The purpose of this chapter is to provide a concise unambiguous explanation of the nature and meaning of cause.
This chapter, and it's companions, "Epistemology Mistakes," "Concepts," and, "Induction," are necessitated because these ideas are fundamental to almost all the remainder of philosophy and no philosophy today correctly identifies them, and, in fact has so corrupted them, no further progress in the field of philosophy is possible.
The concept, "cause," is a basic principle based on a fundamental characteristics of material existence. The events of this world are not random and disconnected but happen for explainable reasons. Causality is a very broad concept and subsumes more than mere "physical" causality. The principles of cause are based on the nature of reality, and those principles, to the extent they are complete and correct, explain why things behave as they do and have the relationships they have. It is those principles that explain every phenomenon of material existence and are the true meaning of, "cause." Nothing happens, "spontaneously," "by caprice," "chance," or, "accident." Nothing is, "random," or, "serendipitous." There is no, "magic," and there are no, "miracles."
[NOTE: The ideas of, "chance," and, "probability," are sometimes used to question the idea of cause. Both, "chance," and, "probability," are concepts related to prediction, based on what is not known. When it is said, there is a 50% chance a tossed coin will land, "heads," it means only what determined which face of the coin would be, "up," is not known. Which way a coin lands is not undetermined, all that physically determines which way the coin will fall is simply unknown. When a coin falls and is, "heads up," it could not have fallen any other way than, "heads up." Any event is only, "probable," to the extent one is ignorant of the cause of the event. If that cause were fully known, the event would be certain. One's ignorance of what determines an event has no bearing on the event itself.]
[NOTE: The fact that everything happens for a reason must not be mistaken for teleology. The explanation of events is always the nature of the entities that act and the context in which the events occur. All cause is a perfectly natural attribute of material (ontological) existence. No aspect of material existence is contingent on anything else.]
About The Concept Cause
If by cause is meant, the reason for or explanation of an event, behavior, or state, the concept is a legitimate one. There is an explanation for everything such as how or why something is what it is or how it came to be, or why something happens. There is nothing wrong with calling those explanations "causes." In the sense that nothing happens spontaneously or without a reason or explanation, the concept of cause means that every event, behavior, or state can be rationally explained in terms of the facts of reality.
Here are some classes of things that might be included under the class of things called causes in this sense:
Consequences: Every action (including one's thoughts) has consequences. From the point of view of the consequences themselves, the thoughts, choices and actions responsible for those consequences may be thought of as "the causes" of those consequences.
Explanations: To such questions as why did the accident occur? What started the fire? What made the car roll down the hill? Why did the tire go flat? The answers to such questions, in each case, may be called the cause. In most cases the answers will not be a single thing, but several contributing factors, all of which the events depend on, which brings us to dependencies.
Dependencies: In order for the light to be on, there must be a completed circuit from the source of power to the light which depends on a number of things being the case such as the fuse being good, the switch being on, and the light fixture being plugged in. If any of these are not as required, the light will not be on. If the light is not on any one of those not being so might be the "cause" of the light being off. If the light is on all of them being so will be the "cause" of the light being on, in the sense that it is the explanation for why the light is on. Of course the whole explanation would include the nature of light bulbs, power generation, power bills being paid, etc. All organisms and most processes and events depend on a number of things acting or being in a certain state to exist. Complex machines depend on a great many sub-systems and support mechanisms all working correctly for the machine to work at all. The failure of any one of the sub-systems or support mechanisms can be a cause of the machine's failure. All of them functioning correctly are the cause of the machine working.
Contingencies: Contingencies are similar to dependencies, but thought of differently. Most contingencies are expressed by "if" propositions. If this condition or state or dependency is met such'n'such will occur or be true. One special case of contingency or dependency in chemistry are catalysts. Some chemical reactions will not occur without the presence of a catalyst, though the catalyst is not itself part of the reaction. The reaction is contingent on the presence of the catalyst. The absence of the catalyst will prevent the reaction from occurring, but the catalyst does not, "cause," the reaction.
The Wrong View—Cause And Effect
[NOTE: Please see, "The Nature Of Cause—Notes On Wrong Views," for details of the many wrong views of cause.]
The phrase, "cause and effect," is an example of how bad philosophy becomes universally accepted damaging an entire field of enquiry. The philosopher most responsible for inserting this wrong view of cause into philosophy was Hume.
He wrote: "From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions," Hume wrote, and used the illustration, "We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse of one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second."
Of course Hume handily refuted that cause in the sense of, "same cause, same effect," could ever be established and, since the world of philosophy accepted Hume's formulation of cause, without question, both philosophy and science have suffered from the resulting fallacy that no cause can ever be proved.
Philosophers attempt to defend the wrong view of cause with arguments like: "Science looks for cause and effect by attempting to discover the effects of one thing on another, such as, the effect of temperature on the pressure of a gas, or the effect of length on the period of a pendulum." But those kinds of relationship are not, "cause and effect," relationships.
The fact that a gas will have a higher pressure if its temperature is higher is simply a description of the relationship between two properties of a gas, not a description of a "cause." This is a good example because temperature and pressure in gases are mutually determined. An increase in pressure produces an increase in temperature, and vice versa (so long as the volume remains constant). Which is the cause, and which is the effect?
The fact is these are no examples of one thing "causing" another. They are examples of the fact that an entity of a certain kind necessarily acts in a certain way in a given context, and it is the entities' own nature that determines that behavior.
The temperature and pressure of a gas are attributes of the gas, an entity, and its behavior is determined by its own nature. It is not "caused" by something else. The fact that the attributes of pressure and temperature in a confined gas have a specific relationship is itself an attribute of gas. It does not exist in liquids, for example.
The length of a pendulum is a property of the pendulum. It behaves the way it does (has a specific period) because of its own attribute, length. It is not "caused" by something else.
Consider the statement that, "the same cause will result in the same effect," used commonly to describe cause.
Back in the days when automobile tires had "tubes" (those rubber bladders that held the air), when a tire went flat, in order to repair the tire, the cause of the flat needed to be determined. The cause could be anything that allowed the air in the tube to escape: a puncture caused by glass, a nail, or any other sharp object in the road that was run over, or the "valve" being broken or defective, or the rubber of the tube itself being defective and broken down under wear. Any of these things might have been the "cause" of the tire going flat.
Cause is not some kind of mystic concept that explains everything, it is a concept that recognizes the nature of reality, that everything that happens is the product of every existent having the nature it has and doing what it must do in terms of its nature. The idea that cause (event A) always produces effect (event B), or that every existent in context A always behaves in manner B, is meaningless. Since events are only the behavior of entities, and since an entity's behavior is determined by its own response to its entire context, including all its relationships, identical "causes" would require identical entities in identical contexts, which is impossible. In the entire history of the world, there have probably never been two identical causes, or two identical effects.
It is true that every existent has its unique nature that determines how it will behave in any context but no context is ever identical with any other. Everything that happens is caused, but the cause is all that pertains to each event, which is always a unique combinations of events caused by unique circumstances.
The principles by which the events of the world can be understood are not, "cause and effect," but the principles that define the nature of existents and their relationships to each other. From the behavior of the chemical elements to the behavior of human beings, the cause of the behavior is determined by the nature of those existents and their context (circumstances), that is, their relationship to all other existents, which will almost certainly never be repeated, ever. The idea of, "same cause same effect," cannot be salvaged.
Cause As Principle
It is not causes that any of the fundamental disciplines (philosophy or the sciences) look for, but principles. Since the correct way to understand cause is "an explanation of why things are as they are or how and why things happen as they do," an explanation that covers an entire field of phenomena, (perhaps within some limits), is real knowledge that can be applied to all cases within the scope of the principle. Most scientific principles could never be expressed as, "cause and effect," primarily because they are too complex.
It would be impossible, for example, to explain a tuned circuit in terms of cause and effect, or even the current in an AC circuit in terms of both resistance and impedance. The simplest law of electronics, E=IR (voltage equals the current times the resistance) defies the concept, "same cause, same effect," simply because there are three variables, and neither current or resistance causes a voltage; they only indicate what it will be if you know their values and already have a current. What is described is a specific absolute relationship, not any kind of cause and effect."
Principles, Not Cause
The following is a philosopher's attempt to describe Kepler's laws in terms of cause and effect:
"First, the sun exerts a force on each planet that causes it to move in an elliptical orbit (with the sun located at a focus); second, the solar force causes each planet to move so that the line from the sun to the planet sweeps out equal areas in equal time; third, the solar force diminishes with distance in a way that causes the cube of the mean distance from the sun divided by the square of the orbital period to be constant for all planets. Clearly, these are causal statements—as they must be in order to qualify as laws."
Each of the statements in this description of Kepler's laws containing the word "causes" is incorrect. For example, the force the sun exerts on a planet does not "cause" it to move in an elliptical orbit. In fact, the sun's force does not "cause" it to move at all. The reason the planets move is their own momentum—they are already in motion and if there is a "cause" for that it would have to be their own entire history. In response to the force the sun exerts on a planet, it accelerates toward the sun and the resulting change in the direction of its own motion results in that motion conforming to an elliptical path. [In physics acceleration is a change in a motion's velocity, either the motion's speed or direction, or both. In the case of a planet's acceleration due to the sun's gravity it is a constant change in direction.]
In attempting to illustrate that Kepler's laws are examples of, "causation," the true basis for scientific laws is missed, which is the metaphysical fact that every existent has a specific nature that determines how it behaves in every context. The behavior of the planets in the context of the suns gravitational field is not "caused" by the sun or the force it exerts, it is determined by the planets own nature (it accelerates toward other masses) and state (it is in motion at a certain speed).
The validity of science does not rest on the notion of cause. The concept of cause, even if it could be made "scientific", is too simple. The validity of science rests on the fact physical existence consists only of physical existents, that every existent has a specific nature that determines its behavior, and its relationship to all other existents. The whole objective of science is to discover the nature of all existents and their behavior and relationships. The nature of existents, their behavior and there relationships are absolute, the discovery and identification of those existents, their behavior and their relationships constitute the inviolable "laws" of science.