Tag Archives: causation

Pick Your Causation

sq_causationCausation is one of the most important ways in which we conceptualize the world and ourselves. The reasons that objects go through their motions and people perform the acts they do are explained by the causes that lead to these effects. Constitutive materials can also be causes for the effects on things and individuals. Even the form and function of things can be thought of as effects, dependent on the causes that make them come to be. These effects in turn can be causes for subsequent effects, and so on, in a complex chain or network of causation.

Four different “directions” inform discussion about causes and effects, organized by time (Forward and Backward) and space (Upward and Downward). Perhaps space is not the best word: consider size, distance, or even importance. These four directions can also remind one of Aristotle’s Four Causes, where Efficient Causation is Forward, Formal Causation is Downward, Material Causation is Upward, and Formal Causation is Backward.

Forward causation: Temporal causation, where causes happen before their effects. Ordinarily associated with a deterministic view of causation.

Upward causation: Scientific causation, where the smaller or lower cause the effects of the larger or higher. Ordinarily associated with a reductionistic view of causation.

Downward causation: Structural causation, where the larger or higher can cause the effects of the smaller or lower. Typical examples are free will, agency, intention, or volition, where the mind and not just the brain controls the actions of the body.

Backward causation: Reverse temporal causation, where causes are in the future of their effects. This is not quite the same as teleology, although the concepts are closely linked and require further study. Typical examples are purposes, goals, and ends (versus means) (although this is not the usual philosophical meaning of backward causation).

References:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-backwards/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downward_causation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleology

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

http://www.nbi.dk/~emmeche/coPubl/2000d.le3DC.v4b.html

Also see these related posts:

https://equivalentexchange.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/aristotles-four-causes/

https://equivalentexchange.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/a-warning/

[*9.40]

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Things Happen

When someone says “Things Happen”, we think they are being superficial. That’s because we want to hear an explanation of why the thing has happened. In fact, the “Principle of Sufficient Reason” mandates that everything must have a reason or cause. Still, you can’t argue with the fact that things do happen.

Aristotle described four causes that explain why things happen. These four causes are called the efficient, material, formal, and final causes. This classification was all the rage back before the scientific revolution, but now it has been mostly abandoned.  Still, with some modification, I believe it can be useful for the modern world.

Why do things happen? They happen by actions, from parts, into structures, and for functions.

This fourfold is a mixture of two others: Structure-Function and the prepositions I’ve associated with Aristotle’s Four Causes.

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/things_happen.html

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sufficient-reason/

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Aristotle’s Four Causes

Material: That from which something is made.

Efficient: That by which something is made.

Formal: That into which something is made.

Final: That for the sake of which something is made.

— from Aristotle for Everybody by Mortimer Adler

“Happy is he who can recognize the causes of things.”

Virgil

Aristotle’s Four Causes is likely the most familiar of all the double duals that I will present. The causes are closer to being “becauses” since they are usually thought of as the reasons or explanations for things. Why not call them the four prepositions?

The standard example of the four causes is what is needed for the building of a house. A house is built by the craftsmen, from the raw materials, into the form shown on blueprints, for the homeowner to live in. This and other usual examples are concerned with the making of something.

Formal and final causes have gotten the short shift since the beginning of the scientific revolution. Francis Bacon stated that the only scientific reasons for things were the efficient and material causes. For those critical of materialism this is often termed mere “matter in motion”. Matter can be thought to exist in space, and motion in time. Where does form or finality exist? I will say in space and time as well.

References:

Max Hocutt / Aristotle’s Four Becauses, in Philosophy, Vol. 49, No. 190. (Oct., 1974), pp. 385-399.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_causes

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_purpose_of_a_system_is_what_it_does

Notes:

John Sowa’s Thematic Roles: initiator, resource, essence, goal.

http://www.jfsowa.com/ontology/thematic.htm

[*4.112, *5.73, *5.162, *5.168, *7.47]

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