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Saturday, June 23, 2018

What is a cause?


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, aussiegall

Photo license: CC BY 2.0


What is a cause? Here is my definition:


A cause is something that gives rise to something else


I believe that causation is an observable concept. Causation is a relationship between two separate phenomena where one phenomenon gives rise to the other. For example, if you take a shower, it will cause you to smell good. In this regard, you can observe the causal relationship between showering and smell.


I also believe that causation is a subjective concept. There's not a clear line between a cause and a non-cause. For example, imagine a pineapple sitting on a chair. What caused the pineapple to be sitting there? Because I was using the pineapple to create a still life painting. Why was I creating a painting? Because there was a painting contest. Why was I in the painting contest? Because my teacher encouraged me to join. This process can turn into a never ending regression of causes. In this regard, it's subjective whether or not something is a cause.


I believe that a constructive way to view causation is to make a list of causes that are most relevant. Making a list of the most important causes will lead to greater understanding of the particular instance. Deciding which causes are most important is subjective, but I believe it's a useful way to think about causation.



License: CC BY-SA 4.0