About Cause and Effect

Aristotle considered causality 2500 years ago yet David Hume was the first philosopher to write formally about cause and effect dismissively more than 250 years ago. In a way though, cause and effect is a language problem concerning relationships between objects and individuals. The law does recognize causes and effects. Fighting words issued can be a cause for someone punching someone else. Hate speech can elicit federal arrests. Pulling the trigger on a gun can kill someone. Law recognizes cause and effects. Philosophically and scientifically the topic is a little more amorphous.

That is because of the nature of language. Words are inexact labels and reference terms rather than things in-themselves. Chemists of course understand that combining particular molecules causes or produces certain effects. Someone concerned with language accuracy might say that the scientist caused an effect believed caused by the chemicals- and that is the problem with the inexact meaning of cause and effect…what is the first cause, proximal cause or even responsible cause?

No one doubts that physical relationships exist- that are predictable and that can be caused with definite effects. Striking a match and tossing it onto a pile of gas-soaked rags causes a fire. Putting hundreds of extra tons of weight on a bridge far over its weight limit causes it to collapse. Drinking a couple of quarts of whiskey causes drunkenness or death; the trouble is in trying to isolate events and provide a first and complete cause with words.

One may be asking too much from language in that case. Language has nominal and pragmatic value. One needn’t describe every element of how some circumstance came into being (such as Scots migrated to Kentucky and produced bourbon after certain religious troubles in England etc. and the Universe was created and the Earth formed in the void etc.). A few words cannot explain everything that exists- a complete complex of compresence to use Russell’s term- inclusive of all history.

Physicists can use Feynman diagrams to show relationships of particles. Particle accelerators produce particular results at certain energies. One may be said to cause a cascade of particles to exist- yet it is merely useful language rather than an absolute explanation itself. Words are just words.