April 20th, 2009

Captive Dreams

(no subject)

Final Causes are the Causes of Causes

Crypto-Spinozans [who have largely replaced crypto-Lockeans] claim that final causes are merely a "projection" into nature of our own self-seeking desires.  Because we hunger and thirst, we impute purpose to food and water.  The water is there in order to quench our thist.  But because this is a projection, it is not true.  Notice that this is a "just so" story.  It seeks to explain a thing by providing an origin myth, in this case that of projection.  (Even if this origin story is true, it is simply the genetic falacy: that a statement is true or false because of its origin.) 

However, it is not true.  Aristotle and Aquinas did not attribute usefulness-to-humans as evidence of final causation.  For them, the argument for final causes is that "without them we can make no sense of how efficient causes are possible."  If, in the common course of nature, A leads to B, and not to C, D, et al., it can only be due to something in the nature of A which “directs” A specifically toward B . That is, final causation is an objective feature of the natural world, and not an imposition onto the natural world by a supernatural agency.  Without such a "tendency-toward-B" on the part of A, the efficient cause of (A->B) makes no sense. 

The best argument for final causes is the existence of laws of nature, like E=mc^2 or that a species evolves toward better fitness in a niche.  In any case: a common course of nature.  A causes the generation of B and not of C or D. 

Captive Dreams

(no subject)

The Four Horsemen of the Causocalypse

To clarify finality:  Here is an example I ran across some time ago that may clarify the distinction of the four causes.  It may be helpful to replace the tainted term "cause" (which to modern ears always has an echo: "[efficient] cause") with the original Greek "aition," or with the term "because."

The Four Causes of Biological Evolution

1. Material Cause:
The genetic factor: the tendency to variation resulting from constant small random mutations in the genetic code; i. e., a variety of differing individuals within a species capable of transmitting their differences
2. Formal Cause:
The epigenetic factor: the tendency of interbreeding population to reproduce itself in a stable manner and increase in numbers; i. e., the maintenance of type
3. Efficient Cause (Agent):
The selective factor: natural selection by the environment which eliminates those variants which are less effective in reproducing their kind; i. e., the agent determining in which direction species-change will take place
4. Final Cause (End):
The exploitative factor: the flexibility of living things by which they are able to occupy new niches in the changing environment; i. e., a feed-back mechanism which guides the selective process toward a new type which can exploit new environmental possibilities

Notice the distinction between evolution (a principle inherent in the nature of the thing itself) and [natural] selection (a force external to the thing.