Section Seven of a Philosophy of Glimpses

Do “Lacks” Suggest Humans Have Free Will?

From the Discussions of Javier Rivera, Thomas Jockin, and O.G. Rose

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski

“Formal causes” are what make a thing itself. We can say it’s the “shape of a thing,” and though it’s a little more complicated than that, the point is made. The “formal cause” was arguably the most important to Aristotle of his four causes, and he seems to have thought that “final cause” was relative to “formal cause.” If a thing was made in the form of a cup, then it’s point and purpose was to “hold water.” Frankly, “formal causes” and “final causes” are so linked that I personally have mistakenly blurred them together in past conversations (though hopefully nobody noticed).

A being with consciousness and will is able to shape its own “formal cause” (to some degree), which means that such a being can also shape it’s “final cause.” While a cup cannot change its formal and final causes, I can change the formal and final causes of myself. If I choose to gain the skills necessary for painting, I can become “a painter” and make my purpose “painting.” If I choose to make myself “toward” God (a “lack”) and become “a believer,” I make my purpose “to know God.”

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The power of will and consciousness is that I can transform (relative) “nothings” into “lacks” and vice-versa. When I am not a painter and don’t want to be a painter, “being a painter” is “nothing to me,” but if I decide I want to become an artist, then suddenly “being a painter” is “lacking” (until I develop the skills, earn the title, etc.). Arguably, “being a painter” was always “lacking,” but due to my will not being oriented “toward” it, “being a painter” was more like “nothing” relative to me (a “relative nothing”).

What I experience “like nothing” versus a “lack” seems relative to my consciousness, will, and overall orientation. If I form myself in x way, then the y which represents the “final cause” of x will now be a “lack” to me, but if I never so formed myself, y would (always) be “like nothing.” And this might sound like an abstract point, but it constitutes an emotional reality. If I suddenly want to become a writer, the fact that I “lack” writing skills will be very vivid. I’ll feel it.

To get to the point, the very fact I can change what is “like nothing” into a “lack” suggests I have free will. Also, the very fact that I feel what I am “lacking” (which is arguably the feeling that “I am not free to just have x”) is also (phenomenological) evidence of freedom. This is a “negative argument,” like those outlined in “Words and Determinism” by O.G. Rose, and please note that this argument is not primarily an abstract argument based on general premises. The argument that we have freedom here is primarily based on the emotional experience of “lacking” something that we don’t want to “lack.” Having freedom or not is not something we simply believe; it is something we feel, an experience. The evidence for freedom is phenomenological.

Humans are different from rocks in that we can change our formal/final cause(s), an experience-based reality that justifies a metaphysical effort to determine the differences between us and rocks. No, we cannot readily change the shape of our bodies and give ourselves wings (at least not yet), so I don’t mean to suggest we can entirely change our forms/final causes. Though humans may have “free will,” we don’t have “total will” (a point elaborated on in “(Free) Will” by O.G. Rose), but we don’t need “total will” in order to avoid being a product of deterministic forces: it is not a “black and white” choice between being “totally free” or “not free at all.” Rather, we have enough freedom to influence the direction of our lives (a view I call “Directionalism”), and that means we shape our formal/final causes. In this way, the reality of “lacks” (versus “nothing”) is evidence of free will, and furthermore the reality of free will makes the topic of “lacks” important.

If free will exists, as the existence of “lacks” and our capacity to change “nothings” into “lacks” suggests, then there is reason to think that we are not only products of physical processes, that we are shaped also by “beyond physical” processes (that could have a physical origin, do note). Hence, in “lacks” providing reason to believe in free will, we have further reason to think that metaphysics is a valid undertaking. If humans have free will, then we have influence over our capacity to reason, how we experience time (say whether we “live in the moment” or “look to the future”), how we define ourselves (as “children of God,” “belonging to a good family,” etc.), and so on. To use language from “On ‘A is A’ ” by O.G. Rose, we are not entirely bound by “A is A”; we can orientate ourselves “toward” a “without B.” We choose our “lacks,” and in this way we choose our “present” lives.

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Our final cause is “lacking” from us and yet it isn’t “nothing” because of our formal cause which is “present” in us, and in us shaping what is “present,” we can shape what “isn’t present” as well. What was ultimately nothing couldn’t be so shaped, and the fact we can shape what is “beyond the physical” suggests we are not totally “bound by the physical.” On these grounds, again, metaphysics is a valid line of inquiry, for we seem “(meta)physical,” entities existing in a “middle space” between “A (is A)” and “(without) B.”

Since “lacks” exist, humans are not products of pure determinism: we have wills. We are not “totally free,” but we are certainly free to some degree. If we have wills, we are primarily definable as distinct from physical reality, which only entails causes. If this is the case, then humans are special in kind (as “(meta)physical”). No, this doesn’t mean our origins can’t be physical, but it does mean that we have somehow “emerged” to be distinct from the physical world around us. While the world is a network of causes, we are a network of causes and wills.

If humans are distinct from physical reality, which we have reason to think based on “lacks” and our wills “toward” those “lacks,” what other “special entities” do humans give being thanks to the “(meta)physical being” of humans? If we could list some of those out, we might be able to bring this introductory treatise to a close while providing direction for future projects.

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For more, please enjoy the work of Javier Rivera, Thomas Jockin, and O.G. Rose. Follow on Instagram (JR, TJ, Rose) and Twitter (TJ, Rose).

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