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RUMINATIONS

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RUMINATIONS

Part I – Chapter 8

About Causal Logic

1. Induction of Causatives

2. True of All Opposites

3. Extensional to Natural

4. Hume’s Denials

5. Hume’s Mentalism

6. Constant Conjunction

7. Billiard Balls

8. Against Kant on Freewill

9. Alleged Influences

10. Analogical Inferences

1. Induction of Causatives

Induction of causative propositions, like for most other kinds of proposition, consists largely in the process of trying to ‘fit-in’ the empirical data into this or that morphology (i.e. m, n, p, q, etc.).

The proposition is our (working) hypothesis, while our relevant experiences and memories (the phenomenological facts) are the data used for testing that hypothesis. As usual, we seek for the pattern that will best express and assimilate the data at hand.

The reasoning involved is: ‘try this form – does the data fit in it?’ – ‘no! therefore, this form is not quite appropriate, try another’. This is done repetitively for each set of facts and tentative propositional form.

By trial and error, we repeatedly adapt our estimate of the overall causative relation involved to the available database, which we actively seek to expand.

In formation of a causative proposition, terms (or theses) are variously related according to the conjunctions or non-conjunctions of their presences and/or absences, i.e. through matricial analysis, until the appropriate categorical (or hypothetical) proposition is settled.

Note that this resembles but is not the same as concept formation, where similarity between things is sought and then each new thing is tested for membership.

An example of such ‘construction’ of a fitting hypothesis (propositional form) is to be found in historical judgment[1] (i.e. trying to formulate general propositions about causation in history) – which is mainly extensional in mode.

Note additionally that the disjunction between the specific determinations suggests a possibility of induction by the factorial analysis method described in my Future Logic.

Incidentally, the word ‘conditioning’ (often used there) is an apt adjective for all non-categorical relations, including conditional propositions (that tell us one item is true, if another is so) in the various modes of modality (in the logical mode these are known as ‘hypotheticals’) and their disjunctive forms. The term as such is relatively new, dating I gather from the 15th Century – but its root (the Latin conditio) is very old, and its underlying meaning is no doubt as old as human reason.

The active form ‘conditioning’ is admittedly originally intended to balance the passive form ‘conditioned’, rather than (as sometimes used, by me and others) a general term covering both directions, i.e. the relations of ‘conditioning and conditioned’ as a whole. But this is a limitation of our language, which in no way renders the term illegitimate. The term is used in this sense not only by logicians, but also by scientists in their theoretical discourse (e.g. by Pavlov) and by common technicians (e.g. ‘air conditioning’), because of its causal connotations.

2. True of All Opposites

It is true of all opposites (X and nonX) that they invariably must succeed each other, sometime and somewhere, in time (natural modality) and/or space (extensional modality) and/or in thought (logical modality), and therefore such sequences ought not be regarded as causative relations in the strict sense.

For example, we cannot say ‘health causes sickness’ or ‘peace causes war’, just because we observe that the first term (health or peace) invariably precedes the second (sickness or war, respectively)!

Therefore, when we define the causative relation, with reference to conjunctions or non-conjunctions of presences or absences of two or more items, we should, if only parenthetically, except formal relations of mutual exclusion and exhaustiveness between contradictories.

For we normally understand causation as a not-obvious relation, one which we cannot establish a priori. Proposing the sequence of formal opposites as causative provides no new information concerning them, since that is a universal given in a world of multiplicity.

Returning to our first example: it is not health that causes sickness, but some germ or virus (say) that attacks the healthy organism and makes it sick. Again, in our second example: it may well be that peace changes conditions of society in ways that really give rise to eventual war, or vice versa. But in such case, precise analysis of the causatives involved is required. Certainly, it is not peace per se which causes war, but rather (say) the passing of generations and perhaps the rise in wealth and conceit, so that people forget the horror of war and are again willing to engage in it.

3. Extensional to Natural

On tropology or aetiology: We often reason from extensional to natural modality, i.e. from transverse observations to longitudinal conclusions, or vice-versa.

Such extrapolation occurs notably in astronomy, where the evolution of stars and galaxies is not observed with reference to one and the same star or galaxy, but by observation of different such entities at presumably different stages of their development, and then hypothesizing a common course of development for them all, and the assumption that they are each at a different stage along that standard course.

Conversely, in the field of psychology, from the experience of some people with certain pathologies, we assume that under certain circumstances the same could happen to other people. In other words, we are not satisfied with mere ad hoc observations on individuals, but assume some underlying nature or natural structure in common to individuals of the same kind.

Because of such habits, it is important to identify and clarify the forms these reasoning processes take. There are surely many varieties of it, both categorical and conditional. Such leaping from one mode to another is not formally deductive, but an inductive pattern. We should perhaps give it a name, to ensure we focus on it – say, “modal extrapolation”.

4. Hume’s Denials

David Hume denies the very concept of causality – but in the same breath offers us an explanation of our belief in it, viz. that causal argument proceeds by association of ideas. I have criticized this claim elsewhere[2], but here wish to stress that offering an explanation is claiming to know a cause – therefore, Hume’s thesis is self-contradictory.

Nevertheless, there are some grains of truth in his thesis, which by the way explains why it has seemed credible to so many people since he stated it. To see these undercurrents of truth, it is important to distinguish between the issues of how to define causality in general and of how to get to know particular instances of causality.

Clearly, before we can deny causality, we must have some idea what it is we want to deny. Hume admits a simple definition of causality (or rather causation, to be exact) as “constant conjunction”. This definition has some truth, but is debatable and ultimately inadequate. Thereafter, the issue arises, can we establish contents fitting this definition. Hume denies it, but (as just pointed out) his denial turns out to be self-defeating.

Hume focused on our incapacity to apprehend causes immediately, and suggested that in allegedly ‘reasoning’ from a cause to an effect (or backwards, from effect to cause) we were merely expressing our mental habit of ideating certain things together. Notwithstanding Hume’s errors, I would suggest the following to be the undercurrents of truth he was perhaps (though unsuccessfully) trying to bring out:

a. Ab initio, nothing has any apparent cause. That is to say: causality is not something one can directly observe. ‘Objectivity’ requires that we do not begin our search for knowledge with a prejudice concerning causality in general and about specific causal propositions. Causality and particular cases of it have to be established gradually over time, because the facts logically point us in this direction. We cannot at first sight make such claims with certainty – but (contra Hume) this does not exclude the possibility that we can eventually arrive at such conclusions through appropriate logical efforts.

b. Indeed, causes can be found through induction. The method appropriate for finding causes is not deductive – nor for that matter Hume’s ‘association of ideas’ – but inductive. Practical ways to attain such knowledge were first elucidated by Francis Bacon (1605), a century and a half before Hume’s comments. (I have further clarified and developed these methods in my The Logic of Causation.) Hume’s thesis rang true in some ears, because he raised awareness that a process was involved. He identified that process as merely psychological; but in fact, it was logical – using inductive logic.

We should, to be precise in the present discussion, refer to volition by others and our less conscious own volitions, as well as to causation, noting that most of our own volitions are known directly and immediately, in the way of self-experience – i.e. ‘intuition’. It is worth pointing out that Hume tacitly admits this last claim when he tries to explain knowledge of causation through ‘association of ideas’ – since this implies he and the rest of us can look into our mental activities and directly obtain that insight. Thus, Hume’s attempted critique applies specifically to causation and not to volition, note well.

It should be stressed that the present rejection of Hume’s identification of causal reasoning with mere association of ideas does not imply a denial that we do engage in association of ideas. This mental process does occur. Indeed, it sometimes occurs on the basis of assumed causal connection – but it also, and more often, concerns objects known to be without any such connection. The objects of thought may be mentally associated merely because they happened to coexist in our sight once for a moment – even if they have at all other times been visibly separate. Moreover, mental association does not require any coexistence at all ever, but may occur for quite incidental or accidental reasons. Two things may be mentally associated because of some tiny or vague resemblance, or even simply because we happen to have given them names that sound somewhat the same.

Indeed, Hume’s critique depends on these very facts concerning association of ideas for its (illusory) force. If association of ideas was always based on constant conjunction, it would not seem so loose a relation but would indeed suggest underlying causal connection. Thus, Hume on the one hand pretends to equate those two concepts, but on the other hand cunningly exploits their difference, in order to cast doubt on causal reasoning.

Furthermore, he does not explain the distinction we all make between cause and effect, considering that the idea of the effect sometimes (and in some cases, always) mentally precedes that of the cause, even if materially the cause always precede the effect. Clearly, this opacity is just one aspect of his deliberate confusion between an idea and it object. But such a subjectivist notion is anti-rational, since Hume obviously considers (or wants us to consider) his own skeptical doctrine as objectively true.

5. Hume’s Mentalism

It should be pointed out that Hume’s position on causation is ‘consistent’ with his position on sensory perception. Given his belief that our apparent perceptions of matter are in fact perceptions of the mental images (“impressions”, or “ideas”) produced by sensations, and not perceptions of the things that triggered the sensations, it is not strange that he should advocate an “association of ideas” view of causation.

Hume is apparently unaware that this position on perception is logically self-contradictory, because it starts with a belief in matter (including a human body with sense organs, receiving sensory signals and passing them on to the mind), and ends with a denial of it (i.e. an affirmation that all we are able to know are mental impressions or ideas). Moreover, Hume leaves unanswered the question as to who has these ‘ideas’; i.e. he ignores the Subject.

Hume’s concept of association of ideas can also be applied to the other type of causality, namely volition, by effectively denying the existence of a willing self. If volition is identified with sequences of mental phenomena like desires, aversions, etc. and perceptible actions of mind and ‘body’, then there is no need for or place for a concept of a ‘self’ engaged in willing. Thus, in this view, attitudes, affections and appetites are ‘ideas’ of sorts, and apparent ‘volition’ is simply causation at the purely mental level between such ideas and certain ‘actions’.

Here, the antinomy consists in leaving unexplained who it is that is associating ideas. If there is no Agent in volition, and no Subject in cognition, no cognitive processes can be depicted as ‘in error’. So, how is it that Hume is wiser than the rest of us, and can spot these errors of thought? And moreover, if we have no choice about our mental behavior, what is the purpose of his indicating our errors?

As I have explained elsewhere[3], volition is not a causative relation between influences (apprehended conditions) and apparent actions (physical or mental events), but a totally different kind of causal relation, between a soul and its intentions and acts of will. The latter are not phenomenal, but intuited by the Subject. Attitudes, affections and appetites are not substances, but essentially intentions of the self. They influence its acts of will, making them easier or harder; but they are not causatives of them, they are incapable of producing them. The acts of will are caused by the soul, using a causal relation fundamentally different from causation, namely volition.

In both domains, whether through apparent bodily sensations or directly in the mind, Hume seems to consider the arising of ‘ideas’ (which are thereafter mentally associated) as spontaneous: he is effectively denying all causality. His skeptical view of causality is not based on a thoroughgoing psychology, but is filled with inconsistencies.

Hume, like many philosophers before him and since, approached the issue of causality and other topics in the way of a ‘spin doctor’. He was not scientifically minded, but intent on justifying his philosophical slant of skepticism. I submit: he wanted to invalidate our knowledge, and sought pretexts with this goal in mind.

He perhaps only wanted to shock his peers; or maybe he had a perverse wish to destroy human knowledge or to hurt people’s minds.

It is legitimate for logic to admonish: such twisted motives are unworthy of philosophers. Philosophers should not bring their personal problems into the public arena in that way. They should approach the subject in a responsible, mentally healthy way, with benevolent intentions. And perhaps the best way to insure such balanced behavior is to lead a pure life….

6. Constant Conjunction

I should stress that Hume’s “constant conjunction” is a vague expression.

I have generally taken it to mean “the constant conjunction of the effect with the cause”, and thus to refer to the positive side of causation, namely “if C, then E” (i.e. “the conjunction C + not-E is impossible”) – and I believe that is what Hume had in mind when he used that expression.

I have also considered the inverse or negative side of causation, namely “if not C, then not E” (i.e. “the conjunction not-C + E is impossible”), to be not explicitly intended but still tacitly included in the preceding statement by way of analogy. That is, one can likewise refer to “the constant conjunction of the absence of the effect with the absence of the cause”.

But it occurs to me that, taken literally, the expression “constant conjunction” could intend “C and E are always together”, which more neutrally includes both “E is always with C” and “C is always with E”. That is, it could be taken to also imply “if E, then C” (i.e. “the conjunction E + not-C is impossible”), which by contraposition means “if not C, then not E”.

Thus, the expression could mean not just the positive aspect (complete causation), but also the negative aspect (necessary causation). So, it may be my accusation that Hume missed out on the negative aspect of causation was not very fair![4]

With regard to interpreting constant conjunction, note also that when two items occur together invariably, one is either the cause or the effect of the other – or both are effects of a common cause, i.e. of some third item yet to be identified of which they are parallel effects[5]. Thus, constant conjunction is not always taken to imply a direct causative relation between the items concerned, but is sometimes interpreted more obliquely (perhaps somewhat conventionally, because the formal relation is identical).

Constant conjunction leaves us with a doubt, then, whether one of the two items is before or after the other in time, or they are simultaneous; for causes and effects may be simultaneous or in orderly sequence, and effects of a common cause may be simultaneous or either one precede the other. The only rule we can lay down at the outset (according to our traditional understanding of causation) is that a cause cannot be after its effects; or conversely, an effect cannot precede its causes; this may be called the rule of ‘orderly sequence’.

Note that this concept of “effects of a common cause”, though most evident in relation to strong causation, can be extended to the weaker determinations, too.

7. Billiard Balls

Hume claims (in his more materialist phases, i.e. ignoring his ‘association of ideas’ discourse) that causation is based on observed reoccurrence of a sequence of events, giving the example of a billiard ball impacting another billiard ball.

But Newtonian Physics in this context appeals not merely to a generalization of happenstances, but to larger adductive hypotheses, such as the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy[6], which affect a broad spectrum of phenomena – and not only the specific billiard balls at hand – in tried and consistent ways. On that basis, causation is viewed as an actual transfer of ‘energy’.

This ‘energy’, though initially defined with reference to ‘work’ (‘force’ times distance), is ultimately taken to imply a ‘substance’ of sorts (e.g. the energy of light). In this perspective, the first billiard ball has on impact sent energy to the second – we thus substantiate the causal relation involved.

There are other situations of apparent causation for which a substratum is similarly conceived, and justified by reference to larger considerations. Thus, causation does not for us consist of mere repetition, but we imagine an underlying ‘connection’ of which the repetitions are but a symptom.

Underlying the idea of causation (and many other ideas of ours) is the postulate of continuity of phenomena. If I pass a ball to my friend, we could regard the ball as abruptly disappearing from my hands and spontaneously appearing in his. But this is empirically less justified, since the fact that continuity appears to us cannot simply be ignored without justification. We prefer to regard the two balls as one and the same, for we seem to ‘see’ the ball passing from hand to hand.

The continuity is thus reasonably evident. It is a general assumption applicable to such cases (provided the particular phenomena at hand do not suggest another assumption). So, causation rests on larger theses than Hume claims.

This insight is important, because it suggests that we can presume a singular causative relation without referring to general ones. In which case, general causative propositions are, as their formal quantity implies, sets of singular causative propositions. Even if in practice we may be epistemologically unable to discover singular causations except through eduction from generalizations, it remains conceivable that the latter generalities are ontologically mere groups of singular cases.

In this manner, we show that, contrary to Hume, causative ‘connection’ is based not only on observation and statistics, on direct generalization, but also on wider considerations and adductive postulates that suggest causative events to be primarily individual. Constancies of conjunction are seen as mere repetitions of individual connections. This justifies (or adds justification to) the concept of Causation.

8. Against Kant on Freewill

Various comments against Kant’s view of freedom of the will.

As I explain elsewhere[7], freedom of the will should not be conceived as “doing what you want”, in the sense “doing what you desire”, for being moved by random desires is not freedom but slavery. It does not follow that, as Immanuel Kant suggests, freewill is “doing what your reason tells you to do”.

The colloquial definition of freedom, “doing what you want”, should be clarified to mean that our actions express our personal will. It is the “you” rather than the “want” which is at the center of that popular definition. “Want” is here not intended to refer to values, wishes or purposes (be they rational or irrational) that may have preceded the “doing”, but is merely a post factum inference from such doing; i.e. it is an interpretation of the will that did occur after it occurred. The doer or author is thereby held responsible for such “want”.

Freedom of the will refers to our willing irrespective of influences, such as desires or rational judgments or whatever. The point in characterizing will as free is to stress it is the agent that wills, and the influences are not determining causes. In that case, whether the agent wills in accord with or against some ethical injunction, he is indeed responsible for his action.

Kant seems to claim that the will is only free when it is aligned with the dictates of reason, suggesting that the only alternative to that is slavishly following your passions. He argues: if you disobey reason, you are a puppet, therefore, obey it, and be free. Non sequitur!

Logically, if Kant’s thesis on volition is true, people have no freedom or responsibility either way, and can neither be blamed nor praised for whatever happens to them. In this perspective, if reason is heard and obeyed, its ethical injunction (or whoever suggested it) becomes the causative of virtuous action, and the subject does not merit praise – just as, if reason is ignored or disobeyed, the subject’s desires and impulses take control, and he is devoid of blame. Thus, Kant did not think his proposal through sufficiently.

Clearly, we must say that the choice to submit to reason implies an anterior act of freewill, which has to be spontaneous, otherwise reason would be controlling the agent against his will. Some people are unmoved by rational arguments, even if reason does influence many of us. Thus, the will is fundamentally as independent of reason as it is of passions. The agent has a choice between the two. If he fails to follow reason, he is drawn by passions; if he follows passions, he ignores reason. But ultimately the choice is spontaneous: that is freedom of the will.

It is interesting to note that some post-Kantian philosophers have come to the contrary conclusion that we are ‘free’ only when we act against reason. This very postmodern posture is in a way a predictable outcome of Kant’s rationalist-moralist stance. If one realizes that rigid adherence to principles like that proposed by Kant is just another form of slavery, the only space left for freewill seems to be moral anarchy.

But this “anything goes” position is just the hedonist side of the same coin; it is not a logical answer to Kant. It merely reverts to the idea that freedom is “doing whatever you wish”. Kant’s objection to that remains valid[8] – even if his proposed alternative, “doing what reason orders”, is also objectionable.

The dilemma can only be overcome through deeper understanding of the relation between agent and volition, and influences like desires or rational-moral insights.

It is important to distinguish one’s self (or soul or spirit) from one’s body and mind. The latter include all one’s involuntary thoughts and emotions, i.e. all one’s felt affections and appetites. It is a cognitive error to identify with any such passive body and mind event, i.e. to think: “this is me or an expression of me”. The self may be dissociated from such events; they are essentially ‘outside’ it. (The self is “empty” of such relatively material and mental events, to use a Buddhist phrase.)

However, this does not mean that we may dissociate ourselves from our voluntary physical or mental actions. The latter must be viewed as extensions and expressions of the self that wills them; the self is responsible for them, however much influenced by passive body-mind factors. We cannot, in an attempt to act viciously without taking on blame, argue: “since this body-mind is not wholly me or mine, all its actions are not me or mine”. This too – i.e. the failure to identify with active body and mind events – is an error of judgment.

The role of reason here is thus clear: it serves primarily to honestly distinguish the active from the passive, i.e. the areas of responsibility from those of non-responsibility in the life of the self. Such lucidity does not guarantee morality, though it is a precondition of it (and therefore in itself a moral act). Reason here acts as a counterweight to the influence of emotion. The self must still thereafter intuit the ‘moral’ choice and exercise freewill in that direction.

An act of will may be considered as most ‘free’ and ‘responsible’ when its Agent is maximally aware of all the positive and negative influences impinging on him, and of his having freedom of action and responsibility for his actions all the same.

By definition, influences are conditions of which one is more or less aware, and which thereby play a role in the volition concerned. Here, we note that the degree of such awareness affects the degree of freewill. A fully awake person has more freedom and responsibility than someone who functions half-asleep.

Note well the radical difference between freedom through awareness and freedom from awareness. People who affirm the existence and freedom of the will do so with the good intention to take control of their lives. Whereas, people who deny or doubt it generally do so in order to excuse themselves for past shameful or evil acts, or in order to facilitate such acts in the present and future. They reject freewill so as to liberate themselves from their conscience, by putting it to sleep. They cunningly use such philosophical denial as a bad influence on their will, making possible unbridled pursuit of unethical values.

9. Alleged Influences

An alleged influence on volition is not necessarily an influence in fact. The mere saying that something was an influence on one’s action does not imply it to have indeed been so; i.e. it does not make the alleged influence ex post facto become an influence. This may seem obvious – but the issue is worth raising, because people confuse initial influence with later influence.

For instance, a debtor may tell a creditor “I couldn’t pay you off today because of my son’s wedding”, when in fact the wedding did not actually influence the decision not to pay, or take so much time that payment was impossible, but was used as a false excuse, a pretext. If neither the wedding itself nor the thought of the wedding in fact affected the non-payment in any way, the latter event cannot truthfully be said to have been caused or influenced by the former. However, this does not imply that the creditor cannot thereafter be influenced by the excuse given, if he has believed it or even if he has disbelieved it.

For X to ‘influence’ some volition Y, it is necessary that the thought of X precede the action Y, as well as make it easier or harder to some degree. If the thought of X only occurred after Y (e.g. as when X is falsely declared ex post facto as the reason for Y) – the reality of X not having influenced Y is not changed. However, X may well thereafter, after such false declaration has been made and mentally registered, begin to influence other, subsequent actions of the initial agent (the agent of Y) or of some other agent(s).

Saying something is so, doesn’t make it so – even in the realm of the spirit. There is ‘objective’ truth, even with regard to ‘subjective’ relations. One may, for lack of attention or introspective skills, or due to weak memory, not be sure as to what one willed, or what influenced one’s will. In such cases, one’s witness concerning one’s inner processes, even if sincere, may be erroneous. Additionally, in some cases, even knowing the truth, one may deliberately lie, wishing to manipulate someone somehow with one’s lies.

An external observer is of course very disadvantaged in assessing the will of someone else and the influences impinging upon it. In such contexts, we often rely on what could be construed as post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking, but more precisely (usually tacitly, of course) consists in eliminating all thought-of alternative explanations of perceived behavior but one, or opting for the most likely looking explanation in our present perspective.

(This is of course a whole field of logic by itself, which I cannot hope to cover in a few comments.)

Incidentally, when we speak of someone having a certain ‘spirit’, we originally mean that the person concerned functions with a certain attitudinal pattern, i.e. we refer to aspects of his own volition. For examples, a person may have ‘a good spirit’ (e.g. be hard working, enthusiastic) or ‘a bad spirit’ (e.g. be constantly complaining, resisting).

But some people have reified this sense of the word ‘spirit’, implying that some external non-material entity (something like a ghost) invades and inhabits people, forcing them to behave in this way or that. The actions of the person concerned are in that case no longer his own, but someone else’s. The person’s soul has lost its freewill, and been subjected to a spiritual takeover.

This mode of explanation is found in the Christian religion and among African shamanists, for examples. ‘The holy spirit’, ‘the devil made me do it’ – are cases in point. Another common belief is that wine or liquor instills a ‘spirit of drunkenness’ into the drinker.

The trouble with such explanations, logically, is that instead of explaining volition by the influence of non-determining conditions, they ipso facto annul volition and void responsibility.

10. Analogical Inferences

Analogies as bases for inference from one cause to another: this methodology is apparently currently used in medical science, and should be logically evaluated. Two arguments are proposed: one (a) refers to similarities in the effects of two causes; the other (b) refers to resemblances between the two causes.

Both the arguments were relayed by TV journalists[9], and concerned the possible transmission of ‘mad cow’ disease (MCD, here) on to humans in the form of Kreuzfeld-Jacob disease (KJD, here).

(a) In the first case, Scottish researchers suggested[10] the following method:

Prions from cow with MCD (P), and prions from man with KJD (R) –

when injected into mice, produce similar symptoms (Q) in the latter.

Whence, it is inferred that MCD in cows may well become KJD in man!

This argument may be construed as a 2nd Figure causal syllogism, as follows:

R causes Q (major premise)

P causes Q (minor premise)

P could cause R (putative conclusion).



Such disease transmission would presumably occur when cow meat with MCD prions (P) is eaten by a man, at which point these prions would, either as they are, or after going through slight changes, be KJD prions (R).

That is to say, the conclusion may be considered as being: ‘P gets to be or becomes R’; but for our purposes, it suffices to conclude, more vaguely and generally: ‘P causes (or may cause) R’.

The formal validity of such an argument depends on the determinations of causation involved in the given premises and putative conclusion[11]. In the strongest mood, mn/mn/mn, and in many weaker cases (more than one might expect), we have a valid argument. In some other cases (some of them, quite unexpectedly), no such conclusion is strictly possible (e.g. m/m or n/n), i.e. the argument is invalid.

Thus, the proposed causative argument is not always valid, not a universal truth; but under the right conditions, it may indeed be valid.

Moreover, we need not always consider the ‘P causes R’ conclusion as absolute; it suffices sometimes to regard it as merely probable – i.e. as ‘P probably (to some degree or other) causes R’.

It should be kept in mind that different causes may have some effects in common, without having all effects in common. In more extreme cases, the parallel causes of some common effect are not merely different, but even incompatible, i.e. unable to coexist in the same circumstances. Thus, we cannot simply in principle equate all causes of common effects. We may, however, reason from one such cause to another, if we exercise some caution, since the inference is sometimes valid.

(b) The second argument I heard was made by a Zurich scientist[12], who stated, with reference to the prions of MCD, or more precisely of a variant found in rats, and those of KJD, that “the more similar these prions are the more likely is transmission of the disease from animal to man”.

This argument could have been intended as equivalent to the preceding, i.e. regarding the similarity between the two kinds of prion as a similarity of their effects. But my impression was that he meant that the prions constitutionally resemble each other, i.e. have similar physical structures or chemical compositions, or common components. In that case, using a different set of symbols to avoid confusion, the argument runs as follows:

Certain prions (Y) cause KJD in humans (Z).

Certain other prions (X), known to cause MCD in cows, constitutionally resemble the Y prions.

Therefore, X could also cause Z.

Or, in more general, purely symbolic terms, we have:

Y causes Z (major premise)

X resembles Y (minor premise)

Therefore, X probably causes Z (putative conclusion).



Note well the differences between this argument and the one earlier considered. The present argument is a 1st Figure syllogism, whose middle term is one of the causatives (Y). Here, the major premise and putative conclusion are causative propositions, but the minor premise is not per se causative, but about the constitutional resemblance between causatives (X and Y). So this argument is only partly causal in content.

Note moreover that the Zurich scientist argued that the more X resembles Y, the more probable it is that X causes Z. Granting the syllogism, this further principle would seem reasonable, since in the limit, when X and Y are identical, the conclusion would be obvious and necessary. Indeed, we could use this insight about degrees of resemblance as a source of validity for the proposed mixed-form syllogism.

Another way we might approach this same argument is to suppose that the apparently different causes have some underlying common factor or character (say S) to different extents, so that the ‘real’ cause is one and the same in either case. If this common factor is present to sufficient degree (as in Y, at least), it causes the effect in question (Z); whereas, if its presence is insufficiently strong (as might happen in X), it might not have the same result (i.e. Z). There may be a threshold of some sort for the causative factor to be operative.

Thus, we may consider the proposed argument to proceed more precisely as follows:

Y causes Z; or more precisely, it is factor S within Y that causes Z

X resembles Y; or more precisely, X has factor S (to a comparable degree)

Therefore, X probably causes Z (putative conclusion).

The probability of the conclusion is then seen to hinge on the quantity of S in X, if this is comparable in potency to the quantity of S in Y. The underlying deduction becomes, in this perspective, a fortiori rather than syllogistic. If S in X is sufficient, as S in Y is, the inference is valid. If S in X is insufficient, unlike S in Y, the inference is invalid. When we are not sure which is true, the conclusion is proportionately uncertain.

The common factor or character concerned may be some concrete phenomenon, or it may be something more abstract, that we conceptually assume to justify our making the proposed inference. Such conceptualization of causes is not an arbitrary process, however. It is, or should be, regulated adductively. As Ockham’s Razor teaches us, it is not always wise to multiply concepts, ad nauseam, without need. The way to tell when it is wise and when it is not, is by trial and error. A common abstract essence may be assumed, and such assumption tested: if it is found true and useful, it is kept on; otherwise, it is abandoned.

Thus, to summarize our findings, here: the Scottish researchers appealed to a standard causative syllogism, whereas the Swiss scientist was using a more complicated mixed-form argument (which taught me, at least, something I had not thought of). Both arguments are sometimes valid, sometimes not; therefore, in cases where we do not have enough data to draw a definite conclusion, we might still on that basis draw a probable conclusion.

It should be added that a probable cause conclusion is of course not intended as final. Rather, it serves as an encouragement and guideline for further research.



[1] See for example Hugh Thomas, A History of the World, p. 230 (quote passage) where an explanation for an increase in population is sought (by the above stated means). Many examples may also be found in Darwinist evolution theory. An apt description of extensional causation, by the way, is the phrase “correlation between attributes” (used somewhere by Rosch).

[2] See Phenomenology, chapter 2.5; and The Logic of Causation, chapter 16.2.

[3] See Volition and Allied Causal Concepts, chapters 5-7.

[4] This needs to be checked out again in his works, to be sure one way or the other. Note that it could be that he usually meant one aspect, but occasionally meant both.

[5] See The Logic of Causation, chapter 2.2.

[6] Quite incidentally: speaking of energy, is the Big Bang considered costless in terms of energy? If all that motion is not free of charge, does that mean the Big Crunch is inevitable? Do such questions suggest the Law of Conservation is open to doubt? As for Creationism, it is not only concerned with the cause of the Big Bang starting, but more radically with the surprising very existence of matter/energy to bang!

[7] Again, see Volition and Allied Causal Concepts, chapter 5-7.

[8] Kant here is of course reaffirming an ancient wisdom, found in the major religious traditions. When 20th Century Western man rejected Judeo-Christian religion in favor of the ‘pleasure principle’, Kant’s wise insight came to seem like old-fashioned, rigid ‘moralism’. But now, perhaps thanks in part to the spread of Buddhist ideas in the West, many people are beginning to realize again that the unbridled pursuit of pleasure is ugly, weak, and destructive of self and others. The characterization of hedonism as slavery is increasingly perceived as accurate, once one reflects on the many ways commercial and political interests use this cunning means to exploit and control the populace. The “hippy” revolution of the late 1960’s was not the liberation it claimed to be, but a thorough enslavement to drugs, sexual promiscuity (ending in depravity), and rock and roll music (i.e. omnipresent loud noise).

[9] I assume I heard them correctly, and they had not overly simplified the scientific information.

[10] I heard the suggestion on French TV on 21.12.1999.

[11] For the full list of valid and invalid arguments, see The Logic of Causation, chapter 6.3.

[12] On Swiss TV, on 4.1.2000.

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2016-06-13T11:27:53+00:00