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

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Thu Jul 06 2006 - 06:29:48 PDT

Yes, so "causality exists in nature"means simply that "there is regularity
and necessity in nature." So the idea doesn't contribute anything to
understanding whether a *particular* phenomenon is causally related to
another phenomenon, or how. It's just a general profession of faith.

My suggestion is that we have to approach the definition of causality in
just the same way that we approach concepts of psychology, with a mind to a
"unit of analysis."

At 06:04 AM 6/07/2006 -0700, you wrote:
>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
>>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>xmca mailing list
>>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

Andy Blunden, for Victorian Peace Network, phone +61 3 9380 9435
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