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

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Thu Jul 06 2006 - 06:04:42 PDT

Hi Andy. I think the phrase "causality exists in nature" means that
necessity and regularity exist in nature, and therefore, with
investigation, can be generalized into scientific laws and
principles. This question of the existence of causality in nature is
not unrelated to the question whether lawfulness exists in nature,
which we kicked around a year or two ago here on xmca. It most
certainly isn't my purpose to terminate the discussion of causality
by beginning with the idea it exists - rather, I see this as a solid
starting point. Nor am I suggesting causality is merely an
explanation - I am suggesting it is a fact, which of course becomes
integrated into explanations. All of what I am saying here is very
basic to the scientific method. Your point on competition is
interesting. I would agree with the statement that competition
exists in nature - but the cause-effect statement "therefore Man is
competitive" does not necessarily follow for me. To my mind, that
would be a reductionist-biological causal explanation that excludes
the necessary conditions of human society that must be taken into
account to understand competition between humans - and the possible
conditions which could eliminate it. I am curious, Andy, how perhaps
you, and anyone else - how any scientist, natural, social or both -
can conceptualize nature, not to mention society, without the idea
that causality exists. I still plan to dig back into Kevin's paper
and look for aspects of causal relations he explicates to see if this
helps understand his comparisons and insights. Perhaps some of our
discussion of causality could move in that direction, since Kevin's
investigation arena is especially familiar and relevant to xmca discussions.

- Steve

At 01:53 PM 7/6/2006 +1000, you wrote:
>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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