School of Economic Science
Causation

 
Post new topic   Reply to topic    School of Economic Science - Study Forums Forum Index -> Advaita and Modern Western Philosophy
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message
Brian Hodgkinson



Joined: 27 Jan 2014
Posts: 7
Location: Oxfordshire, UK

PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2014 12:22 pm    Post subject: Causation Reply with quote

The main focus of philosophical discussion of causation is the question of necessity. Is there a necessary connection between a cause and its effect? If so, what is the nature of the necessity? If not, why do we act as though there is one? It is usually assumed also that a cause is both contiguous and prior in time to its effect, although modern physics questions both of these assumptions. Perhaps the obvious reason why there is necessity is that cause and effect come under a law, as when the law of gravity ensures that an object falls to the ground when dropped. But this only drives the question further back with the questions of what is a law and why does it in some way confer necessity upon events. Physicists now seem to replace even the notion of law with that of statistical probability with reference to sub-atomic events, as do many social scientists who find too many variables in their analysis of human societies.
Advaita takes a quite different standpoint. The world is governed by natural laws in physical, mental and spiritual fields. But these laws are simply the will of Brahman or the universal spirit. Indeed they constitute the nature of Brahman itself from which all things arise. Hence they are established in the nature of each individual thing or creature. However, creation is not in reality a series of temporal events, linked by cause and effect. It occurs at every moment, not as a result of the past but as willed in the present moment by Brahman. So the apparent chain of causes and effects in passing time is a part of the great illusion, or Maya, which deludes us into looking for necessary connections between temporal events.
Perhaps a useful analogy is to consider a film, where we believe whilst we watch it that one event causes another. In fact, we know all along that the film is being created from moment to moment by the projector and its operator. The difficulty arises from believing that our own Self is a part of the film, rather than being one with the Great Projector!
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Joseph Milne



Joined: 17 Apr 2008
Posts: 326
Location: Herne Bay, Kent, UK

PostPosted: Thu May 01, 2014 11:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am not sure that a right comparison is being made here on the question of causation. The Advaita Vedanta tradition is offering a 'divine' account of causation, while the modern Western explanations referred to are 'rational' or 'scientific' explanations.

These explanations are founded in the Enlightenment attempt to dispense with 'religious' and 'metaphysical' accounts of reality. Therefore to put them alongside the account given in Advaita Vedanta is a false juxtaposition. To be fair, this is conceded by saying “Advaita takes a quite different standpoint”. Clearly no 'spiritual' account of causality can be rightly compared to modern 'empirical' accounts of causality, since either approach excludes the other in advance.

But if we take on board the Advaita account, does this of necessity mean that 'empirical' accounts of things are wrong? It clearly does not mean that Newton's 'law of gravity' is ineffectual, since it is used practically in sending planes in the air and rockets to the moon or beyond. Nor does it clarify matters to say that sending rockets into space is 'illusion' or 'maya'.

It has long been understood that there are different orders of truth, and it is really only in our age that the idea prevails that there is only one, namely the 'empirical' or 'scientific method' as formulated by Bacon and Descartes. But most scientists are more modest than they were and do not claim this is the only order of truth of things. Those such as Richard Dawkins, who discount all other approaches to truth, are rare and an embarrassment to their peers.

However, these points are not raised to defend empirical knowledge or modern scientific method. The real difficulty is is that a comparison has been made between a modern secular account of things with an ancient sacred account. Where in this comparison is the Christian account of causality, or the philosophical accounts from Plato, Boethius or Aquinas? If the Advaita account of causality was compared to these, then like would be put alongside like.

In these accounts even the Newtonian account of motion has 'empirical' alternatives of causality, not only 'metaphysical' alternatives. For example it was understood from Aristotle right through the Middle Ages that all things had natural self-motion, and that each part of the natural order of things sought its proper place within the natural order. Thus a stone seeks rest on the earth, fire seeks to ascend into air, fish seek to dwell in water, the human species seeks to dwell in political communities, mind seeks truth. This view of things has nothing in common with the modern scientific notion of cause and effect, which conceives of things being compelled by forces outside themselves, whether that be gravitational pull or temporal unfolding of previous laws or purposes.

Nor did the ancient philosophical accounts of causality seek merely to locate some 'first cause' in the modern chronological sense. On the contrary, it was the 'final' cause that threw the clearest light on things, the final cause being the proper end of things where they come to rest in perfection or completion. The modern empirical approach to causality is not, strictly speaking, to do with causality at all. For example, seeking what came chronologically first in the universe is not seeking its cause. Historical origin is confused with causality. Again, strictly speaking, causality seeks that for which things have come into being. This way of understanding causality shows how things are ordered together. For example, the role of the organs in the physical body. The ends they serve is their cause, and when they fail to serve their ends they fail in their cause, or fail to be what they are.

The modern empirical approach to causality has forgotten this aspect of things in seeking to understand them. When the Age of Reason began there was a deliberate programme to remove both the religious and the metaphysical approaches to the truth of things. One may see this in the opening pages of Hobbes' Leviathan, for example. Not only was the philosophical inheritance of the Greeks discarded, but also the Christian understanding of human nature made in the image of God, and its calling to beatitude. Before the modern era it was believed that all things had their origin, their being, and their consummation in the mind of God. From this standpoint the creation or the universe is nothing else than the manifestation of God, of the invisible made visible, the infinite made finite, and the transcendent made immanent.

Nevertheless, there was an hierarchical order of things, and an hierarchical order of truths of things. For example, sensory knowledge, rational knowledge, and spiritual knowledge. Since these each had their natural place in the universe they were not seen as contradicting one another, but rather as each more comprehensive in ascending order.

There are also ascending orders of knowledge in Advaita Vedanta, and if we were to take the highest order of truth alone as pertinent to our lives or understanding, we would make a similar mistake that some Neoplatonists made in discounting the visible universe by holding that the One alone exists, or some Stoics who held that matter alone exists. If there is a meeting point between Advaita Vedanta and the Western Christian tradition, it is that everything that is may be traced back to its real existence in the Divine Knowing. But at that level the question of causality has no place.

Joseph
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Brian Joseph



Joined: 23 Jan 2014
Posts: 11
Location: West London, UK

PostPosted: Fri May 02, 2014 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Joseph and Brian (I put it that way round to avoid the risk of a personal identity crisis!) Thanks for the contributions. I can’t really see how Brian’s piece about causation falls foul of what Joseph points out.
Joseph says ‘From this standpoint the creation or the universe is nothing else than the manifestation of God, of the invisible made visible, the infinite made finite, and the transcendent made immanent.’
This would certainly be the standpoint of Advaita but would it not also be the view of Rationalists such as Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer who were certainly not materialists. When it comes to Empiricists such as Hume and Locke, the question is, perhaps, less clear cut but, I think, in 17thand 18th Century Europe, it was not easy to be an atheist.
Brian says that the question of causation hinges on necessity. Is not the first necessity , in Advaita the existence of the Brahman and, in Rationalist Philosophy, the presence of God? In neither case are they, necessarily, referring to a ‘First Mover’.
So I don’t think that a comparison between Advaita Philosophy and Modern Western Philosophy presents a great difficulty. If it came to a comparison between spirituality and aggressive materialism, that seems a conflict which would be more difficult to resolve.
Brian J.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Brian Hodgkinson



Joined: 27 Jan 2014
Posts: 7
Location: Oxfordshire, UK

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2014 12:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The discussion of causality so far raises so many points (including some from ancient and medieval philosophy that are 'beyond our remit') that I should like to return to perhaps the central one, which is necessity. It is this that distinguishes causal relations from merely contingent ones. The Oxford dictionary puts it very simply: a cause is what makes something happen. There is also a very unobtrusive remark by Wittgenstein, who says that those inclined to Hume's explanation of cause in terms of constant conjunction usually argue that 'it is only constant conjunction'. But why, asks Wittgenstein, do they add 'only'. Is it not because they implicitly are aware that there is something beyond the observation of conjunction that leads one to recognise the necessity of the relationship?
This necessity will never be explained empirically. However far the empirical explanation goes - down to the level of sub-atomic particles, for example - it never explains necessity between the things or events that it has discovered. Only by denying that there is any necessity can the empiricist hope for a complete explanation of any phenomenon.
Spinoza perhaps acknowledged this when he said that freedom is the consciousness of necessity. Presumably he meant that everything that exists, except consciousness itself, is subject to necessity. This seems to be fully in accord with the view of Advaita that everything in creation is subject to natural law. Brahman, or pure consciousness, is not in creation and is therefore above the law. No doubt there are levels of law (not pace Joseph levels of truth), but the chief characteristic of all levels is the necessity of the events.
So can this necessity be explained, or do we simply have to accept it as one of the ultimate mysteries of the universe? Does it help to describe it as the will of God or the Absolute or Brahman? Or to follow Schopenhauer in just treating Will as the final destination of any explanation? That must depend upon what else we are prepared to believe about what really exists and similarly basic philosophical issues.

Brian Hodgkinson
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Joseph Milne



Joined: 17 Apr 2008
Posts: 326
Location: Herne Bay, Kent, UK

PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2014 8:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Brian & Brian,

Thank you both for your replies.

I have to admit I do not understand what is meant here by necessity, or what problem it is raising. It sounds as if it is being asked, why does a cause produce its effect? Or is it that 'events' as such are the problem?

I await more clarification on what is being asked.

With best wishes,
Joseph
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Brian Hodgkinson



Joined: 27 Jan 2014
Posts: 7
Location: Oxfordshire, UK

PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2014 10:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Joseph M,

The problem about necessity in the cause and effect relationship arises from the fact that a cause necessarily produces its effect, provided of course that the requisite conditions are in place. The relationship is not contingent. Once the cause is present in those conditions the effect must follow. So one asks 'What kind of necessity is this?' It is clearly not a deductive necessity, which can only apply to statements, not to actual events.
Hume has been very influential in answering that the supposed necessity is really only the work of imagination, which after the experience of constant conjunction of one event with another comes to believe that one must follow ineluctably from the other. But, as Wittgenstein asks, why do supporters of Hume say 'only' constant conjunction? Is it not because even they recognise an inevitable necessity in the relationship that goes beyond what the imagination has led one to believe.
Kant tackled the problem in a thoroughly radical way by arguing that the necessity of causation was a pre-condition for the possibility of experience as we know it. In other words, our experience rests upon certain fundamental principles that give coherence to the world and without which it would be unintelligible.
Perhaps the very fact that such major figures as Hume and Kant have taken this problem very seriously is sufficient evidence that the necessity of the causal relationship is indeed a philosophical problem!

Brian Hodgkinson


Last edited by Brian Hodgkinson on Fri May 16, 2014 11:02 am; edited 1 time in total
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Peter Blumsom



Joined: 09 Mar 2007
Posts: 1093
Location: Wembley, London, UK

PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2014 12:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear BrianH

I’m finding it quite difficult to engage with these kind of terse statements such as

<<The problem about necessity in the cause and effect relationship arises from the fact that a cause necessarily produces its effect, provided of course that the requisite conditions are in place.>>

I know nothing of Hume. Is he saying that when we hit the nail with the hammer it is a work of the imagination that the nail is impaled in the wood? If not, what is he saying in a non text book way?

And what meaneth this?

<<The relationship is not contingent.>>

and:

<<Once the cause is present in those conditions the effect must follow. So one asks 'What kind of necessity is this?'>>

<<It is clearly not a deductive necessity, which can only apply to statements, not to actual events.>>

Some serious deconstruction work is needed here, unless you only want PhD’s to reply.

Pete
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Joseph Milne



Joined: 17 Apr 2008
Posts: 326
Location: Herne Bay, Kent, UK

PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2014 8:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Brian H,

Thank you for your further explanation. I must admit I am no further forward in understanding the problem.

It seems to me that the difficulty lies in the conception of causality assumed, and in the conception of effect. I would like to understand more what is meant by cause in the sense Hume and Kant conceive it.

Joseph M
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Brian Joseph



Joined: 23 Jan 2014
Posts: 11
Location: West London, UK

PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 10:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Pete and Joseph,thanks for the questions. It is great to get a response. Even a PhD would be welcome!
I'd like to reply on Brian H's behalf but he may do so independently (and quite differently).
In my view, Hume is saying that it is because, in our experience, when the hammer hits the nail it has always penetrated the wood, we assume that it always will and that we have, therefore, discovered a causal relationship. It Is not a necessary relationship because it is contingent i.e dependent on the circumstances. If, for instance, the piece of wood is resting on cotton wool rather than a solid base, then the effect might be quite different.
This seems to me quite straightforward. What I think is more interesting is that I realized, this morning, that my dog, Poacher is a Humeite. His view of causality is governed entirely by what has happened before in the same circumstances. When I throw the ball, however, I am able (because of my relatively large apportionment of Buddhi) to consider how the trajectory is changed by the shape of the ball launcher, which is very useful!
This could suggest that causality has no place in the physical world which, it seems to me is the position taken by Advaita.
Do you or anyone else agree with this and do you think it adds to the understanding of causality?
Brian J
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Peter Blumsom



Joined: 09 Mar 2007
Posts: 1093
Location: Wembley, London, UK

PostPosted: Mon May 26, 2014 12:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Bryan(s),
That clears up 'contingent'. So would a necessary relation, say, the three angles of a triangle equal two right angles, be that which is capable of being demonstrated? Of course cause and effect seem obscure in that relation. Have you (or your dog) an example similar to the one you gave that is not contingent, but necessary?
Pete

P.S.
John Stewart Mill (quoted by Edmund Husserl) was concerned that many modern philosophers employ the same words to express different thoughts. I think it is important to question terms in order that we are, at the beginning of a discourse, as clear as is possible about what we mean by them. Cosciousness, for example, is a difficult term to discuss, because it so easily evades the grasp of thought. This is a difficulty, as I see it, with the aims of the Forum. What would an original Vedantist (untarnished by todays all-pervading Western thought, think about your 'similarities' between advaita and empiricism of Hume? That's not to say the exercise is in any way futile, but since Descartes, or even before (Bacon etc) philosophy and mathematics have cut themselves off of what seems vital, i.e. the 'one' itself. This severance is a cause with multiple effects, as another modern philosopher, Martin Heidegger explored (pretty thoroughly) in his paper "Modern Science, Metaphysics, and Mathematics'.
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Joseph Milne



Joined: 17 Apr 2008
Posts: 326
Location: Herne Bay, Kent, UK

PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2014 10:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Brian and Pete,

The difficulty in all this arises from Hume's notion of causality. Strictly speaking, he denies causality altogether. He proposes that we infer connections between events simply because they appear to recur, but such inference is arbitrary, in his view, because we cannot see actual causes at all.

It is only where such inferences do not always hold up that the question of necessity arises. But since the inference of causality is only conjecture in the first place, so also is the problem of necessity. That is, there is no problem of necessity if causes are only surmise in the first place.

The background to Hume thinking this way is the rejection of the Aristotelian four causes by empiricists such as Francis Bacon and the new scientific movement. For them causality is now merely efficient cause, meaning something that appears to move something else. First, formal and final causality were dropped from Western philosophy, while for Hume and his followers causality is nothing more than a notion about how things appear to be.

What Hume regards as enquiry into causality is not really what Plato or Aristotle meant. Strictly speaking, Hume is a kind of modern nominalist.

Best wishes,
Joseph M
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Brian Joseph



Joined: 23 Jan 2014
Posts: 11
Location: West London, UK

PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2014 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would love to be able to give a physical example of a necessary event that is not a 'deductive necessity' and, therefore, to my mind, mere tautology. As a matter of fact, my dog could do it because he knows that, when the spoon goes down on the side of the breakfast cereal plate, it is time to ask for a walk. As far as he is concerned, that is a necessary cause but then he is not really all that bright!
Seemingly, both Kant and Schopenhauer pointed out that the way to understand cause, so far as was possible for us as human beings, was to look inward to the way our minds worked and what impelled all action as the
Will which worked from within. Brian J
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Joseph Milne



Joined: 17 Apr 2008
Posts: 326
Location: Herne Bay, Kent, UK

PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2014 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Brian J & Brian H & Pete,

Please forgive me if I will not let this matter rest here. This irresolvable problem of causality has come about by the way the question is being posed. We are still living in the Cartesian dualism where nothing may be known but our own minds. Kant, Hume and Schopenhauer are all still grounded in this Cartesian split. Even the logical positivists share this same fundamental position: namely that there can be no direct knowledge of the world about us.

It is because of this idea we are left with experimental inferences about how things happen, to be supported as best as possible by mathematics or logic.

If we seriously take up this position, then we have to concede that nothing genuinely 'true' may be known of the world about us at all. If that is so, then causality is a mere fiction of the mind projected upon things in order to make some sense of them. We might just as well offer a different explanation of the connection of things. Or we might even say there is no truth to be known of things. There are those who doubt that Descartes did manage to get a path across from the subject to the object through mathematics.

I am puzzled that, in this forum, the classical philosophical approach to these questions should be excluded. After all, there is a far greater resonance between Plato and Vedanta than there is between any post seventeenth century philosophy which specifically rejected classical metaphysics. It is only now that some modern philosophers are beginning to look again at classical philosophy with fresh eyes.

We could explore how Plato shows the way we may have knowledge of the truth of things, and Aristotle also. But for the sake of brevity, I leave that aside and put the matter in another way.

There are things that present themselves to us as necessary knowledge. Often this is knowledge which calls for an action. There are many examples in everyone's lives. For example, you know that someone is just about to phone you, and the phone rings and there they are. There can be very serious things we just know in this way. For example, I once just knew I should drop everything and go to see a friend immediately. When I arrived he was about to commit suicide, and so this was averted.

There are hundreds of examples of this kind of direct knowledge. It defies the Cartesian theory of knowledge totally, and no amount of conjecture will force it to fit it.

What are we to make of causality in these kinds of knowledge?

There is a kind of knowing that belongs simply to being present with things, which is response to the presence of things, and which calls for right action. This is the kind of knowledge that actually matters.

By contrast, the kind of knowledge that is sought in explaining such things as the flight of objects is not necessary knowledge. In a way, it is what the medieval philosophers called 'curiositas', idle curiosity. The classical philosophers asked: what it it that it is proper to seek to know? This question cannot proceed with Cartesian doubt. The initiative is taken from us in this question, while doubt is still keeping in control.

This really is at the root of the problem of causality as Hume and the others approach it. They would have us in command of knowledge. This, after all, was the main agenda of the Enlightenment, to take command over knowledge and over nature. But for the classical philosophers the way to knowledge was not through commanding it, but through conforming the mind to the present truth of things. For Plato, knowledge is obedience to truth, not command over it. And obedience to truth is not 'explanation' of things.

Forgive me if I am going beyond the remit of the question. It is not meant as a discourtesy.

Best wishes,
Joseph
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Brian Hodgkinson



Joined: 27 Jan 2014
Posts: 7
Location: Oxfordshire, UK

PostPosted: Thu Jun 12, 2014 9:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Joseph M raises several interesting points about causality, and only a few of these are considered in what follows.

The fact that there are cases of knowledge that transcend any empirical experience does not eliminate the need to examine questions that arise from ordinary experience where a necessary causal relationship is present. Advaita itself allows for two kinds of knowledge, higher and lower, whilst Kant and Schopenhauer, for example, at least distinguish between the empirical and the transcendental. Philosophy enquires into both.

Kant's explanation of causal necessity cannot be dismissed as in some way a development out of Cartesian dualism. On the contrary Kant provides a way out of such dualism by arguing that both inner and outer experience are aspects of one consciousness. How then does he deal with causality?

Causality, he says, is a fundamental concept (one of several) with which the mind organises the raw experience presented to it by sensibility. In other words the senses provide the content of experience, such as visual or audible impressions, but the mind by applying concepts like causality as it were creates an intelligible world that has coherence or order.

Kant's famous example of the ship sailing downstream demonstrates what he means. Successive impressions of the ship are irreversible. They follow a necessary order. We cannot rearrange them without there being a different event, such as the ship sailing upstream. But the crucial point that Kant makes is that this temporal order cannot be given by time alone. Time itself, like space, is empty of any signs or markers by reference to which an order could be given to events that occur in time. Therefore the temporal order must be given by the mind that perceives the event. It does this by applying the concept of causality i.e. it determines the necessary time sequence of the sense impressions. The cause of one impression is the preceding one and so on.

This may be a misreading of what Kant means. If so, I would welcome a better version. In any case he presents a remarkable attempt to answer the question raised by the necessity of the causal relation.

Brian Hodgkinson
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Display posts from previous:   
Post new topic   Reply to topic    School of Economic Science - Study Forums Forum Index -> Advaita and Modern Western Philosophy All times are GMT
Page 1 of 1

 
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum
This forum is sponsored by the School of Economic Science for use by its members; members of its branches; members
of affiliated schools worldwide and by all other Internet users interested in the study subjects presented.
Powered by phpBB Copyright © FSES, 2007. All Rights Reserved