Cause for Thought

Cause for Thought: An Essay in Metaphysics

Copyright Date: 2014
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    Cause for Thought
    Book Description:

    Does the fact that everything has a cause imply that all events are causally determined? Drawing on discussions from the history of philosophy, John Burbidge's Cause for Thought captures the diverse dynamics found in physics, chemistry, biology, animal psychology, and rational action. At each level, forms of activity emerge that cannot be reduced to the functioning of simpler, more elementary components. By exploring the logic of what happens when two causal conditions reciprocally interact, Burbidge develops a concept of complex cause in which an agent generates effects not simply because of the action of its constituent components, but also because of the way those components mutually supplement and reinforce one another. By extending this to the interaction of agents with their environment, Burbidge throws light on the structure of organisms, on the distinctive contributions of consciousness and rationality, and on the quest for a comprehensive explanation of the cosmos. Recovering the force and legitimacy of metaphysical inquiry by focusing on the concept of cause and causality, Cause for Thought offers a new way of understanding natural processes, the role of consciousness and free will, and the significance of rational explanation.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9194-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. 1 Introduction to Metaphysics
    (pp. 3-17)

    Metaphysics has a bad name. David Hume started the attack with the final paragraph of hisAn Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: “When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask,Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity and number?No.Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?No. Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”¹

    Immanuel Kant provided a more systematic critique. Metaphysics...

  4. 2 The Ontology of Cause
    (pp. 18-33)

    One of the basic concepts that we use to understand the world around us is “cause.” Whenever something happens, we want to know what conditions and influences brought it about. And we use the answers to those questions when we frame our actions, so that we can either enable or prevent similar events occurring in the future. “Cause” is applied toall sorts of situations, from what spices we put in our cooking to what precautions we take to prevent cancer. And the specific causes we identify range over a rich diversity of alternatives, from the naivety of primitive religion and...

  5. 3 The Cosmology of Complex Cause
    (pp. 34-49)

    For Immanuel Kant in theCritique of Pure Reasonthe concept of cause determines the way we understand the world. Within the temporal flow of our experience, we distinguish a cause from a simple before and after by appealing to a rule that spells out a sufficient condition for the sequence. In other words, we appeal to the necessity of a forward-moving conditional judgment that excludes all contingency: whenever such conditions combine, a specific result inevitably follows. We usually call this mechanical causality.

    Later, however, in theCritique of JudgmentKant admitted that we find in nature a kind of...

  6. 4 The Psychology of Conscious and Rational Agents
    (pp. 50-71)

    If our analysis of organic cause provides a more adequate way of understanding living beings than the simple appeal to mechanical causation, it carries with it important implications for Descartes’ distinction between mind and matter – between thinking substance and extended substance. For Descartes all animals, including our human bodies, are simply complex machines, incapable of thought and consciousness. Our minds with their capacity for thought, however, represent a kind of being radically different from the rest of the natural order. So human beings are split in two: a nasty broad ditch separates the brain, with its networks of neurons...

  7. 5 The Theology of Comprehensive Agency
    (pp. 72-93)

    Traditional metaphysics concluded its investigations with a discussion of philosophical theology: the existence and nature of god. In our discussion so far, however, we have been focusing on causes that function in the world we experience. Even when we introduced final causes, we limited our attention to centred agents that respond to their environment by readjusting their centred equilibrium – by seeking to reproduce themselves in response to the disruptions and opportunities that events introduce. And when we expanded our horizons in our discussion of rational agents, we talked about the well-being of communities. While conscious and rational agents adopt...

  8. 6 Conclusion
    (pp. 94-108)

    The approach to metaphysics undertaken in this study involves two main innovations. In the first place, drawing on the metaphysical works of Immanuel Kant, it focuses on fundamental concepts that are used to organize our understanding of the world. While these concepts incorporate much of what we have learned from experience over time, they are seldom examined critically to ensure that all the elements of their meaning are in fact justified. Since they are used to structure our observations and reflections, they frequently determine what we notice and what we set aside as insignificant. So there is a built-in tendency...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 109-112)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 113-122)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 123-126)
  12. Index
    (pp. 127-130)