It would seem that freedom and causation are incompatible. If acts are wholly caused – as they must be, if they are to be intelligible, and so more or less intelligent, and so integrated fully in a coherent world – then how can they be free? If acts are even a little bit free, are they not to that extent chaotic, ergo unintelligible, and so an insuperable impediment to the integration of a coherent world?
There is in fact no such incompatibility.
All acts are aimed at the actual, concrete realization of aesthetic values in a formal composition of qualia they have harvested and inherited (via prehension, grasping, feeling) from the actual past. The number of compossible ways to respond to a given actual circumstance is immense; the world can be intelligibly coherent whether you jink to port or to starboard, and no matter how great the angle of your maneuver. The tiny subset of those compossible ways that closely approximate optimality – that come close to the perfection of qualitative experience of causal inputs – is still vast. So the general nisus toward the perfection in act of the Good as most, best apt to their actual predicaments that is felt by all becoming and not yet definite novel occasions impels them toward an optimal outcome that is hedged about with many thousands of near approximations thereto. The Good is as it were a single white stake standing in a dense thicket of stakes almost as white; almost as good.
There are lots and lots of pretty good targets out there for the archer. But “pretty good” is a nice way of saying “not as good as could be.” Only the latter could suffice to the avoidance of eventual disaster.
Excursus: ‘Stake’ derives from the Greek stokhos, “pillar for archers to shoot at.” Whence, ‘stochastic.’ The Greek for ‘sin’ is hamartia: to miss.
Now, the formal relations among all those stakes are quite definite ex ante. Before the archer takes his shot, the distances of each stake from every other are fixed. The arrow can hit only one of them. And once it is loosed, the path of the arrow toward the one it shall hit is fixed.
What is not fixed is the shot of the archer.
Anyone who has shot guns or bows or horseshoes or bowling balls or Frisbees or pool knows this next argument in his very muscles, and to his chagrin: you can aim as carefully and honestly and intelligently and skillfully as you like, and your likelihood of hamartia is still quite horribly high. To hit the white stake is an occasion of celebration for even the most accomplished and skillful shooters.
It takes a lot of misses to learn to hit.
Excursus: our First Parents did not at first even need to shoot. They lived at the target. But they decided to take each a shot, nonetheless. Alas, they had no experience, no training. They had *no idea they were even on a range.* They did not even know they were taking a shot.
Compare all tragedy. All of it begins in just such innocence on the part of an agonist. Doom then crashes down, as mere crushing logic, no more, no less.
Only in the Gospels is the justice of that inexorable logic of things annealed to the mercy it presupposes, and that is its generous forecondition, and of which it is indeed a species; the Magic from Before the mere justice of Time, that redounds for all victims of tragedy to their stellar resurrections – provided they accept it.
Dharma is not after all ultimate. Brahman is. Dharma presupposes Brahman. From Brahman, Dharma inherits his ultimacy. Matthew 19:17.
Every creaturely act is likewise constrained. Only omniscience is not thus constrained. Omniscience cannot fail to hit the target. Partiscience is doomed often to miss it.
Think of chess. To make the perfect move, you’d need to think through all the potential sequences of moves that might result from each of the moves now open to you, all the way out to checkmate or stalemate. Now suppose that instead of having a few minutes to work that out, you had to make a split second decision about your next move, and you had to repeat the procedure every few split seconds, in response to a constantly and unpredictably changing set of circumstances. In other words, chess at the speed of jai alai. That sort of computation is not practical for any finite calculator. In practice, calculators that must perforce perform at that rate – calculators such as we – do so by means of heuristics, which guide them to a sufficiently good approximation of optimality.
It is just such heuristics that guide the muscles of the archer as he aims and looses.
It is just such heuristics that guide all human action. We could not get on without them. They lead to approximations of the Good. They lead, that is to say, to fell approximations.
If it were not for the fact that creatures cannot by definition be omniscient, they would always be able to know and to do exactly the right thing. They would never miss the mark. But creatures cannot be omniscient. By definition, they are partiscient, inherently, and incorrigibly. So they miss the mark at least a bit, almost all the time. This, despite the fact that the solution space in which they operate is perfectly definite ex ante (however obscure its boundaries might seem to them), and their initial aim is to arrive at the optimal point on the surface of that volume.
Excursus: what is the difference then between the Blessed and the rest of us? The Blessed let God aim their shot at what they most truly want – which, in the final analysis, cannot be other than what God wants for them. So they get it.
Everyone who has attained mastery at shooting for even a single shot has experienced this. It consists in getting oneself out of the way of the shot. For, God provides the bow, the arrow, the stake, the field, the air, and indeed the archer. The archer cannot add to this equipment. All he can do by trying is mess it up somehow. He succeeds by letting go, and letting God loose all; by wu wei. Such moments of athletic life are glorious in their purity and beauty.
Ex ante, the archer’s shot is motivated ab initio by the urge he has inherited first from God, to hit the target of the Good (and by the circumstances of the stakes, the field, the equipment, and so forth); so is it caused. But the outcome of the shot – the shot itself – is derived from a computation by the archer that is necessarily inadequate to the certain attainment of perfection; so that it can end in the selection of quite a real and open option that cannot hit the target. Any of a huge array of stakes might be hit by the archer. Such is his freedom. He can shoot with the utmost good will, and the most perfect intention, and the most devout intelligence, and nevertheless fail, and fall.
For, the archer simply cannot, by definition of his creaturity, know certainly before he looses just how he ought to loose. His shot is ever in the dark; he sees his target as it were in a cloudy glass.
So he shoots, as he must. Ex post – and only ex post – we can see that he shot as he did, and why. We can then discern the causal inputs of the shot. But this we can do only ex post. Ex ante, the shot simply does not yet concretely exist as actual, and thus can have no character whatever; so that it cannot have causes. Nevertheless is it true that, ex post, and as concretely actual, the shot is in retrospect perfectly and thus intelligibly caused.
So freedom and causation are not incompatible.