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I'm listening to the podcast discussion between Greg & others on the OPAR book. Greg (I think) mentioned that event-event causation causes scientists to go down dead ends. I understand that it's possible to not fully conceptualize entity-entity causation (I know I haven't), but I'm curious to know if someone would actually use event-event causation on something on purpose or is it just a lack of knowledge?

If my question isn't very clear, let me know. It's probably also another indicator of my unclearness on this entire subject.

asked Apr 17 '12 at 00:01

Humbug's gravatar image


This question, as formulated, pertains primarily to the principle of causality in the physical sciences ("example of bad science produced by event causation"). But causality issues extend far more broadly than the physical sciences, into fields such as politics (e.g., origin of wealth and rightful ownership of it, as well as individual rights in general -- how they arise and why). And the alternative to causality is far more fundamental than merely "event causation." Rejecting causality means rejecting the law of identity and all the other most basic metaphysical axioms.

I looked up "causal" and "cause" in The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Edition, by Peter A. Angeles, and I found four pages of philosophical definitions offered at various times by various philosophers. Yet the original statement of causality in Objectivism is very simple and succinct. It appears in Galt's Speech (p. 170 in FNI, Signet paperback edition). The essential excerpt can also be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Causality":

The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature.

Note that the Objectivist view is not entity-entity causation nor action-action causation nor event-event causation. It is entity-action causation. I would like to emphasize, also, that the full context of the above excerpt in Galt's Speech is especially illuminating as to the fundamental, wide-ranging implications of entity-action causation.

In Letters of Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand adds (p. 528):

In regard to: The Law of Causality ... my formulation of it ("A thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature") is mine; it is not the usual: "everything that happens has a cause." Compare the two and decide which is the more fundamental.

Ayn Rand identifies the philosopher David Hume as a key opponent of causality in the history of philosphy. She mentions his views briefly (in essentials) in her article, "For the New Intellectual," in her book by the same title. OPAR covers these points, also, in Chapter 1, in the section titled, "Causality as a Corollary of Identity." Entity-entity causation and action-action causation are specifically discussed on p. 16:

... the causal link does not relate two actions. Since the Renaissance, it has been common for philosophers to speak as though actions directly cause other actions, bypassing entities altogether. For example, the motion of one billiard ball striking a second is commonly said to be the cause of the motion of the second, the implication being that we can dispense with the balls; motions by themselves become the cause of other motions.... Speaking literally, it is not the motion of a billiard ball which produces effects; it is the billiard ball, the entity, which does so by a certain means. If one doubts this, one need merely substitue an egg or soap bubble with the same velocity for the billiard ball [either ball, or both]; the effects will be quite different.

The law of causality states that entities are the cause of actions -- not that every entity, of whatever sort, has a cause, but that every action does; and not that the cause of action is action, but that the cause of action is entities.

OPAR then goes on to discuss commentators on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Princple who claim that causality breaks down at the quantum level "because we cannot at the same time specify fully the position and momentum of subatomic particles." [p. 16] That would be an example from the physical sciences where confusion about causality leads to rejection of it.

At least one lecture that I've heard by David Harriman also points out that the rejection of causality by many modern phyicists actually preceded their theories of subatomic physics and was primarily driven by their choice of philosophy, not by the results of physics experiments and theories of physics. The choice of philosophy shaped the form of the physics, not vice versa. The second excerpt in the topic of "Causality" in the Lexicon provides Objectivism's basic answer regarding causality (and identity) at the subatomic level. The OPAR material (pp. 16-17) also discusses it.

answered Apr 21 '12 at 13:26

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Apr 21 '12 at 13:34

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Asked: Apr 17 '12 at 00:01

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Last updated: Apr 21 '12 at 13:34