Re: [xmca] Kevin's paper for discussion: causality

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Wed Jul 05 2006 - 20:01:34 PDT

Emily, how interesting that you bring up Mario Bunge. At the July 4
BBQ I just went to I got into a conversation with a retired
philosophy of science professor who mentioned the book you did as an
excellent book on the history of science. I ordered it from Amazon
just last night. Small world, eh?

The quotes you offer are interesting. What is Bunge's position on
causality itself? Speaking to the latter quote you provide, I agree,
the philosophical positions of determinism and indeterminism differ
precisely over how to understand causality, with Hume famously
occupying the extreme position on indeterminancy and denying that
causality exists at all. Fundamentalists are a likely candidates for
the extreme position of determinism at the other end, with their
certainty that God determines and therefore causes everything. The
dialectical materialist approach, which I am most attracted to,
advocates including the complex dialectical relationship of chance
and necessity in considerations of causality, overcoming many of the
simplistic and mechanistic conceptions associated with plain or
"vulgar" determinism that reduce complex events to simplistic, linear
causal explanations. The classical Marxist approach also criticizes
indeterminist theories of causality, which tend to range from denying
that causality exists in nature to expressing uncertainty about
whether this is so. In addition to deepening their philosophical
understanding of chance and necessity in natural (not to mention
social) events and processes, as science and mathematics continue to
progress, some modern classical Marxists are beginning to integrate
emergentist theories in their explanations of causality, just as
Engels sought to integrate the then new theories of the transference
of energy into dialectical materialism. I find emergentist models
and conceptions of causality compelling and see promise in these efforts.

If a theory of causality - emanating from a philosophical position on
determinism/indeterminism - is necessary to proceed in social
science, it could be seen as logical to begin with taking a look at
whether causality exists in nature, independent of humans. It seems
to me that it does. What are your thoughts?

- Steve

At 08:57 AM 7/5/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>Hi Steve,
>Bunge did some great theorizing on the principle of determinancy
>which you might find interesting if you haven't looked at it. "The
>principle of determinancy, often mistaken for the law of causation,
>is the commn ground of all forms of scientific determinism (from
>which fatalism is excluded, since it involves supernaturalistic
>elements violating the genetic principle). To reduce determinism to
>causal determinism is to have either a poor opinion of the resources
>of nature and culture, or too high an opinion of philosophical
>theories. Those who assign to causality the exclusive appurtenance
>of characteristics that are actually shared by all kinds of
>scientific determinism either fail to resist the attacks of
>indeterminism and irrationalism or - to the extent to which they
>succeed in the defense - inadvertently clothe noncausal types of
>determination in a causal language" (Causality and Modern Science,
>352). For Bunge, the causal principle "is a general hypothesis
>subsumed under the universal principle of determinancy". More to think about?
>Steve Gabosch wrote:
>>Mike raises a really interesting challenge, which is to relate this
>>high level discussion of causality to Kevin's paper, which I am
>>thinking about. Kevin's paper does not specifically discuss
>>theories of causality, but seems to encounter different views of
>>causality in its general discussion of cognitivist teaching
>>strategies versus cognitive apprenticeship, and - this needs to be
>>looked into more carefully - may also be encountering different
>>views on causality in the discussion of symmetry - Kevin's argument
>>that the cognitive apprenticeship approach to learning needs to
>>explore *symmetrical* explanations of learning by going beyond
>>studies of communities of practice that are relatively benign and
>>homogeneous. What conceptions about causality are implied in
>>Kevin's symmetrical approach, and how are they different from
>>approaches that are satisfied with asymmetrical explanations?
>>I am glad Emily brought up Hume, and her discussion of dynamic
>>systems theory and emergentism are also very useful - as is Ana's
>>discussion of Prigogine. There is sure a lot packed into this
>>little word, "causality"!
>>Hume's theory of causality (the Wikipedia article on Hume has a
>>useful section on this) has been an important discussion piece in
>>philosophy for several centuries. Hume denied causality exists in
>>nature - he claimed it was an illusion created by human minds
>>because we *expect* certain things to happen based on our
>>experiences. Consistent with his skepticist philosophy, Hume
>>argued that we can never really know how things happened or will
>>happen, just that we think they did or will. Hume flatly denied
>>the existence of causes and effects being necessary and
>>determined. This questions of whether causality actually exists in
>>nature at all and when can causes be conceptualized as necessary
>>and determined seem like some of many important issues to address
>>in developing a CHAT approach to causality in exploring the causes
>>of human development and activity.
>>Interesting stuff, eh?
>>- Steve
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