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

From: Emily Duvall (
Date: Thu Jul 06 2006 - 06:11:06 PDT

Hi Steve, Andy and All,

Bunge theorizes several categories of determination which I find more
useful than a dichotomous determinism/indeterminism. These are not meant
to be exhaustive. (From p. 17-19 of the text) They include: quantitative
self-determinism (determining the consequent by the antecedent), causal
determination (determination of the effect by the efficient, external
cause), interaction (reciprocal causation), mechanical determination
(consequent by antecedent with efficient causes and mutual actions),
statistical determination, structural determination (parts by the
whole), teleological determination (means by ends or goals), dialectical
determination (qualitative determinaiton...whole process by strife and
subsequent synthesis). He points out that "No type of determinism can
be assigned a territory where it operates to the complete exclusion of
other types of lawful production." Thus it suggests a more careful
consideration of causation as only one form of determination that is not
only connected to other forms of determinism, but that cannot be
isolated in the sense of operating in "purity" other than in "ideal
cases". Bunge also offers an interesting discussion on scientific law
and the lawfulness of historical processes and the noncausal features of
sociohistorical events. The connection to dynamic systems theory emerges
here and Bunge's later work goes in this direction. You'll enjoy the
book when you get it Steve.

Like Andy, I guess I am wary of comments such as 'in nature'. I like to
think more about the existence of a mind-independent reality (no pun
intended) and how we understand this reality.

I have begun digging, as per Mike's suggestion, for more information on
Engestrom and causality... any suggestions of particular papers would be
~ Emily

Andy Blunden 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?
> Andy
> 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?
>> Best,
>> - 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?
>>> Emily
>>> 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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