The Causal Principle

Torin

Well-known member
Here's the version of the causal principle that I think is true:

"Every event has a cause."

Do you think this principle is true? If not, why not?

This isn't intended as a debate thread, and I don't intend to argue with people who reject the causal principle here.

Thanks for your thoughts! :)
 

Algor

Well-known member
Here's the version of the causal principle that I think is true:

"Every event has a cause."

Do you think this principle is true? If not, why not?

This isn't intended as a debate thread, and I don't intend to argue with people who reject the causal principle here.

Thanks for your thoughts! :)

My view is that we say that we know a cause when we can identify the necessary context for the cause to operate, and then tell a story about how the cause produced the effect. I like this idea of cause because it makes it very clear that cause and effect are really intuitions about how the world works: they aren't formal notions like energy transfer. Its just an idea that A leads to B, and there is something about the association that we are convinced that A is really somehow intimately involved in producing B, and isn't a sort of bystander or precondition: in this instance, B wouldn't have happened without A doing specifically whatever A did.

But this means that there are things that don't have identified causes, and there are many many things that we will never know the cause of, and probably never can. Finally, there are events where we know the necessary preconditions, but the events appear to be randomly distributed in time, with no way of knowing when any individual event will ever happen, and it looks like the math and predictive models work best if you assume that these events are in fact randomly distributed. At least, this is what I am told.

Given this idea of cause, I accept the causal principle as a useful way of understanding and rationalising the natural world, but I think it is less useful than often made out, and perhaps not even strictly true.
 

Whatsisface

Well-known member
Here's the version of the causal principle that I think is true:

"Every event has a cause."

Do you think this principle is true? If not, why not?

This isn't intended as a debate thread, and I don't intend to argue with people who reject the causal principle here.

Thanks for your thoughts! :)
A question I would ask is, if something is necessary, is it caused?
 

Gus Bovona

Well-known member
Here's the version of the causal principle that I think is true:

"Every event has a cause."

Do you think this principle is true? If not, why not?

This isn't intended as a debate thread, and I don't intend to argue with people who reject the causal principle here.

Thanks for your thoughts! :)
I don't see a way in which the causal principle is anything other than an empirical statement. Is that how you meant it?

It seems to be true except for some quantum phenomenon, from what I understand.
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
Here's the version of the causal principle that I think is true:

"Every event has a cause."

Do you think this principle is true? If not, why not?

This isn't intended as a debate thread, and I don't intend to argue with people who reject the causal principle here.

Thanks for your thoughts! :)

Great question.

I don't the statement is accurate under every definition of "cause." It is not that a set of events "creates" something, which is the way you can take that. I see all things as one unbroken chain of rearrangement according to relational laws or principles. Acorns are not the "causes" of tree, acorns rearrange themselves into trees.

I still think the universe as a whole "needs a cause" in one sense of the word, but I wouldn't argue back from current things needing causes.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
Causality appears to break down at the quantum level, so I reject the causal principle.

The question in my mind is just what "a cause" is supposed to mean. Do emergent properties have "a cause"? Semantics would seem to make answering this tricky. For example, show me the cause of a hurricane...
 

The Pixie

Well-known member
Causality appears to break down at the quantum level, so I reject the causal principle.

The question in my mind is just what "a cause" is supposed to mean. Do emergent properties have "a cause"? Semantics would seem to make answering this tricky. For example, show me the cause of a hurricane...
To kind of follow on, are the laws of nature a cause? It could be argued that they "cause" quantum events, though that would be of a different nature to setting a match to some kerosene causing a fire. If I have a brick and it falls, was me letting go the cause? Or gravity?

This is an issue for theists as much as atheists. If God is eternal, what happened to make him create the universe when he did? Why did he not do it a billion years earlier or later? Even when an intelligent agent does something, there is a cause. This thread caused me to make this post. Something undoubtedly caused Torin to make the OP, even if that was his own internal thoughts.

God is supposedly unchanging, so has no internal thoughts. How can an eternal unchanging God suddenly decide to create a universe?
 

Algor

Well-known member
To kind of follow on, are the laws of nature a cause? It could be argued that they "cause" quantum events, though that would be of a different nature to setting a match to some kerosene causing a fire. If I have a brick and it falls, was me letting go the cause? Or gravity?
I like to think that laws of nature are formalizations of the properties of entities and how they relate to each other. Formalizations don't cause the consequences of the relationships between things, but I think qualities or properties of things can be considered causal: the weight made me stagger etc. One does run into the interesting problem of compound properties/causal processes, and the question of how one can detect/identify multiple simultaneous causes., and distinguish each from necessary conditions.

To your last question, one could argue that gravity is a necessary condition for falling (I mean, not globally, but in the context of a simple imagined scenario) and not a cause. OTOH, if we had a different scenario with a massively fluctuating gravitational field, then both the fluctuation of the field and you letting go seem intuitively causal. But it is arbitrary to say that the gravitational field is causal in one situation and not another: it's only the size of any gravitational field fluctuations that is making a difference, as all the other relationships in the scenario are the same. It's at this point that I run away and comfort myself by saying that cause and effect is basically an intuition about the way things work, and maybe we shouldn't try to squeeze everything to fit those intuitions: hence the value of formalization etc.

This is an issue for theists as much as atheists. If God is eternal, what happened to make him create the universe when he did? Why did he not do it a billion years earlier or later? Even when an intelligent agent does something, there is a cause. This thread caused me to make this post. Something undoubtedly caused Torin to make the OP, even if that was his own internal thoughts.

God is supposedly unchanging, so has no internal thoughts. How can an eternal unchanging God suddenly decide to create a universe?

Yeah, I can't see how that can be understood as anything but metaphor.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
To kind of follow on, are the laws of nature a cause? It could be argued that they "cause" quantum events, though that would be of a different nature to setting a match to some kerosene causing a fire. If I have a brick and it falls, was me letting go the cause? Or gravity?
Ug. Semantics...

I would say that physical laws don't actually cause anything. Instead, they define how events can occur. You let go of the brick, and gravity defined what the subsequent event would look like. Another example is you letting a round ball go at the top of a steep hill. The fact that the ball is round didn't cause it to begin rolling; it merely defined what the subsequent event would/could look like.

If we lack a cause then we lack an event (with a nod toward the exceptions I've pointed to), but we can't ever lack physical laws (AFAWK).
 

Torin

Well-known member
I'd suggest that the entity acting, or the property of the entity that gives rise to the subsequent event, or the circumstance(s) under which the entity with that property has to act as it does, or the prior event, or the law of nature under which the entity acts, could all be thought of as causes of the event in different senses.

But I think that the most fundamental of these senses has to be the entity (or entities) acting. Entities are all that exist - properties are really just aspects of entities that we isolate mentally for study, and laws are generalizations we form about how entities act.

I'm sure that something along these lines is true, but my exact formulation may be off. I'd appreciate input.
 

Algor

Well-known member
I'd suggest that the entity acting, or the property of the entity that gives rise to the subsequent event, or the circumstance(s) under which the entity with that property has to act as it does, or the prior event, or the law of nature under which the entity acts, could all be thought of as causes of the event in different senses.

But I think that the most fundamental of these senses has to be the entity (or entities) acting. Entities are all that exist - properties are really just aspects of entities that we isolate mentally for study, and laws are generalizations we form about how entities act.

I'm sure that something along these lines is true, but my exact formulation may be off. I'd appreciate input.

My prejudice leans the way you outlined way, but people do say that he slipperiness of the floor caused them to slip, or the poor light of dusk caused them to miss the turn off. The diluteness of the reagent made the chemical assay fail.

I think might even be how the law sees it: in terms of responsibility, the quality (or properties) of something is causal. There has to be a substantial literature on causality and legality: I just haven't read it. Might be informative, from a psychological POV.
 

Torin

Well-known member
My prejudice leans the way you outlined way, but people do say that he slipperiness of the floor caused them to slip, or the poor light of dusk caused them to miss the turn off. The diluteness of the reagent made the chemical assay fail.

I think might even be how the law sees it: in terms of responsibility, the quality (or properties) of something is causal. There has to be a substantial literature on causality and legality: I just haven't read it. Might be informative, from a psychological POV.
I agree that lots of people talk that way. I do too.

However, I think the laymen and legal professionals who say that properties like slipperiness are causes could mentally translate that statement so that the entities involved are fundamentally the causes, and talk of the properties being causal is just a convenient shorthand. If they're not doing that, I think they ought to.

Do you agree? What do you think?
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
the laymen and legal professionals who say that properties like slipperiness are causes could mentally translate that statement so that the entities involved are fundamentally the causes, and talk of the properties being causal is just a convenient shorthand.
I agree completely re. shorthand.

I'm currently angry, and in my anger I murder someone. If properties are causes, then my anger is responsible for the murder - not me.
 

Algor

Well-known member
I agree that lots of people talk that way. I do too.

However, I think the laymen and legal professionals who say that properties like slipperiness are causes could mentally translate that statement so that the entities involved are fundamentally the causes, and talk of the properties being causal is just a convenient shorthand. If they're not doing that, I think they ought to.

Do you agree? What do you think?
I think one issue here is that of responsibility. People want to preserve the idea that someone is responsible for the slip and fall, and so say it is the slipperiness, and not the soap: the soap isn't the actor with agency, its who is responsible for making sure the floor isn't slippery.....

I need to think on this, because when we speak of cause in the social/interpersonal realm, responsibility, accountability, remedy and prevention are the important considerations, as opposed to in the physical realm, where identification of mechanism is the important consideration, or in the purely internal personal realm, where insight and self regulation are the important considerations. Obviously, in any given situation, all three of those considerations may be important, and they might inform each other and all the formulations of cause may be compatible but they might not be..... how you rank the different types of consideration might affect the best way to look at the problem.

Apropos of whateverman's very good point, I think you can say that anger made you do something, but it is indubitably YOUR anger. OTOH, when someone is mentally ill, we do say that it is their illness (their compulsion) that made them do something, and that they are not responsible.
 

Ontos

Active member
Here's the version of the causal principle that I think is true:

"Every event has a cause."

Do you think this principle is true? If not, why not?

This isn't intended as a debate thread, and I don't intend to argue with people who reject the causal principle here.

Thanks for your thoughts! :)

Following Thomas Aquinas and the medievals I'd say "every composed thing has an agent or efficient cause"
 

Harry Leggs

Well-known member
My view is that we say that we know a cause
If it begins or if it happens.
when we can identify the necessary context
A ding in my new car is an effect that had a cause even if the context is unknown. The ding is not an uncaused effect. A storm (effect) may be a series of causes that come together.
for the cause to operate, and then tell a story about how the cause produced the effect.
None of this is necessary to deduce the ding in my new car had an outside cause.
I like this idea of cause because it makes it very clear that cause and effect are really intuitions about how the world works:
They are how the world works and they are not intuitions.
they aren't formal notions like energy transfer.
Do you mean to say the ding in my car involved energy transfer or no energy transfer and both postulates are equally valid?
Its just an idea that A leads to B,
More of a reality. All this is theoretical jibberish and cannot be applied. If your bank account goes down into the negatives then there is a reason and not an uncaused effect.
and there is something about the association that we are convinced that A is really somehow intimately involved in producing B, and isn't a sort of bystander or precondition: in this instance, B wouldn't have happened without A doing specifically whatever A did.
Yawn.
But this means that there are things that don't have identified causes,
That is true, so?
and there are many many things that we will never know the cause of, and probably never can.
No crystal ball.
Finally, there are events where we know the necessary preconditions, but the events appear to be randomly distributed in time,
Such as? What events are randomly distributed in time? How bout three examples.
with no way of knowing when any individual event will ever happen,
Ok humans are not omniscient. So?
and it looks like the math
What is the source of math and why does math exist in a Godless universe?
and predictive models work best if you assume that these events are in fact randomly distributed.
What events?
Given this idea of cause, I accept the causal principle as a useful way of understanding and rationalising the natural world, but I think it is less useful than often made out, and perhaps not even strictly true.
Cause and effect is not falsified with opinion. :giggle:
 
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Algor

Well-known member
If it begins or if it happens.

A ding in my new car is an effect that had a cause even if the context is unknown. The ding is not an uncaused effect. A storm (effect) may be a series of causes that come together.

None of this is necessary to deduce the ding in my new car had an outside cause.

They are how the world works and they are not intuitions.

Do you mean to say the ding in my car involved energy transfer or no energy transfer and both postulates are equally valid?

More of a reality. All this is theoretical jibberish and cannot be applied. If your bank account goes down into the negatives then there is a reason and not an uncaused effect.

Yawn.

That is true, so?

No crystal ball.

Such as? What events are randomly distributed in time? How bout three examples.

Ok humans are not omniscient. So?

What is the source of math and why does math exist in a Godless universe?

What events?

Cause and effect is not falsified with opinion. :giggle:
Dude, that's like an interlinear Bible. I can't work my way through that!
 
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