Friday, April 4, 2014

Miscellaneous fortune-cookies on the subject of Causality

For our essays touching upon Causality, click here:

Herewith  some random quotes  from recent reading;  there is no time (no time!  the Reaper  knocking at the door) to integrate these into their proper places in the proper posts.

A welcome bridge between the notion of ‘cause’ (which many of us will associate with homework from physics class) and that of ‘explanation’ (philosophy):

When an explanation is successful, we ‘feel the key  turn in the lock’, in the happy phrase of C.S. Peirce.  There are many different kinds of explanations, and each one involves a different sense of ‘cause’.
-- Jim Holt, Why does the World Exist? (2012), p. 9


Not only does unpredictability  not entail  inexplicability,  but its presence is compatible with the truth of determinism in a strong version.
-- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (1981; 21984), p.  100

Ultimate cause:

This book cannot contribute to the discussion concerning whether the roots of this individualism are to be found in ideological or social and economic factors.  Wherever the prime mover may be found, what is indisputable is that, when a more individualist society does not eventually emerge, it manifests itself at all these levels.
-- Ernest Gellner, Language and Solitude (posthum. 1998), p. 14

Re Wittgenstein’s philosophical change of heart after the Tractatus:

Precisely why he reached this conclusion  remains something of a mystery.  I feel I can guess his motives, but not his reasons.
-- Ernest Gellner, Language and Solitude (posthum. 1998), p. 14

This isn’t really a por qué/para qué distinction:  the motives Gellner has in mind  could well be partly unconscious.    He is rather talking about psychology versus philosophy, emotion versus cognition.

Proximate cause:

Ich will zugeben, daß es eine ganze Klasse von Träumen gibt, zu denen die Anregung vorwiegend aus den Resten des Tageslebens stammt.
-- Sigmund Freud, Die Traumdeutung (1900)

Here, the notion ‘trigger’ is closely tied to a broader causal-background.

Where there are weak bonds  and an alarming danger appears, such as a fire in a theatre, the danger itself is the provocative cause of the disorderly and selfish turmoil.
-- Ernest Jones, Freud: The Last Phase (1957), p. 339

In Fallujah, the tripwire for the cascade of resentments  had been a killing.  Many killings.
-- Anthony Shadid, Night Draws Near (2005)

His plural afterthought ruins the choice of word: a tripwire is instantaneous, not incremental.

This domination of Moscow over the Comintern is much more the result than the cause of the evolution of commnism outside Russia.
-- Franz Borkenau, World Communism [a re-issue of The Communist International (1938)], p. 416

Religion is primarily a theory of causes, and only incidentally a scheme of conduct.
-- H. L. Mencken

The accuracy of this becomes plain in cases of primitive superstition, where supernatural causes abound, but without moral implications.  (Cf. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger.)



The European system was the main cause of the war.
-- Kurt Reinhardt, Germany: 2000 Years (1950, 2nd edn. 1961).

This is as far as possible from any Anregung/trigger sense of ‘cause’.

In dem Drama “Der Blaue Boll”  kommt es Barlach darauf an, » das Werden als dunkle Gewalt, schaltend und gestaltend  im Hintergrund der Vorgänge  « sichtbar zu machen.
-- P. Pörtner, Vorwort zu: Deutsches Theater des Expressionismus (ca. 1961), p. 21


Look carefully at what it can ever mean to speak of genes exerting an influence on a nervous system.  All that genes can really influence directly  is protein synthesis.
-- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976; 2nd edn. 1989), p. 240

Point taken, you concede, bored.  But two pages later, this piquant conclusion:  “We can legitimately speak of fluke genes as influencing snail bodies, in just the same sense as snail genes influence snail bodies.”   The general perspective here is in line with the stepping-back involved in Dawkins’ notion of the “extended phenotype”:   here we have a kind of extended genotype.

With an overtone of the deliberate or Providential, especially odd in this case:

The introduction of the mongoose  saw to the extermination of the flightless birds.
-- Richard Fortey, Earth (2004), p. 37

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