Oct 15, 2023
“Because every event is sui generis, no event causes any other event! That said, every event contributes to the Actual World of every subsequent event.”
In an earlier article Cause and Effect, we spelled out a ‘new’ theory of causality, based in part on the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. According to this model, every ‘act’ (aka Actual Entity) begins with the conversion of the disordered multiplicity that is Universe (“Universe is plural” – Buckminster Fuller) into a uniquely ordered nexus, an Actual World.
Each Actual Entity (event) has its own Actual World: one world, one event; one event, one world! However, it is important to note at the outset that the Actual World does not in any way cause or determine its Actual Entity; rather every Actual Entity determines its own Actual World.
The first stage in the concrescence of any Actual Entity is a single process with three aspects: (1) conversion of the Multiplicity (Universe) into a nexus (Actual World), (2) evaluation of that nexus in terms of objective eternal values, and (3) formation of intent (‘subjective aim’), not necessarily conscious, based on that evaluation.
Expressed this way, these three ‘aspects’ seem to suggest a sequence; however, that is a trick of language. In fact, they constitute a single act with three simultaneous aspects. In the real world, process is multi-valent, not simply vectored through time.
This initial stage is motivated and guided by transcendental values (‘eternal objects’), like Beauty, Truth, and Justice, that logically (not temporally) precede Universe and subsist in God’s Primordial Nature.
The final stage in the concrescence of any Actual Entity is also a single process with three simultaneous aspects: (1) satisfaction, (2) objective immortality, and (3) superject. These aspects are denotatively identical but connotatively distinct. Here the three-in-one phenomenon is a bit more apparent.
‘Satisfaction’ is the realization of the ‘subjective aim’ as felt by the Actual Entity itself; ‘objective immortality’ is that satisfaction seen from the perspective of the Multiplicity; and ‘superject’ is that objective immortality felt by other Actual Entities, including God’s Consequent Nature.
The function of every act is to convert intention into satisfaction. This is the act itself and the process is called ‘concrescence’ (Whitehead). In the process of concrescence, the subjective aim usually undergoes substantial modification. The event ends as a ‘settled matter of fact’ (objective immortality) projected (superject) into the Actual Worlds of all future Actual Entities.
The ‘subject’ of the action, the Actual Entity itself, is responsible (1) for its intention (subjective aim), (2) for its objective immortality (superject), and (3) for the way (‘subjective form’) that the intention is reflected in the satisfaction. Style counts!
Every event is sui generis, it ‘causes itself’. Is this Nihilism? Or Solipsism? The very opposite! Every event begins with an evaluation of ‘everything that is’, and the formation of a complex intention that reflects that valuation and the relevant values it seeks to realize.
On the other hand, no event is responsible for the way it is received by and integrated into subsequent Actual Entities. That is entirely the responsibility of those subsequent entities. Because every event is sui generis, no event causes any other event! That said, every event contributes to the Actual World of every subsequent event.
This model of reality is not new, not to me, not even to Whitehead. In fact, I discovered a similar concept of causality in a 2000 year old Hindu scripture, the justly famous Bhagavad Gita.
Let’s set the scene: We are on a field of battle but Arjuna, commander of one of the armies, is having second thoughts. He recognizes his kinship with the warriors on the other side and he is loath to kill them:
“I foresee no good resulting from slaughtering my kin in war…for if we killed these murderers, evil like theirs would cling to us…The wrong done by this destruction is evident… Nor do we know whether it would be better for us to vanquish them or to be overcome.”
In just a few words, Arjuna raises three cogent arguments against ‘activism’: (1) ‘karma’ from committed acts blows back on whoever commits those acts; (2) the acts that duty calls us to perform may be immoral per se (for example, killing other human beings); (3) there is no way to know anything about the long term consequences of our actions.
Fortunately, however, Arjuna is best buds with the divine Lord Krishna and this ‘Handsome Haired One’ sets the ‘Strong-Armed Warrior’ straight: “Your concern should be with action, never with action’s fruits.”
Lord Krishna swats away Arjuna’s weighty reservations with the flick of his supple wrist. In the process, he exposes the unstated premise undergirding both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment: i.e., that future events (ends) are ‘caused’ by prior events (means). Krishna exhorts Arjuna to detach himself from the fruits of his actions and to focus exclusively on the actions themselves.
This is not an appeal for Quietism. Rejection of the fruits of action is not the same thing as rejection of action itself: “Not by not acting in this world does one become free from action… Not even for a moment does someone exist without acting… In order to maintain the world, your obligation is to act… Should I not engage in action these worlds would perish, utterly…”
Today, we know that the cessation of all activity is synonymous with Absolute Zero on the Kelvin Scale; 0°K defines Big Freeze, the end of Universe. Krishna was ahead of his time.
Non-action is an illusion. To be is to act. The question is how: “Scripture is your authority for what to do and not to do. Understanding its injunctions, you are obliged to action…These actions, though, should be performed without attachment to their fruits…”
By Scripture, the Gita is referring to the Hindu Vedas and the Upanishads. Scripture plays a comparable role in Judeo-Christian theology. Here though, we are referring to the Torah, the Midrashim, the Talmud, the Semon on the Mount, etc.
“All actions are undertaken by the qualities of nature though one deceived by his ego imagines, ‘I am doing this’… Qualities act on one another.” In other words, God, the conduit of all values into the world, acts through us, his mortal agents.
Per Whitehead, all action is motivated by qualities (values). Actual Entities are the loci of acts but the acts themselves are pure expressions of values. The ‘subject’ is merely the mechanism by which those values are realized in the present and projected into the future.
“Better to do one’s own duty ineptly than another’s well.” Here, The Gita calls to mind Paul’s contemporaneous Letter to Ephesians: “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God had prepared in advance that we should live in them.” (2: 10)
We do not determine our duty. We divine it and we perform it…or we don’t! Duty is dictated by the ‘eternal objects’ (aka ‘transcendental values’) that constitute God’s Primordial Nature. Nor is Krishna (God) exempt from these laws (dharma): “In order to protect the good…and to establish righteousness, age after age, I come to be.”
God too is a manifestation of ‘qualities acting on one another’. Good is what constitutes God and it is God who projects Good into Universe. No Good, no God! No God, no Good!
This is a radical form of the ontological argument for the existence of God. Medieval theologians noted that some entities are ‘more good’ than others. They reasoned that there must therefore be something that is ‘most good’, and that whatever is ‘most good’ must exist, because it is better to exist than not. That ‘most good being’ is what we call ‘God’.
The Gita arrives at the same destination via a somewhat different route; Krishna says, “Know me as one who never acts.” - i.e., as one who selflessly lets qualities act through him.
Speaking of qualities, “Of lights, I am the radiant sun…of stars, I am the Moon…of beings, I am consciousness…of waters, I am Ocean…of mountains, I am the Himalayas…of mortal men, I am the king…of rivers, I am Ganges…of creations, I am beginning, middle, and end…of speakers, I am the discourse…of secrets, I am the silence, and the knowledge of those who know…”
Anslem of Bec never wrote like this! But a Medieval Irish poet (St. Dallan) came close: “Be Thou my vision…my best thought…my light…my wisdom…my true word…my treasure...”
Like Dallan, Krishna defines himself in terms of essential qualities: “I am water’s taste, Arjuna, I am the light of the sun and moon…sound in the air, manhood in men. I am the pure fragrance of earth and the radiance of fire; I am the life in all beings…the mind of the intelligent, the splendor of the radiant. I am the might of the mighty…”
“And know that states of being…proceed from me – however, I am not in them, they are in me…Here behold all the universe…standing as one in my body.”
“I am that which is the seed within all beings, Arjuna – without me nothing can exist.” The Gospel of John applies this same insight to Christ: “All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be.” (1: 3)
Finally, Krishna makes clear to Arjuna that he neither controls nor is responsible for the course of events in the world:
“Those warriors arrayed in lines opposing your men, even without you, will have perished…I have destroyed your enemy already: serve as my tool, O Ambidextrous Archer! (Arjuna)”
“Who sees himself as the sole doer, does not see…even after slaying these people, he neither slays, nor is he bound…”
Arjuna is responsible for discerning his duty, perhaps with a gentle nudge from Lord Krishna, and then performing that duty to the best of his ability. That will be his legacy, not the outcome of some battle now barely visible through the fog of history.
So how is any of this different from the traditional Western view of causality? I’ll grant you the distinction is subtle…but important! We tend to focus on intent, motive, ‘what was he trying to do’. The model we are proposing here includes the formation of intent but also the execution of that intent. Our judges put great emphasis on the dismount. We focus on ‘settled matters of fact’: what did he do!
We are not concerned, however, with what happens next. What use future Actual Entities make of Arjuna’s Objective Immortality is between them and their God. Leave Arjuna out of it. He is not to blame for the Great London Fire (1666) or for Johnny’s poor performance on this morning’s algebra exam. So, in the spirit of Voltaire (Candide), “Tend to your own patch!”
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.