Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Final causation

A standard picture of final causation is this. A has a teleological directedness to engaging in activity F for the sake of producing B. Then B explains A's engaging in F by final causation. This picture is mistaken for one or two reasons. First, suppose that an interfering cause prevents B from arising from activity F. The existence of an interfering cause at this point does nothing to make it less explicable why F occurred. But it destroys the explanation in terms of B, since there is no B. Second, and more speculatively, it is tokens of things and events that enter into explanations, but teleology typically involves types not tokens. Thus, if B enters into the explanation of F, it will be a token, but then A's engagement in F won't be directed at B, but at something of such-and-such a type. In other words, we shouldn't take the "for the sake of" in statements like "A engaged in F for the sake of ___" to be an explanation. For if it's to be an explanation, the blank will need to be filled out with a particular token, say "B", but true "for the sake of" claims (at least in paradigmatic cases) have the right hand side filled in with an instance of a type, say "a G".

I think there is something in the vicinity of final causation, but it's not a weird backwards causation. Rather, in some cases A engagement in F produces B in a way that is a fulfillment of a teleological directedness in A. In that case the engagement in F to produce B in fulfillment of a teleology in A is explained by that teleology. In less successful cases--say, ones where an interfering cause is present--we can at least say that A's engagement in F is explained by that teleology. In these less successful cases, there is in one way less to be explained--success is absent and hence does not need to be explained--but there is still a teleological explanation (and there will also be an explanation of lack of success, due to interfering causes). But in any case, there is no backwards-looking causation.


Heath White said...

You seem to be thinking of final causation (at least, the conception of it you criticize) as efficient causation from the future. I agree that is a silly view, for the reasons you mention as well as some other ones. But how many people actually make this mistake?

(A related mistake: sometimes God is described as causa sui, self-caused. This is nonsense if the causation is efficient causation. On the other hand if it is final causation, it means God exists for his own sake, as an end-in-himself, and not for any other sake or end. That makes perfect sense.)

Callum said...

Hi Dr Pruss.

Sorry to bump a post from last year, I didn't know where to ask this question!
When discussing the argument from contingency with someone, the reply was that when asking 'why s there something rather than nothing', they re essentially asking for either a "how" explanation a teleolgical explanation, or "purpose" explanation. If people are asking for a purposeful explanation, are they presupposing a creator?

Also, I'm not sure if explanations can be spirited cleanly into a scientific "how" and explanation of purpose. What do you think?

P.s your Blackwell Companion article is my absolute favourite argument from natural theology!