Thursday, August 03, 2017

Freedom, Determinism, Free Will, and the Causa Sui: Karma


The doctrine of free will may, and very often does, exclude compassion through one of its common manifestations, blame. Some may protest, without free will how can we be said to make choices? We don't! It is prior acts (karma) that determine what arises in experience and it is karma that will change what arises in experience. We may call that the cultivation of merit (punya) or demerit (apunya). With the exclusion of free will, we can blame only the causes and conditions that constitute our histories, including our present circumstances, and therefore we place the blame where it belongs--in our ideas and beliefs, i.e., the fundamental presuppositions that constitute the latent powers of manifestation of experience. In a word, it is incarnate history that determines the nature of all experience, barring what some may call the experience of nirvana or the "freedom from experience."*

If we truly had a radical form of free will, that will would not be determined. It would be unconditioned by history or anything else. To be "free" means, in this sense of the word, to be free from all determinations. In this instance, a will can be free only if it is not conditioned at all. To be undetermined would, therefore, include being without any causal influence whatsoever. If there was such a thing as free will, it would be without any determinations. A will that is partially free would not be free. So, this kind of will would not be influenced by prior acts, nor would it be caused to exist. It would have to be uncaused and totally undetermined. If this will was "real," upon what would its decisions be based? If unconditioned, there would not be any conditioned views to draw upon because then the will would be conditioned by those views and hence conditioned itself. As Nietzsche pointed out, the notion of free will implies what is called a causa sui or "cause of itself."

The causa sui is the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far, it is a sort of rape and perversion of logic, but the extravagant pride of man has managed to entangle itself profoundly and frightfully with just this nonsense. The desire for "freedom of the will" in the superlative metaphysical sense, which still holds sway, unfortunately,..., the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one's actions oneself....**

(This aseity is what was ascribed to the God of the Catholics. God is the cause of himself. Or, God contains, in some fashion, the cause of himself. He is the first cause of all else but He must be the cause of himself. This is Aristotle's "prime mover, or theos. This godlike Being is the thought that thinks itself. Well, we may take that a bit differently, as we shall see below. The subject is the thought that thinks itself. The I is in the thought. The thoughts think the thinker.)

We are now left with the problem of accounting for what is euphemistically called "choice." The notion of choice has been a plagued narrative element since its inception. There is no doubt that we experience making decisions. I don't think most of us would argue that. However, most of us do not often focus on the process of decision making. We simply take it for granted, i.e., we rarely observe the process closely. Let's begin with thinking in general. When carefully observed, thought arises without effort--often to our detriment. The manifestation of thought occurs without someone, a thinker, there to generate the thoughts. If there were a thinker of thoughts, it would involve us in a logical and, I hasten to add, an experiential impossibility. If there was a thinker of thoughts, that thinker would have to be separate from the thoughts that arise. That would, of necessity, imply that a choice of the thought to be thought is being made. The thinker would choose what thought to think. This involves us in what is called an infinite regress. If a thinker chooses what thought to think, the thinker must--of necessity--have already thought it. Now, if the thinker has already thought it, what need would there be to think it again? And, if the thinker has already thought it, there must be a thinker "behind" that thinker choosing the initial thought the first thinker thought, and so on. This leads to an infinite regress of thinkers, choices, and thoughts. I trust you see the problem.
If there is no thinker of thoughts, then what leads to the distinct impression that we think our thoughts. My answer is feelings! We feel the thinking process thus granting a sense that I, in this instance my body, is doing the thinking. My feelings, being distinct from thoughts and being identified as "me," provide a felt basis for the impression that I (as my body-feelings) am doing the thinking. In this manner, we are identified with both feelings and the cognitive content of the perception or cognition. This is usually apparent only in a condition of quiet watchfulness; it is a serene form of consciousness.

Now, you may be asking yourself what chooses the particular responses to various circumstances, or what "decides" on what thoughts or feelings to manifest. Well, the easy answer is association. In meeting our "almost" novel circumstances in each moment, we only know what there is and what to do because of the presence of the past. Our prior knowledge, our karmic history, is on reserve. The familiar is only so in relation to the past. This past is further elaborated in the movement of thought toward action infused with knowledge. The present acts move based on an incarnate history toward an as of yet incarnate future. The future is always an "as of yet." That is the nature of our living future. The future in this sense is not a future fantasized. This future is a living future toward which we live in immediacy. The present in this sense incarnates the three moments of time, the past, present, and future. They arise interdependently. One does not exist without the others. The important point here is that these three moments, being interdependent, are infused with meaning: objectivity or form, feeling, perception, vectorial formations, and consciousness. (What the Buddha called the skandhas/khandhas, "heap," "muckle") This is one form of analysis that brings some completion to our reflective understanding of experience. Subjectivity is configured by the co-occurrence of these constituents of all experience. Subjectivity is always a meaningful subjectivity. Of course, some may say, there is the possibility of a minimal subjectivity without attendant meaning (Zahavi). We must hasten to add that this minimal subjectivity is infused with its correlative notion of being as in "I am." There is no sense of self that is naked. There is, however, the minimal subjectivity of the I am--still laden with the notion of meaningful being.
Now, if subjectivity is always a meaningful subjectivity, then it is not a pure subjectivity but an intersubjectivity. We share a common language, common meanings, common perceptions and so on. If subjectivity is a historical and social construct, we are of "one mind." There is, in this sense, a universal mind or "collective mind." If subjectivity is drawn from a historical repository, as "I" must be to function in the "world," the familiar, i.e., in experience, (For the lived world is always and only experience.) subjectivity must be intersubjectivity. We are, in this sense, inherently communal. Experience is drawn and projected from a communal well of past acts of body, speech, and mind--our karma. No human is an island. Our living is simultaneously a sharing.

Desperately needs some editing, but I hope it leads you in the right direction. I will entertain questions in the meantime.

*This is something of a difficult statement that I hope to explain in greater detail. I'm sorry for the momentary inconvenience.
**Friedrich Nietzsche - Beyond Good And Evil: Part I - Aphorism # 21 (Philosophy Quote)". 2017. A Contemporary Nietzsche Reader. Accessed August 3, 2017.

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