Pick Your Causation

sq_causationCausation is one of the most important ways in which we conceptualize the world and ourselves. The reasons that objects go through their motions and people perform the acts they do are explained by the causes that lead to these effects. Constitutive materials can also be causes for the effects on things and individuals. Even the form and function of things can be thought of as effects, dependent on the causes that make them come to be. These effects in turn can be causes for subsequent effects, and so on, in a complex chain or network of causation.

Four different “directions” inform discussion about causes and effects, organized by time (Forward and Backward) and space (Upward and Downward). Perhaps space is not the best word: consider size, distance, or even importance. These four directions can also remind one of Aristotle’s Four Causes, where Efficient Causation is Forward, Formal Causation is Downward, Material Causation is Upward, and Formal Causation is Backward.

Forward causation: Temporal causation, where causes happen before their effects. Ordinarily associated with a deterministic view of causation.

Upward causation: Scientific causation, where the smaller or lower cause the effects of the larger or higher. Ordinarily associated with a reductionistic view of causation.

Downward causation: Structural causation, where the larger or higher can cause the effects of the smaller or lower. Typical examples are free will, agency, intention, or volition, where the mind and not just the brain controls the actions of the body.

Backward causation: Reverse temporal causation, where causes are in the future of their effects. This is not quite the same as teleology, although the concepts are closely linked and require further study. Typical examples are purposes, goals, and ends (versus means) (although this is not the usual philosophical meaning of backward causation).







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