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

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Wed Jul 05 2006 - 20:53:22 PDT

But Steve, exactly what does it mean to say that "causality exists in
nature." There is a trivial level at which it is just stupid to deny it,
but if your are, for example, talking about alternative means of explaining
or understanding the world, comparing emergence, chance-and-necessity,
realised possibility and causality, for example, how can you just terminate
the discussion by suggesting that one such explanation or rationale, i.e.
causality, simply "exists in Nature"? Surely this is no better than saying
that competition exists in Nature therefore Man is competitive?


At 08:01 PM 5/07/2006 -0700, you wrote:
>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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