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

From: Emily Duvall (
Date: Tue Jul 11 2006 - 04:54:01 PDT

Hi Andy,
What role do you see sufficient and necessary causes playing with
regard to "the "cause" of schools producing "uneducated" people"?
~ Emily

Andy Blunden wrote:

> Emily, Steve and all ...
> what I was trying to get at is that "cause" is a particular concept
> which can be used in describing processes and in trying to understand
> them. Apples aside (after all we are talking of a highly reflexive
> object here, a country's education system), cause is connected with a
> certain approach to understanding a process - I don't think it makes
> sense to say it just exists in nature.
> What I meant about "unit of analysis" is that cause is a concept
> related to a unit of analysis which includes both the subject and
> object of a problem; it is, in my opinion, the hypothetical
> intervention the subject can make in the object to bring about an
> effect. "Hypothetical" because in general I think we are talking about
> a "thought experiment," but even a thought experiment is part of a
> plan to change an object and bring about an effect.
> So for example, we might think that it is the school principals who
> are the cause, and we could fix the problem by seeing new principals
> appointed, a testable hypothesis. I don't know. But I think "cause" is
> meaningless unless there is a corresponding hypotethical intervention
> by the subject into the object-system.
> So if we are talking about the "cause" of schools producing
> "uneducated" people, asking the question of cause leads us to a
> possible intervention. In my opinion, the naming of cause which does
> not correspond to some hypothetical intervention is hypostatising the
> process, reifying it, or whatever word you want to use.
> Andy
> At 12:21 AM 11/07/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>> Hi Steve, Andy, and all...
>> I have some difficulty with this statement:
>> "The challenge of "social" science is to apply the same methodology
>> to the more complex phenomena of human society and human
>> individuality. I believe this is what Vygotsky meant when he called
>> for psychology to be a "natural" science."
>> I believe that Vygotsky's project was a new method of science where
>> 'science' does not hold the baggage it does for us (well at least me)?
>> I also have alot of difficulty with the approach that seems to
>> elevate causes and effects to a particular authority.
>> "I see this process as more than just "defining" causality, but as
>> studying natural, social and psychological causes as deeply and
>> completely as possible - and developing the tools and units of
>> scientific analysis thusly."
>> At any rate at the risk of obsessing about apples.....
>> When we look at an apple we do not see the whole apple. We see it
>> through a particular lens... if I have chosen to discuss the apple
>> from a philosophical perspective, it will be a very different
>> discussion than the one my biologist friend might have.Indeed, what I
>> might say in terms of knowing the apple may well seem to suggest that
>> we are not talking about the same apple at all and that my knowing
>> conflicts with the biologist's knowing of the apple. Yet we both know
>> the apple. As the philosopher, I might be more interested in fooling
>> with what the knowing of an apple means. The biologist may seem very
>> reductionist in his/her view in comparison. Both may be correct.
>> In other words, I think that there are certainly multiple units of
>> analysis to be applied to the same apple, and they may be aligned
>> with one or more particular ways of viewing the apple... none of
>> which will, in isolation, give us _the_ understanding of the apple.
>> However, it seems that since we are still talking about the same
>> apple, that the units of analysis must be compatible with each other.
>> Therefore, if there are units of analysis about which we can talk
>> about causal determinism, then it seems there must be compatible ways
>> of talking about the same phenomenon.
>> ~Emily
>> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>>> At 11:29 PM 7/6/2006 +1000, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>> 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.
>>> I think it does. As I see it, the phrase "causality exists in
>>> nature" suggests that phenomena in nature have particular causes.
>>> The challenge of science is to discover the "how" - and from there,
>>> to go on to generalize from observations of particular causes and
>>> effects to formulate laws of nature, which become more refined as
>>> more is discovered. The challenge of "social" science is to apply
>>> the same methodology to the more complex phenomena of human society
>>> and human individuality. I believe this is what Vygotsky meant when
>>> he called for psychology to be a "natural" science.
>>>> Andy continued:
>>>> It's just a general profession of faith.
>>> The "faith" that guides me here is a humanist conviction that
>>> humanity can - if it chooses to, and I hope it will - apply science
>>> to its own social systems and to nature in a way that humans can
>>> create justice and freedom for themselves and this remarkable planet
>>> can be sustained. For me, the most important part of this little
>>> message is not just that causality *exists* in nature but that it
>>> implies that humanity can continue to *discover* these causal
>>> relations. It is a belief in humanity, if you will, not "faith" in
>>> a string of words or a dogma.
>>>> Andy also said:
>>>> 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."
>>> I think this is a very good suggestion, Andy. But I think units of
>>> analysis need to be based, in part, on the particular theories of
>>> causation of each realm under study. This points to an interesting
>>> feature of science, which seeks to invent new units of analysis as
>>> new causes are discovered. Another consequence of this approach to
>>> causality is a theory of what "causes" causation itself needs to be
>>> developed. Here is my general take. The dialectical materialists
>>> suggest that materiality and motion are inherent in nature, that
>>> causation itself is inherent in the universe. The alternatives end
>>> up being a supernatural explanation of general causation, such as
>>> Hegel's theory of the absolute idea, or a fully skeptical outlook,
>>> such as Hume's denial of causality altogether. But a dialectical
>>> materialist ontology of causation is only a beginning. How the
>>> universe caused the Milky Way, how the Milky Way caused the solar
>>> system, how the sun and the earth caused life on earth, how humanity
>>> grew out of the evolution of life on earth, how human society has
>>> developed, how society creates culture, how culture creates people,
>>> how individuals develop ... as well as how all these "higher" levels
>>> of development act "downward" and become huge causal processes
>>> themselves ... these are all big questions of science, of its
>>> studies of causation at every level of existence, and of its
>>> creation of units of analysis appropriate for studies of causes at
>>> each level. I see this process as more than just "defining"
>>> causality, but as studying natural, social and psychological causes
>>> as deeply and completely as possible - and developing the tools and
>>> units of scientific analysis thusly.
>>> I should add that I think the study of causes is the central but is
>>> by no means the sole component of science. Qualitative and
>>> quantitative descriptions are also huge parts of scientific work.
>>> Imagination is still another essential component. And as Andy
>>> points out, minding units of analysis is also essential. But, in my
>>> opinion, these endeavors become rudderless without the central study
>>> of the causes of things to guide the way forward.
>>> - Steve
>>>> At 06:04 AM 6/07/2006 -0700, Steve 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, 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, Steve Gabsoch 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, Emily 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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