Monday, August 03, 2020

Does universal causation entail determinism?

In order to universal causation to entail determinism, "cause" has to mean a set of circumstances and causes which, taken together make it so that no other event could have occurred. However, the word "cause" is ambiguous, and does not always mean that, given the cause the effect is inevitable. For example, we can say that smoking causes cancer without implying that there is some law guaranteeing that every instance of smoking will result in cancer. Some chain smokers, as we all know, live to 100 cancer-free.

1 comment:

Hal said...

Victor,

In order to [sic] universal causation to entail determinism, "cause" has to mean a set of circumstances and causes which, taken together make it so that no other event could have occurred. However, the word "cause" is ambiguous, and does not always mean that, given the cause the effect is inevitable.

That is a promising start to a conceptual analysis of 'causation'. Of course one would also need to go on and look at 'determinism', 'free will', 'human agency', etc.
For instance, in most tradional accounts of volutary action it is assumed that the will is a mental state or mental event that causes the human body to move so as to bring about the intended agnt's action. I think this is a mistaken assumption. After all, a bodily movement triggered by a mental event or state is a paradigm of a bodily reaction, not of a voluntary action of an agent. For example, the thought of something fearful may cause one to shudder, or the thought of something funny may cause one to smile.

One also needs to look at the underlying conception of the natural world we live in.
When you talk about 'universal causation' I take it you mean something like this:

"There is no effect without a cause; no cause acts without motion; noting acts on distant things except through itself or an organ or connection or transmission; nothing moves unless it is touched, whether directly or through an organ or through another body."

This is a summary of Mechanism which along with Corpuscularianism was the 17th century replacement for the failed Thomistic form of natural philisophy.

The Cartesian form of Mechanism removed the mind and all mental attributes from the natural realm. Consequently matter was treated as an inert substance. Material substances were no longer considered to have intrinsic powers of their own. And, like modern day reductionism, corpuscularianism claimed that the only real causal explanations were to be found at the micro level.

I've taken this brief summary of mechanism and corpuscularianism from Stephen Gaukroger's The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity 1210-1685

This book is only the first of a tetralogy that he completed this year. I would highly recommend it for those looking to understand how science has become such a prominent part of our culture. It does a very good job of destroying the myth of science and religion being natural born enemies. Because mechanism and corpuscularianism fit in so well with Christian dogma it received a lot of support from that religion. It also placed a lot of emphasis on the idea that God is a designer. For it is only by the design of nature, like the design of a cuckoo clock, that natural things can function as they do.