Causation Is Only One of Many Forms of Natural Determination

It is important to note that the slogan ‘there is a cause to everything’ gives too much credit to causation as the only form of natural determination (Frank 1932; Bunge 1979: Ch. 1). There are many forms of natural determination, some of which are arguably non-causal, at least in light of the narrower sense the term ‘cause’ has attained in modern times, notably as efficient causation (Bunge 1979: Ch. 1.3). For instance, time and space are significant determinants of natural phenomena, and yet are not (typically) regarded as causal determinants. Furthermore, objects in uniform motion continuously change position without being continuously caused to do so. Obviously, a uniformly moving body was at some point acted upon to change their state of motion, but to attribute every change of position from then on to that original act would be to accept action at a temporal and spatial distance.

Indeed, it is really only in the broader, and older, sense of ‘cause’— as any natural kind of determination or principle of change—that the phrase ‘there is a cause to everything’ makes much sense at all. We can then understand it as an expression of the belief that everything is determined in a natural manner. In fact, the slogan ‘there is a cause to everything’ can be read as a paraphrase of Aristotle’s claim that ‘in all cases of production there is something that is produced, something by which it is produced and something from which it is produced’ (Metaphysics: 7, 7; 189), which at least doesn’t say that everything can be explained in terms of efficient causes alone. His claim includes also the material cause out of which something is produced, and the nature of both Agent and Patient, as the determinants of what comes to be. We should then interpret Aristotle as using the term ‘cause’ in the wider sense of ‘principle of change’, which is perfectly in line with the idea that everything that happens in the natural world is determined in a natural manner. I’ll return to the details of this older form of causal realism in Chapter 3, but for now let me make it clear that I am not discussing causation as the only form of natural determination, but only as one among many. I assume then that the nature of causation can be conditioned by some of the other kinds of natural determinations, e.g. that nothing comes into being out of nothing, or is ever completely annihilated.

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