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September 7, 2010

12:47 AM

About Laws of Causation

Twelfth 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.

We should also here mention the cognitive role of alleged laws of causation. We have already briefly discussed laws relating to space and time.

In times past, it seems that some degree of sameness between cause and effect was regarded as an important law of causation. Upon reflection, the proponents of this criterion for causation probably had in mind that offspring have common features with their parents. But apparently, some people took this idea further and supposed that the substance (and eventually some other characteristics) of cause and effect must be the same. But though this criterion may be applicable to biology or other specific domains (e.g. the law of conservation of matter and energy in physics could be so construed), it is not generally regarded as universal. Formally, I see no basis for it.

If we want to go more deeply in the history of ‘laws of causation’, we would have to mention, among others, the Hindu/Buddhist law of karma, according to which one’s good and bad deeds sooner or later have desirable or undesirable consequences, respectively, on oneself. It is the popular idea that ‘what goes round must come round’. Though I would agree this is sometimes, frequently or even usually empirically true, we must admit that it does not always seem confirmed by observation – so it is at best a hopeful generalization (to a life after this one) intended to have positive moral influence. In any case, I see no formal basis for it. The same can be said concerning reward or punishment by God – though it might well be true, it is not something that can readily be proved by observation or by formal means; an act of faith is required to believe in it (I do, on that basis). In any case, the latter can hardly be called a ‘law of causation’, since the free will of God is thought to be involved in bringing about the effect.

The law of causation most often appealed to (at least in Western thought) is that ‘everything has a cause’. But though it is evidently true of most things that they have causes, and the belief in this law often motivates us to look for or postulate causes (i.e. even if none is apparent, we may assume one to exist), we have not in our study found any formal grounds to affirm such a law as universal. Admitting the fact of causation does not logically force us to admit its universality. This does not prove that it is not empirically universal; and it does not prevent us from formulating such universality as an adductive hypothesis. In any case, today, as evidenced by quantum physics and big-bang cosmogony, it seems generally assumed by scientists that this law is indeed not universal (which does not mean it is not very widely applicable).

I wonder anyway if it was ever really regarded as universal. I would say that in the 19th Century, this law was assumed universal for physical phenomena – but not necessarily for mental phenomena; human volition was generally taken to be an exception to the rule, i.e. freedom of the will was acknowledged by most people. Paradoxically, in the iconoclastic 20th Century, while the said law of causation was denied universality for material things, every effort was made to affirm it as regards human beings and thus forcefully deny freedom of the will.

Actually, both these changes were (I suggest) consciously or subconsciously motivated by the same evil desire to incapacitate mankind. Their proponents effectively told people: “you cannot control matter (since it is ultimately not subject to law) and you cannot control yourself (since you have no freewill) – so give up trying”. People who believed this nonsense (including its advocates) were influenced by it to become weaker human beings. Virtue was derided and vice was promoted. We see the shameful results of this policy all around us today.

Intellectual fashions change, evidently. But as far as I am concerned, while I admit the possibility that this law [of causation] may not-be universally true of matter, I have no doubt that it is inapplicable to the human will.

I argue this issue elsewhere, in my Volition and Allied Causal Concepts. It should be mentioned that an analogue to the law of causation is often postulated, consciously or not, for the mind. We tend to think that every act of volition has a cause, in the sense of being influenced or motivated, by something or other. Though largely true, this assumption taken literally would exclude purely whimsical volitions; thus, I tend to doubt it, for reasons explained in my said book. In any case, do not confuse this ‘law of influence’ with the ‘law of causation’ here discussed. These are very distinct forms of causality, which cannot be lumped together.

Another alleged law of causation that should be mentioned here (because of the current interest in it, in some circles) is the Buddhist notion that ‘every thing is caused by everything’. As I have shown in The Logic of Causation (see chapters 16 and 19), this idea of universal ‘interdependence’ is logically untenable. It is formally nonsensical. Indeed, if you just think for a moment, you will realize (without need for complex formal analysis) that to affirm interdependence is to deny causation, or at least its knowability. Every concept relies on our ability to distinguish the presence and absence of the thing conceived; if it is everywhere the same, it cannot be discerned. I think the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna can be said to have realized that; and this would explain why he ultimately opted for a no-causation thesis. However, that does not mean that causation can logically be denied: as already explained earlier, it cannot.

Well, then. Are there any ‘laws of causation’? Of course there are, a great many! Every finding concerning the formal logic of causation in this volume is a law of causation, a proven law. For instance, the fact that not all positive causative syllogisms yield a positive conclusion of some sort is an important law of causation, teaching us that a cause of a cause of something is not necessarily itself a cause of that thing.

 

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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