Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A world abuzz in activity

I sometimes think that the phrase "causal power" doesn't quite convey what the causal powers theorist means or should mean. When I hear the phrase, it makes me think of a mere potentiality, a disposition which needs separate activation. But this is a mistaken image.

A causal power should be seen as active. It is a striving, a conatus. I lie on a bed typing this post. The elasticity of the springs strives to lift me up. The gravitation attraction between my body and the earth strives to press me down. There is not much motion, as the forces have balanced out, but both forces are constantly active. If gravity suddenly disappeared, the bed's springs would eject my upward, and if the springs suddenly disappeared, I would slump down.

The world is abuzz in activity. It trembles with action. Objects strive in various directions in their causal powers, pulling hither and yon (cf. Amjum and Mumford).

Aristotle talks of two levels of potentiality. I am in first potentiality for speaking German—I would have to learn it in order to speak it—and in second potentiality for speaking English—I can do it whenever I wish to. Second potentiality is also first actuality—the general human potential for speaking languages is realized in me in respect of English. And then there is second actuality—I am now in second actuality for writing in English. So we have a three point scale of actuality:

  1. first potentiality
  2. second potentiality = first actuality
  3. second actuality.
Having a causal power, a conatus or a striving is something intermediate between the first and second actuality. When unopposed, the causal power causes second actuality—actual action. When opposed, we just have a tense striving, a pull.

The world, both physical and mental, is a world of tension. Forces push against forces, reasons push against reasons. Or, more precisely, substances with forces or reasons push against the same or other substances with opposed forces or reasons.

Sometimes an image helps develop good metaphysics. That's all the above is: an image.

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