Re: single (and multiple) cause theories... (fwd)

Nick Corduan (nickc@DORITE.IQUEST.NET)
Thu, 20 Apr 1995 18:01:43 -0500 wrote:
>From!BDHUME Thu Apr 20 14:41:21 1995
Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 20 Apr 95 14:40:23 EWT
X-To: PO2::""
Subject: Re: single (and multiple) cause theories...

I'm a Ph D student at Indiana University's History and Philosophy of
Science program. My interest is in the history of anthropology, but
the discussions of single versus multiple causes led me to scratch my
head about the rest of my "basic training." I have a number of
comments that I'd like to toss into the discussion:

1: I would like to see some examples of where the hard sciences
only resort to single causes. Are we talking about Newton's use of
gravity to explain the motion of the planets? If so, I suggest supporters
of the single cause argument take a look at Nancy Cartwright's _The
Laws of Physics Lie_. Cartwright argues that the laws of physics don't
really explain much because they're based on ceteris paribus clauses
that create non-existent ideal situations. I.e., we can explain the
"two body problem" (the moon revolving around the earth) but we can't
do the calculations for "the three body problem" (once you actually
try to account for the sun and other bodies the law of gravity doesn't
allow you to make predictions). That seems to me to be an obvious
case for the fact that even in the hard sciences "single causes" don't
explain much about reality.

2: A recent post suggested that the hard sciences still make use
of single causes and referred to the search for unified theories in
physics -- e.g. string theory. The unification of theories, or the
unification of domains of reality under a larger (or largest) paradigm
or explanation is NOT the same thing as reducing all phenomena covered
under that explanation to a single cause. String theory or whatever
other grand unified theory you might prefer will allow for scientists
to unify what goes on at the quantum level and the macro (gravitational)
level, but there will be all sorts of causes for all sorts of phenomena.

3: Finally, I'd like to put a bid in for multiple-causes. I think
the so called hard sciences make use of them as well. Meteorology is
a grey area example, but understanding the whether in terms of causality
is not a problem. Predicting the whether is. That's because at any given
moment a huge number of micro-processes are going on which don't become]
manifest on the macro-level until they've gathered up enough force. This
is not a problem of understanding the weather, its a matter of many
events (causes and effects) that are required to even possibly predict
the weather.

I have more to say on this, but the message is already pretty long. I'd
be glad to hear what people have to say.

Brad D. Hume
History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Nick Corduan "...there is as much dignity in tilling
at a field as in writing a poem."
( --Booker T. Washington