Causality In Action

 Posted by on 19 April 2006 at 8:01 am  Uncategorized
Apr 192006

Here is a fun 13-minute video showing a variety of Rube Goldberg-type machines in action. (And unfortunately, no, I don’t know what the Japanese text says on the pop-up flag at the end of each machine’s run.)

Exercise for the reader: How does this illustrate the Objectivist concept of causality as “the law of identity applied to action”, as opposed to the standard Humean “billiard ball” concept of causality?

Hints: Consider the following from OPAR, Chapter 1

Since the Renaissance, it has been common for philosophers to speak as though actions directly cause other actions, bypassing entities altogether. For example, the motion of one billiard ball striking a second is commonly said to be the cause of the motion of the second, the implication being that we can dispense with the balls; motions by themselves become the cause of other motions. This idea is senseless. Motions do not act, they are actions. It is entities which act — and cause. Speaking literally, it is not the motion of a billiard ball which produces effects; it is the billiard ball, the entity, which does so by a certain means. f one doubts this, one need merely substitute an egg or soap bubble with the same velocity for the billiard ball; the effects will be quite different.

The law of causality states that entities are the cause of actions — not that every entity, of whatever sort, has a cause, but that every action does; and not that the cause of action is action, but that the cause of action is entities.

Or the following from “H Acstonus”:

Causality, at least since Hume, has been conceived of as a chain of events, each antecedent event causing the other. This conception has led to confusion. While it is true that antecedent factors play a role, a proper conception of causality would have to incorporate a wider context. In Aristotle’s view, cause and effect is rooted in the identity of acting things. What a thing is, says Aristotle, will determine what it does. An acorn can become an oak tree, and not a catfish, because that is its nature. The actions an entity can take are determined by what that entity is. On this view, when one billiard ball strikes another it sends it rolling because of the nature of the balls and their surroundings, not just antecedent events.

The incompleteness of modern science lies in the fact that it rests on a purely mechanistic, non-Aristotelian view of causation. Consequently it cannot be defended against critics such as Hume. Aristotle’s view provides a basis for a better understanding of cause and effect, and has the potential to ground science and induction in first principles. Aristotle has the potential to provide for modern science the philosophic foundations it never had.

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