Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Law of Causality (Cause-and-Effect)

Causality is something inherent in reality; it is an inescapable law of existence. In Objectivism, it is the first principle of Metaphysics after the identification of the basic axioms. I will give an inductive investigation of sorts into how this law can be formed. Afterwards, I will show why it can’t be an induction strictly speaking, and is rather a self-evident corollary of the Law of Identity.

Inducing Cause-and-Effect

Causality, or cause-and-effect, is the view that the world is lawful, orderly, or uniform in its operations. To understand what this means, we’ll have to revisit a number of concepts I discussed previously in my essay on axiomatic concepts and axioms.

We actually gain the knowledge necessary to form the law of causality fairly early in our lives, but it is often not fully recognized until we are adults (and some adults remain ignorant of it, or in some cases, outright deny it). This implicit, unself-conscious understanding of causality is the result of multiple stages of differentiation and integration of our mental contents.

Beginning with the first sensation or perception, we already have the material to form the axiomatic concepts of “existence” and “existent.” As we continue to perceive the world around us, we gain enough perceptual material to form the implicit, axiomatic concept of “entity,” an object or thing; trees, rocks, animals, buildings, things are literally all around us.

Eventually, we reach the point where we can note (some of) the attributes and actions of things, as well as relationships among them. (This process is accelerated by learning about nouns, verbs, prepositions, and adjectives in our language classes.) Our observations allow us to mentally focus on these aspects of entities, implicitly forming what Aristotle, in his work The Categories, called the “categories of being,” such as actions (“diving,” “falling”), qualities (“hard,” “bright”), and relationships (“under,” “after”).

“Action” is another axiomatic concept we reach by observing reality, watching entities carry out all types of actions every day, as I previously discussed. The mental grasp of the concept of “action” is crucial for understanding causality.

It is by means of the actions, attributes, and relationships (among other things) of entities that we begin to distinguish them from each other. And this is how we implicitly reach the concept of “identity,” which is yet another axiomatic concept. The things we encounter in the world are different from each other and from us: they possess different identities or natures.

Once we have this amount of knowledge, even if implicit, it is enough to implicitly reach the law of causality. The law is contained in the wide-ranging observation that things act in very definite ways, and only in those ways, an observation we all have as children. Grass sways in the wind, ocean waves crash against the rocks, the Sun warms our skin, and birds flap their wings and soar through the sky. You throw a marble, and it bounces off the wall and off the floor; you throw an egg, and it splatters on the wall and the yolk drips down to the ground.

The Objectivist law of causality is a certain perspective gleamed from analyzing that observation, which equates to making the explicit connection between the axiomatic concepts “entity,” “identity,” and “action.” Actions are actions of entities, and entities are what they are: A is A. “Every entity has a nature; it is specific, noncontradictory, limited; it has certain attributes and no others. Such an entity must act in accordance with its nature.”[1]

This means that there are no floating actions, actions without an entity or thing that acts. Actions are merely aspects of entities, and so they can only express what the entity itself is capable of doing due to its identity. An entity will always perform the action that expresses its identity in any given set of circumstances or situations. In the conventional language: the “cause” is the nature of the entity which acts, and the “effect” is the action expressive of an entity’s identity. “[T]he same cause leads to the same effect (the same entity, under the same circumstances, will perform the same action).”[2]

Put negatively, for emphasis, an entity cannot act in contradiction to its nature, or apart from it. On contradictions in general, Aristotle famously stated that: "It is impossible that the same thing belong and not belong to the same thing at the same time and in the same respect."[3] Contradictions are impossible, a thing is itself, and so any action must reflect the nature of the entity which acts. And because to exist is to be something, a thing apart from its nature is nothing, which means that action apart from its nature is impossible too. All actions are caused and necessitated by the nature of the entities which act.

This sounds a lot like an induction, but I denied earlier that the law of causality is an inductive principle. So what is it?

A Corollary of Identity

Causality is really a corollary of the law of identity. I’ll take a little time to explain what corollaries are and how they apply to axiomatic knowledge. A “corollary” is a self-evident implication of prior knowledge; a different or new angle on a principle you already know or that has already been established. Corollaries of axioms are not axioms themselves. They are not self-evident without connection to the principle(s) that implies them; whereas axioms are self-evident, and have no other principles at their foundation. But neither are corollaries theorems: they are not principles that allow or require a proof.

A “proof” of the law of causality would have to rely on the fact that humans can take certain definite actions, such as putting together a cohesive argument, and presenting it to another person who can hear it, and these are all actions of certain entities with certain natures. Things must already act according to their natures before such a complicated thing as “proof” can be attempted. This means that the law of causality is at the base of all proofs, just like the axioms.

Now I’ve said that the law of causality can’t be and doesn’t need to be proved. And I’ve also said that it’s a corollary of the law of identity, so I will explain that a little further. The law of causality is literally the law of identity as applied to the concept and reality of “action.” The law of identity states that “A is A,” a thing is itself. Actions are whatever they are, too. And what an action is depends on the nature of the thing which is acting. Because actions don’t exist without things, a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature. Lastly, the nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the things that act.

Conclusion

Objectivism follows a definite pattern. It first presents the unhypothetical axioms, the unhypothetical corollaries which follow them, and then the principles which build on that foundation, the theorems that do require proof and have been supplied with them. What could not be and doesn’t need to be proved will be the base for what can and must be proved. When I get to the final principle in metaphysics, I’ll make some comments about those who refuse to make this distinction, and believe that “everything must be proved.” It must suffice for now to say that the law of causality, along with the axioms and the corollaries I’ll soon discuss, cannot be proved, simply because no proofs would be possible (or necessary) without them.

References

[1] Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, “Causality as a Corollary of Identity.”
[2] Ibid.
[3] Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, 1005b19-20.

2 comments:

  1. I think you are on the right track with the following paragraph:

    "Once we have this amount of knowledge, even if implicit, it is enough to implicitly reach the law of causality. The law is contained in the wide-ranging observation that things act in very definite ways, and only in those ways, an observation we all have as children. Grass sways in the wind, ocean waves crash against the rocks, the Sun warms our skin, and birds flap their wings and soar through the sky. You throw a marble, and it bounces off the wall and off the floor; you throw an egg, and it splatters on the wall and the yolk drips down to the ground."

    However, it isn't necessary to have a whole mental organization, like a language of nouns and verbs, as you indicate, in order to have the law of causality, because like the axioms, the law of causality is formed prior to all other knowledge explicitly stated.

    To put it simply, and in one sentence, the axioms and the law of causality can be expresses this way: There is something there that I am aware of -- and it is doing something. There is (existence) something there (identity) that I am aware of (consciousness) -- and it is doing something (causality).

    Some of your ideas are similar to mine in the following set of essays:

    http://appliedphilosophyonline.com/causality_in_observation_identity_given.htm

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  2. I completely agree with you that causality is a corollary or identity. Excellent essay.

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