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August 1, 2010

12:00 AM

What is Causation?

Tenth post in the ongoing series on important innovations in logic theory to be found in my works. In this and the next few posts, I will write about the logic of causation, which I have just finished researching over a period of 12 years on and off. The following is an extract from the last chapter of my newly published book The Logic of Causation.

What is causation? This term refers to a concept – an abstraction through which we can order empirical facts in a way that makes them more comprehensible to us and helps us makes predictions. Like every reasonable concept, causation does indeed signify an existing fact – namely the fact that sets of two or more facts are often evidently related in the ways we call causation. Causation refers to certain observable or induced or deduced regularities in conjunction or non-conjunction between two or more things. By ‘things’ (or preferably, henceforth, ‘items’) here, understand any domain of existence: material, physical, bodily, mental, abstract, spiritual; any category of existent: substance, entity, characteristic, quality, change, motion, event, action, passion, dynamic, static, etc. – anything whatever.

As with all concepts, the concept of causation varies somewhat from person to person, and over time in each person. At one end of the spectrum, there are people for whom the concept of causation is a vague, subconscious notion, which often produces erroneous judgments. At the other extreme, there are those who clearly understand causation and use it correctly in their thinking. The purpose of causative logic, i.e. of the present detailed theory of causation and its relevance to thought, is to improve people’s understanding and practice.

Causation can thus be defined, broadly – and more and more precisely, as our study of it proceeds. But can causation as such be ‘proved’ to exist? Yes, indeed. Causation relies first of all on the admission that there are kinds of things. For, generally, we establish causation (as distinct from volition, which is indeterministic causality) not for individual items, but for ‘kinds’, i.e. for sets of things that resemble each other in some way. When we say that X causes Y, we mean that instances of the kind X are related in a certain way to instances of the kind Y.

Now note this first argument well: if there were no kinds, there would be no causation. That is, if nothing could be said to be ‘the same’ as anything else, kinds would not exist and causation could not be established. But if we claim “Nothing is the same as anything else in any respect”, we are engaged in an inextricable self-contradiction, for that very statement is full of assumption regarding the existence of kinds. Therefore, such a claim is logically untenable, and we must admit that kinds exist, i.e. that our concepts have some empirical basis.

Now, causation refers to the possibility or impossibility of various combinations of things (or their negations). For example, to say that X is never found in conjunction with not-Y and that not-X is never found in conjunction with Y, is a statement of ‘complete necessary’ type of causation. We can certainly argue, regarding a particular pair of items X and Y (e.g. irrational behavior and mental suffering), as to whether or not they indeed fit in this relational format; merely asserting it as fact does not of course make it fact.

But no one can logically deny that there exist some pairs of things in this world that do indeed fit this pattern of relation. It would mean that we deny that there are possibilities and impossibilities of conjunction. Note this second argument well: if we claim “No conjunction of things is possible”, we are saying that the conjunctions implied by this very statement are impossible; and if we claim “No conjunction of things is impossible” we are saying that contradictions are possible. All the more so, if we claim that nothing is possible or that nothing is impossible, we are involved in logically unacceptable self-contradictions. When a thesis is self-contradictory it must be abandoned, and replaced by its contradictory thesis.

Therefore, the definitional bases of causation as such – i.e. the fact that there exists the modalities of possibility and impossibility, and thence of necessity and unnecessity – and the fact that some conjunctions in the world are bound to be related by one or the other of these modalities (nothing else is even conceivable) – are indubitable. Thus, causation, which refers to different combinations and permutations of such modalities of conjunctions, is indubitable. There are no ifs and buts about it.

Why, then, you may ask, are the likes of David Hume or Nagarjuna, and all their modern followers and imitators, so convinced of the illusoriness of causation? The answer is that they are clearly not committed to reason or logic, but merely express their cognitive or psychological problems; or they are not very intelligent. Nagarjuna relied heavily on fallacious reasoning to support his alleged critique of causation. Hume’s search for an empirically observable phenomenon of ‘connection’ or ‘bond’ was a red herring; it implied that causation is something concrete, i.e. tangible or otherwise materially detectable. No wonder he could not find it! No: to repeat, causation is an abstraction, through which we order our empirical observations and predict similar events of the same sort.

Hume admits as much when he defines causation as ‘constant conjunction’ between things. However, that definition is flawed inasmuch as it draws attention to only the positive side of causation; it ignores the crucial negative side (the constant conjunction between the negations of the things). Hume also ignores the different determinations or degrees of causation. And in attempting to ‘explain away’ causation by referring it to habitual associations of ideas, he contradicts himself – since such explanation is itself an appeal to causality; i.e. it purports to tell us ‘why’ we assume causation. Causation is formally the same whether it is assumed to occur in the material surrounds or in the mind, i.e. whether it correlates things or ideas. The fact that causation is usually induced by means of generalizations does not allow us to equate it to association of ideas. And anyway, association of ideas can occur even where causation is doubted; so these concepts cannot be the same in our minds.

As shown above, the concept of causation rests on two pillars, two fundamentals of human knowledge. The one is the fact of similarity and the other is the fact that conjunctions may be possible or impossible.

You can deny that two or more particular objects are similar, but you cannot deny that there are somewhere similar objects and that we are able to identify them in principle. You can deny that two or more particular objects are sometimes or never conjoined, but you cannot deny that there are somewhere objects that are sometimes or never conjoined and that we are able to identify them in principle. When I say “you cannot deny”, I mean you cannot do so without self-contradiction – i.e. you cannot do so with the sanction of logic, i.e. you do so against logic.

Ontologically, causation occurs because not everything is possible in the world. If nothing was impossible, everything could proceed every which way. The limitations that exist in Nature constitute obstacles in its free flow, and ‘force’ it to flow along specific routes. Nature’s course is determined by where it cannot go, rather than by where it must go. The stream of events follows the groove formed by the limits set.

There are as many modes of causation as there are modes of modality. Rational argument refers to the logical (de dicta) mode of causation. Extensional causation is based on extensional modality. Natural, temporal and spatial causation likewise are based on these (de re) modes of modality. It is logically inconsistent to admit one mode of causation (e.g. the logical) and refuse to admit the others (e.g. the natural mode). There is formally no reason to discriminate between them.

In conclusion, causation is a mental overlay through which we order observed reality. But this overlay does not force reality into any arbitrary patterns; it is not an invention of ours. It is merely an acknowledgement that certain patterns do observably occur, and our task in causative reasoning is to identify when they do occur as well as possible. The overlay is not a distortive filter or a hindrance to knowledge. It is based on experience of the world and helps us to more correctly and profoundly discern and understand the world, and thus also to better predict and deal with it.

The concept of causation has no doubt a long history, dating from the beginnings of humanity, if not earlier still in its wordless animal ancestors. Certainly, the moment our ancestors thought or said “because…” or “therefore…” they displayed their belief in or knowledge of causation. The study of the concept is a much later development, of course, which coincides no doubt with the dawning of philosophy, especially in ancient Greece. But it is, I think, in modern times that people began to look for applications of causation in a very conscious manner. I refer of course to the advent of modern experimental science in Europe.

Two important philosophical figures in this context were Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mill. Not because they discovered causation theoretically or the ways to find it in practice, but because they sought to verbalize causative logic. However, neither of these thinkers asked all the right questions or gave all the right answers. Surprisingly, no one made a big effort to follow up on their work, discouraged perhaps by the skepticism instilled by David Hume. It is not until the present study of causation that we have a full analysis and practical guide to causative reasoning, a truly formal logic of causation. This is really a historic breakthrough.


For more details on THE LOGIC OF CAUSATION, see: http://www.thelogician.net/4_logic_of_causation/4_lc_frame.htm

For the latest results and conclusions – Phase III – see: http://www.thelogician.net/4_logic_of_causation/4_lc_phase_three.htm

To purchase the book, go to: http://stores.lulu.com/thelogicianbooks


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