; and likewise, perhaps, an Agent that simply wills certain things without awareness. Maybe such entities exist somewhere, but we have not encountered any.

In any case, we must keep in mind that consciousness varies in intensity or scope. An insect’s consciousness (which we infer from its sense-organs and its responses to stimuli) is seemingly weak and limited; that of a bird is somewhat more elaborate; and so forth. The powers of volition of different organisms seem proportionate to their powers of consciousness.

However, some intelligent people seem weak-willed (perhaps through indecision) and some stupid people seem strong-willed (perhaps through inability to conceive alternatives). It may not be merely an issue of character flaws; there may be an issue of uneven biological development of faculties.

In humans, at least (and perhaps, though to a much lesser extent, in higher animals), acts of will are usually preceded by some thought (in the largest sense, not necessarily meaning verbal deliberation; possibly merely an imaging).

There is usually a decision (which may be wordless, to repeat), followed by a choice of one course rather than another (or than no choice). But it should be stressed that some acts of will seem virtually devoid of decision-making (this is one more sense of the concept of spontaneity); however, a minimal level of consciousness may be involved even in such cases (‘without conscious decision’ may simply mean without very-conscious decision).

Also, decisions do not necessarily result in corresponding acts of will. The issue, here, is not whether an effort of will is successful in producing some intended result, but what we call will-power, arousing one’s faculty of will. Sometimes, of course, hesitation or paralysis is due to indecision, when the pros and cons of a course of action seem balanced or too full of uncertainties.

A decision may be punctual or large, specific or general. A punctual decision relates to a single act of will; but a decision may be large, in the sense of an indefinite general resolve to pursue some goal over time, through numerous acts of will yet to be intellectually determined as events unfold. For this reason, the concept of decision is distinct from that of will.

An example of such general policy is what we call ‘good will’, the resolve to do whatever happens to seem like the right thing at any time, and avoid doing what seems wrong; good will implies a certain openness or eagerness, which facilitates many actions. The contrary attitude is that of ‘bad will’, a tendency to resist doing what one is supposed to, if not to perversely prefer doing what one is not supposed to; this often makes things more difficult.[220]

What we call choice is the logical aspect of a decision – two or more alternative courses of action are open to the agent, though possibly to different degrees, i.e. requiring different expenditures of effort, and one of them is ‘taken’ or ‘opted for’. The alternatives may simply, of course, be to do or not-do one thing; or there may literally be several contrary or combinable alternatives.

Another important aspect of decision is intention – the pursuit by the agent of some goal or purpose. Without intention, the agent has no ‘reason’ to do anything. This is why Aristotle regarded ‘final causes’ (intentions) as causes of motion. Intention, note, implies memory and anticipation, both of which imply consciousness. We project an image of the kind of thing we wish to attain.

In volition, purposeless motion seems virtually impossible. The purpose may just be to keep moving, or to exercise one’s faculties, or to discover or demonstrate one’s abilities, or to prove one can will without motive, but there seems to be need of some purpose. ‘Art for art’s sake’ or ‘spontaneous art’ also have a goal of sorts, be it self-expression, beauty or humor, money or sex. Of course, the result of one’s action may not be what one intended.

Non-willing entities remain essentially passive objects, even when they are causes (within the domain of causation), or the result or theater of spontaneous events (in an apparently causeless domain, one governed by chance). Whereas willing entities are truly active: they are more than objects, they are subjects and agents.

Influence is the interface between these two kinds of entity: objects impinging on subjects; or in some cases, subjects producing objects that impinge on subjects. The impact may be to stimulate, inhibit, or direct hither rather than thither, some event of will.

4.     Goals and means

What we have just said about volition requiring intention shows the interdependence between meta-psychology and ethical and legal studies. In formal logic, aetiology leads to teleology: “To obtain Y, X is required” is based on “If not X, then not Y”. Philosophically, consideration of intention naturally raises the question: what ought we intend – what goals or ends shall we pursue? Thereafter, the question arises: by what means may such goals be reached, i.e. what is needed or required to attain them?

Goals may be broad and long-term, or narrow and immediate. They may be consciously ordered in a consistent hierarchy, or may be a confused mix of unrelated or even contradictory directions. They may in either case, for any individual, change over time, or be doggedly adhered to. Some may be very consciously developed, others very instinctive. Our goals may be reduced to a limited number of basic goals, or standards or norms.

Means also vary greatly. They may be appropriate or inappropriate to one’s goals. They must be timely, to be effective. There may be many possible means to the same goal, of which some are known and some not (or not yet). Some may be easier, some harder. Means may take time to identify, and the identification, as said, may be correct or incorrect. All these details will emerge in the course of formal analysis.

It is a common error to think that logic has nothing to say in the setting of standards for ethics or politics. The anarchist premise that ‘anything goes’ in these fields is logically untenable. The anarchist cannot plead against legalism, since by virtue of his advocacy of general unlimited freedom he allows for legalism; but the legalist can in all fairness frown on the anarchist without inconsistency. Thus, whereas anarchism paradoxically allows for its logical opposite, legalism – the latter logically excludes the former. It follows that anarchism is a self-inconsistent and so false thesis, while legalism is a coherent and true thesis. That is, we can in principle aspire to justifying some ‘objective’ norms of behavior.

Note well the form of norm-setting argument; it is essentially dilemmatic: “If X, then Y, and if not X, then Y; therefore, in any case, Y”.

In this way, we can argue, for instance, that the use of logic (meaning: any epistemological ways and means that are demonstrably effective in increasing or improving knowledge of reality) is an absolute imperative. No matter what our norms or standards of value be, whatever the goals we pursue – to find out the means that indeed result in these desired results, we need to know reality; it follows that all aspects of scientific methodology are imperative, since they are the way the truth gets to be known, i.e. the way any intellectual issues encountered are resolved. Thus, science (in this broad, open sense) is a means common to all goals, a fundamental and general imperative.

From a biological point of view, of course, the ultimate (minimal) goal of all volitional action is or should be survival of the individual living organism, or at least of its descendents, or its other family or larger group members, or the species it belongs to, or life itself on earth and perhaps beyond. That is because survival is the necessary precondition, the sine qua non of all other pursuits.[221]

It is a minimum need; but of course, maximum health and wellbeing is preferable; and this implies realizing one’s full potential, psychologically and spiritually as well as physically. In other words, our cognitive and volitional nature must be taken into account in our understanding of what we mean by ‘life’.

For ethics in general, then: life, cognition and volition are three natural norms, insofar as nothing that a particular ethics might recommend can be done without these three basic values. Being relative to no norm in particular, these values are absolute for all in general.

Intention presupposes imagination: one imagines something not yet there and proceeds to bring it about. Such imagination of a goal presupposes an informational context, which may be realistic or unrealistic, i.e. based on knowledge or mere belief. Even if the subject’s ideas on what it is possible for him to have and how it is possible for him to get it are illusory, they are influential; and they may even be efficacious! Realistic ideas are, of course, likewise influential; and in principle, and statistically, no doubt more efficacious, but they do not always or necessarily lead to success.

The motive of an action is the thought of its goal, or perhaps more precisely, the pressure or attraction one feels towards that goal. This is stated to clarify that it is not really or directly ‘the goal’ that influences one’s action; logically, the goal cannot do anything since it lies in the future! So rather we must refer to the present thought of that intended end; and even that mental image has little power, except insofar as it stirs a desire within the agent. Thus, the relation of the goal to our striving activity must be specified with reference to a motive (analogous to a force, a motor), a present influence by a mental image and the stirring it produces in us to get into action.

Note in passing that having a certain motive, and being aware of having it, and publicly admitting to having it – are three different things. Often, we conceal our real motive from ourselves or from others, and replace it with a more acceptable pretext. Such rationalization is made possible by the fact that our actions often have incidental or even accidental consequences, in addition to the goals they intended to pursue. We pretend these side effects are our ‘motive’, to divert attention from our effective motive, and give ourselves a good conscience or a virtuous facade.[222]

The most fundamental faculties of the soul are, in that order, cognition, volition and valuation. Cognition refers to consciousness, volition to actions, and valuation to affections and appetites. The soul has three corresponding and interdependent roles, as subject, agent and evaluator. Volition implies, and is impossible without, cognition. Valuation implies, and is impossible without, cognition and volition. With regard to goals and means: the goal is the value sought (seeking implies consciousness anticipating, note) by act(s) of will; the means is identified (rightly or wrongly) by consciousness, and is executed by the act(s) of will.

4.   Consciousness and Responsibility

1.     The consciousness in volition

Volition as an inner effort of the soul requires some degree of consciousness – else it would not be volition but mechanical movement. But the question arises: ‘consciousness’ of what? There are several answers.

Firstly, every act of will requires some minimum amount of awareness to be at all performed. To produce a volitional act, some attention to one’s inner faculties of volition has to be invested.

If all we invest is only just enough attention to perform the act in the most perfunctory manner, we call the act effectively unconscious or inattentive or mindless or involuntary, because as volitions go it is almost so. Note well that the negative terms used in this context are not meant as full negations, but as hyperbolic. Such conduct may be reproved as essentially lazy; for example, one may wash the dishes barely aware of what one is doing, while thinking of one hundred other things. Often, such actions are gauche and fail, because one was ‘absent minded’, one’s ‘heart was not in it’.

As we deliver more and more consciousness to our volitional faculty, the act becomes increasingly mindful or conscious, attentive or voluntary, till a peak of awareness is attained. In this case, contrary to the preceding, we are fully focused and concentrated on what we are doing; our mind is empty of extraneous thoughts, our action is pure and uncluttered. Everything we think or do is relevant to the job at hand; there is little hesitation, decisions are efficiently made, timely action proceeds. For example, a good fighter has this consciousness; whoso has experienced it knows its magic.

Note that the terms here used are sometimes mixed up in practice – so that mindful action may be called ‘unconscious’, meaning unconscious of irrelevant matters; we are not attaching to words but to their intended meanings. Also note, the expression ‘self-conscious’ is sometimes used to mean ‘mindful’, whereas at other times it is meant pejoratively, with reference to an interference of ego. In the latter case, we are conscious of other people looking at us, and careful to appear at our best so as to impress them; this implies a lack of self-sufficiency or self-confidence, and more important, turns our attention from the job at hand, so that we in fact lose our ‘presence of mind’.

Between unconsciousness and mindfulness, as above defined, there are many degrees of awareness. Just as cognition may involve different intensities of awareness, so does volition. This distinction explains why movements requiring will may nevertheless seem almost automatic or ‘involuntary’ to us: it is because they have no more than the minimum awareness in them, the agent being distracted by many other things, almost absent. In the case of ‘voluntary’ will, the agent is by virtue of his greater presence more of a volunteer, who will therefore more readily acknowledge the action as his own.

The possibility of minimal awareness helps explain self-programming: once a choice of freewill is launched, its continuation has a momentum of its own, hard to stop without special dedication; this means that more effort of consciousness and will is needed to stop it than to continue it.

A component of what we have called mindfulness is awareness of the influential context. This refers to consciousness to some degree of all the influences impinging, or seeming to impinge or possibly impinging on one’s current volitional act – including attitudes, concerns, motives, goals, feelings, moods, emotions, mental images, memories, imaginations, anticipations, thoughts, arguments, bodily aches and pains, physical sights and sounds perceived, that disturb or please, distractions, obstacles, and so forth. One should also mention awareness of one’s level of awareness. To the extent that one is conscious of all eventually influential factors, one’s volition is lucid and efficient.

Such consciousness is of course momentary and peripheral to the volition. It serves to minimize or even dissolve negative influences, and maximize or empower influences in the direction of our will. It makes the will as free as possible, or at least freer than when unconscious. It is a preparatory act, making ready for volition, aligning its resources, helping to focus and concentrate it. But if we exaggerate it and linger on it too long, we miss the point: instead of facilitating our volition, it confuses and interferes with our action. So, one has to know the right balance. Awareness of influences does not consist in weighing volition down with irrelevant thoughts, but on the contrary in emptying the mind of extraneous material.

In yoga meditation, by the way, this is known as pratyahara. We just calmly observe internal or external disturbances. As we do so, they either cease to exist or to appear, or they at least cease to disturb us. In this way, our consciousness can settle and become more intense.

A second important aspect of consciousness in volition is its intentionality, the direction of its aim. If agent A specifically wills W, then W is what A ‘has in mind’ as his aim as he stirs his volition into action, i.e. W is indeed what A ‘wanted to do’. In such case, we say that A intentionally or purposely willed W; and W is called the object or purpose of his will. If however A wills something else, of which W is a mere side effect, then we say that W was unintended. In the latter case, W is not the object or purpose of A’s act of volition, although it is a de facto product of will; we label this an incidental consequence of will.

Note that the ‘intention’ of the will resides primarily in the agent, as the intelligence of his act; thereafter only, is the term applicable to the act of will or to its object. The agent is conscious of the object-to-be, and exercises will towards it.

A third way consciousness is involved in volition is through deliberation, which serves to aim will in some appropriate direction. This may be a quick, almost instantaneous thought and decision, or it may require a long process of thought, involving complex research and difficult choices, gradually ‘making up one’s mind’. A deliberate act is thus filled with intelligence, in contrast to an inadvertent or haphazard act. Deliberation also implies adjusting action as one proceeds, to make sure one gets it right on target.

Volition may consist of a simple act of will or a series of such acts. The degree of attention, effort and appropriateness involved in either case is a measure of the endeavor in willing, how hard we try. That A intends W does not guarantee that his endeavor is bound to result in W; he may succeed or fail to achieve his purpose. W may be an necessary consequence of A’s act of will, in which case success is inevitable; or W may be a contingent consequence of A’s act of will, in which case failure is possible.

If A’s intention to achieve W is strong enough, A will do all in his power to increase the chances of success and reduce those of failure. If A’s endeavor is half-hearted, as we say, the chances are proportionately small. Agent A may also make no attempt to will for W, but merely wish for it to occur somehow; a wish may be a nice thought, but it is not will. If agent A pursues some goal W, and does not take the necessary and sufficient precautions to ensure success, then when failure occurs he may be said to have been negligent. Note that, in the case of more complex goals, success or failure may be partial; i.e. they both may result, and more or less of the one than the other.

In some cases, although A intends W, but (whether due to insufficient endeavor or circumstances beyond his control) fails to achieve it, W happens anyway through other causes (as an incident of some other will by A, or due to another agent’s volition, or through natural causes). From the perspective of A’s said intention of W, the latter cannot be regarded as success, but at best as ‘lucking out’.

A fourth measure of consciousness in volition relates to knowledge of conditions and consequences.

Agent A may intend W by his will, and yet fail to foresee whether W will inevitably follow upon his act of will or merely follow ‘if all goes well’. For example, he may aim an arrow in the general direction of a target, yet not be in full control of the resultant trajectory; his imperfect skill, or the bow breaking, or a sudden wind, or some unexpected obstacle, may yet impede a bull’s eye hit. Thus, intention does not exclude unforeseen circumstances, nor therefore by itself guarantee success. All the more so, if W is an incidental consequence of A’s will, it may be foreseen or unforeseen. In the former case, it occurs knowingly; in the latter case, it is called an accident.

The concepts of incidental (or unintended) and accidental (or unforeseen) consequence can further be clarified with reference to causative chains, as follows. Suppose P is a complete causative of Q (i.e. “if P, then Q” is true), either in all circumstances or in some given circumstances. Then, when A wills P (i.e. when A wills away with P as his intention, and indeed achieves P), Q will necessarily also follow. So, A will have effectively willed Q. However, if A had no interest in willing Q or even preferred to avoid Q, then Q is only an incidental consequence of A’s will, not an intention of his. A may have known Q to be a necessary consequent of P; or he may not have known it, or even may have thought notQ to be a necessary consequent of P; or he may not have thought about the issue at all. In the latter cases of ignorance, Q is just an accidental consequence of A’s will.[223]

We should also distinguish between foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences (be they intentional or not). In the former case, agent A could have foreseen the consequence if he had made appropriate preliminary investigations; in the latter, not. Foreseeable consequences may be inevitable or avoidable (if avoidance should be needed). If some undesired consequence of will was foreseeable and avoidable, then its not having been foreseen and avoided is indicative of some failure or weakness of will, i.e. not enough effort was expended to achieve the intended result or to prevent some unintended result.

There are, of course, many degrees of expectation, depending on the factual probability or improbability of the anticipated event in the circumstances considered. An unexpected event has either been unforeseen or foreseen not to happen. Whether factual expectation is great or small, or nil, it is based on belief. That is, it may be demonstrable knowledge, or it may just be more or less justifiable opinion. The latter refers to the epistemological likelihood of the event, the former to its ontological likelihood.

2.     The factors of responsibility

Volition implies responsibility, which is estimated with reference to various factors and their measurements. The concept of responsibility is of course primarily aetiological. The concepts of moral and legal responsibility are more specific, since they refer to specific ethical norms or to legislation.

The important distinctions we made above, concerning consciousness, intention, deliberation, knowledge and expectation in volition, allow us to specify the measure of responsibility of the agent, the degree to which the action may be attributed to its doer, whether for moral or legal praise or blame, or (in the case of no responsibility at all) exoneration. In the case of crimes, with or without a victim, note the terms guilty or innocent used for responsibility and non-responsibility, respectively.

Agent A is fully responsible for event W, if W was his object of conscious will, his purpose or goal, his intention in willing, and a foreseeable and inevitable outcome of his actions. A is only, in one sense or another, partly responsible for W, in all other cases, to various degrees.

As we shall see in later chapters, influences on volition that are considered psychological, such as desires and fears, obsessions and compulsions, urges and impulses, whether operative on a conscious or subconscious level, do not ultimately diminish or remove and agent’s freedom of will and so remain his responsibility.[224]

We commonly also appeal to extenuating or aggravating circumstances in estimating responsibility (whether for good or bad acts), considering the former to somewhat diminish responsibility and the latter to increase it. This concept may be understood in two ways[225]:

  • It may refer to terms and conditions, which objectively affect[226] the course of events, either before or after volition, but not through cognition. For example, if a man stole bread in a society refusing him both work and charity, he would have an objective extenuating circumstance, granting survival is a right. By way of contrast, if a man stole bread to save money, the fact that he did so although rich enough to buy bread, would be an objective aggravating circumstance, since he had no need to steal.
  • Or it may refer to influences, which subjectively affect[227] volition, through cognition. For example, if a man witnessed a crime, but did not report it to the police because his child was threatened with retaliation if he did, he would also be able to appeal to ‘extenuating circumstances’. He had a difficult choice to make between his duty to society and that to his family, and since both are generally acknowledged values, the choice he made (under the influence of the criminal’s threat of violence) is understandable. On the other hand, if did not report the crime but also actively concealed it so as to avoid eventual blame for not reporting it, he would be regarded as having ‘aggravating circumstances’. Here, the man not only failed as a citizen, but (influenced by some inexcusable laziness or antisocial feelings) he committed the additional crime of making the witnessed crime more difficult to discover and punish.

All the preceding factors refer to direct responsibility, of an agent for his own actions.

An agent may also have a share of direct responsibility in some resultant of the actions undertaken by two or more agents. If each of the individual agent’s action has an identifiable portion of the resultant, it may be said to have a proportional partial individual responsibility for the resultant. But if the resultant is a collective outcome of all the individual contributions, such that it cannot be arithmetically divided among them, we may speak of collective responsibility. The latter is more difficult to apportion, though we can do so with reference to causative considerations. In practice, the distinction is sometimes moot, or both aspects may be involved. In any case, further clarification is possible with reference to individual intentions, common purposes, cooperation or confluence, degree of coordination of actions, and the like.

For example: if we refer to shares in a financial venture, the total capital is the sum of the parts, so each part-owner is responsible for that portion of the whole in the company’s environmental damage, say. If capital reduction by withdrawal without replacement of one of the partners would result in proportionately less damage to the environment, then that partner may be considered to have a ‘partial individual’ share of responsibility. But of course, in practice, the company is not just about money input, but involves the effort, skills and intelligence of numerous people, who collectively do the work. If this or that worker or manager is removed, the others may not be able to do their job; or what they do may not result in a finished product; or operations may after a while come to a standstill. In the latter case, we have to regard each shareholder, manager and employee as having a greater or smaller part of the collective responsibility in the joint project.[228]

An agent may also have indirect responsibility in another’s actions, if the former knowing of the latter was possibly able to prevent it, alone or with others, but did not try to do so, or tried to but did not make a sufficient effort to. Such responsibility is necessarily partial, implying passivity and tacit acquiescence. In most cases, this is just ordinary non-interference or tolerance, ‘minding one’s own business’; but in some cases, this would be called criminal negligence[229]. Note that if there is any show of dissent or disapproval, or other incipient effort of protest or opposition, one’s indirect responsibility is proportionately diminished; and one may claim a share of direct responsibility in the opposite direction. Inversely, if there is any show of consent or approval, and all the more so in the case of explicit encouragement or other active involvement, then one is not merely indirectly in part responsible, but acquires a direct share.

Thus, for example, during the Holocaust, history’s greatest crime, the responsibility of the German population varied greatly. A very few heroically made efforts to actively or passively resist the Nazi persecution of Jews and others; these were not responsible for the genocide. Most had indirect responsibility, at least because they knowingly acquiesced. Many of the latter were additionally conscious though passive beneficiaries of the spoils. But much worse, a great many people had various degrees of direct individual or collective responsibility, having participated in the horror as conquering army, appointed mass killers, efficient bureaucrats, railway workers, death camp planners and personnel, slave-labor exploiters, poison manufacturers, etc. [230]

I should mention here the Buddhist principle that at the root of all evil attitudes and acts is a fundamental ignorance of the true nature of reality. Although rather convincing, this principle should be regarded critically. It is true that at the base of our selfish indifference or hatred towards others, disregarding or enjoying their sufferings, there is a stupid blindness to the common nature, source and destiny of all sentient beings. However, to refer only to this fundamental ignorance is to effectively exonerate those guilty of crimes. For the term ‘ignorance’ refers to a failure of knowledge or understanding, a paucity of consciousness – and does not include reference to volition. Yet, it is precisely through our will, our choices, that we may be held responsible and subject to moral judgment. Of course, ignorance mitigates responsibility, if we have sincerely sought wisdom. But insofar as our will is misguided by inadequate cognitive practices, we remain responsible for it.

3.     Judging, and misjudging, people

What we have said thus far concerning responsibility provides some guidelines for making just judgments about people. But such judgments are no simple matter, and we all very often err in making them. Even knowing in general terms, ontologically, what constitutes responsibility, it does not follow that we are fully armed, epistemologically, against misjudgment. We shall here, in passing[231], attempt to describe some of the methods and pitfalls involved, without claiming to exhaust this vast subject.

Above all, it should be stressed that judging responsibility is a category of factual judgment. It is not in itself moral judgment, though evaluations may subsequently be based on it; that is, it involves no standard of value. The question posed by judgment about responsibility is “whodunit?” (who did so and so, and to what extent is he or she the doer), rather than “was the thing done good or bad?” (which is a separate issue). Of course, judging responsibly is a moral imperative – an absolute one, since whatever our norms, logic dictates we apply them realistically, and to do so we must know the truth.

The object of judgment may be oneself or other person(s). Indeed, judgment about responsibility is relevant to both the inner life and to social life. We may also use such judgment to philosophically judge God’s responsibility in world events, or to determine whether one’s dog or cat ate the cheese – i.e. it relates to any presumed volitional agent. However, here we shall concentrate on humans.

Assessments of responsibility depend on three factors: the facts of the case as we see them, our skill or wisdom at determining responsibility on the basis of such data, and our capacity for objectivity or fairness. Judging one’s own responsibility differs from judging that of others in two important respects.

Firstly, the empirical data at our disposal is greater in the case of self-assessment, since we have direct cognition of our subjective states and actions, as well as perception of their mental and physical consequences. Such introspection is not infallible, since it depends on the degree and clarity of one’s awareness of internal events as they occur, and on the durability of one’s memory of those facts. In the case of assessing others, our database consists essentially of externally perceivable data (physical words and deeds), from which we infer (spiritual or mental) internal events by means of analogies to one’s own experiences.

Secondly, although in principle given certain data, the conclusions we draw from them are dependent on our conceptual framework, and so likely to be about the same whether the object of judgment is self or any other, in practice the identity of the person judged and our predisposition or partiality towards that person affects our judgment considerably. For instance, if we are well disposed or sympathetic to the latter, we will make more effort to find extenuating circumstances; whereas, if badly disposed or antipathetic, our efforts will be directed at condemnation. One usually judges oneself and one’s loved ones favorably, and those one dislikes as unfavorably as possible; although, to be sure, some people have masochistic tendencies, and some people do make an effort at objectivity or impartiality.

The function of self-judgment is generally attributed to a faculty called conscience. In truth, this concept is a mere abstract construct, though a useful one. One’s conscience is not a structure separate from oneself – it is a part of one’s soul (in time, rather than place) acting as judge in relation some other part of one’s soul. If one is judging sincerely, with objectivity and honesty, one ‘has conscience’ – if our judgments are not in earnest or non-existent, one ‘lacks conscience’. By judging conscientiously, one effectively gives oneself a ‘conscience’. The concept extends to one’s judgment of others, insofar as we are responsible for the supervision of our own intellectual faculties, including those involved in our judgments about other people.

Introspection aims at identifying subjective, mental and physical data. Subjective data includes: (a) one’s volitions, velleities, or inactions; (b) one’s knowledge or ignorance of something; and/or (c) one’s attitudes towards someone or something, including affections and appetites, hopes, fears, and so forth. Mental data includes: one’s memories, fantasies, expectations, whether expressed as phenomenal qualities (sights, sounds, etc.) or verbally, indeed all our mental projections, emotions and thoughts. Physical data here refers to sensations and sentiments appearing in the body, such as feelings of sexual arousal or indifference, or feelings of love or hate.

Subjective data is known intuitively, i.e. it is a direct self-knowledge, not based on phenomenal (mental or physical) data, although it may be confirmed and reinforced by such data. In practice, subjective events are not always perspicuous, so that what we assume them to be must be regarded as an inductive construct. That is, based on fleeting, vague and partial intuitions, one proceeds by trial and error to a firmer, clearer and fuller estimate of one’s volition, knowledge or evaluation. The elements of doubt in successive intuitions are attenuated by repeated experience. Although the database is composed of direct experiences, judgment is still involved in comparing and contrasting such experiences and distilling a considered summary of them.

Additionally, we may and do infer such deeper, more subjective events (when they are not evident by intuition) from mental and physical data, on the basis of past conjunctions in experience (i.e. apparent causations). In this context, we often reason according to the format post hoc, ergo propter hoc (sequence, therefore consequence), proposing an adductive construct (“this sort of mental or physical phenomena seem to imply that kind of event in the soul”), which we repeatedly test with reference to all direct and indirect experiences and reasoning, maintaining our assumption so long as it seems plausible to us, and abandoning it if ever it ceases to do so.

Mental data, i.e. sights, sounds and other phenomenal qualities projected by memory or imagination or anticipation within one’s mind, are known by inner perception. Physical data, is known by sensory perception, i.e. through the organs of sensation deployed in one’s body, whether these organs have been stimulated by psychosomatic events (occurring in the body, due to mental causatives; e.g. anxiety feelings), physiological events (in the body, due to bodily causes; e.g. indigestion), or external events (bodies around one’s own, impinging on it).

It should be stressed that these distinctions between soul, mind, body and beyond, are somewhat conventional, in that in practice events in these four domains are very tightly intertwined, and we may only assign an event to the one or the other after considerable reflection. The resultant classification of the event concerned is therefore not purely empirical data, but itself a product of conception and inductive judgment.

Judgment of others is both extroverted and introspective. It is extroverted, insofar as based on information we have directly or indirectly ‘perceived’ concerning the person to be judged. And it is introspective, insofar as that data is necessarily interpreted according to one’s own inner experience and its customary relation in oneself to similar externally perceivable events. Scientific data, based on the objective observation of the behavior of many people under similar circumstances may be brought to bear, as a third factor of judgment; but such data, note well, itself also logically falls under the preceding two categories, namely ‘externally perceivable data concerning others’ and ‘the interpretation thereof based on one’s own inner life’.

With regard to the external ‘perceptions’ involved – this refers to (a) the things oneself actually sees or hears the person judged do or say, and (b) the things that someone else has actually seen or heard that person do or say. The former (a) is direct evidence, and refers to any data (prior to any interpretation) available to one’s own senses, which cannot be distorted or faked by third parties. If such data can in principle be manipulated, it should be considered with due caution, and of course regarded as open to revision. The latter (b) refers to hearsay evidence, which depends on the reliability of the alleged witness, who may intentionally lie for a variety of personal motives, or be too emotionally involved to distinguish fact from fantasy, or merely be a very incompetent observer.

Note that direct evidence includes concrete evidence of any sort, i.e. physical traces or leftovers of the past events under scrutiny, which may be considered as emanations of the person judged, still available for perception by the one judging. Circumstantial evidence – concerning time, place, opportunity, possible motive, and the like – can be similarly considered, although more abstract or speculative.

Also note, hearsay evidence may be first-hand testimony by a participant in the events, reporting his or her own thoughts, words and deeds; or second-hand testimony about the words and deeds (but not the thoughts) of someone else. The latter witness may be a participant testifying about another participant, or a bystander (a non-participant who observed without affecting events).

Obviously, the person judged may intentionally project a fictional representation of his or her external actions or inner workings; for example, a murderer may wipe off his fingerprints from the weapon used or loudly proclaim his innocence in court. This too must be taken into account when estimating data.

With regard to witnesses, obviously, the more there are of them, the more reliable their common testimony. If their testimonies converge, they corroborate each other, though conspiracies are of course possible. If their testimonies diverge, the judge would want to know why. Perhaps some partial common ground is found between them; perhaps some of the witnesses are more reliable than others.

Obviously too, even when one bases one’s judgment on one’s own perceptions, one must be attentive to one’s competence as an observer, emotional involvement and personal interests (including financial and other advantages) in the affair; i.e. one should clearly distinguish between raw data and subsequent interpretation – no easy task!

The insight that interpreting the actions or words of others depends largely on one’s own inner life and behavior patterns is very important. It means that when we judge others, we are to some extent exposing and judging ourselves. Criminals actualize certain potentials; by doing so, they reveal to all of us what we, as humans, are probably equally capable of (if not actually guilty of); for this reason, by the way, every crime is doubly so, in that it further diminishes one’s self-trust and trust in others, fragmenting society. Conversely, when we project presumed motives or behaviors onto suspects, we are extrapolating these from motives or behaviors we suppose potential (if not actual) within ourselves; i.e. we are also saying something about ourselves. Thus, judgment is a two-edged sword, to be handled with care.

Judgments about responsibility are a heavy responsibility, which few manage to discharge equitably in all cases. A person may unfairly judge himself or herself, claiming undeserved credit or discredit. People may misjudge each other in the family, the workplace, the community at large, the media, and of course the courthouse. Such injustices may befall groups (e.g. religious, racial or national groups), as well as individuals. The legal principles “a person must be presumed innocent until proven guilty” and “guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt before condemning” are often ignored in the courtroom, and more often still outside it.

Many people lack intelligence and intellectual rigor in their everyday life and dealings, so it is not surprising to find them exercising the same stupidity and laxity when they are required to judge people. Such people liberally mentally project their delusions, fantasies and fears on those around them, lacking the training to distinguish fact from fiction. Many people (men, women and children) take pleasure in slander and talebearing, thinking that by bringing shame and disrepute on others they enhance their own status. In fact, all they do is reveal their own foolish thoughts and their hatred: Judaism rightly compares such people to murderers, and wisely commands: “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”[232].

Nowadays, with the advent of mass media, gossip, slander and talebearing have become an institution, a full-time livelihood! Here, certain thought patterns should be pointed out, which promote prejudice.

One is the very human tendency of generalizing – we take the behavior of some people in certain circumstances and assume the same behavior for other people in similar circumstances. Generalization is a legitimate process, provided it is subjected to checks and balances. The need for repeated testing and, when appropriate, particularization is true for all natural objects – but all the more so with regard to volitional agents, and in particular people. The latter, by definition, do not act in a uniform manner in the same circumstances – so in their case, generalization should be indulged in very carefully. Especially in view of the disastrous consequences of wrong judgments in this field, one cannot allow oneself to generalize at first sight, without due research and verification of hypotheses.

Another common tendency is that of stereotyping – trying to fit all human behavior in a limited number of pre-established categories. Here again, there is some epistemological basis to the process: the human mind naturally pursues categorizations, as neat summaries of information. This is an aspect of conceptualization: seeking out patterns in data, by comparing and contrasting cases. The problem lies in the need to keep an open mind and continue this process all the time, whereas people tend to get lazy and stop it when they have one, two or three such stereotypes in mind. Thereafter, all natural flexibility is lost, and the mind tries to force-fit new cases into the few, rough and ready, prior patterns, instead of modifying categories or generating new ones as and when necessary. Many people misjudge, simply because they constantly refer back to clichés that have little to do with the persons or situations under scrutiny.[233]

Erroneous generalizing and stereotyping are related, the former concerning propositions and the latter concerning terms. Both are due to the failure to practice the logical virtues of open-mindedness and empiricism, careful adaptation, clarity and precision. If one is satisfied with approximation and fixation, one is bound to judge wrongly sooner or later. Another major pitfall is, of course, emotiveness. Under the weight of an intense emotion, a real effort is required to judge correctly. And, of course, emotions are most stirred precisely when people are involved – the very circumstances when cool judgment is called for. In such situations, one must consciously remind oneself to be objective and impartial.

Note lastly that reasoning about responsibility is not just concerned with volition, but often has more to do with causation. Arguments involving if–then statements are often crucial to determinations of responsibility, or the share of it. For example, the premises “if A + B, then E” and “if A + not B, then not E” suggest the conclusion that, given A (which may in turn refer to a conjunction of causes, C + D +… etc.), B causes E and not B causes not E. By such means, we would determine that agent B, rather than potential agent(s) A, is currently responsible for effect E (although to get the full picture, we would have to also check out what happens in the absence of A)[234].

A more thorough analysis of reasoning about responsibility is outside the scope of this book. A volume on this topic, with emphasis on legal issues, which I have found very interesting and recommend, is that of Hart and Honoré.

5.   Influence and Freedom

1.     Influence occurs via 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.

With regard to God, our theoretical conception of Him by extrapolation to extremes suggests we should consider God as the quintessential ‘unmoved mover’, i.e. His volitions as always entirely independent of influences. That need not be taken to mean He acts without regard to anything, but rather that His power of will is so superior to influences severally or collectively that the latter are effectively negligible. A tiny drop of water cannot affect the ocean!

As for the relation between God and lower volitional beings, we should consider that just as God retains the power to interfere in causative processes (i.e. to Him all natural laws are inertial rather than necessary, as earlier discussed), He retains the power to ‘overwhelm’ the willpower of any creature’s soul. Thus, the power of will of any limited creature is in principle always conditional upon the infinite God’s continued tolerance. However, the Divine power to dominate or overwhelm lesser wills seems unused in practice (judging by our religious documents, at least[235]). Rather, God seems to condition and/or influence lesser wills – giving agents life or prematurely killing them, or affecting their bodily, mental or external environments, or again making items appear that (strongly or to some extent) influence them in some way. This Divine preference is assumed to stem from an ethical motive, to sustain freedom of the will and therefore personal responsibility[236].

2.     Knowledge of effort, influence and freedom

Effort and influence are, clearly, derivative concepts of cognition and volition. The empirical basis of our knowledge of them is therefore the same as for cognition and volition, primarily introspection or subjective apprehension. This direct self-knowledge, which I call intuition (or apperception), concerns objects that do not per se have inner or outer phenomenal qualities – i.e. no shape, shading or color, no sound, no smell or taste, no touch qualities – although they may produce perceptible objects.

Just as we intuit our own will, so we intuit the amount of effort we have put into it. Colloquially, we say that effort is ‘felt’. ‘Physical effort’ is experienced as a sensation in the body; but ‘mental effort’, or more precisely ‘spiritual effort’, is a more subtle experience, which may or not give rise to discernable phenomena. Measurement of effort is therefore, of course, not exact and absolute, but rough and comparative. It depends not only on the immediate intuition, but also on personal memory of past intuitions for purposes of calibration.

If estimate of effort is inexact with regard to oneself, it is all the more so with reference to the effort of others. We can only guess it, by analogy to one’s own experience and by observation of indirect indices, like (in the case of physical effects of it) the sweat on someone’s brow or his facial expressions or bodily postures. Thus, as for will, knowledge of effort is generally based on adductive arguments.

It is not inconceivable that one day soon biologists succeed in measuring effort more objectively and scientifically, by means of physical instruments. Quantification of effort would then become more precise and verifiable. Such practices will of course involve adductive reasoning, an initial hypothesis that such and such detectable physiological or neurological phenomena may be interpreted as proportional to the effort of will. But in the meantime, we do have a rough yardstick in our personal experience.

Influence is a more abstract concept, not experienced or measurable directly, but constructed with reference to amounts of effort involved in willful action (making it easier or harder). An object is said to influence one’s action if its appearance to oneself directly or indirectly affects or conditions the action, in contradistinction to an object affecting or conditioning action by mere existence. Note well the phenomenological differentia.

If the influence occurs only by perception of the object, it is simple, direct. If it occurs after considerable mental processing of the image of the object, it is proportionately complex, oblique. Since thought about an object perceived may have many pathways, of varying intricacy, the influence by one and the same object may be multiple, involving many theses and layers, some of which may well be conflicting. Even at the perceptual level, the various sense organs yield different aspects of the (presumably same) object. Thus, one and the same object may give rise to many, variant influences. We must keep this insight in mind, to avoid oversimplification in our understanding of influence and volition.

Another epistemological issue concerns our estimates of the relative weights of different simultaneous influences. Such estimates are based in part on generalization of personal observations (when data on conjunction and separation is available); but in large part, they are hypotheses, adhered to so long as they continue to be confirmed by our experiences of effort. Knowledge of one’s own psyche is very often as tentative as that of nature, or of other people’s or animals’ psyches. People often think that they have ‘direct insight’ into, or at least ‘deductive knowledge’ of, inner events or relations, when in fact all they have is inductive knowledge. What is important is to realize that the latter is pretty good, quite enough.

Knowledge of freedom of the will is partly introspective, but mainly adductive. Our inner sense of freedom of will provides the occasion for the theoretical search for supporting data and postulates. We may have faith in freewill as a working hypothesis, but are still called upon to develop over the long term convincing definitions of it and arguments in its favor. The formula above proposed for freedom of the will is, I think, a good start.

The doctrine of freewill is important psychologically and socially, the foundation of morality and law. The doctrine declares our responsibility for our actions, however many and strong the forces impinging upon us may seem. Thus, a criminal cannot disclaim responsibility for his crimes, arguing he was ‘driven’ against his will.

We should note the doctrine’s own influence on human action, by the power of suggestion: if one believes he can do or avoid something he is more likely to be able to do so, than if he thinks that he cannot do so no matter how much he tries. Thus, belief in freedom of the will increases one’s ‘freedom’, and disbelief in it is an added obstacle.

3.     Formal analysis of influence

It is empirically evident that the Agents of will are all conscious beings: they are Subjects. This observation suggests a fundamental feature of volition, that it is allied to and inconceivable without consciousness. Given that insight, we can better understand the mechanics of influence.

We have seen that a natural event or another agent can influence an agent in his will, by presenting to the latter an idea which, though it does not definitely determine or control his subsequent will, constitutes a more or less important parameter in its exercise. Note that the idea presented may be illusory, just as well as real; but insofar as it is aroused by something or someone, the latter is influential. Note also that the ‘other agent’ influencing one may be an earlier moment of one’s own existence (as e.g., in the case of habits).

Influence is a causal relation of sorts, though a weak one since it is never determining due to the essential freedom of the willing soul. Our linguistic practices are evidence that we do consider influence to be a form of causality. We often use verbs suggesting it, e.g. ‘he caused me to do it ’ or ‘he made me do it’. Influence involves causation, in that some object or appearance (if only partially and contingently) gives rise to some cognition or idea. We may also consider as causation the relation between the appearance, or its cognitive effect, and the fact that the eventual volition, if any, is ‘made easier’ or ‘made harder’ by it. But influence in itself, as a relation between the object cognized or its cognition, on the one hand, and the outcome of volition, cannot be classified as causation, nor for that matter as volition. It is another category of causality, mediating those two.

We might express influence formally as follows: let A be an agent, and W be his will at a given time. Let object Y be some event naturally occurring, or willed to occur by some agent(s) B (which B may include agent A at a previous time). Let content of consciousness X be some belief, opinion or knowledge aroused in A by Y (X may of course simply be Y as cognized by A, or X may have some more complicated cognitive relation to Y).

Then, we can say “X influences A to will W”, providedA with awareness of X requires less effort to will W, than A without awareness of X” – that is, provided X inclines towards W, the will of A. If, alternatively, X inclined away from W, then A would need more effort to will W with X than without it, and we would say that “X influences A not-to will W”.

These forms define positive and negative influence, both of which may be referred as simply ‘influence’, leaving the direction of influence (for or against) indefinite. If the effort requirement is exactly equal either way, there is effectively no influence. The amounts of effort involved are known in various ways, as earlier discussed. Note that in everyday discourse the implied forms “X inclines to W” and “X inclines away from W” are sometimes be taken as equivalent to the forms of influence, because it is tacitly understood that X was cognized by A and A willed W.

We can of course, mutadis mutandis, similarly clarify various forms of influence involving notX and/or notW as terms, such as “notX influences A to will notW”.

In practice, we would consider that whatever gives rise to an influence is itself an influence. That is, the occasion of X that we have labeled Y, or its natural causatives or its volitional agent B – can all be called influences once X is so established. But, note well, whether that practice is strictly speaking valid needs to be discussed. The issue is a logical one, concerning causal chaining or syllogism. It is left open for now.

Thus, to review the process of influence in sequence:

  1. Something (Y) natural occurs, or is made to occur through the will of some agent or agents (B, which may be or include A).
  2. That occurrence (Y) comes to the attention of a subject (A), or causatively produces some physical, mental or spiritual affect in him that he becomes aware of, and possibly thinks about further (X).
  3. This subject (A) then engages in some act of will (W), whether a direct volition or an indirect one.
  4. And it so happens that such will (W) involved less effort for that agent (A) in the presence of that thought (X) than in its absence.
  5. Then the thought (X) can be said to have positively influenced the agent (A) in so willing (W).

Note that Y and X may be one or two. If A is directly aware of Y, then it is the term of reference. If, however, A is not aware of Y, but of some effect of it labeled X, then X is the influential term. The influential term is whatever is the object of cognition, i.e. some appearance, be it real or illusory, faint or intense, far or near. The cognition involved may be sensation (then X is a physical phenomenon) or introspective perception (then X is a mental phenomenon), or even intuition. In the latter case, A is aware of prior reactions of his own soul (so X is a spiritual event). Objects of sensory perception include things observed outside or within one’s body, including visceral emotions. Mental objects include[237] memories, imaginations, and possibly mental emotions. The object of awareness may also be an abstraction (then X is a conceptual object, a term within a more or less complex thought). Usually, all these means of cognition are involved, in various combinations.

It should be remarked that the causation by Y of X is a principle to be separately established, but which need not be known to A to be operative. More interesting is the question concerning the comparison of amount of effort, involved for A to will W in the presence or absence of X. For A might well be aware of his effort while he wills W in the presence of X; but that does not tell him what effort he would feel in the absence of X! The answer is that one does not need to be aware of the influence of something for such influence to be operative. Consciousness is crucial, but it is the consciousness by A of X, not the consciousness by A of his effort with or without X or of the influence of X. The agent need not at all take notice of the effort expended, though his attention is likely to grow with the effort expended.

Indeed, the agent may positively think or claim to think that something has no influence which in fact has some influence, or inversely that something which in fact has no influence has some! In such cases, note, the thought or claim must be considered as a separate, superimposed item, which may or not have a degree of influence of its own, quite apart from the fact.

The above formula is relevant only to the logician, or to whoever wishes to establish the existence of a causal relation of influence between something (X) and an agent (A) engaged in a volition (W). Just as the relation of causation, for instance between Y and X at this moment, cannot be established with one observation, but only through repeated observation over time – so with influence. We cannot say for sure that X influences A to will W with reference to any one observation, like the amount of effort in the presence of X. We must refer also to other events, such as the effort in the absence of X.

And indeed, here as with induction of causation in general, certainty is proportional to the frequency of such observations. The more often we have observed the conjunction, the more confident of a causal relation we become. Knowledge of influence is empirical and inductive.

Notice the relation between the object X (as cognized by A) and the amount of effort (say E, for A to will W) – it is a standard causative relation. It consists of two if–then propositions (natural hypotheticals), “if X, then effort E(X)” and “if notX, then effort E(notX)”, and a comparative proposition “effort E(X) is less than effort E(notX)”. Nothing special – the procedures for such knowledge are commonplace. This refers to the case of positive influence by X. In the case of negative influence by X, E(X) would be greater than E(notX); and in the case of no influence, the effort needed would be the same either way.

Of course, any calculation of effort must take into account not just one influence, but all influences currently active for or against the intended will. The total effort requirement call it E, would be the effort requirement if the will was uninfluenced by anything (E0), plus all the additional efforts required to overcome negative influences (E), minus all the reduced efforts made possible by positive influences (E+). That is, E = E0 + E – E+.

Effort is something the volitional agent must call forth out of himself or put forward, as a precondition to his succeeding in doing his will. Effort is known to us by inner experience; but the agent need not be conscious of his effort every time he exercises it. Nevertheless, in our definition of influence we have assumed that some effort is always involved in volition, and that its quantity varies, being greater in some circumstances than in others. Whether or not it is focused on, effort is there wherever volition occurs. Volition implies effort.

Also remember, effort is relative. The quantities of effort required for each action vary from individual to individual, and even within the lifetime of a given individual. I may find a job easier to do today than yesterday, for a variety of reasons (e.g. I no longer have a cold); and some other person may find the same job more difficult any day (being less muscular or brainy than me, say).

4.     Incitement

We have distinguished influence from ordinary conditioning, with reference to the consciousness that mediates the cause and effect in the case of influence. We have pointed out that influences may equally be natural events or events brought about by volition or both, provided in any case the one influenced has cognized these events. Let us now consider more closely the possible interactions of different volitional agents.

One or more volitional agent(s) may impact on another in the way of ordinary conditioning, i.e. by causation. For example, a man while knocked out is tied up by others; as he awakens, he tries unsuccessfully to move his arms and legs, before becoming conscious that he is tied up. His attempt to move are acts of will, whose limited scope is not due to influence but to causation, since he did not notice the rope before trying (but rather became aware of his predicament by trying). If the man happens to be Samson or Superman, he might break the ropes on first trial: his will has overcome the man-made obstacle they present. On the other hand, if the man feels or sees the rope before trying to move, his will is then braced against the resistance of the ropes – and in that case, it is appropriate to say that influence is involved.

A subsidiary concept of influence, by one or more volitional agent(s) of another, is incitement – which may be defined as intentional influence. In the case of unintentional or accidental influence the influencing agent(s) will something with certain purposes in mind, which do not include the goal of influencing the other agent in a certain direction; yet that other agent is indeed influenced, since he cognized that previous will or its outcomes and acted in the same direction, or against it, in relation to such cognition. We have incitement, by contrast, if the one of the goals of the influencing agent(s) was in fact to influence the other agent a certain way, interfering with his life, presenting him with some enticement or obstacle.

We may formalize incitement by means of propositions like “X incites A to will W”. This is a specialized form of “X influences A to will W”, which it implies, where X is something willed by some agent(s) B, who intend(s) agent A to will W. (Thus for the positive form; similarly, mutadis mutandis for the negative form and for forms with negative terms.)

Here, the will X of B could be any perceivable physical activity or product thereof, such as a push or pull, a punch or arm-lock, a gesture or speech, a written text, or whatever. Such will, note well, has to have as one of its goals the orientation of A in a certain sense. The mere awareness by B that A might perchance be so led does not qualify as intention; B has to want that result. Though A must cognize X (and that before willing W), he does not have to cognize any of the intentions of B. But X must in fact influence A to will W, i.e. reduce the effort needed for A to will W and thus the likelihood of his doing so. Influence without intention and intention without influence are equally inadequate to qualify for incitement. And of course, just as influence does not eliminate freedom of the will, so incitement does not.

Thus, whereas influence refers to the consciousness of the influenced agent, incitement refers to both that and the consciousness of the influencing agent(s). The concept of incitement has gray areas, with regard to who and what (and where and when) the intentions involved are aimed at. We must distinguish specificities of intention, ranging from general intentions to more and more defined ones. The former intend a kind of result, whereas the latter focus on a designated agent performing a precisely specified action. For example, advertisers want to sell a product to as many people as possible; but it would not be accurate to say that they incited Mr. Smith in particular to buy a particular sample of it (even on a given date in a given shop).

The most obvious case of incitement is physical coercion or intimidation. This may involve actual blows or incarceration, to someone or to others that this person cares for, or merely the threat of such direct or indirect physical suffering, with a view to get the victim to do or not-do something. The legal authorities may resort to such measures to protect society. Or thugs of all kinds may use them for their own selfish ends. Depending on one’s courage, training and motivation, one may often resist such attempts at domination. Sometimes, individuals try to and fail; sometimes, yielding to fear of pain, they do not try at all. People usually manage to defend themselves collectively, if not individually.

Intimidation, involving the threat of force to someone or the use of it against his loved ones, is of course a psychological rather than physical means of incitement. Indeed, most incitement is psychological, ranging from promises of some advantage or reward to threats of some disadvantage or punishment. The promise or threat is often very tacit and vague, though sometimes explicit and defined; it may in either case be true or false. Its content may fall under any existential category: it may be physical, psychological, spiritual, economic, social, political, or whatever.

Incitement by means of language in any form (gestures and sounds, speech in words, written language) is considered as special enough to be named distinctively, say as ‘persuasion’[238]. We may make further distinctions with reference to the interrelation involved: ‘ordering’ (by an authority or superior), ‘entreating’ (by an equal or inferior), ‘instructing’ (by a teacher), ‘example giving’ or ‘emotionally inspiring’ (by a role model), ‘advising’ (by a friend), and so forth. Often, pressure is applied by seemingly merely giving information (true, false or uncertain), without specifying what it is in aid of; an idea is imbedded in a mind, with the likelihood that it will lead to certain desired conclusions and actions. A promised reward for a certain course of action is an ‘incentive’; a promised penalty is a ‘disincentive’. If an incentive turns out to have been a false promise, it was probably intended as ‘bait’.

Note that in relationships of influence between two or more volitional agents, the interaction of wills may be competitive or cooperative. We should not necessarily view the influencer(s) as active and the influenced agent as passive. The agents may have conflicting or shared purposes, with or without intention to do so. They may work at cross-purposes or together, struggling or in harmony, in a variety of relations – for examples, as commercial partners or political opponents, as equal co-workers or as boss and employee or as master and slave, as parents and children or as teacher and student.

All such relations can in principle be defined by analyzing the intentions of the players involved. Some interactions are de facto, some are contractual, mutual agreements by word of mouth or in writing; some are more or less enforceable, some not. We see here how the whole range of human or animal social life becomes an object of aetiological study.

An important issue in this context is that of parsing responsibility. Volitional acts are primarily the responsibility of their agent, no matter how much they are influenced by external factors or persons, since he has free will. Nevertheless, in a more nuanced sense of the term, his responsibility may be mitigated with reference to the influences impinging on him. If something good was very easy to do, the praise in doing it is less marked than if it was difficult. If something bad was very hard to do, the blame in doing it is more marked than if it was easy. Our concern may be moral or legal.

When we consider human influences, and especially intentional ones, sharing the praise or blame is necessary, since more than one agent is involved in the result. Obviously, unintentional influence implies a lesser share of responsibility for the influencer than intentional influence (i.e. incitement). In some cases, the scenario relates to an association between two or more persons who perform some deed in common. We might then ask, who played what role, and what their mutual relationships were, to determine the hierarchies of responsibility involved. Such judgments are not based on exact science (to date). Many virtues are needed to arrive at a fair judgment, among them respect for facts, attention to detail, impartiality, the sense of justice, a pure spirit, wisdom.[239]

6.   Further Analysis of Influence

1.     Some features of influence

We defined influence as the relationship, to the action of a volitional agent, of contents of consciousness that make his exercise of will easier or harder. To ‘make easier or harder’ means that: in the presence of these objects, provided one is minimally aware of them just before acting, the effort of will needed for some purpose is increased or decreased by comparison to that needed in their absence. If they are not contents of consciousness, they are effectively absent as influences, whether present or absent as facts.

The contents of consciousness involved may be experienced material, mental or even intuitive objects. That is, they may be concrete environmental or physiological factors or conditions, or phenomenal contents of mind (memories, imaginations, verbal thoughts, emotions, whatever), or again acts or attitudes within the agent himself. The operative contents of consciousness may also include abstractions from any such experiences (that is, concepts, inferences, any intellectual considerations). The degree of consciousness involved may be intense (‘conscious’), peripheral (‘subconscious’) or virtually nil (‘unconscious’); this may or not affect the degree of influence.

But in any case, the medium of consciousness is essential to characterization of something as an influence. If something has an effect on an agent’s actions independent of consciousness, i.e. (as we say) ‘objectively’, we may speak of ordinary conditioning, but not of influence. Thus, for instance, a person’s natural constitution (such as brain makeup or bodily structure, in comparison to other individuals of the same species or to other species) certainly affect his actions, but not in the way of influence. These may well yet be influences – if their apprehension plays a role in his actions. For example, if a man seeing his poor physical appearance in a mirror is discouraged from pursuing a woman – his ugliness ceases to be a mere condition and becomes an influence (on his own volition[240]).

Influences are not sufficient conditions for will, but are ‘efficient’ in the sense that without them or others like them the willed act would be improbable, though still possible somehow. Positive influences make things more readily accessible (facilitate); negative influences make things more difficult (hinder). It depends which way one is headed.

A simple way to represent these tendencies is to visualize someone moving an object up or down a hill: the hillside (or the force of gravity) is analogous to a positive influence on a person moving the object down, but analogous to a negative influence on a person moving it up. The degree of influence may be illustrated by the inclination of the hillside. If it is steep, influence is great, pro or con. If it is not steep, the influence is small, pro or con. If the inclination is strong in a favorable direction (downhill), little effort is needed to achieve the desired end; but if it is unfavorably strong (uphill), much effort is required. If the inclination is not strong, comparatively more effort will be needed for positive goals (down) and comparatively less effort for negative ones (up) – comparatively to a stronger inclination, that is.

For this reason, we often speak of people’s proclivities or inclinations. The term inclination carries a useful image, suggesting a landscape with valleys or canals symbolizing the easy (more inertial) paths, and hills or other obstacles as requiring special (more volitional) effort to go over or overcome. We can imagine a marble (one’s will) traveling over such variable landscape, subject to alternative developments and the conditions of transition at different times from one to the other. The landscape idea allows us to view effort not merely in terms of modifying the paths of a marble (going with little effort on the easy courses, or with more effort on the harder ones), but also more radically in terms of remodeling the landscape itself[241].

To influence the course of events is to make them tend to go a certain way rather than any other. To clarify this, we might refer to effort, since effort is diminished or increased according as it goes with or against tendencies. But we should not confuse a heuristic formula with a description or an explanation. Our impression is that influences stimulate or stagnate our responses, i.e. increase or decrease our will. This aspect of influence can perhaps best be expressed with reference to the likelihood of a certain response.

It seems that the more effort an act of will requires, the less likely is the agent to provide it; the less effort it requires, the more likely will he do so. The agent is naturally lazy or economical: if things are made easy for him, he will probably go for it; if difficult, probably not. This is said ‘all things considered’, i.e. taking into account all the influences involved, and not just focusing on some and ignoring others. It does not exclude that the agent may indeed invest more effort, and overcome some great resistance, especially if motivated accordingly by some other influence (for instance, a moral principle or a vain self-image).

A tendency may be viewed as a ‘force’, which goes in the same direction as the ‘force’ of one’s will, reducing the amount of effort needed and increasing the likelihood of such will, or in the opposite direction, making more effort necessary and the will less likely. The advantage of this concept of ‘force’ is to provide a common measure between tendencies and will, although they are very different in nature, making a calculus (additions and subtractions) possible.

Note that here, when we speak of probabilities (more or less likelihood), we mean something radically different from the statistics intended in causation, in that it does not signify that, under certain unknown or unspecified conditions, the likelihood becomes a necessity. We here just report that that the greater the effort required the less likely it is to be provided; and the less effort required, the more likely provided. That effort and likelihood are thus inversely proportional may be viewed as a sort of principle of inertia observed in the spiritual realm. But such analogy is not meant to imply inevitable behavior patterns.

As we have pointed out, the assumption of freedom of the will is that irrespective of all influences, where volition occurs it is nevertheless ‘freewill’[242]. Perhaps an inner sense of freedom is involved, which allows us to think that, even if we have always behaved in a certain way in certain circumstances, we are still free to behave otherwise in similar circumstances. Nevertheless, we are inwardly aware that had the influential circumstance been different, we might well have behaved differently. In other words, the influential factor played a role in our decision, though not a determining one.

A person is said to have a (relatively) ‘strong will’, if over time his conduct is less readily influenced – especially by other people’s wills, but also more broadly by any circumstances. A person with ‘weak will’ is often (comparatively) driven or thwarted in his will, i.e. his effort is rarely equal to his intentions. Note that these two concepts are relative: they may compare different periods in the life of the same person, as well as the behavior patterns of different people.

The influence of something on one’s will is essentially subjective, since it depends on a cognitive act. Nevertheless, the influence as such is objective enough, in the sense that its increase or decrease of the effort requirement for a given volition in given circumstances may be considered as a ‘natural law’.

One’s cognitive assessment of a situation may be true or false, objectively justifiable or unjustifiable; the influence of something ‘perceived’, or assumed to be a fact, does not depend on its being a fact in fact. It suffices that one believe something to be a fact, or to be likely enough, for it to have considerable influence. Whether such belief is based on experience, reason, emotion, wisdom, intelligence, stupidity, faith, guesswork, confusion or self-delusion is irrelevant, so long as it is operative.

It follows that a molehill may seem like a mountain, and vice versa. Thus, one man may be brought to a standstill by the prospect of resistances that were in fact minimal, while another may heroically overcome enormous odds because the challenge seemed puny to him. Neurotic doubts may ignore all evidence, and artificially inhibit volition, bringing on defeat. Shining faith may ignore all rational objections, and fire volition to triumph.

It should be made clear that influences on our actions are rarely singular and simple. Just as a mass of ordinary conditions underlie them, so influences are multiple and complicated.

To give an example: suppose I lift a heavy load. The lifting is objectively difficult because of the great weight of the load and the inadequacy of my muscles, or the wetness of my hands, or my having insufficiently eaten lately, or my feeling drowsy. But there are also mental factors, like my self-confidence, or my fear of dropping the load and making a noise, or my being in a hurry, which affect things more subtly and obliquely, in the way of influence. My considering myself strong encourages me, my fear of falling upsets my concentration, my feeling rushed spurs me. All these factors play a role in shaping my physical movements.

At any given moment, with regard to any pending act of will, there may be a multitude of influences. We may view them collectively as making one resultant influence. But it is more accurate to view them severally and analytically. Some point in one direction, others in the opposite direction; the resultant is the net influence, which may be positive, negative or balanced. Moreover, while volition is still undecided, there may be a range of options; each of these has its own resultant influences, so that the options may be ranked, ordered according to the degree and polarity of influence concerning them.

Furthermore, influences should not be considered as isolated forces, because they often mutually affect each other in some way. Causal chains and structures may interrelate them. This may mean ‘mutual reinforcement’, such that one gives rise to or increases another, and then the latter generating some more of the former, till both reach a certain stable level. Or it may mean ‘mutual counteraction’, such that one decreases or eliminates another or vice versa.

Thus, a detailed calculus of influences is theoretically possible, and needed to fully clarify each situation of will. In practice, such calculations are very tentative and approximate, since we do not have sure and precise data. We should also note the difference between identifying and estimating influences before the fact, i.e. as an aid to choice and decision, and doing so after the fact, i.e. as an aid to judgment about a completed volition. In the latter case, we are taking stock, to reward or punish ourselves by rating, or to learn lessons for the future.

2.     Processes of influence

Natural objects or events influence an agent when appearing before him, as objects of consciousness (through his perceptual faculties, outer or inner, or, more broadly, through his conceptual faculties). Such cognitions may generate emotions, imaginations and deliberations in him, as well as consequent actions: these all involve or are influenced acts of will. Emotion involves evaluation, an act of will; imagination is largely willed projection of mental images; deliberation is thought, also largely willed; and of course, action means will.

Also, subjects normally influence other subjects via such natural objects or events. Thus, for instance, a woman may attract a man by walking or dancing in front of him (light), by speaking or singing (sound), by her odors or perfume (smell), by physical contact (touch), by her cooking (taste), or more abstractly by her beliefs and values made evident through the preceding sense data. These external items may generate emotions, imaginations and deliberations in the man, which eventually influence him into appropriate action.

Various subdivisions of influence need to be considered. One may be influenced by information, which may be perceptual givens or conceptual insights, whether in the material world or in the mental matrix, arising naturally or through research or by the suggestion of other people (through oral, written or visual means). The information need not be true; it suffices that it is believed. Our individual beliefs evidently influence our individual actions; moreover, our belief systems give rise to behavior patterns[243].

One may also or alternately be influenced by emotions: felt in the body or in the head, concretely or abstractly. Emotions, of course, often arise in the face of information (be it true or false). Though information may influence via emotions, it may also influence without intervening emotions. Some emotions are apparently ‘spontaneous’, arising without clear relation to any new information; we experience an emotional charge in us, but cannot offhand interpret its origin. This is quite normal; but if it happens too often without rational explanation, it may become a source of anxiety and pathology.

Some people believe, rightly or wrongly, in the possibility of direct ‘spiritual’ influence. In this view, one may transmit ideas to another by mysterious pathways, or even will one’s will on another’s will. In such cases, if influence need not happen through natural objects or events (i.e. mainly via matter), are the mechanics of influence more complicated than normally conceived? In the case of telepathy, this possibility changes nothing essentially; the label ‘influence’ remains accurate[244]. In the case of takeover of will or domination, we may simply refer to an effective annulment of the power of will of one subject by another: such overpowering is not ‘influence’ in a strict sense, but more precisely a far-reaching volition[245], effectively a ‘conditioning’.

As earlier stated, information may influence actions in a roundabout way, as well as directly. The following is a more detailed analysis of such oblique influence in the case of emotions, for instance (similar analysis is possible for all information).

We can, by the way, distinguish three types of ‘emotions’ – visceral ‘feelings’ in the body, some of which are products of physical sensation (e.g. a pleasure during massage or a pain upon burning) and some of which seem of psychosomatic origin (e.g. a person wakes up in the morning with a cloud of anxiety in the stomach area or bubbles of joy in the upper chest[246] or throat), and purely mental emotions whose phenomenal qualities are very subtle if at all discernable.

It should be stressed that an emotion may be present and felt – but unadmitted. In such case, it is said to be ‘subconsciously’ cognized, because one is aware of it with a low or minimal degree of consciousness. This is in contrast to ‘conscious’ emotion, which is more explicitly recognized, which means that one identifies with it to some extent, at least enough to consider and deal with it. We may also distinguish between awareness of an emotion, and awareness that it is emotion; the latter classifies the former, implying an additional cognitive act.

When an emotion occurs, our usual response is to try to explain it, so as to (a) quash it, or at least diminish it, if it is negative, or (b) continue it, if not intensify it, if it is positive. We naturally prefer the positive to the negative (unless we are masochistic, but then the desired positive emotion is further down the line, more tortuous), and cling to what we desire and escape from our objects of aversion.

This response of ‘trying to explain’, is a search for the cause(s) of the emotion or for its exact meaning (besides its being pleasant or unpleasant) – and the important thing to understand is that the interpretations we (or others) suggest are merely hypotheses, which may be right or wrong. In fact, they are very often mere conjectures, i.e. probably wrong, in that the more complex particular emotions usually have multiple causes, and it is hard to establish which of these are the dominant ones even when we manage to list them all.[247]

Thus, emotions influence actions in two ways: simple/direct or complex/roundabout. First, the emotion itself may affect conduct, by easing or obstructing certain actions (e.g. a light-hearted child skips around; whereas a person with a headache avoids movement). Second, the emotion supplies the data around which we construct hypotheses about its causes, and these explanations in turn affect our actions (e.g. thinking I feel good or bad because someone said something to me, I pursue or avoid that person).

Psychologists study specific influences, which group together various combinations of the above-mentioned genera of influences. For example, the various categories of influence on one’s life might be listed, including one’s parents and other family members, one’s school teachers, other friends and acquaintances, certain books read (novels, religious documents, histories, philosophies, scientific treatises), the other media (movies, TV and radio programs, etc.), and so forth. Then for each category, the nature of the influence would be ascertained – e.g. what did one’s father or mother influence? Perhaps one’s moral inclinations, one’s manners, one’s choice of spouse, or one’s political beliefs. And how did such transmission occur? Perhaps by example, by preaching, or through some shared experience. A nexus of information and emotions is involved.

3.     Instincts in relation to freewill

With regard to the statement made that all volition is freewill, we have to answer a question concerning instincts, i.e. seemingly inherited (or at least individually innate) environmental information and behavioral responses that are not mere reflexes. How are certain surprising observed behaviors to be explained? How come all members of a species behave in the same way in the same circumstances? Can some cognitive data be genetically stored and passed on? Can some volitions be controlled by genetic factors?

For a start, we should avoid confusion between intentional acts and acts with certain incidental consequences. In both cases, there is will, indeed free will – but the former are consciously aimed at some goal, whereas the latter only seem to have a certain direction to an ex post facto observer. The intention of instinctive acts is obscure, vague and internal; it is not to be confused with the biological utility of such acts identified by scientists. The instinctive act responds to an inner urge, in a way that calms or gains relief from that urge. The soul’s consciousness is focused on that urge, and the will’s aim is to answer that pressing demand anyway it can (whether the ‘how’ is immediately evident, or has to be discovered or learned). The soul is not told ‘why’ it has to do it, i.e. need not know what the life-sustaining value of its instinctive response might be. The urge to so act, on the other hand, may well be viewed as ‘programmed’ by nature (i.e. a product of evolutionary selection).

Consider for example a baby sucking at its mother’s bosom. The action as a set of mouth muscle movements is one we would consider volitional, yet we would not seriously suggest he has consciously directed his muscles for feeding purposes. The baby’s volition is surely influenced by hunger and perhaps by the smell of its mother’s milk. In such cognitive context, there may be a number of reactions the baby’s volition may choose from, including sucking, crying, waving arms, say. In this sense, the baby has choice. But it just so happens that sucking movements are the primary choice, the most likely choice, i.e. the easiest option in the range of available options.

Thus, the event involved is equivalent to trial and error learning, except that the first choice volition is influenced to take is the ‘right’ one. The other options are therefore not tried.[248]

Thus, ‘instinct’ is a legitimate and definable concept: it may be fully assimilated to our concept of influence. The volition involved in instinctive acts is not exempt from freedom and responsibility. We can therefore side with the proposition that genes do not transmit foreknowledge of the environment or complex living skills. Technically, the influence of instinct functions exactly like any other influential item. Simply, an instinct is an innate influence, which may or may not be partly affected by environmental circumstances or their cognition; and this influence happens to be the most powerful of other innate or acquired influences.

Influences are not all equal: this is true in all contexts, as we have seen, and not just with reference to instinct. Influences are of varying effect on volition; some influences are strong, some are weak; they may be ranked. Influences are all operative simultaneously on the soul about to will; but the soul is most likely to will in the easiest direction, i.e. the one in favor of which the influence is strongest, loudest, most manifest. That this direction is consistently taken by a baby or a lower animal does not imply that other options are in fact absent; they are indeed present as potentials in the background of the volition, only being less influential they are less likely to be felt or acted upon.

For a more mature or more spiritually developed soul, the easiest option is not always the one taken; the soul has discovered its own volitional power, and can therefore choose less obvious directions. Note that even an animal may swerve (or be influenced to swerve) from its instinctive path; for example, a dog trainer can get a dog to resist its hunting instinct and obey the injunction to walk on when it comes across some prey.

In formal terms, we may refer to a disjunctive proposition, where “P or Q or R…” are the alternatives open to volition in given circumstances and influences. However, P may be more likely than Q, and Q more likely than R, etc. In such case, the agent will ‘instinctively’ opt for P, the most obvious and influential choice, although he may eventually discover his capacity to opt for Q or even R, notwithstanding their being less manifest and influential.[249]

4.     Liberation from unwanted influences

When we meditate on our internal workings, we can easily see the force of inertia existing in us. It is very evident that though we may to some extent have freewill, it is not always and everywhere immediately operative. Thoughts, imaginings, memories, emotions, faces, musical tunes, words – may go on and on for hours, without our being able to stop them or channel them for more than a few seconds, if that. It may however be possible to control such dull mental activity in the long run, thanks to disciplined spiritual exercises like meditation. Thus, freewill seems to exist, not in all things ‘at will’, but often only by ‘working on oneself’ over time, i.e. going through a time-consuming process.

This is how the yearning for inner liberation may first arise. Once we have witnessed our own incapacity to concentrate our will over a period of time, we are appalled and become anxious to remedy this weakness of the will. Some philosophers think the solution to be asceticism, considering that most of the force that drags us down into such endless chatter of the mind is the body’s innate desire for food and drink, physical comfort, sex, and so forth. Others argue that more pondered methods must be used to overcome mental scattering and sluggishness.

Many people are not even at the level where they are concerned with the ongoing obsession and anarchy inside their minds, but are rather frightened by some of their compulsive external behavior patterns, such as anti-social anger and violence, or self-destructive and socially dangerous lust, for examples. Such actions may be viewed in religious terms as sins, and fought by prayer and other pious deeds; or they may be confronted in a more secular perspective. But what concerns us here is their relationship to freedom of the will.

Every punctual or sustained attempt to gain ascendancy over such subtle or coarse tendencies is an expression and affirmation of freewill. Self-mastery is possible, if we do not ‘identify with’ the influences on our will, i.e. if we do not say or think of them ‘this is me’ or ‘this is part of me’.

But in addition to the influences already within us, in the way of thoughts and feelings, we may need to look further out and consider the way nature and other people condition and influence our mental and physical actions. I will have different life-support issues to face if I live in a hot country or in a cold country. If someone imprisons me, or creates a totalitarian society around me, it affects the things I need to think about and what I may do or not do. The contents of my thoughts are affected by my environment.

Anything that affects our subjective world, or objectively broadens or narrows the choices open to us in our life, anything to be taken into consideration in the exercise of volition, is an influence. If it is considered good, if facilitates our pursuits; if bad, it makes things more difficult for us. We logically prefer the former, and so far as possible oppose the latter.

Volition is capable of being influenced, but is also capable of overcoming influences or diminishing their impact. This is made possible through a policy of awareness, or mindfulness – ‘working on oneself’.

5.     Propositions about the future

Volition is expressed through propositions of the form “A wills W”, which may be called ‘volitional propositions’. Although the simple present tense is needed to discuss volition as it occurs (whether in categorical or conditional propositions), mostly we use such form in the past or future tenses. Usually, except for introspective reports, we only know after the fact that “A wills W” was true: i.e. such a proposition is derived from the past form “A willed W”. The future form “A will will W[250] has always been of especial interest to logicians and philosophers, because it seems to claim as a fact something that depends on free will and therefore cannot strictly be predicted with absolute certainty.

Many propositions less explicitly involve prediction of free will, yet depend for their truth on the will of someone or those of many people. For example: “the sea battle will take place tomorrow”. It should be noted that such propositions about future will(s) are not only about volition, but also about the amount of influence on volition. In our example (it is actually Aristotle’s), the likelihood that the prediction come true is very high (though not absolute), because all the people involved are so entangled in their war that it would be very difficult (though not inconceivable) for them to make peace overnight. Thus, propositions about influences involved are tacitly implied.

All forms concerning the relation of influence may be called ‘influential propositions’. This includes positive forms, like “X influences A to will W”, and their negations, like “X does not influence A to will W”. Also, as we have seen, the extreme terms may be replaced by their negations – X by notX and W by notW. As for the middle term, A, there is no point considering its replacement by its negation, notA, since that would not refer to an agent; we can only substitute another agent, say B or C. A subspecies of influential forms are the forms of incitement, such as “X incites A to will W” and its derivatives.

One common form relating to both volition and influences thereon is “When/if X occurs, then A will do W” – where (i) X is any influential event, i.e. a natural (deterministic or otherwise) occurrence and/or a volition by self and/or other(s), which agent A is aware of or falsely believes to be true prior to acting, and (ii) agent A is any person or group of persons or other volitional entity or entities, and (iii) W refers to some act(s) of will by agent A (individually, in parallel or collectively), which act(s) of will may simply be a decision taken but not yet carried out, or a partly sustained process, or a process sustained to its conclusion, successfully or not.

Such forms may be referred to as ‘personal conditionals’ in that they resemble logical, natural and other types of conditional propositions. However, they are different in important respects. The antecedent here is an event that has not only to occur but be perceived to do so, or alternatively it may even just be wrongly thought to occur – by the agent(s) concerned. The consequent is connected to the antecedent not through some logical or natural necessity, but through the personal resolve of the agent(s) concerned, which may be of varying strength – which means that though the consequent uses the copula “will do” it is at best probable but never certain that the agent(s) will bring it about. The proposition as a whole can of course nevertheless be declared true or false, according as all its intended conditions are fulfilled or not.

Note that the proposition “When/if X occurs, then A will do W” does not strictly tell us what A will do when or if X does not occur; we should perhaps rather state more clearly “Only if X occurs, A will do W” to distinguish this from “Whether X occurs or not, A will do W”. We may classify personal conditionals as a category of de re propositions, different from natural, temporal and extensional conditionals; they are not, however, to be confused with logical conditionals, and in particular not with material implication (which is a subcategory of de dicta proposition, and not at all de re as its name might lead one to suppose).

Detailed formal study of these and other such forms is beyond the scope of this book, but the job needs eventually to be done by someone.[251]

7.   The Workings of Volition

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[252]. 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[253].

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[254]) 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[255]. 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.

  1. 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
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[256], 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[257]. 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.

  1. 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[258], 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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[259]; and such organs would naturally depend on neurological, biological, chemical and physical laws[260]. 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 [261]

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.[262]

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[263].

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)[264].

8.   Volition and the Special Sciences

1.     Volition and the laws of physics

As already stated, the agent in volition is distinctively a static cause of change. Any eventual full definition of volition is sure to include this fact among others, as a striking differentia compared to causation and natural spontaneity. In causation, change can only be caused by previous change; and in mechanical spontaneity, change is uncaused.

It might be supposed that causation of movement by something at rest is formally conceivable, with reference to propositions like the following: “if X is Y, then it does Z; and if X is not Y, then it does not do Z”, where the antecedents are static predications whereas one of the consequents (viz. X doing Z) involves motion. But this would be a wrong reading of the causation eventually involved; if causation there indeed be, the if–then propositions would implicitly intend that change from X being Y to not being Y brings about change from X doing Z to not doing Z, or vice versa.

Anyway, the if–then propositions used here, granting X to be a volitional agent and that ‘does’ here means ‘wills’, are not intended to refer to causation, but to influence: X does or does not do Z, not because it is forced to by virtue of being Y or not being Y, but by way of freewill. This is a weaker form of consequence, due to the causality known as influence.[265]

Though we do say of machines that they ‘do’ things, we do not consider that they ever produce change from rest. Only the volitional agent can rightly be supposed to do that[266]. He is an ‘unmoved mover’, though he may be influenced by static and dynamic factors. But (except eventually for God) that does not imply the agent to have infinite powers, or to be a creator who produces matter ex nihilo. Nevertheless, he is evidently able to affect the world around him, by diverting Nature from the inertial course she seemingly would have taken without him.

Since volition involves an agent (a soul), usually a purpose (mentally projected), and sometimes a physical receptor (such as our brain), it implies a spirit-mind-matter interface. This remains a phenomenologically justified proposition, whether we regard the spirit-mind-matter distinction as real (as in Western common-sense philosophy) or as illusory (as in certain Oriental philosophies). Some consider only matter to exist (e.g. behaviorists), some only mind (e.g. Berkeley); I think spirit (soul), mind (the stuff of ideas) and matter all exist in some way[267].

As we have seen, volition may be conceived as a spiritual event that may have physical consequences under specific conditions. It was suggested that the bridge between the spiritual and physical domains in such cases could be construed as causative. This would mean that some event W in the soul arising out of volition has a causative relation to some physical event E1 in a specialized organ of the nervous system. That is, under certain conditions or invariably, “if W, then E1, and if not W, then not E1” is true.

This is formally quite conceivable, as already argued, because nothing in the relation of causation as normally formally defined specifies that antecedent and consequent must have the same ‘substance’. From a purely formal point of view, the proposition that causation by a spiritual event of a physical event is impossible would have to be specifically justified, as a special exception. It is an additional proposition, not an implied one.

The justification is readily put forward by exclusive materialists: such intervention in physical processes by a non-physical cause would contravene a basic law of physics, namely the law of conservation of energy. For it is argued, every physical change (motion, chemical change, whatever) requires energy input, and such energy cannot come from outside the closed system constituted by matter.

Before we debate this objection, let us consider how volition might physically intervene.

Let us imagine that the act of volition simply causes a sudden release of physical energy in some one direction, presumably within the brain. We do not say that the energy was created ex nihilo by the soul, or that it emerged from a metamorphosis of spirit into matter, because that would raise difficulties with regard to the law of conservation of energy. We suppose instead that the energy was stored within the brain in some form, and merely released by the volition[268]. The volition just ‘opened the vane’; it triggered the mechanism allowing the energy to be transferred, generating certain physical processes.

Our thesis is then less radical than at first appears. It does not frontally assault the law to the extent of claiming the energy comes from the volition or its agent. It more modestly claims that the triggering of energy release itself require no energy input to occur. All the energy involved is already present, trapped; it is merely let go in some direction. Since causation as such is not about energy transfers, it is conceivable that under very specific terms and conditions such an event (pulling the trigger, as it were) would cost nothing energetically.

I am here obviously inspired by the image of ‘Maxwell’s Demon’. In this thought-experiment devised by James Clerk Maxwell, an agent stands at the trapdoor between two boxes, containing particles of matter in motion. The agent opens and closes the trapdoor at will, letting the particles gradually pass in a desired direction, so that they end up all in the same box, or with the hotter ones in one box and the colder ones in the other. Thus, the entropy (disorder) in this imaginary natural system is decreased, contrary the second law of thermodynamics.

Physicists point out that this fantasy does not presage an exception to that law, because it does not take into account the entropy increase in the functioning of the ‘demon’, his observation of the particles and his opening and closing of the trapdoor, not to mention energy expenditures.

But we might reply that such argument is circular, i.e. it assumes in advance, without actual experiment or calculations, that the ‘demon’ would be subject to these physical laws and thus predicts entropy would be increased and energy expended. In my view, we do not have to be bound by these laws in the present context for several reasons.

Firstly, because in the last analysis the physical principles we circumvent are, or are derived from, generalizations from experience. As such, it is ultimately logically permissible to particularize them, if the need arise. It is true that the laws in question are fundamental hypotheses of physical science; they have proven extremely durable in the face of all physical experience and for that reason support the whole edifice of our physics theorizing. But just as physics has come to admit the possibility of natural spontaneity in the field of quantum mechanics and with reference to the Big Bang, so it may be that in certain very complex biological-neurological systems certain laws find exception. That is, whereas matter in simpler systems follows established physical laws, when it comes together in certain especially complex systems it may not. Since these laws have to date not been tested in these complex systems, we may well consider such possibility.

Secondly, knowledge is not built by rigid adherence to some pre-ordained non-logical principles; it adapts creatively to the information and issues at hand. We must make some sort of allowance for volition in our world-view. It is not an arbitrary posture: we have too much in the way of inner experience to explain by that means; we cannot just ignore our inner life. Thus, while a particular proposal of how volition might function (such as ours here) is always open to eventual criticism, the fact that some proposal is necessary is not really debatable. To ignore something is not to explain it; to explain it away is not to explain it, either. We should not yield to the extreme materialist dogma without overwhelming ad hoc evidence and argument. The onus is on the proponents of that dogma to justify their case in the specific situation at hand, giving a credible detailed account of why they think what seems like will is not so.

Thus, our present argumentum is twofold. We propose, firstly, an ontological concept, that the whole may be more than sum of the parts. We claim that when inorganic matter coagulates into organic molecules, then living cells, and the latter in turn coagulate into plant and animal organisms, new collective phenomena arise for such composites – namely life, consciousness and volition – which are radically different and unpredictable from the phenomena applicable to the components severally. Such ‘collectivism’ is admittedly contrary to modern ‘reductionism’, according to which the behavior of composite bodies is ultimately to be explained by the laws applicable to their components.

Secondly, we propose an epistemological objection, namely that such reductionism is the issue at hand and cannot be used as an argument without circularity. The physical laws in question are hypotheses supported by adduction; these are admittedly credible, but they have been tested only in the field of inorganic matter. Their extrapolation into the field of living matter, and in particular of animal and human life, is a mere act of faith on the part of materialists. So long as they have not come forth with precise experiments and mathematical formulas that specifically predict and explain the phenomena we call life, cognition and volition, they may not lay claim to a more ‘scientific’ status. Such status is not attached to particular doctrines or dogmas, but to any effort of cognition that seems the most open and fair-minded, and rigorous in its methodology.

Returning to our scenario: following Maxwell’s schema, we can imagine the soul (agent), by his volition, flicking a sort of weightless switch to release energy. Presumably, he knows instinctively just how to do that. This movement of will costs him nothing in terms of physical energy. It is primarily a spiritual event, but it induces (by causation) a change on the physical level, the release of stored physical energy. Such energy release may be punctual or sustained. It is neither the end result of a physical process nor spontaneous in the mechanical sense. It may be attributed to no one but the agent, whatever the surrounding influences. The direction of energy release, rather than any other potential directions, is the manifestation of the agent’s ‘intention’ in willing. Observed after the fact, it reveals the intention. Volition is not a chance, mindless event – it involves consciousness.

Thus, we here claim exception to certain physical laws within the very circumscribed regions where the spiritual, mental and material domains intersect. The domain of volition as such is not material (and thus subject to physical laws), but mental (i.e. in the mental stuff of memories and imaginations, at least with regard to projected goals) and spiritual (i.e. in the soul of the agent). On a physical level, physical events caused by volition appear as spontaneous, because their cause is in a non-physical domain. It is not inconceivable that experimental detection of such events might one day be devised.

It is important for this purpose to distinguish between the first physical movement caused by the spiritual will, and all subsequent physical events. The first movement occurs somewhere in the nervous system (the brain, and maybe the spine or nerves). This may start a chain of events, culminating in a visible (or otherwise experienced) physical event (e.g. the movement of a hand or the throwing of a stone). The chain reaction is not necessarily inevitable, given the initial volition. It depends on physiological and environmental factors (e.g. the health of one’s body, the availability of a stone to throw). The latter domains are where the laws of physics and biology operate normally. Only the initial physical movement caused by will is exceptional.

2.     Volition and biology

It is interesting to note, to start with, that biology textbooks may refer to voluntary and involuntary processes without ever admitting volition or asking questions about it. Yet (I would say), volition is central to many issues in biology.

  1. We have here suggested that consciousness and volition occur in tandem. On an abstract level, the following propositions concerning them seem reasonable. Consciousness is, of course, the prior of the two, and conceivable without volition (since we are sometimes aware of things without reacting to them). But all volition requires some consciousness, and cannot occur without it. This is even true of whim, and all the more of volition with a purpose. Volition is distinguishable from a spontaneous mechanical event by the involvement in it of consciousness. Volition is free will; there is no such thing as non-free volition. Nevertheless, the degree and range of freewill may vary enormously. The power of will is proportional to the power of consciousness.

Consciousness would be without practical utility to an organism if not complemented by volition. By informing volition, cognition becomes meaningful as a tool of survival. Furthermore, most of our cognitive processes depend on acts of volition. At the sensory level, for instance, opening or focusing our eyes is volition. At the mental level, recalling a memory or imagining is often volitional. In thought, volition is needed to direct our attention hither and thither and to intensify it as appropriate. Our consciousness, not being infinite, would not get us very far without volition. The conjunction of volition and consciousness in organisms is thus no accident of nature, but necessary.

These propositions are based on observation of living beings, but also may serve as postulates for biology. Consciousness and volition are found wherever nervous systems are found. In humans and higher animals, the latter include a central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and a peripheral one, with sensory and motor capabilities. In lower animals, such as insects or worms, the physiological apparatus for consciousness and volition is much less elaborate, but identifiable nonetheless. In plant life, and (I presume offhand) in single cell animal life, no organs for consciousness and volition have been identified.

Movement following sensation does not necessarily indicate volitional reaction; response to stimuli may be reflex. All the same, at least for higher forms of animal life, volition to some extent comparable to ours may be assumed, in view of their observable behavior. Such assumption seems further justified by the major morphological and genetic similarities between them and us, suggesting our evolution from common life forms. It remains true that human cognitive and volitional capabilities, including speech and reasoning[269], are significantly superior, suggesting a quantum leap in evolution. But we can point to notable differences in brain structure and size to explain this; it does not ignore or contradict any law of biology.

Also noteworthy are the observable facts of social interaction among animals and/or humans, and in particular the emergence of culture in human groups. These are indicative of consciousness and volition. They make possible the transmission, between contemporaries and from generation to generation, of living skills (e.g. hunting techniques) and, in the case of human culture, historical and abstract knowledge, as well as possessions and technology.

In sum, the distinction between ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ animals might be made by saying that the former are more sensory and reflexive, responding immediately to present stimuli in standardized ways, while the latter increasingly function through the medium of a mind, i.e. with reference to memory (storing and recalling past sensations), imagination (reshuffling memories, dreaming) and anticipation (considering alternatives, making choices), which makes possible their powers of cognition, volition and valuation stretched over time. Among the latter, humans apparently excel, probably mainly due to their development of language, in thought and speech (probably concurrently).

Biologists today are content to describe rather than explain physical processes in living organisms, using apparently neutral terms like “doing” or “organization”, which avoid mention of volition or even consciousness, let alone soul. But to sidestep certain issues is not to resolve them. However, it is up to biologists to find some credible bridge between the philosophy of soul and their material concerns and findings. There is no hurry, and no justification for offhand rejection. If philosophers are right in postulating soul, biologists will eventually come around, and no doubt then greatly enrich the concept.

  1. As we have argued, consciousness and volition imply a soul, serving respectively as subject and agent in them. Soul is logically needed to explain both them and our knowledge of them. Soul of course implies belief in some sort of ‘vitalism’ (here understood as the belief that animal organisms, including humans, have a ‘soul’)[270], as against ‘mechanism’ (the belief that beasts at least, if not also humans, are merely very complex machines). However, vitalism need not be understood simplistically, as the traditional assumption of a ‘ghost in the machine’ of human and animal organisms. For, as we have explained, soul has no phenomenal qualities, not even spatial extension or position. Thus, any imagination of the soul as a transparent cloud animating the body is misconstrued, and any attack on the soul that assumes such a symbol literally is an unfair criticism.

The vitalist-mechanist dispute is of course far from academic, but scientifically, ethically and politically extremely charged. It is paradoxical that the mechanistic doctrine, which is touted as empirical and positivistic, emerged as a pillar of modern thought some 400 years ago, thanks to René Descartes. For all his intelligence in many other respects, he was nevertheless very much an ‘ivory tower’ philosopher, and his assumption that unlike humans, (the other) animals have no soul was based on no observation or scientific process. Yet, as often in the history of philosophy, his prestige sufficed to give respectability, credence and momentum to the idea.

The horrendous practical consequences of mechanism are today increasingly evident all around us. Many people do not look upon animals (other than their pets, perhaps) as living beings who can suffer, but as ‘things’ that utter cries and make faces because they are so programmed to do by ‘nature’. Therefore, industrial agriculture subjects animals to brutal living and dying conditions, and daily sacrifices millions of them, under the pretense that the masses can only be fed that way. Animals are cruelly tortured daily in laboratories, under the pretext that the needs of ‘life science’ justify such ‘experiments’. And now, we witness the coming of genetic engineering, the ultimate in disregard for the difference between living organisms and inanimate matter, driven by the utmost greed, endangering major species[271]. Altogether, it is an orgy of unconsciousness and moral ignorance.

The Nazis used similar degradation to justify and make possible the Holocaust of Jews in 1933-45. As Paul Johnson writes: “Rather as the medieval anti-Semite saw the Jew as non-human, a devil or a sort of animal (hence the Judensau), the Nazi extremist absorbed Hitler’s sub-scientific phraseology and came to regard Jews as bacilli or a particularly dangerous kind of vermin”[272]. Mechanism degrades animals to the level of mere objects; racial and similar hatreds degrade humans to the level of animals, and therefore (by way of a syllogism) of ‘things’.

Mechanism is not innocuous; it promotes such heartless mentality. One may well consider it as a dogma designed to conveniently rationalize inhumane treatment, against beasts and eventually humans. Surely, its advocates, and their practicing disciples, should be in prison, or at the very least in lunatic asylums, considering the harm they have done, are doing and are about to do on this planet; instead of which, our society honors them and enriches them.

The success of physics does not justify mechanism in biology. Mechanism cannot in reason claim the benefit of the doubt normally accorded to an untested scientific hypothesis, in view of its deadly practical consequences. As already stated, until its proponents actually come forward with mathematical formulas that exactly predict all the actions of animals, or even humans, they cannot pretend to defend scientific truth.

  1. With regard to the theory of evolution, to which I subscribe, the following can simply be said. We can conceive that when inorganic matter (itself star dust, the end result of a long history of astronomical events) coalesced in certain sufficiently complex structures, it became living matter (single cells). These structures evolved into still more complex structures, viz. plants and lower animals; then the latter further evolved into higher animals, including humans. In this latest stage, at least, nature has allowed for living organisms with souls to appear, having considerable special powers of cognition, volition and valuation. There is nothing inconceivable in that from the point of view of evolutionary theory.

These special characteristics appeared in nature, and have so far been more or less compatible with the environment. They have seemed, at first, like particularly good adaptations. They could well, however, over a longer term prove incompatible. Indeed, it seems more and more likely, in view of mankind’s current propensity to destroy other species and the biosphere itself. Our own demise is perhaps even, for all we know, already now inevitable within the next few decades. So, if only on planet Earth, these special characteristics, in the degree found in the human species at least, may well turn out to have been self-destructive – an unsuccessful, overambitious experiment of nature. But for now, they are here.

More will be said on biological issues in a later chapter.

3.     Therapeutic psychology

The special sciences aimed at the study of human (and more broadly animal) behavior, notably psychology and sociology, are of course, implicitly if not explicitly, closely tied up with the concept of volition and its allies. All too often, students of behavior ignore or conceal this basic truth, and develop their analyses without explicit reference to it, thinking by such omission to appear more ‘scientific’. They appeal to chemicals and statistics, without formally analyzing what logically underlies their discourse. This is foolish, if not dishonest. My hope is that the present work will help to overcome such distortion.

A few comments are worth making here regarding mental disease and its cure, without claiming any clinical knowledge. The concept of mental disease is presumably derived by analogy from that of bodily disease. We refer by it to any state of affairs in our mental life that is experienced as chronically uncomfortable, or as seriously damaging our efficacy in dealing with our everyday life, whether intellectually, emotionally, existentially, socially or otherwise. Hopefully, such dysfunction is curable; although we may not ourselves now know how to cure it.

Some psychologists imagine ‘the mind’ (or psyche) as a kind of cupboard, with the top shelf containing conscious mental items, the middle shelf subconscious ones and the bottom shelf unconscious ones. The trouble with this viewpoint is that it implies the mind to be some kind of entity, made of ‘mental stuff’, suspended somewhere in our heads, with a structure of some sort such that, by analogy to diseases of the human body, parts of it may be wrongly constructed or be misplaced or missing or extraneous or inappropriately moved about.

Furthermore, the contents of this cupboard (the said ‘mental items’) are identified principally with ‘ideas’, a catchall term including units of information, intentional events and bits of emotion, which are themselves viewed as ‘entities’ of mental substance. The motions of these entities, within a shelf and from shelf to shelf, make up the inner life of the psyche. It is not made clear how these entities arise, change, move and depart – whether spontaneously (inexplicably), by interaction with each other (like billiard balls, subject to causation), and/or by the will of some additional entity (a person, a who) placed adjacent to the cupboard.

Also, we might ask: what makes an informative idea cognized, an intentional idea willed or an emotional idea valued? Where is the self in this account? These peculiar qualities are left unexplained. This currently popular model of the mind (in origin partly Cartesian, partly Freudian[273]) is obviously simplistic. It fragments and reifies excessively. It fails to explain mental events convincingly, and indeed considerably obstructs explanation, being essentially mechanistic.

Additionally, it leaves the relation of the mind to the brain (and thence body) as a mystery, since it suggests a duplication of functions between mind and brain – an inexplicable redundancy (called ‘parallelism’). Substituting for it a purely materialistic equivalent (a 100% ‘neurological’ model), as many try today, is no solution – for though the substance is changed, the structural and causal problems remain.

My own analysis of the psyche, in the present work and elsewhere, acknowledges no such scenarios. I refer to a material body including a nervous system, a mental ‘matrix’ on which cognitive items are temporarily displayed (memories, imaginations, mental feelings), and a soul in which events of cognition, volition and valuation properly occur. This means that there is no storage of mental items as such, either in the mental matrix or in the soul. Whatever occurs in our ‘mental life’ that requires storage can only be stored on a material plane, supposedly in the brain.

In the latter perspective, mental disease cannot be located in the mental matrix, since everything occurring there is a mere fleeting projection of images or sounds or other phenomenal chimera. It might be located in the brain, as stored data items of questionable accuracy or value, and/or as neurological or physiological dysfunctions. Or it might be located in the soul, but not as something stored or structural or mechanical, only as repeated personal choices of a certain kind in the face of certain recurring influences and terms and conditions.

The ‘conscious’ and the ‘subconscious’ are both volitional, i.e. actions or states of the soul – some of which have mental and/or physical outcomes, but not all of them. The subconscious differs from the conscious only in degree: ‘involuntary will’ involves minimal, ad hoc awareness, while ‘voluntary will’ involves broader, more comprehensive attention. The psyche is thus essentially not a mechanical system, though some mechanical forces (physical and mental conditions) may affect it, and though the soul may be influenced by mental and physical objects of consciousness.

The ‘unconscious’ is not part of the mind, but in its material infrastructure, the nervous system. Strictly unconscious actions or states are not volitional, but mindless; they are generated by the nervous system, like the autonomic motor system functions (automatic breathing, heartbeat, etc.). The psyche is not occupied by ‘entities’ other than the soul and images flashing in the mind – the other components are not entities, but intentions, actions and states of the soul, as well as movements and changes caused by the soul or the brain of mental images.

It is wise, therefore, to avoid ontologically misleading terminology. Epistemologically, note well, conscious and subconscious thoughts, intentions, emotions or drives are ultimately observable by introspection – the former more easily and clearly so than the latter. On the other hand, ‘unconscious’ thoughts, intentions, emotions or drives are necessarily inferred, i.e. things we assume by implication from things observed, by adductive logic. For instance, if we speak of ‘a conflict’, we need not mean something actual and concretely expressed, but may refer to something abstractly known to potentially occur.

For example, if agent A at once believes (or wants) something X and its opposite notX (as often happens) – we can characterize this situation as a potential conflict, even though the agent A may not have become aware of it or yet experienced any unpleasant consequences from it. There is an implicit, objective conflict that we can logically infer from the two beliefs (or wants), knowing that if A should ever try to realize them both together he would be bound to fail, since X and notX are incompatible.

In this view, then, the concept of mental disease proper, as something not chosen, should be referred to the brain – while what concerns the soul cannot strictly speaking be so characterized, being an issue of freewill, but should be regarded as the domain of morality, ethics or ‘spiritual path’. Even so, as shown further on, the essentially free soul can still get entangled in some pretty confusing situations, like bad habits, obsessions and compulsions, so we may use the term ‘mental disease’ loosely with reference to such hard to untangle situations. As we shall explain further on, too, personality disorders are rooted in our ego construction.

With regard to ‘curing’ such mental diseases, the following generalities are worth adding. A cause is some behavior or character of the soul, which generates, sustains or amplifies that which we consider as a disease. A cure is something that will prevent, remove or attenuate the disease. The cure does not necessarily pass through knowledge of the cause, though such knowledge is often useful and sometimes essential[274]. Once the cause has produced its undesirable effect, the cause may no longer be the issue, except insofar as it may be repeated[275]. If the cause keeps recurring, the effect may recur successively with about the same intensity, or it may snowball. The cure may sometimes be aimed at neutralizing the cause, and thence indirectly the effect. Or it may be aimed at neutralizing the effect, directly. It is in any case wise to look out for eventual unforeseen side effects.

To take some examples of mental dysfunction: suppose a person has abnormally strong, unwanted, disturbing or uncomfortable, recurrent or persistent, thoughts, dreams, inner images or sounds, hallucinations, feelings or emotions. As exposed in the present work, such events may have volitional roots or be more or less involuntary products of the brain. The precise diagnosis will vary from case to case, and guide treatment efforts.

To the extent that the brain is considered the issue, chemical, surgical or other physiological remedies might be sought. However, these can only be stopgap measures, to the extent that malfunctions of the will are involved. That is, in such cases, medicines can only mask the problem, not solve it. Moreover, they may in the long run be damaging, or at least become an obstruction to proper treatment.

For if the problem is at root volitional, ‘psychoanalysis’[276] may be needed. That is, an effort to logically sort out errors of thought and behavior – whether by the subject himself (who may need to engage in theoretical studies), or with the help of a professional or capable friend. This may, of course, in turn call on behavioral changes, personal or interpersonal, such as the practice of meditation or the performance of kindly acts.

9.   Will, Velleity and Whim

1.     Cognition, volition and valuation

Our ‘soul’ is the core of our selfhood and of all our personal ‘life’. From an ontological perspective, the soul has a variety of abilities of activity, or functions, which may be classified into three broad groups: cognition, volition and valuation.

Epistemologically, it may be that we become aware of soul as a distinct ‘entity’ by imagining it at the apparent common center of all cognitive, volitional and evaluative experiences (a process that might be called ‘intrapolation’)[277], and by conceptual suppositions. But we must also admit that our soul has direct self-awareness, as well as direct awareness of these most intimate experiences (viz. cognitions, volitions and valuations). For only the admission of such direct evidence of the self and its functions, which we have labeled ‘intuition’, can explain our ability to discern particular acts of cognition, volition or valuation, even when such acts have no manifest phenomenal outcomes.

The soul, in this view, is a distinctive entity, having per se no phenomenal aspects, unlike mental and material entities; whence we may suppose it to consist of a special substance (say, ‘spirit’). This intuited inner self is, as we have seen, to be distinguished from its surrounds, namely: the mental phenomena it perceives, the physical phenomena it perceives in its own body and beyond it (the latter including, as well as the apparent physical world, some supposed perceivable effects of other souls).

Thus, we have four theaters of experience to consider: the innermost (in the sense of ‘in the soul itself’), the mental (for that soul), the bodily (for that soul) and the external (beyond one’s own body)[278]. The different ‘distances’ implied by these terms are of course relative to the soul, and are based on the varying powers of cognition, volition and valuation the soul has in them.

The basic functions of cognition, volition and valuation are operative in each of these four regions (the inner, mental, bodily and external). Their primary theater is, however, the soul.

Cognition refers primarily to an event in the soul, the event of being conscious of some specific thing, whether that object be within the soul itself, or a mental or physical phenomenon beyond it. Cognition is what happens on the soul’s side of the consciousness relation between subject and object. It is the ‘business end’ of all cognitive processes – where things ‘click’. Sensation, imagination and reasoning are not per se acts of cognition, but processes that present some concrete or abstract data to the soul for cognition. The physical organs and signals of sensation do not in themselves constitute perception, but at best make it possible. When memories or inventions are displayed in the mind, it is not the mind that perceives them, but the soul. When a concept is built, or a relation is proposed or an inference is drawn, it is the soul alone that understands.

In like manner, volition refers primarily to an event in the soul, when it directly wills something specific within itself, for all apparent volitions beyond the soul are only direct or indirect consequences of such inner action. Similarly, valuation is something spiritual (i.e. in the soul) before anything else. Only within the soul can the three functions be sometimes clearly distinguished, because in most cases they are very tightly intertwined. This is evident when we consider in some detail their interrelations in the four theaters of experience.[279]

  1. Cognition (in a large sense, including all cognitive pursuits) uses volition as a tool in various ways.
  • This is true often even within the soul. For instances: the intentions of words and other symbols are acts of will; it takes will to direct and intensify attention, whether directed inward or outward.
  • At the mental level, the projection of mental images is often volitional. Cognition uses such projection for the fundamental acts of intelligence and reason, namely: mentally pointing at something, delimiting and segregating percepts, negating experience, as well as in abstraction and classification, formulation of hypotheses and alternative scenarios, making logical inferences, and of course use of language.
  • At the bodily physical level, we use volition to prepare for and pursue cognitive objects. For instances: opening one’s eyes and looking out, or turning one’s head to face something, or pointing with one’s finger, or reaching out with our hand to touch something, or moving one’s whole body in space to change perspective.
  • At the external physical level, we use volition to set up experiments, manipulating objects and moving them about, placing them in certain relations to each other, controlling their precise relative conditions.
  1. Volition (in a large sense, including all outer consequences of volition) involves and requires cognition in various ways.
  • Within the soul, although some volitions may be goal-less, volition is usually preceded by cognitions that identify ends and means for some larger volition, and so set the intention of the punctual volition concerned. Even in the case of whims, some exploratory cognition of inner and outer conditions may be involved.
  • At the mental and physical levels, volition uses cognition not only to identify general goals and means, but also to reconnoiter the current environment and thus obtain the feedback from it that allows particular volitions to be tested and if need be corrected or more precisely pinpointed, which increases chances of ultimate success.
  1. Valuation involves and is involved in cognition and volition in various ways.
  • Valuation within the soul is itself, as a particular event, both a cognitive act and an act of volition. To evaluate something is to purport to identify its value in relation some norm, i.e. within a comparative scale – this is a cognitive act. Valuation then assigns a corresponding positive or negative intention to subsequent volition – this is a volitional act.
  • Clearly, valuation does not occur in a vacuum, but in relation to a particular subject and environment – which have to be cognized, whether they are so rightly or wrongly. The subject may be the soul proper (e.g. in religious pursuits), or an erroneous identification of mental and bodily phenomena as the self (an ego), or the mind or body (e.g. in secular pursuit of psychological or physiological health), or supposed external souls or egos, or their supposed minds and bodies. The environment concerned in valuation is the apparent or assumed sphere of action and reaction of that particular subject.
  • Valuation also occurs relative to cognitive acts – considering whether such act leads to truth or falsehood. In its primitive form, such evaluation of cognitions as such occurs ad hoc, with varying degrees of clarity and validity (or ‘truth-value’). In more advanced form, this is what the sciences of logic and methodology purport to do: to find out exactly under what conditions in general, items of knowledge and processes of inferences may be judged valid or invalid.
  • Valuation is involved in all, or most, volitional acts, since the latter are generally (except apparently for whims) oriented towards things seemingly of value and away from things judged non-valuable.

Note that all three functions of soul may involve verbal commentary, but do not have to. Words obtain their meanings by the soul’s intention; they are also produced by volition, as mental projections of sights or sounds, or as physically spoken or written symbols. Words are sometimes useful; but sometimes they can be confusing.

  • In cognitive contexts, words help us to record, order and communicate a lot of information, to an extent impossible without words. But words become counter-productive when they stop us from referring to fresh experience, and when we become locked into their symbolic patterns.
  • In volitional contexts, words may be useful as learning or teaching tools, to transmit information or instructions from one person to the next. But they can also preoccupy our attention and hinder concentration on the job at hand[280].
  • In valuation, one may occasionally use adjectives like good or bad to express one’s intentions, but these words can become misleading if one forgets the essentially intuitive nature of valuation.

In particular, we should analyze the processes of reading and writing, consisting of complex series of both physical and mental acts of cognition and volition.

  • Reading a text[281], one observes[282] letter after letter and then mentally compares these to shapes and sounds (which, incidentally, one may express mentally or orally) one has learned, and groups them into words one has previously encountered, whose meanings one has memorized (if such correspondences are lacking in one, one must of course research them).
  • Writing implies first drawing from one’s memory banks the shapes of the letters that form the words one wants put down (which one may, again, simultaneously utter mentally or orally), then moving one’s arms, hands and fingers in the appropriate ways to draw (or simply type out) those shapes.

We can observe the intertwining of cognition, volition and valuation even in meditation, which may from the outside seem much more static than it is to the practitioner.

  • The cognitive aspects are of course central to meditation: looking at some external object, or watching one’s body breathing, or an emotional charge, or mental images and conversations, or inner reactions and attitudes – and ultimately, experiencing effects such as inner silence and stillness, and hopefully ultimately ‘enlightenment’.
  • The volitional aspects are numerous, too: physically sitting down and adopting an appropriate posture, keeping the pose and correcting it as and when necessary; attempting to suppress or reduce mental sights, sounds and thoughts, or at least to observe them with some inner distance; making an effort to have the right attitudes; focusing one’s attention on some object, whether it be external (e.g. a candle), or bodily (e.g. one’s spine or breathing), or mental (e.g. when reciting a mantra or visualizing a mandala, although these objects may appear automatically after a while), or non-phenomenal (i.e. intuited self or some function thereof).
  • Valuation is also involved. Although it is ultimately incorrect to have a goal in meditation, people get into meditation with goals in mind, whether the grand goal of enlightenment-liberation or fusion with God, or more prosaic goals like reducing stress or finding inner peace and such. Moreover, as meditation proceeds, many valuations occur, helping to prepare, direct, generate and regulate one’s cognitive and volitional faculties.

Evidently, then, cognition, volition and valuation are tightly knit together in most situations, although we can distinguish them in very simple situations within the soul. In view of that, it is worth noting that influences may impinge on all three. Although the concept of influence primarily relates to volition, it also concerns cognition and valuation.

  • As regards cognition, although it per se is free of influence, we may well be influenced as to what we look out for, what we allow ourselves to see or not see, the directions of our research, and so forth. This affects the scope, though not the content, of our experience. We may also be recipients of conceptual information and methodology (which may be right or wrong), from our teachers or other sources. Naturally, all that will tailor our database in some respects, i.e. the knowledge context we refer to in our judgments will be affected; additionally, our manner of interpreting such data may be affected.
  • As for valuation, being essentially an act of will, it can be directly influenced. Our valuations do noticeably vary across time, and according to our situation. If we are attentive, we can spot the influences that cause their variations. Consider for instance a new car model: at first sight one may find it ugly, and then in time – possibly because of the ‘lifestyle’ advertising one is subjected to – one may find it on the contrary very attractive!

The innermost ‘thoughts’ and ‘actions’ of the soul are primarily wordless intentions, beyond all mental images or sounds. The latter are mere accessories of the thoughts of the soul, and all the more so are the physical productions that accompany mental events (speech, writing, symbolic gestures, facial and bodily expressions). Our study of causality appears finally as one of phenomenology, when we consider where it is thought and action originate, and distinguish that from their more superficial displays.

For this reason, in meditation we try to look into ourselves, more and more inwardly, contemplating the roots of our thoughts and actions. By sitting immobile and quiet, we gradually still all mental and physical noise, and can thus hope to apperceive the more subtle aspects of our inner life. That is, when the environment becomes less loud and the body becomes less manifest, and the mental matrix becomes sufficiently blank and calm, the arising of wordless intentions in our non-phenomenal soul may begin to be discerned. The ‘still, small voice’ inside us might be heard.

2.     Velleity

A ‘velleity’ is an incipient act of volition. In a larger sense, velleity refers to a small but insufficient act of volition – i.e. one that was not brought to completion. Thus, velleity may suggest hesitation, to which we would contrast determination (‘getting the job done’, or resolve, resoluteness). But sometimes, velleity is intentional, in the sense that the volition is intentionally incomplete; we intend our will to be no more than inchoate, tentative. We may thereafter further develop it or interrupt it, or slightly shift its direction.

Thus, postures like willingness (a general openness) or readiness (a more immediate preparedness) to do something, are velleities that for the moment we do not necessarily wish to develop into full-blown volitions. However, note, such velleity is more than mere ability; it does imply a minimal movement of the will.[283]

Velleity can be detected by the agent through introspection (intuitive self-knowledge). If the act of volition concerned has already progressed beyond the confines of the soul, into the physical and/or mental domains, it may be detected by perception of some its phenomenal outcomes. In such case, the agent, or occasionally other observers, may then infer a velleity from outer events.

Many psychological concepts can only be defined and explained with reference to velleity. For example, the presentation of an ordinarily desirable object can only properly be called ‘interesting’ or ‘tempting’ to that agent at that time, if he manifests some velleity (if not a full volition) to go for it; otherwise, neither he nor we would know he desires it. A distinction is worth making in this context between a velleity to do something and one not to do something. For example, ‘laziness’ sometimes refers to a mere velleity not to work (thusly, if it is overridden by a more determinate act of will to work – else, it becomes a volition).

The concept of velleity is also important because it helps us to understand the co-existence of conflicting values. Although one cannot simultaneously fully will one value and will its negation, one can indeed have a double velleity – i.e. velleities for contradictory items. One may also have a mix of velleity for something and volition for its opposite: the latter dominates, of course, but that does not erase the fact of velleity. All this is also true for not-willing, of course. Thus, if one wants to introspect with great precision, one should remain aware of velleities as well as of outright volitions.

Velleities are an important tool for inner communications with oneself. It is mostly through velleity rather than volition that we register our intentions, the directions of our attention. We speak to ourselves through velleities, before we ever do so through words. Thus, I may verbally ask myself “shall I do so and so?” – and the term ‘doing so and so’ has meaning for me, not because I actually will so and so now, but because I just slightly lean in the direction of such a will (velleity). To intend “not-doing so and so”, I would generate a velleity of so and so, followed by a willful arrest of further such volition. Thus, velleities provide the soul with a wordless language concerning inner volitions. This is occasionally extended out by symbolic artifices.

An important case in point, which is fundamental epistemologically, is the so-called “mental” act of negation. That act is only partly mental, in the sense of referring to projection of a mental image. It is in large part a spiritual (i.e. in-the-soul) act, an act of intention – an act of velleity. When we speak of having observed the “absence” of some phenomenal object (say, a visual detail in the physical or mental domain), we are only partly referring to perception. We of course never in perception see absences; we only see presences. We can report that something is absent only by comparing the visual field tested to an imagination (wherein the object sought for is visualized). Only if we find nothing resembling the object imagined in the tested visual field, do we say: “it is absent”. To “negate” something thus involves mental projection, but also a velleity of “putting” that mentally projected object in the visual field under scrutiny and then a velleity of “removing” it to signal the failure of the test. Only thus do we get an inner understanding of what negation means.

Another important case in point is the act of abstraction, through which concepts are formed. This consists in focusing on some common aspect(s) of two or more experiences or concepts, while disregarding their differences. A selective ‘blanking out’ of contents of consciousness is involved, a negative intention achieved by velleity; we pretend some of what we observe is not there, so as to emphasize the observed similarities.

Another interesting example, also requiring careful awareness to observe, of such use of velleity is the following. When we think of other people or animals, we usually imagine them in action to some extent, often in relation to ourselves. The imagination of their physical actions is simply done by mental projection of their image going through certain motions, as in a movie. To imagine them imagining, we need only ourselves imagine what we would them to imagine, and intend or say “ditto in their case”. But how do we ‘imagine’ their subjective dispositions or actions? Since these are not phenomenal, they cannot be mentally projected. Thus, we must enact them to some extent within our own soul. However, we usually would not want to enact them fully: for example, we would not ourselves actually hate Mr. Y just so as to imagine Mr. X hating Mr. Y. Instead, we would generate a velleity, just enough to point our cognition in the intended direction. And then we would of course add (verbally or tacitly): “ditto for Mr. X towards Mr. Y”.

3.     Whim

We have analyzed volition as generally involving cognition of surrounding terms and conditions, and possible alternative courses of action, followed by evaluation, through which one selects one’s preferred goals and means. But it may be argued that such a description of volition is circular, since the cognition and valuation involved seem to imply prior acts of volition. Moreover, the imagination of goals and means implies the projection of mental images, which is itself often an act of will. Thus, the concept of volition may seem logically incoherent, unless we preempt such objections.

We have just to acknowledge that some volitional acts are primary, so that they do not themselves require prior cognitive research, mental projection of goals and means, evaluation or deliberate choice. Such volitions may be classified as whims or caprices (without pejorative connotation); for theoretical coherence, we have to admit such ‘causeless acts’ or ‘initial impulses’. They bubble forth from within us, ex nihilo[284]. What is spontaneous about them is that they are uninfluenced, they are not explicable with reference to any motive; but they still have a ‘cause’ in a larger sense: it is the acting soul. When we say “act of will” or speak about “freedom of the will”, we should always remember that we mean more precisely: “soul’s act of will”, “freedom of the soul to will”.

Whim is, in particular, required take action when one is in a quandary – when one values (or disvalues) a thing and its negation equally, or one is indifferent or uncertain either way. If whim did not exist, we would be paralyzed in such situations of even influence or non-influence in both directions. This specific case may be regarded as an additional argument in favor of the existence of whim, granting volition: if volition could not exist without some purpose in mind, it would often be blocked from proceeding. A fortiori, if freewill can go against the current of prevailing influences, one can will even more freely when influences are balanced, absent or unclear; the same power is involved in any case.

Some degree of consciousness is a sine qua non of volition. If no consciousness is involved in an act, it is not truly voluntary. So, whim should not be considered a blind, unconscious act. It suffices to define it as an irreducible primary. The first impulse to look into oneself or out at the world may thus be described as a dawning cognitive volition; it does not refer to prior research, though cognition accompanies it. The call-up of existing memories (information obtained in the past) may be similarly classed. Some imagination is involuntary, contributed by the brain without voluntary creativity: this can serve volition, without being volition. The act of valuation per se does not necessarily need to be influenced, although it may be.

Valuations must here clearly be distinguished from emotions; the former are voluntary positions or postures of the soul, the latter are reactions in the mind or body. Emotions do not necessarily or fully determine valuations. Emotions may cause later valuations to some extent, in the sense of influencing them. Indeed, they often do, insofar as most people consider their emotions as powerful arguments; they identify with them and are guided by them. But such emotions are themselves effects of earlier valuations; they are mental and/or bodily consequences of volitions influenced by such valuations[285]. Valuations are not necessarily rational, either. They may indeed be influenced by rational considerations; but however strong, such influence is never determining.

Thus, ultimately, all valuation is purely voluntary. Valuation gives or grants value. Things have value because the agent concerned has assigned value to them, period. Even when such act has objectives or objective justifications, claiming to be impartial evaluation, it is essentially arbitrary. This does not prove such valuations “false” – it just means they are intimate expressions of the self. Although one ought not identify with one’s emotions, one can well identify with one’s inmost valuations. So much for the issue of circularity in the concept of volition.

4.     Inner divisions

How is it our right hand may not know what our left hand is doing, as the saying goes? What does it mean to say that we are often in conflict with our own self?

The self or soul is essentially one, but may partition itself in various ways. As we have seen, the soul is not an object of perception, but an object of apperception or self-intuition. Since it has none of the phenomenal qualities we associate with space (shape, size, location, etc.), but is a non-phenomenal appearance, it cannot strictly speaking, from an epistemological point of view, be regarded as spatially extended or as having an exact place. From an ontological point of view, however, we may either adhere to the same restriction (out of positivism) – or we may hypothetically project a spatial extension and position, if only as a convenient image (by convention).

It may be more accurate to regard the partitions of soul as occurring in time rather than in space. For the soul seems extended in time, which is an abstract concept even in relation to matter and mind, anyway. We presume that, although the soul is renewed every moment, it retains some unity and continuity across time throughout its life[286] – on the basis of which, we may acknowledge our personal responsibility for our past, present and future thoughts and actions. This thesis may be upheld, without going so far as to deny our ability to morally break with the past and change course in the present and future.

Although some instances of partitioning of self can be explained by pointing out that the conflicting volitions involved actually occurred successively in time, it remains true that some conflicting volitions seem to be simultaneous[287]. It is the latter that we commonly map out as separate in space; although, strictly speaking, there is no reason to do so, i.e. we could equally well assume them as emerging from the same point of self.

The self or soul may be divided in a positive or negative manner. Such self-division is sometimes useful for purposes of self-regulation or self-control – as when we set up a ‘moral conscience’ to oversee our own compliance with certain higher standards, to ensure we are not swept away by the passions of the moment. Sometimes, the division is involuntary and unhealthy, causing self-damaging conflicts, reducing our ability to cope with life. Thus, division of the self is an issue of management – the manager in us must decide how much is needed and how much is too much.

We must distinguish in-soul conflicts (which occur in the self proper) and soul/mind-matter conflicts (which pit the self against its mental and material environment). One may pressure oneself to think or act in a certain way; this may be either in the sense of a will within the soul, or in the sense of a will pushing the mind and body in the direction concerned. Thoughts and deeds may be willfully suppressed for a variety of reasons: because they are sterile or foolish or painful or sickening, and so on.

Repression refers to an unhealthy situation, where segments of current or memorized apperception, perception, and conceptual thought are blocked from awareness, to a degree sufficient to ensure their (rightly or wrongly supposed) implications from being considered. Oppression refers to an uncomfortable situation, where the self at some level rejects an ideology – self-imposed under the influence of parents, society, religion, state, or other authorities – that is currently operative at another level. In the latter case, one’s autonomy is at stake – an issue of self-rule or self-determination – because one does not (or no longer does) identify with the ideology, yet one is (or continues to be) guided by it in thought and action.

More will be said on such psychological conflicts in the coming pages.

10.                Affections and Appetites

1.     Valuation

Let us now look more closely at the main affections or appetites, which are among the major influences on volition. Our increased understanding of volition and influence can help us clarify concepts such as: liking and disliking (affections), desire and aversion (appetites), hope and despair, confidence and fear, certainty and doubt, and esthetic responses to beauty and ugliness. These can all be referred to as ‘values’ or ‘disvalues’, things one chooses to pursue or avoid. They are all causal concepts, in that they motivate and explain volitional action; they are ‘allied’ to volition.

Values are at least expressed through velleities, if not through full volitions.

Note first that each of these pairs of terms refers to opposite sides in a continuum, the middle point of which is labeled indifference. Thus, for instance, ‘desire’ refers to a range of positive responses, and ‘aversion’ (or desire-not) to the corresponding range of negative responses. Special terms may be used for the extremes. Thus, the more intense expressions of liking are called love; and those of disliking, hate. Indifference, as the word suggests, means ‘the object makes no difference to the subject’ – i.e. the latter is uninfluenced one way or the other by the former.

Note that sometimes pleasure and pain are mixed; i.e. the same object may arouse pleasure in some respects and pain in other respects. No contradiction is involved; it is a real possibility. Sometimes, too, we are not sure whether what we feel is pleasant or painful. This is different from mixed feelings or indifference, but refers to confusion; it is not an ontological position, but an epistemological one.

Although the term ‘affection’ refers primarily to likes and dislikes, and ‘appetite’ refers primarily to desires and aversions, they are also used more broadly for all valuations; presumably, because we are affected by them in our responses, and like hunger and thirst they involve some drive to certain actions by the agent concerned.

A drive may be said to have positive or negative polarity, or to be attractive or repulsive, according as its inclination is toward or away from the object; and the degree of the drive signifies its power to influence, how easy or hard it makes pursuit or avoidance of the object, how likely or unlikely it is for the agent to go that way. The same agent may at the same time have “contrary drives”, i.e. drives with incompatible objects.

One may at once desire X and desire notX; one may even also desire not to desire X and desire not to desire notX. That is all logically acceptable. But it remains true that if one desires X, one does not not-desire X: the law of non-contradiction applies if the presence and absence of one and the same drive is under discussion. Furthermore, one cannot hope to eventually realize both the incompatible objects at once: if the desire for X comes true, the desire for notX will not. Moreover, one is not forced to desire any one thing or its opposite: one may remain indifferent. That is, I do not desire X and do not desire notX may both be true.

What we value today, we may disvalue or be indifferent to tomorrow. New cognitions, volitions or valuations can change our values. Our values are therefore often hypothetical, rather than categorical. We have more or less conscious hierarchies of values. Some values take precedence over others, come what may; others do so conditionally. Some values are basic and broadly influential, informing many of our actions over the long-term; others are ad hoc short-term responses to current opportunities. A drive may be strong, until its object is shown up to be incompatible with the object of some more important drive; in that event, the initial drive is considerably deflated and may even disappear completely. One drive may therefore be consciously used to resist or overcome another. Our values are thus in a sort of dynamic equilibrium, rather than statically set.

Emotions, of course, suggest valuations. The simplest emotions are physical pleasures and pains, sensations caused directly by external physical stimuli (e.g. a caress or a flame) or purely by physiological processes (e.g. satiety or hunger). More complex are psychosomatic emotions (sentiments), which are physical feelings with ‘mental’ causes; they are visceral, yet we know them to be due to events in the mind or evaluations in the soul. Bodily emotions are often a mixed bag of sensations and sentiments. More subtle are mental emotions, which seem to occur in the mental matrix rather than in the physical domain. Possibly, all bodily emotions are mental projections; possibly, apparently mental emotions are really physical – it is hard to say for sure.

In any case, note well, such classifications of emotions (as pleasures, pains; and as sensations, sentiments, mental emotions) should not cloud the fact that they vary greatly in quality and intensity. For instance, a pinprick is hardly comparable to a pang of hunger.

It is interesting to note that even physical pain may be variously experienced and influential, according to our perception and judgment of it. This is made evident in experiments using the ‘placebo effect’, where a patient’s pain is attenuated by fake pain reliever. Not only does the patient feel less pain, but also the fact is measurable through instruments attached to his brain. Note also the opposite, ‘nocebo effect’ – by which a misplaced belief gives rise to a physical, mental or emotional problem. Such ‘effects’ were cunningly used even in ancient times, by physicians and religious healers (to heal) and by witch doctors and the like (to heal or harm).

In any case, to repeat, all such concrete emotions are relatively superficial percepts and must not be confused with valuations, which occur and are intuited in the soul and are volitional acts. Their being willed does not mean such most inner values are artificial, affectations; quite the contrary, they come from the depths of self. Our knowledge of our valuations is self-knowledge. Concrete emotions and expressions of will give rise to various equivalent abstract notions of value, like good or bad. Valuations, note well, need not be verbal or even very conscious; indeed, they are usually wordlessly and subconsciously intended. We do not have to say, mentally or out loud, “this is good” or “this is bad” or “this is neutral”, to mean it.

Something valuated is called a value. Positive values (values) are pleasures or pleasant (if emotion generating), or beneficial to one’s self-interest, or good (using more abstract norms, eventually moral principles). Negative values (disvalues) are pains or painful, or harmful or bad. Indifferent things are neither valuable nor the opposite. ‘Self-interest’ here may be understood variously, as real or imaginary, probable or improbable, of interest to one’s soul, mind, body, loved ones, possessions, or more abstract concerns.

The terms ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are here intended indefinitely, to mean ‘valuable’ or ‘not valuable’; we use them because people do so. We acknowledge that people assign various contents to such general terms; we need not at this stage give them any objective status. Note that something may be neither good nor bad (indifferent); also, something may be good in some respects and bad in other respects (of mixed value). Therefore, though good and bad are ultimately meant as opposites, they are not logical contradictories.

2.     The main valuations

There are many sorts of value concepts; below we try to define some of the more commonplace and so significant. Notice what they have in common: they essentially are or involve cognition (some belief or consideration), and for this reason are able to influence our volitions. Their repeated or constant influence on us explains our attachment to them, our immersion in pursuing or avoiding them. A value may be more or less long lasting. Our consistent valuations become our personal attitudes or dispositions.

One likes what one considers positive in some sense, in some way; one dislikes what one considers negative in some sense, in some way. One may like or dislike something without doing anything about it, although normally one makes some effort to go towards or away from it. Various terms distinguish varieties of likes and dislikes. For instance, love is a liking response of some high degree to people or animals (or even sometimes, though perhaps inappropriately, to inanimate objects like a house or a country); and hate is the opposite pole. Love and hate usually imply certain bundles of emotions and actions. Some people think they love someone, but are in fact only infatuated or sexually aroused. Hate, on the other hand, is rarely more superficial than it claims.

Desire signals an expectation of pleasure or some other benefit if some course is pursued; aversion, an expectation of pain or some other disservice if some course is pursued. The more feasible the required course to gain/keep or avoid/lose, the greater the impulse. If one realizes the object is unattainable, all the desire or aversion for it is lost. The desire or aversion for something usually includes the conation to have a certain kind of interrelation with it (e.g. desiring a woman, to make love to her or live with her).

Not all valuation is of the nature of desire or aversion, note well. What distinguishes them is that they usually lead to some sort of appropriate action or inaction, although they may on occasion be consciously ignored or resisted. Desire is expressed as grasping if we do not yet possess its object, and as clinging, if we already have it. An aversion is on the contrary a desire to steer clear of or get rid of the object.[288] If one succeeds in attaining the desired good, the desire is said to be fulfilled; if one fails, it is frustrated.

We of course often use specific terms for specific desires (or aversions), usually with reference to their object. Thus, for examples, thirst is desire for water or other liquids, hunger is for food (gluttony for excessive food), lust is for sexual gratification, greed for more wealth (money, possessions), vanity for admiration (including fame), power-lust for social dominance, curiosity for learning, and so forth. But many desires (or aversions) have not been given specific terms; we just say “the desire to …”.

Satisfaction or dissatisfaction refer to our reaction upon fulfillment, or admission of failure to fulfill, a given desire or aversion. Contentment or discontent refer to our no longer having any, or still having some, outstanding desires and aversions; or at least to not-attaching, or attaching, undue importance (degree of value) to them. Thus, these latter concepts concern not one object of desire, but one’s relation to desire more generally (in life as a whole), or at least in some broad domain (e.g. at work or at home).

Hope and despair also involve the thought that good or bad may come; but they are more passive than desire and aversion. Hope is the conviction of the possibility that something considered good will occur or something considered bad will not occur. The ‘possibility’ may be correctly or incorrectly assessed, with reference to solid data and tight reasoning, or as a mere consideration of ‘conceivability’ or ‘possibility in principle’, or as an act of faith or as a deliberate self-delusion. Despair is, strictly speaking, the lack of hope; though, in practice, the term is used more loosely, if there is almost no hope.

Despair may also be defined with reference to the possibility that bad occurs or that good not occur. If the good or bad event under consideration seems impossible, it gives rise to neither hope nor despair. In view of the ambiguity in the assessment of ‘possibility’, the proverbial cup may be considered half full or half empty. In hope, the good or not-bad seems probable; in despair, the bad or not-good seems probable. Even if one holds all the cards, one can only hope to fulfill one’s desires, since one can never be sure to be alive a minute from now. Despair is rarely fully justified, because the unexpected may well happen.

In any case, note, hope and despair relate to future possibilities or probabilities that may be actualized either by one’s own will or forbearance – or due to forces beyond one’s control. One awaits the object of hope, but one does not necessarily act to attain it or even have to consider that one can do something about it. Hope may be a wish rather than a will for some future good. People often hope in God, or in the promises of some politician or potential benefactor, or in next week’s lottery draw. They may feel some present pleasure at the thought that they may one day be blessed with this or that. Much fantasy is generated in this manner, keeping them entertained and superficially happy.

Trust and distrust are concepts in the same continuum as hope and despair. Whereas the latter concern the possibility of good or bad or their negations, the former concern moreover their probability. An event is not only considered, but moreover expected. Thus, trust is belief that good is likely to occur, or bad is unlikely to occur; while distrust is belief that bad will come or good not come. One may trust or distrust a person, oneself or someone else, with reference to future responses to events, usually basing the judgment on the evidence of past conduct.

Patience and impatience refer to our conduct relative to an expected event, according as one awaits it without worrying over it, or one wishes or tries to accelerate it. In the latter case, one not only desires or is averse to the object, but additionally concerned with its timing. The attitude of patience is based on the belief (right or wrong) that the external events or volitions concerned will play out in time and favorably, or at least in a manner one can adequately respond to, so one remains passive; whereas, in the case of impatience, one is doubtful of the outcome or timeliness and so one thinks interference is called for.

Confidence and fear both anticipate a more or less specific danger; they differ in the assessment of one’s ability to deal with the dangerous entity or event. Both, then, foresee the possibility of some negative event. But confidence suggests potential strength or efficacy, fear potential weakness or inefficacy, relative to the perceived or assumed threat.

The degree of confidence or fear varies, according to the size of the danger and of one’s expected strength or weakness. The assessments may be justified or not. The danger may be real or imagined, explicit or implied; the estimate of strength or weakness may be objectively accurate or not, admitted or not. Excessive confidence can be rash; excessive fear is timidity[289]. Such excesses respectively underestimate or overestimate the danger, and/or overestimate or underestimate one’s resources for dealing with it.

Confidence is sometimes due to foolishness and conceit, rather than to lucid assessments. The ego struts around, convinced of its adequacy on very superficial grounds. In some cases, this leads to success, because inner resistances are overcome or because other people are fooled by the show. But such egotism is ultimately brittle, and not true confidence. We may suspect secret fears to underlie it; these are best faced and dealt with, to secure genuine confidence.

Fear is compatible with hope, though often allied with despair. One may, note well, fear the inevitable – for instance, one’s eventual death; or one may resign oneself to it. A fear may come and go, according to one’s lingering on its object or one’s estimates of the conditions and probabilities. Thus, one may for a moment fear the sudden approach of a black hole to our planet, and then forget all about it. Or one may fear an enemy, and then find him weaker or oneself stronger than previously assumed and regain confidence.

Fear tests one’s will. Courage is overcoming the negative influence of fear, i.e. retaining the ability to act more or less effectively despite a perceived threat; cowardice is the opposite attitude. Having courage does not mean making a macho spectacle of oneself; it consists in keeping a cool head, and making a fair assessment of the danger and one’s resources, then acting as conceived necessary, doing the best one can. Bravery implies not being shaken when taking risks, because one can handle victory or defeat with equanimity.

Fear may give rise to an urge to flight (avoid or evade the object feared) or one to fight (parry or strike back at it). In combat, the most efficient way to deal with a threat is sometimes simply to bypass it altogether; it is sometimes wiser take a defensive stand, rather than allow the threat to grow; in some cases, counter-offensive measures are called for, to neutralize an aggressor; and in others still, preemptive attack, to make sure one is not surprised. The choice of means depends on one’s assessment of the danger and one’s resources.

Fear in itself is not an emotion. But fear may in some cases produce an emotion of fright, involving a hollow feeling in one’s solar plexus or tightness in one’s throat, as well as other symptoms, mental ones like stress and physical ones like tense neck and shoulders, faster and louder heartbeat, or skin sensations and hair raising. The exact reaction depends on the degree of danger relative to one’s self-assessment. Fright may be a healthy reaction, or it may be neurotic. In the latter case, it gives rise to anxiety feelings, the object of which is not clearly known, i.e. only known at a subconscious level; false explanations may be proposed, so that the logic involved becomes tangled and confused.

Fear, especially in conjunction with fright, may also arouse anger, an impulse to incapacitate (violently harm or destroy) the dangerous person; anger also involves a vengeful motive, to punish the frightening person. ‘Cold’ anger is distinguished from ‘hot’, according to the degree of rational control outwardly maintained in performance. Hatred is an emotional response to a person or an animal that has hurt one in some way. If something feared has actualized, we may for that reason hate its assumed author. But one may also hate the latter for causing one fright or anger, insofar as these are also painful in themselves. Hatred may even turn on God, if He is regarded as the malicious controller of the events feared[290].

One may fear oneself. If for instance one has in the past repeatedly betrayed some promise one has made to oneself, displaying lack of will that has had disastrous effects on one’s life or on loved ones, one may consider oneself untrustworthy. This may give rise to strong negative emotions, some of which may be chronic.

Certainty and doubt are also important valuations – which have a more epistemological context, signaling the degree of reliability or unreliability, or the completeness or incompleteness, of certain relevant data, concepts, propositions or inferences. One may also have certainty or doubt regarding how oneself or another person will react in such or such a situation of interest to one. Such evaluations of data or people are of course often very significant to our actions, determining which way we will go, or influencing us in taking preemptive measures. Certainty can be encouraging and energizing, but it may occasionally give misleading confidence. Doubt can make one hesitate or be demoralizing, but it may also occasionally stimulate creativity.

There are many other possible value judgments, of course, but the above are probably the most influential in our lives. Some attitudes have rather personal relevance (e.g. self-respect, pride, shame, guilt feelings); others are more directed at other people (e.g. admiration and contempt), or more relational (e.g. kindness or cruelty); though all may be involved in motivation to some degree and have social implications. Some of these valuations have some rationale; but many can be absurd. For instance, envy of another’s external possessions (e.g. house or wife) is understandable although not commendable, but envy of another’s qualities (e.g. youth or courage) is logically incomprehensible though common.

The esthetic responses towards beauty and ugliness are also worth mentioning, though more difficult to define. These appreciations of course often relate to our emotions. For examples, some rock music or contemporary paintings arouse great irritation in me; whereas in some other concerts or museums, I have been moved to tears by the beauty offered. But hearing a beautiful piece of music or seeing a beautiful painting does not always arouse a discernible response. Even so, the work of art somehow seems ‘objectively’ beautiful. Yet, we cannot honestly claim absolute objectivity, since different people have different responses; and even the same person may vary in his or her response over time. So, this field has much mystery. Which is perhaps its attractiveness.

Our various passions (desires, aversions, etc.) have hierarchies relative to each other. These hierarchies can in time become changed; so that, a value that was originally subsidiary to another, eventually becomes an end in itself, or at least a subsidiary of some other value. For example, a man may struggle to become a sports champion, or some other public figure, not primarily out of desire for fame or fortune, but as a way to attract the attentions of girls! Later, he may get to love his profession for quite different motives: for the spiritual lift it gives him, or because it keeps him healthy, say.

3.     Ethology

The study of valuation may be called ethology. Ethology differs from ethics, in that it sets no standards, but merely studies the ways values arise, combine, conflict, and pass away in people, treating valuation as a neutral object of study.

Looking at the above descriptions, we see the many factors each concept of valuation involves. Memories, abstract beliefs, anticipations, imaginations, emotions, all come into play. Everything is weighed in the balance. Attitudes are formed; policies established. There are velleities, in the sense of volitions about to happen. Obstructions and helpful aspects have their impact. Then action may burst forth and grind on. A series of consequences may follow, some of which may boomerang on the actor.

Many other concepts we commonly use in psychological discourse can similarly be clarified. We can thus gradually build up a more or less structured lexicon of psychological terms, with reference to the basic concepts of cognition, volition and valuation. The importance of all three functions should be stressed; many writers clumsily ignore or conceal the one or the other. Flowcharts can be drawn, highlighting relationships.

Values of various kinds with various objects are often intertwined in a complex value system. Values are in principle changeable; but some, being parts of such a system, have deep and lasting influence on a broad range of volitional acts.

The value system may include a bundle of attitudes that one possesses since as far back as one can remember, so that one may be deeply attached to them as the very expression of one’s personal identity. Some values are pounded into us by parents or school. One may as a youth be influenced by the media (literature, movies) into thinking some attitude is valuable; and then discover when one meets certain people or faces certain challenges that the values transmitted to us were misrepresented. Some value systems, or parts of systems, are adopted by resolution, for ideological (ethical, religious, political) motives or to belong to some social group; these may remain firmly rooted once planted, or come and go. Many attitudes are acquired on the basis of life experience or personal reflection. Some people learn little from life; some evolve as they age.

The acquisition, maintenance or loss of values is rarely arbitrary, but usually modulated by life experience. One could draw an analogy between the induction of values (for volition) and the induction of truths (for cognition). In cognition, something may be supposed to be true, but if it makes false predictions, we come to doubt and reject it. Similarly, in volition, something may be supposed to have value, but if it makes false promises, we come to doubt and reject it. However, I am not sure this is always a reliable yardstick; people are willing to suffer a lot, before admitting disillusionment.

Let us not have an overly arithmetical or mercantile approach to values. In practice, I have found true the adage: “virtue is its own reward, vice its own punishment”. This may, of course, be considered as an ethical statement, a moral judgment, in view of the words virtue and vice. But on closer inspection, one sees that the words in question refer to certain behavior patterns, so that the principle does not set specific standards or criteria, but is axiologically neutral.

It is one commonly intended sense of what we call ‘the law of causality’ – a statement that, with regard to human volition, just as in the realm of causation, actions have consequences (more or less predictable ones, in the short or long term). If one behaves in psychologically or existentially destructive ways, one will indeed likely eventually be accordingly destroyed; and inversely, if one thinks, speaks and acts in a healthy manner, one will naturally have (gain, keep) self-confidence, self-respect, serenity and contentment, and similar marks of mental health and spiritual dignity. Generally, we reap what we sow.

The ways of ‘virtue’ or ‘vice’ are known by experience, i.e. they are forms of conduct so classified because they have been found by lucid people over time to be conducive or antithetical to life. I would express virtue summarily as dignity and decency – acting out of self-respect and respect of others, in the best senses of those terms. Vice is the opposite behavior, causing shame and guilt (even if one feigns indifference or pride) – to be avoided.

Of course, dignity and decency must be real and not pretended, and it takes effort and sensitivity to intuit them correctly. They are interactive, each affecting the other; so that both must be worked on to ensure their enhancement and stability. Virtue is not the means to some other goal and not the end of some other practice, but both the means and the end. The term “virtue” intends “it is the means” and the phrase “its own reward” intends “it is an end in itself”. Similarly, mutadis mutandis, for vice. These, then, are ways of being.

The virtuous stand straight; the vicious are twisted up inside. This is an ages-old ethological observation, which leaves the ethical choice to each one of us. It should be noted that it is only an approximation: it applies to the individual considered in abstraction from his social context. It refers to the inherent justice of our mental and spiritual makeup – but makes no claim to the existence of automatic social or natural justice, or of theodicy.

The reason why the principle applies to the human psyche, and not necessarily to human affairs, is due to the interaction of individuals in society. If everyone were virtuous, then virtue would perhaps be its own reward even in a social context. But since every society is a mix of virtuous and vicious elements, consistency requires the principle to break down in the larger context. The same consideration is applicable to the natural environment.

Thus, to take an extreme case, a wise and kindly person (indeed, an innocent babe) may well be harmed or killed by the likes of Hitler; and some such fools and criminals do observably end their days in material comfort and social immunity[291]. A natural disaster may sweep away nice and nasty people in the same wave. Similarly in more common situations – virtue does not guarantee material or social rewards, and vice does not guarantee material or social punishment. Social and natural forces and upheavals often pay little heed to the inner status of individuals.

Nevertheless, the virtuous person has spiritual or psychological riches that cannot be stolen or destroyed, and the vicious one has inner deficiencies that no external wealth or welfare can compensate. The former is a winner, the latter a loser, come what may on the outside. That fact provides consolation.

The Dhammapada, a 3rd Cent. BCE Buddhist text, puts it very nicely (v. 105)[292]:

…the greatest of victories is the victory over oneself; and neither the gods in heaven above nor the demons down below can turn into defeat the victory of such a man.

In practice, the condition of being at peace with oneself and having self-esteem depends on a number of factors. If any of these is lacking or insufficient, one is sooner or later bound to suffer proportionate degrees of inner conflict and self-contempt (or even, in extreme cases, self-hatred).

  1. Self-esteem depends first on integrity or self-possession, i.e. doing what one values and abstaining from what one disvalues. This refers principally to one’s present behavior, but past behavior may impinge on one’s present self-evaluation (though such impact may diminish with time and appropriate efforts). Clearly, if one lacks self-control, if one’s actions are not in agreement with one’s thoughts, one is bound to feel one is failing or betraying oneself and develop inner tensions. For example: if one has a ‘bad’ habit, one should ‘logically’ give it up to ensure one has a ‘good’ conscience.
  2. It follows that the stability of self-esteem depends on the reasonableness of the demands one makes on oneself. If one makes impossible demands, one is on a neurotic course that inevitably shatters inner peace. If one sets one’s standards too high, if one lacks composure and pressures oneself (e.g. through anger or whining) to act in unwise ways – one is behaving disrespectfully towards oneself. One can only realistically demand what is naturally possible and currently within reach of one’s actual capacities – no more. Of course, one can seek to surpass one’s current limits to some extent; what is possible or impossible in a given situation is open to some debate. For examples: it is reasonable (in most circumstances) to demand one go up to one’s boss and ask for a raise; it is unreasonable (for most people) to demand one have the courage to climb Mt. Everest.
  3. Self-esteem is primarily a function of sincerely trying; it does not ultimately depend on success. So long as one has in truth made all appropriate efforts in the direction of one’s values, one is in reason free of blame for failure due to events beyond one’s control. Of course, how much is truly one’s best shot is open to debate. In the face of failure, one may try again, and again; perseverance is not excluded. But reality may still prevent ultimate success – and this should not in principle affect self-esteem. This is a corollary of the previous point. For example: a man tries to save someone from drowning and fails; if he tried his best, but the currents were too strong, his conscience is clear, and his self-esteem unaffected. If he feels dissatisfied with his performance, he may decide to train himself to swim better, for next time – but that is another story.
  4. All the preceding points suggest that peace of mind and self-esteem are possible irrespective of the nature of one’s values. But that is unrealistic; it is too relativistic a position. Balance is not a product of mere conventions, be they individual or collective. It is not just a function of one’s belief system – it is also determined by objective circumstances. There is such a thing as ‘human nature’; people are not infinitely pliable and adaptable. The psychology of self-esteem also depends to a considerable extent on the constructiveness of one’s values – their healthiness, their life enhancing power.

One has to choose one’s values intelligently. If one’s values are contrary to human nature, they will sooner or later have a negative impact on one’s inner harmony and self-esteem. Because the harmful effects of unnatural values may take time to come to fruition, one may in the short term be lulled into a false sense of serenity and efficacy, but later on – sometimes suddenly and with a vengeance – one will discover the full force of one’s errors. Examples of this abound, and are worth reflecting on.

Someone living in a society where certain beliefs and practices intentionally causing harm to other people are common might on the surface seem perfectly at ease within this framework (e.g. black magic or racism). Nevertheless, such behavior may well affect his or her psyche adversely, and in the long term cause deep doubts and insecurities. The mere fact of acceptance of the framework does not necessarily exempt a person from eventual objective effects. Moreover, the person experiencing consequent disturbances may remain unable to identify their cause.

The same is true of certain beliefs and practices not thought by their proponents to cause psychological or social harm (e.g. homosexuality or masturbation). Psychological health and wellbeing is not merely an issue of adjustment to arbitrary personal or social standards. If this were the case, as some propose, standards could be varied at will and be as weird as we choose, and there would never be untoward consequences. But, to repeat, humans have a specific nature. No one is immune to reality check. Beliefs can be incorrect and values objectively destructive.

So much with regard to the virtue of ‘dignity’ – it is being worthy of self-respect and respect by others, through healthy-minded behavior. As for the virtue of ‘decency’ – it consists in treating other people and living beings with due respect (at least). These are related conditions. Self-respecting people generally behave respectfully towards others, acknowledging their dignity, thus revealing and reinforcing their own worth. (Respect does not of course mean condoning or honoring vice; it is rather a matter of poise: remaining noble even in the presence of ugliness, not stooping down to its level.) People without self-respect tend to exhibit disrespect towards others, thus revealing and reinforcing their own deficiency. Decency may range from a courteous hello or smile, to giving charity or saving a life; indecency may range from behavioral or verbal insult, to rape or torture.

11.                Complications of Influence

1.     Habits

An apparent issue relative to freedom of the will is the force of habits, good or bad. If we have freewill, how come we have habits that are sometimes so very hard to break? Some habits once acquired re