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The Formality of Reality: Xavier Zubiri's Analysis of Causality
Thomas B. Fowler
President, Xavier Zubiri Foundation of North America
Causality has been a pivotal concept in the history of philosophy since the time of the Ancient Greeks. It became the basis for much of the medieval synthesis by Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, playing a key role in the second of Aquinas' famous five proofs of the existence of God. However, since the time of Hume, many have questioned whether there is (or can be) any metaphysical meaning of causality, or valid inferences based upon it. This uncertainty has contributed to a skepticism which extends beyond proofs of God's existence to more remote areas such as moral thought and our system of jurisprudence, based as they are on the notion of personal responsibility for causing certain actions or events. Others-notably Jaki, but before him, Planck-believe that any compromise on the fundamental meaning of causality will undermine all scientific knowledge. Causality thus impinges on deep-seated beliefs of our civilization and a very wide range of endeavors.
Xavier Zubiri (1898-1983) has rethought and reformulated the question of causality in light of its historical roles, well-known criticisms, and relevant contemporary knowledge. In doing so, he has achieved a unique perspective on the subject which should be of great interest to those concerned with causality and any of its applications. Of course, causality cannot be discussed in isolation because it grows out of a philosopher's system taken as a whole, and ultimately turns on his view or assumptions about the nature of reality and of human intellect. Accordingly, this investigation is broadly based, drawing upon many aspects of Zubiri's work, including the series of writings issued posthumously by the Fundación Xavier Zubiri in Madrid.
II. Four important dimensions of causality
Zubiri is deeply Aristotelian in his reverential attitude toward truth and his insistence on making the scope of philosophical inquiry as broad as possible. Accordingly, Zubiri's rethinking of causality can best be appreciated when the range of uses of it are fresh in the mind. Causality is not a concept of strictly philosophical origin, as is that of essence; rather, it is an outgrowth of ordinary experience, and still has a meaning in that context, as well as in other extra-philosophical venues such as science and technology. At least one contemporary thinker defines philosophy as "knowing by causes".
Aristotle's own word for cause is at a, which he submits is an answer to the question, "Why?" in the relevant context: "...men do not think they know a thing till they have grasped the 'why' of it (which is to grasp its primary cause)." Aristotle proceeds to enumerate the ways in which the word 'cause' is used, giving his famous list of material, formal, efficient and final. It is efficient causality that is of most interest, and that historically has occasioned the most controversy because of the uses to which it has been put. Over the past 2500 years, these four types of causality have been woven into the fabric of thought about the world; and at least four important dimensions of causality based upon them can now be distinguished:
1. In metaphysics: causality is about reality or being, in the sense that it states or describes a real relation which exists between two things, themselves taken as real and separate in some fundamental sense. Moreover, this relationship is quite specific: it is the production of reality in some form. Thus, to say, "a pull of the cord causes the bell to ring," relates two real things, one of which (the pull) really produces the other (the sound). Similarly, to say, "every event has a cause," is to make a profound and sweeping statement about reality. Such principles allow for conclusions which are not directly verifiable in an empirical sense, such as metaphysical conclusions about the existence of God or the soul.
Traditionally, such a causal link has been characterized by three properties: (a) determinism; (b) necessity; and (c) a rooting in the reality of things. Determinism is important because it implies the unalterable, non-accidental nature of the link. When the first change occurs, the second must occur as well. Necessity forges an even deeper link, one which cannot be exhausted by constant conjunction, thus excluding cases such as "dawn is the cause of sunset". Finally, it makes no sense to speak of causality in a metaphysical sense if it is impossible for us to perceive real things. That is, if what we perceive are only constructs of our minds which somehow "stand for" or "represent" what reality is, or are convenient bins in which to collect and organize observations, then the idea of talking about deterministic and necessary connections is undermined. This of course is the line of reasoning taken by the British Empiricists, culminating in David Hume.
2. In physics and science in general: causality is about nature, in the sense of phenomena, because it describes or places boundaries upon the type of behavior which will be observed by a scientist. Thus the scientist may be interested in what genetic defect causes multiple sclerosis or causes cancer. Or what physical changes in the sun cause sunspots and magnetic storms. This points to what is sometimes called the "nomological character of causality", according to which causality implies causal law. Such a relationship goes beyond any type of coincidence and points to something much deeper, as the close association of counterfactual conditionals with causality reveals. The statement, "All the bolts in Smith's car are rusty" would not generally imply any sort of causal relationship between being in Smith's car and being rusty, such as the counterfactual conditional, "if x were a bolt in Smith's car, it would be rusty"-as if just putting the bolt there would cause it to become rusty. However, a statement such as, "all species which are unable to compete for food become extinct"-implying a causal connection-does support the counterfactual conditional, "if homo sapiens were a species that could not compete for food, it would become extinct." Whether the relationship is the same as that considered in metaphysics is a separate question, however, as is the question of whether all scientific statements or laws require or express causality, and whether science deals with efficient causality, formal causality, or both.
Failure to distinguish scientific and metaphysical reasoning based on causality has occasioned much confusion in the past. Widely accepted during the medieval period was the belief that all change requires a contiguous efficient cause. That belief triggered considerable speculation about certain types of motion, such as that of a stone after it leaves the thrower's hand. The problem continued to be debated through the Renaissance, and was not finally laid to rest until the publication of Newton's Principia (1687), where the First Law of Motion is stated as, "all bodies in motion tend to remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force"; so the belief is false at least for the purposes of empirical science. Metaphysical and theological implications follow insofar as empirical science is considered knowledge about the world and capable of contradicting metaphysical principles.
3. In epistemology: causality is about knowledge because it a key reasoning principle used to draw conclusions from facts or observations; in English, this meaning is betrayed even in the word we use in such cases: 'because'. Readily understood is the reasoning process, "Because you arrived here in one hour, and it takes three hours to drive, I know that you came by air".
4. In ethics and moral philosophy: causality is about guilt and responsibility because it is at the center of reasoning about them. We speak unequivocally of a person causing an accident or causing the death of another; and determine suitable punishment. If there is no causation, there is generally no guilt, as in the case of persons who are regarded as legally insane. Recent controversies in the United States about confiscation of property of persons unaware that a crime was being committed in or with the property point to this key role of causality in our thinking about guilt and responsibility. Causality in this sense is often interpreted as independent of any causal law such as marks natural science.
Whether all of these dimensions of causality have a common root, or are only related in analogical fashion, is a matter of controversy; Zubiri addresses all four in his philosophy. His thought on the subject unfolds with respect to three reference points: David Hume's famous analysis; developments in science during the twentieth century; and the unique nature of what Zubiri terms 'human reality', together with its associated moral life. These topics are discussed in sections III, IV, and V, respectively, of this paper. The question of Zubiri and secondary causality is discussed in section VI.
III. First reference point: Hume's critique of causality
The figure of David Hume looms large in the philosophical tradition of English-speaking countries; and his two famous analyses, of human apprehension and of causality, were the most penetrating up to his time, and continue to have great influence. As the culmination of British empiricism, Hume's work is especially important because he realized the importance of analyzing human apprehension both as a step in the development of a comprehensive philosophy, and in connection with the problem of causality. This task Hume undertook in his Treatise of Human Nature, Book I. In Part IV, he is concerned to establish a reason or explanation for our belief in the independent and continuing existence of external things or 'bodies', for upon this all causal reasoning about such things must ultimately rest. As is well known, Hume argues that such belief must either come from the senses, reason, or what he terms 'imagination'; and he dismisses the first two, leaving only the last, where he attributes the belief to coherence and constancy of impressions.
For the present study, details of Hume's argument are not as important as his basic assumptions. One of those assumptions, never explicitly stated but always lurking just beneath the surface, is that all reasoning and understanding of the external world comes from the mind working on the content of sensible impressions, be they pains, pleasures, colors, or sounds. This assumption is suggested in passages such as:
...every impression, external and internal, passions, affections, sensations, pains, and pleasures, are originally on the same footing; and that whatever other differences we may observe among them, they appear, all of them, in their true colours, as impressions or perceptions....Everything that enters the mind, being in reality a perception, it is impossible anything should to feeling appear different.
The burden of inferring the existence of things outside of the mind then must fall upon the mind and those processes available to it, because what the senses deliver is inadequate to the task:
That our senses offer not their impressions as the images of something distinct, or independent, and external, is evident; because they convey to us nothing but a single perception, and never give us the least intimation of anything beyond.
...sounds, and tastes, and smells, though commonly regarded by the mind as continued independent qualities, appear not to have any existence in extension, and consequently cannot appear to the senses as situated externally to the body.
Hume goes on from here to base much of his philosophy, and ultimately his critique of causality, on his distinction between "relations of ideas" and "matters of fact", as well as some notions inherited from classical philosophy, including the distinction between senses and intelligence. The general outlines of Hume's philosophy, and in particular his arguments against causality as a metaphysical principle, are sufficiently well known that they need not be repeated here. The following quotations may serve as representative of Hume's thought:
There is no object which implies the existence of any other, if we consider these objects in themselves, and never look beyond the ideas which we form of them. Such an inference would amount to knowledge, and would imply the absolute contradiction and impossibility of conceiving anything different. But as all distinct ideas are separable, it is evident that there can be no impossibility of that kind.
This leads to Hume's analysis of causal relations:
....Thus we remember to have seen that species of object we call flame, and to have felt that species of sensation we call heat. We likewise call to mind their constant conjunction in all past instances. Without any further ceremony, we call the one cause, and the other effect, and infer the existence of the one from that of the other.
A bit further on, Hume remarks, "...the relation of cause and effect is requisite to persuade us of any real existence ..."
For Zubiri, Hume's analysis of human apprehension, and its associated conception of philosophy and reality, though seductive, are radically wrong for several reasons. This, in turn, vitiates his analysis of causality. To understand the problems with Hume's analysis of causality, it is necessary to be clear about the purpose of causes in his epistemology. As the foregoing quotations suggest, we are given only our sensible impressions; causal inference thus becomes the key to knowledge about the "external" world, especially as regards philosophical matters. Insofar as true knowledge of causes is possible, we can have apodiectic or metaphysical knowledge; but insofar as our knowledge of causes resolves into constant conjunctions, "true" knowledge about the "external" world, and a fortiori metaphysical knowledge, is impossible:
If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matters of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
Given Hume's point of departure, and his fundamental assumptions about the nature of human apprehension, human intelligence, and reality, Zubiri believes that there is no escape from his skeptical conclusions. Accordingly, Zubiri does not criticize Hume's reasoning; rather, he analyzes the extremely deep-seated assumptions in Hume's philosophy, to show that they are at fault and responsible for his erroneous conclusions.
Brief summary of Zubiri's philosophy relevant to Hume's analysis
To understand Zubiri's critique of Hume, it is necessary to be familiar with the basics of his philosophy. Zubiri long pondered the great philosophical questions, and as befits serious philosopher, he did not adopt a "motto"; but had he done so, it would undoubtedly have been his friend Einstein's keen observation: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them". Accordingly, Zubiri believes that prior to development of any epistemology, such as Hume's, it is first necessary to go one level deeper in order to fully analyze human intelligence. This analysis is not a new theory, only a pure and rigorous description of that intelligence; but it is one which has been consistently overlooked or treated inadequately by earlier philosophers, including Hume. Only after it can construction of an epistemology commence and metaphysical reasoning begin.
For Zubiri, perception of reality begins with the sensing process; but in contrast to Hume and classical philosophy, Zubiri does not believe that there is duality of sensing and apprehension. What we have, rather, is a fully integrated process that immerses us in reality:
As impression is what formally constitutes sensing, and reality is what formally constitutes intellective knowing, it follows that saying that the moment of reality is "in" the impression is the same as saying that intellection is structurally "in" the sensing; i.e., the impression of reality is intellective sensing. For this reason, when we apprehend heat, for example, we are apprehending it as real heat. An animal apprehends heat only as a thermic response sign; this is pure sensing. In contrast, man senses heat as something "in its own right", as something de suyo: the heat is real heat.
Direct apprehension of reality through sensible impression is a process which is intrinsic to our somatic structures as human beings. It is, indeed, the most important characteristic of our apprehension, and the foundation of all subsequent knowledge, including all rational knowledge. This impressive apprehension of reality is an act of what Zubiri terms the sentient intelligence (as opposed to earlier conceptions of it, which he refers to as sensible intelligence):
By virtue of its formal nature, intellection is apprehension of reality in and by itself. This intellection...is in a radical sense an apprehension of the real which has its own characteristics...Intellection is formally direct apprehension of the real-not via representations nor images. It is an immediate apprehension of the real, not founded in inferences, reasoning processes, or anything of that nature. It is a unitary apprehension. The unity of these three moments is what makes what is apprehended to be apprehended in and by itself.
This fully integrated nature of the sensing and intellection aspects of perception implies that the Scholastic maxim nihil est in intellectus quod prius non fuerit in sensu nisi ipse intellectus is radically false.
Zubiri divides human intelligence into three modes or phases which unfold logically if not chronologically as follows:
- Primordial apprehension of reality (or basic, direct installation in reality, giving us pure and simple reality)
- Logos (explanation of what something is vis à vis other things, or what the real of primordial apprehension is in reality)
- Reason (or ratio, methodological explanation of what things are and why they are, as in done in science, for example)
Of these, primordial apprehension is the most important; it is the product of our somatic structures, and it puts us into direct contact with reality. Thus it comprises the foundation for all other knowledge. Zubiri's point of departure for describing primordial apprehension is the immediacy and sense of direct contact with reality that we experience in our perception of the world; the things we perceive: colors, sounds, sights, are real in an extremely fundamental sense that cannot be overridden by subsequent reasoning or analysis. That is, there is associated with perception an overwhelming impression of its veracity, a type of "guarantee" which accompanies it. Implied here two logically separate but operationally inseparable aspects of perception: first, what the apprehension is of, e.g. a tree or a piece of green paper, and second, its self-guaranteeing characteristic of reality. Zubiri terms these content and formality of reality, respectively. They form a tight unity, characterized by an intrinsic moment of otherness; and together they install us, however modestly, in reality.
The impressions given in primordial apprehension need to be sorted, understood, named, and related to other, usually prior impressions. For example, if a piece of green paper is apprehended in primordial apprehension, one has indeed apprehended green; but knowing that it is green requires knowledge of colors and a comparison of this newly apprehended color with known colors and their names from prior apprehensions. This mode of intellection, based on primordial apprehension, is an ulterior mode termed 'logos'. Thus knowing, in the logos stage of intellection, is primarily concerned with relating what a thing, apprehended as real in primordial intellection, is in relation to other things. As Zubiri puts it, the logos is what enables us to know what a thing, apprehended as real in sentient intellection, is in reality (a technical term, meaning what something is in relation to one's other knowledge).
The third level of intellection, ratio or reason-with the broad acceptation of explanation-encompasses far more than what is usually associated with this word in English-speaking countries, viz. discursive knowledge. In particular, knowledge is not just science; there are other modes of knowledge, for example poetic knowledge and religious knowledge, which fall under the scope of reason as Zubiri understands it. Correlatively, there are realities which are not things in the sense of objects of science; for example, there is the reality of the person. In Zubiri's words, reason is "measurant intellection of the real in depth". There are three moments of reason to be distinguished: (1) intellection in depth, e.g., in the example cited above, electromagnetic theory is intellection in depth of color. (2) Its character as measuring, in the most general sense, akin to the notion of measure in advanced mathematics. This aspect of reason is discussed in greater detail in section IV. (3) Reason as intellectus quaerens, which means that reason, with its dynamic, directional, and provisional structure, is only able to conquer things in a provisional manner. But provisional only in the sense that our intellection cannot conquer all of reality, or all of any given thing; reality is too rich for our finite minds.
Zubiri's critique of Hume
To return now to Hume and causality, Zubiri agrees that "causes", in some metaphysical sense, are not given in experience:
In classical philosophy a cause is that from which something proceeds by means of a real influence upon the being of the effect. Now, causality is not something given. We never perceive the productive influence of a real thing upon another....Our perception never perceives causality, but always does perceive the functionality; in the field of reality we sense reality in its functional moment as a field-nature moment of the impression of reality. We perceive that a thing is real as a function of others, and functionality can be and is quite varied.
Zubiri is more concerned with the skeptical conclusions about knowledge which Hume draws from his analysis of causality than with the notion of causes themselves. Hume, it will be recalled, seeks to demonstrate that we cannot have knowledge of external reality in any fundamental sense. Knowledge of external reality, Hume believes, must come from causal inference because we are otherwise locked inside our own sensory data. In particular, Hume argues that because causality as we experience it is only constant conjunction-not metaphysical connection-it cannot allow us to make inferences that are certain about the reality of anything removed from direct experience (i.e., sense perception), especially the existence of God. Zubiri believes that Hume's argument fails because his analysis of intelligence is wrong on two critical points: (1) our intelligence is sentient, not sensible; as a consequence, we perceive reality directly-we do not need causal inference to reach it. That is, the "impressions" we have are not sensory impressions but impressions of reality, which have two aspects, content and formality, as discussed above. (2) Hume's analysis of human intelligence into reasoning about impressions or "matters of fact" based on causality, and reasoning about "relations of ideas" which ultimately must refer to some impression, is radically false. The correct analysis must center on the far more complex and subtle three stages by which our knowledge unfolds: perception of reality, logos, and reason. Understanding of both of these points is necessary in order to unravel the problems of Hume's analysis.
Hume acknowledges that we have knowledge of the "external" world, which he thinks we base on raw sense data and causal inference, in turn identified with constant conjunction: " any conclusion (about matters of fact) beyond the impressions of our senses can be founded only on the connection of cause and effect.". There are two errors here. First, Hume has failed to distinguish the basic act of sentient intelligence-primordial apprehension-from subsequent acts-logos and reason-which involve the intelligence in more discursive ways. As a result, he has failed to recognized that the type and veracity of knowledge obtained in these acts differ sharply. Second, he has collapsed all types of discursive knowledge of the world, assuming that it all must be based on causality, identified with constant conjunction. Because there is a superficial plausibility to both of these errors, the overall argument achieves a significant degree of plausibility despite the fact that Hume himself admits that he cannot live his life as if its conclusions were true.
So what is really going on? First, that on which we base our knowledge, whether at the level of primordial apprehension or at the higher levels, is not constant conjunction. It is, rather, functionality, considered in a very general sense. Functional relations may or may not involve causality in the traditional, deterministic sense, or Hume's version, constant conjunction; functionality is a much broader concept, capable of supporting inferences such as counterfactual conditionals which are beyond the range of constant conjunction. Furthermore, functional relationships may be-and indeed often are-statistically based, for which constant conjunction as an explanation is hopelessly inadequate. Functional relations exist for all three levels of intelligence, beginning with primordial apprehension, which leads directly to the second point (and Hume's principal error).
At the level of primordial apprehension, Hume failed to distinguish content and formality of reality in impressions. Hume assumed that content was the locus of causality-and therefore of all of our knowledge of the external world (which, via functionality, it is at the higher levels). But in fact it is formality which delivers reality to us, at this most important level, that of primordial apprehension. Zubiri notes:
For Hume, causality is not given, but only temporal succession. Now, I have just said myself that causality is not given. But Hume did not notice that there are two different aspects of the question. First of all, he did not see that temporal succession is just a form of functionality. In the second place, the succession is not the succession of two impressions, but the same impression of reality, one which is of successive nature-which means that what is essential about functionality does not concern the content of the impressions but their formality of reality.
In other words, an impression of successive events gives the functionality and the reality of the succession at the same time. Thus through formality, functionality does give us knowledge of reality, so that Hume's skepticism is misplaced. Zubiri would agree that if we had to rely solely upon reasoning which utilizes the content of impressions as the basis for our knowledge of reality, we could not escape Hume's conclusions. We do in fact rely on such reasoning for much of our knowledge, at the level of logos and reason; but all such knowledge would be impossible if reality were not delivered to us in primordial apprehension.
This can be best understood through Hume's own example of the ringing of a bell when its cord is pulled:
In Hume's example, the ringing of the bell just follows upon the pulling of the cord. Now, it is not the case that the bell's ringing is qua ringing a function of the pulling of a cord qua cord [these concepts operate at the level of logos]; rather, the fact is that it is the reality of the ringing qua real [i.e., its formality] which is a function of the reality of the pulling of the cord qua reality [i.e., its formality]. And this is something perfectly given, even supposing that the ringing were not a function of the pulling of the cord.
Or to paraphrase Zubiri's discussion, the ringing of the bell is apprehended as real in a primordial apprehension, the same one in which the pulling of the cord is apprehended as real. This is functionality at the level of primordial apprehension, not at the level of logos or reason, where Hume was looking. Thus the ringing of the bell is apprehended as a real function of the pulling of the cord, whether or not the pulling of the cord actually operates the bell by itself. For example, pulling the cord might just operate a switch which turns on an electric motor that in turn pivots the bell.
Functionality is functionality of the real inasmuch as it is real. In this sense it is a concept which encompasses many possible types. This formality, this "by" as such, is given in the impression of reality. Hume's whole critique is based upon the content of sensing, but he erred on the matter of formality
Understanding of the functionality of the bell ringing operation through logos and reason, e.g., through the physics of motion of the bell and clapper, the nature of sound waves, their generation through vibrations of the metal bell, and so forth, is much more difficult. So it is not surprising that if one tried to based our knowledge of reality on the achievement of certainty there, skepticism would be the natural result.
To a certain extent, Zubiri agrees with Hume's conclusions about the impossibility of obtaining knowledge of reality through causal arguments; but the meaning of this statement is rather different for the two philosophers. Zubiri notes:
there is no possibility whatsoever of establishing that presumed correspondence between sensible qualities and "real things" if one begins by asserting that the former are subjective qualities. Because if the entire sensory order is subjective, where and how can the intelligence take leave of the sensory and jump to reality?
Causal reasoning is utterly incapable of bridging the gap-which is why Hume was ultimately unconfortable with his own conclusions-and For Zubiri,
Causal reasoning will bear us from the subjectively colored thing to the concept of a colored subject distinct from mine, but never from a subject to a reality. Causality does not start only from subjective impressions of reality, but must be based in the perceived itself. And if what is perceived is formally subjective, then the causality collapses. There is no causality whatsoever which can lead from the purely subjective, i.e. from subjective impressions, to the real.
Since Zubiri believes that we are ultimately grounded in reality, hence entire paradigm of human intelligence which relies on sensible impressions and causality to connect us with the "outside" world, whether through ordinary thinking or science, must be changed. Thus Zubiri's conclusion about the failure of causal reasoning is quite the opposite of Hume: it does not suggest skepticism, but the inadequacy of the "sensible impression" notion and the need to rethink basic human experience in order to find a different ground for human knowledge.
Summary of Zubiri's critique of Hume
In many respects, Hume accepted traditional ideas uncritically and merely carried-or drove-them to their logical conclusion. Hume assumes that reality is somewhere "out there", and that the world of perception is a kind of "image" in which things of the world are mapped in some unknown way onto our perceptory apparatus, which implies that knowledge of reality is highly problematic, and metaphysics is essentially impossible. Hume was correct in his observation that we do not perceive causes sufficiently well to base metaphysical conclusions about the world on them.
But in terms of Zubiri's philosophy, Hume's analysis of human apprehension was incorrect, and consequently he failed to recognize that our intelligence is sentient, not sensible, and that reality is already delivered to us in primordial apprehension, the first stage of intelligence. In particular, Hume does not realize (1) that at that level, functionality is associated with the formality of reality of impressions, not their content; and (2) that reality in the most fundamental sense is given to us directly-there is no need (or even possibility) of causal chains to reach it. Our primordial impressions have both content and formality of reality; and this must be the point of departure for any epistemology and any knowledge of the external world. Hume attempted to place the entire responsibility for connecting us to reality on the content of impressions, a burden it cannot bear. Content is useful at the subsequent stages of intellection (logos and reason) only because of the formality of reality established at the first stage.
While causality in the sense of real production is not given, reality and functionality are; neither metaphysical speculation nor knowledge of the external world depends on the validity of any causal principle. Ultimately it is functionality, not causality, that forms the basis of most of our knowledge; causality comes into play in the moral and personal sphere.
Kant and the re-establishment of causality
Kant felt that Hume's attack on causality was so destructive of knowledge that he had to reestablish it in a secure way. Commenting on Kant's philosophy, Zubiri remarks:
...Kant insists that science would be impossible without synthetic a priori judgments...i.e., without truths which are absolutely necessary and universal; the immediate example he cites is that of causality. In fact, if one did not have a causal vision of the world, if objects were not connected causally, they would be unintelligible. Kant understands that causality is that "everything which is in time has an antecedent, which strictly determines it in time"....I only wish to say that the idea of causality and the idea of temporal determination are not the same; it might be true that when something appears in time, it has a cause. But does this mean that said cause is an antecedent which appears in time?
In the end, Kant was sufficiently persuaded by Hume's arguments that he concluded it impossible to fully reestablish causality in its historical role. As a result, he had to abandon causality for the purposes of speculative metaphysical reasoning such as proofs of the existence of God utilizing sense-based data from the "outside" world. Such reasoning he was compelled to base on moral arguments instead. Zubiri observes,
Speculative reason had seen, in causality, temporal determination; here we find ourselves with something different: a determination in the intelligible world-a strict causality which is only in the intelligible order. Hence, what was simply a possibility for speculative reason, is an objective reality for practical reason. Why? Because practical reason has a datum which theoretical reason absolutely lacks, the absolute datum of morality, of the will.
This allows Kant to construct a transcendental metaphysics not based on the shaky ground of causal reasoning from the world of sensible experience:
Ultimately, Kant's transcendental metaphysics is the transcendental metaphysics of something immanent: the transcendental metaphysics of the person....It is a Metaphysics in which reason, by means of concepts, reaches the objective reality of the thing-in-itself, to wit, immortality and God.
While rejecting Kant's metaphysics, Zubiri will take from him the notion of causality in the moral sphere, and the notion of that sphere as different than other experience.
IV. Second reference point: New insights into causality from modern science
Classical physics was in fact part science and part philosophy. Early in his career, Zubiri recognized the problems of classical physics owing to this mix of pure science and certain metaphysical notions, and also perceived clearly how new developments in the 20th century represented not a betrayal, but a purification of science. The author has analyzed this situation, based on Zubiri's philosophy, in two earlier essays.,
The key property of causality for classical physics was the implication, or belief, that every change which occurs in the world must have a cause, in the sense of efficient cause. Since 'cause' was understood as being deterministic and necessary, the development of probability (and statistics) in the 19th and 20th centuries set the stage for a collision with the aforementioned beliefs because it deals with the world in terms of averages and distributions instead of unique numbers. As long as probability could be interpreted as a shorthand way of saying that we do not know the exact answer to a problem because we cannot find out all the factors which may come into play, there was no problem.
However, if the uncertainty is irreducible, that is, if no set of observations or measurements can yield any further information, then the only inference is that things occur for which there is no cause, at least in the observable sense. That situation definitively arose for the first time in physics about 60 years ago with the development of quantum theory and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. This principle states that precise measurements of key pairs of quantities for any object will always have a residual uncertainty. Since "measurements" can be made by other physical bodies, not just humans, the implication of the Uncertainty Principle is that these conjugate quantities do not have precise values, and therefore the behavior of the object is not fully deterministic. Moreover, this indeterminism does not apply to our measurements or observations, but to real things themselves. Thus, for example, an electron trapped in a potential well can escape spontaneously-something which is impossible under the laws of classical physics-due to the probabilistic nature of the wave function. There is no "cause" for this, it just happens (we see it commonly as radioactivity: there is no way to predict when any particular atom will disintegrate; only behavioral averages over large numbers of atoms can be predicted accurately.) Moreover, physical constants and measured quantities have values that reflect the fundamental uncertainty in the sense that they would be different if there were no such uncertainty, e.g., the fine structure constant and width of spectral lines. This is clear evidence that-pace Jaki-the matter is not just a question of measurement, but of reality.
The foregoing interpretation of quantum theory was challenged early on by Einstein, de Broglie, and others who postulated the existence of "hidden parameters" which would account for the all observed behavior and restore exact determinism (i.e., causality in their view) to physics. But the deterministic and non-deterministic interpretations of the theory yield slightly different outcomes for certain types of experiments, so that an empirical test of the matter was always a possibility. A famous experimental test devised in the 1960's and carried out in 1982 by Alain Aspect and his group at the University of Paris clearly indicated that the deterministic hypothesis is wrong, and that there is a fundamental indeterminism at the heart of nature as understood empirically.
Long before this, however, Zubiri had recognized the problem and also the implications of the Uncertainty Principle. In particular, he zeroed in on the question of the link between causality and determinism, which had been accepted uncritically by physicists up to that point:
...it is unnecessary to interpret [the Uncertainty Principle] as a negation of determinism. It is possible that things are interrelated by determinate links, i.e., that the state of the electron in an instant of time univocally determines its later course. But what Heisenberg's principle affirms is that such a determinism has no physical meaning, on account of the impossibility of knowing exactly the initial state. If this impossibility were accidental, i.e., if it depended on the subtlety of our means of observation, Planck would be right. But if it is an absolute impossibility for physics, i.e., if it is founded in the nature of measurement as such, the presumed real determinism escapes physics....In such case, the Uncertainty Principle would not necessarily be a renunciation of the idea of a cause, but rather of the idea that classical physics formed of causality.
Moreover, causality (understood in the strict sense) is not the basis for modern science; indeed, "...modern science had its origin in the exquisite care with which it restricted this idea."
The limitations to scientific knowledge implied in the Uncertainty Principle were uncovered in the course of science's own development, and for Zubiri reflect a deeper reality: the underlying structure of the human mind and the limitations to its ability to know reality through sensible apprehension. It has become clear that our perception of reality is not absolute in the 19th century sense, nor is it the way God perceives the world. Science will always have limitations because of what Zubiri terms the fundamental 'openness' of reality, the fact that no thing can be delineated or exist in isolation from all others; if one likes, things are not substances in the Aristotelian sense:
This openness is absolute, because however much we find, the search will never exhaust the openness of the world. And this is essential. In contrast to what Leibniz and Kant thought, reason is not totalizing or a totality, but something constitutively open. And this is not due to internal limitations of reason itself, but to the very nature of the real as impressively sensed.
Zubiri is keenly aware of the pivotal position of science and scientific laws in any discussion of reality. A scientific law expresses a functional relation between quantities of interest, and the nature of that function can vary greatly. Determinism is one type of functionality, as in Newton's second law, , where the value of is completely determined once F and m are known; probability is another type of functionality, as in Schrödinger's equation, , where is a probability distribution function. However causality, in its usual acceptation, plays at most a background role; Zubiri's own example is the Universal Gas Law, : no causality is evident in the relationship among pressure, volume, and temperature. In the case of biological systems, the functionality can become quite complicated indeed; an example which immediately springs to mind is that of a DNA molecule and its corresponding organism. Other types of functional relations exist, e.g., symmetry as used in subatomic physics; and new ones may be discovered in the future.
To see how this view of causality and scientific laws meshes with modern science, it is necessary to ask a critical question: What is related by these functions? That which can be measured. For Zubiri, the concept of "measure" goes far beyond measurement in the quantitative sense understood by science; it is rather an essential part of reason as the highest form of human knowledge. Before tackling the question of measure and science, it is necessary to be clear on Zubiri's radically new concept of reason. Reason is not an organ of absolute evidence (Kant), the basis of dialectic (Hegel), explanation of intellections, or organization of experience. It is what "gives us to think" about things and thus to go beyond what is present at levels of simple reality and logos:
Only as explanation of color is there intellection of electromagnetic waves or photons. The color which gives us to think is what leads us to the electromagnetic wave or to the photon. If it were not for this giving us to think, there would be no intellection of a beyond whatsoever; there would be at most a succession of intellections "on this side"...
But it should not be assumed that only science, through theoretical constructs, can achieve this intellection:
... the beyond is not just a theoretical concept, as are the wave and the photon, for example. The beyond can also be what forges a novel; we would not create the novel if the real did not give us to think. The same could be said of poetry: the poet poetizes because things give him to think. And that which he thinks of them is his poetry. That what is intellectively known...may be a reality which is theoretically conceptualized, a reality in fiction, or a poetic reality, does not change the essence of intellection as reason. A metaphor is one type of reasoning about things, among others....Therefore intellection of the beyond is reason or explanation, is intellection of the real in depth.
That is, reality is known by reason in areas well outside of science, such as poetry, but not through analysis of causes. Art, for example, reveals truth to us, and for Zubiri is a product of the third level of intelligence, reason; but it has nothing to do with causality.
The notion of measure in connection with reason can now be understood. Every thinking intellection, for Zubiri, is based upon a principle of intellection. This principle he terms a 'fundament-reality'. It is in accordance with the fundament-reality that a thinking intellection gauges the reality of what is present to it, or as Zubiri says, measures it. For example, prior to the twentieth century, material things were assimilated to the notion of "body"; that was the measure of all material things; and it was assumed that things "beyond" were also bodies. But quantum mechanics disclosed that the real beyond the field is not always a body:
Elementary particles, in fact, are not corpuscles ... but another class of material things. Borne along by the field intellection of things, we were disposed to intellectively know the things beyond the field as bodies, different perhaps, but when all was said and done, still bodies. The measure of the real was undertaken with a determinate metric: "body". Now, the progress toward reality has opened up to us other real material things which are not bodies.
Our canon of reality, in this sense, was thus enlarged. (Zubiri himself will go on to enlarge it further, pointing out that personhood is another type of reality distinct from "body" or other material things). This canon, however inadequate, is nonetheless essential because it imparts a direction to our searching; in the case cited, it was only by seeking bodies that we encountered something new. Reason, indeed, is intellectus quaerens, a quest or search, and therefore has a certain character of provisionality:
The scientific method is "a" way of access to in-depth reality, but not every way of access is a scientific method....there is no implication that we will in fact actually reach this true encounter [with reality]; it may perhaps not always be possible. Science is not, as Kant thought, a Faktum, but an effort, not just with respect to its content, but also and above all with respect to the very possibilities of its existence-something completely different than the conditions of possibility of a science already achieved, such as the science about which Kant spoke.
Thus measurement, as understood in science, is a subclass of the more general type of measurement which constitutes part of reason as thinking intellection. In fact, measurement in science proceeds at several levels: at the lowest, it is comparison of something with a fixed standard, e.g., a meter stick, which forms part of the canon of measurable quantities and standards (length, time, voltage, etc.). At an intermediate level, measurement is comparison of what is observed with the canon of what is already known to exist, e.g. species of plants or animals, or subatomic particles. But at the highest level-a level virtually unrecognized prior to the 20th century-it is exploration of in-depth reality based on the canon of types or classes of reality known at the time, e.g., material bodies. A change in the canon at this level generally entails a paradigm shift in Kuhn's sense:
Reason is always subject to possible canonic "renovations" or "repairs", which by virtue of being so are rational renovations. This renovation clearly concerns the content of what is presented in the canon ... [It] not only remakes the content of what is presented as real, but also the very direction of all subsequent search, of all subsequent reason; whence it is that the direction of reason is always provisional. Provisional does not mean that it is false ... Rather, it means that even if true, it is a truth which by its very nature will not necessarily be derogated, but superseded.
Scientific theories and laws are thus a way of measuring reality, but not the only way nor a comprehensive way. The old paradigm of science as investigation of deterministic, causal relationships is far to restrictive to permit this new understanding of scientific knowledge and its place in the totality of human knowledge.
V. Third reference point: Causality and the moral sphere
Zubiri's thought on causality is incomplete without reference to the moral sphere, because it is there that the one reality which is fully substantive-human reality-abides. To understand the unique nature of this case, it is necessary to review Zubiri's concept of giving of itself and then his analysis of substance:
By 'causality'... one understands in the first place the functionality of the real qua real. And, in the second place, that in this functionality is how the real, which is real inasmuch as it is formally a de suyo, this reality in fact gives of itself [da de sí]. This giving of itself in the functionality of the real inasmuch as it is real is just causality.
Zubiri notes that the role of causality reflected in this giving of itself is problematic because outside of certain human actions, it is impossible to isolate all of the causes of any event. This implies that human reality is different than other types of reality, an inference confirmed by Zubiri's analysis of substance.
For Zubiri, to define substance as something in which predicates inhere is to confuse the logical and the metaphysical orders. He argues that Aristotle's analysis of substance fails because he did not understand the complexity of reality:
A real system whose notes have constitutional sufficiency possesses, in virtue of this, a certain autonomous character in respect of constitution: this is what I call substantivity...Substantivity is not Aristotelian substantiality. For Aristotle, a substance is the subject of properties, especially essential properties. But here, real things are not substantial subjects, but substantive systems....what Aristotle never realized is that there can be unsubstantive substances.
There is a sense in which real things are not fully independent in the Aristotelian sense of substance, being mutually dependent or as Zubiri says, "intrinsically respective". Causality, in the fullest sense, requires that a substantivity be substantive, which only occurs in the case of human reality:
Moreover, no substantivity-and this is extremely important-is fully a seat of causality because there is no substantive reality (outside of human reality, and there only in limited dimensions); there is no substantivity which is fully a substance. Therefore, none is fully a cause.
This builds on the idea discussed in connection with science, that personhood is a different type of reality than the "bodies" of classical physics; and therefore the thing-centered approach to causality is inadequate for it:
Between persons there is a functionality-strict causality therefore-a causation between persons, between "who" these persons are. This is not just an application of classical causality to persons, but a type of causation irreducible to those of classical metaphysics, and still less reducible to the concept of a scientific law. It is what I call personal causality. And however repugnant it may be to natural science, there is...a causality between persons which is not given in the realm of nature.
Elaborating on this point, Zubiri notes that there are innumerable interpersonal relations which do not fit into the mold of the four causes:
When I am with a friend or a person whom I love, the influence of friendship or tenderness does not reduce to mere psycho-physical causation. It is not just an influence of what the friend is, but of the friend by virtue of him being who he is.
Zubiri notes that physical causality is exercised through means such as force, pressure, and attraction; whereas in personal causality, it is through friendship, companionship, love, and support, for example. This personal causality is the basis for morality and the moral dimension of the human person. The moral dimension of man is a "physical" dimension, in the sense that it represents a real, physical "appropriation" by each person of specific possibilities for his life. Morality, in the sense of values, the good, and obligations, is possible only through the foundation of this physical dimension. Since this requires effort on the part of each person, i.e., each person makes his own life:
...the moral is not found in the naked substantive reality of man, i.e., in what a man individually and specifically is, but in his personized nature. Man is moral reality because he is nature, personal substantivity. Therefore the so-called 'moral causality' is strictly and formally personal causality.
Of course, Zubiri would deny that causality, however real our direct experience of it is in the moral life, could be generalized to a metaphysical principle of universal validity.
VI. Zubiri and secondary causality
Secondary causality is a theological concept developed to explain God's action in the world. It arose in response to the recognition that God is able to bring about actions without perceptible "miraculous" intervention. Secondary causality may be defined as generation of some desired outcome through ordinary processes which occur according to their own rules or laws without regard to or knowledge of the desired outcome. Secondary causality implies that a single set of events or phenomena can have a perfectly valid scientific (or other) explanation, yet at the same time be the working out of a plan at a higher level. Examples may readily be drawn from science, politics, and history, and evolution. Zubiri does not directly address secondary causality in his writings, but clearly recognizes and utilizes the idea. This can be seen in his discussion of human evolution and the origin of man.
Too often one tends to imagine this creation literally, as an external interference on the part of the first cause, God, with the animal series. The intellective psyche would be an external insufflation of spirit into the animal, which by this addition would be converted into a man this is a naive anthropomorphism. The creation of an intellective psyche ex nihilo is not an external addition to the somatic structures because it is neither mere addition nor is it external. And precisely for this reason, in spite of this creation, or, better said, because of this creation, there is that genetic origin of man, determined from structures and in intrinsic function with their transformation, which we call evolution. Creation is not an interruption of evolution but is, on the contrary, an intrinsic factor, a causal "mechanism" intrinsic to it.
In a similar vein, Zubiri discusses transubstantiation, and notes that for the scientist, nothing would appear amiss:
Or suppose that someone were to say to a chemist analytically investigating the molecules of bread and wine that a supernatural action had made them, instead of bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. Undoubtedly, our physicist and chemist would continue unperturbed .Chemistry would not be affected because, as theology says, when the reactants act upon the consecrated bread, they decompose it and, therefore, recreate the natural being of the chemical elements. The spectacle of nature remains unaltered by these transcendental happenings
Secondary causality is intimately related to determinism, especially strict determinism, and its correlate, reductionism. There are, in reality, two aspects to the question: metaphysical and epistemological-a fact that is often overlooked but which Zubiri clearly perceived. Usually the problem is posed in metaphysical terms: Is the world completely determinate? The question nowadays is taken to mean that everything which happens is the ineluctable result of some physical law. In such case, there is no need for any other type of explanation of phenomena, and of course there is a problem with notions such as free will and ethical theory in general. In particular, secondary causality would seem to be superfluous.
The second aspect of the question, however, is just as important. It concerns our ability to know reality; obviously, if we cannot know reality in some absolute, complete sense, and if this reflects fundamental limitations of the human mind, then we cannot make definitive pronouncements about its determinism, strict or otherwise, nor can we make valid inferences based on the presumed determinism. While this may seem a trivial observation, it is at the base of the great 20th century controversies over quantum mechanics and the foundations of physics, centering on Heisenberg's famous Uncertainty Principle. Zubiri recognized the critical importance of this question very early, well before he formulated his mature philosophy about the open nature of reality. In an early essay (1942), he analyzed the crux of the problem. Consider first the significance of measurement in classical physics:
With the concept of quantity in classical physics it is clear that mathematical formulae lead from an initial quantity to a final quantity or quantities which are real; i.e. if we carry out measurements on the final state, the results will approximate more or less the true value of the quantity measured.
This contrasts sharply with the notions of quantum mechanics, in which the Uncertainty Principle affirms that one cannot measure what are referred to as conjugate quantities with arbitrary accuracy. Rather, there will always be a degree of uncertainty in the measurement of each, such that the product of the uncertainties is greater than a fixed number called Planck's constant. For example, in the case of position (x) and momentum (p): .
The existence of this principle forever precludes from realization the goal long sought after by science, that of being able to predict with arbitrary accuracy the entire future or past course of the universe (or any part of it), once sufficient information about the present is known. It does so in the sense that henceforth such a goal has no physical meaning. Thus it clearly points up the metaphysical and extra-scientific nature of the goal, because it does not say that the universe is not strictly determinate; but only that such strict determinism (if it is real) is not part of the nature which physics examines. In other words, our knowledge through physical science is fundamentally limited; one can go on maintaining determinism, but must realize that it is a metaphysical hypothesis about reality which has no basis in physical science
That is, a scientist cannot, even theoretically, make any sequence of measurements which would confirm the supposed determinate links. And in that case,
But neither is the Uncertainty Principle a principle of ontology in general, as if it pretended to deny the existence of causality. Whatever may be the verdict on that, it does not affect the Uncertainty Principle at all. Causality is not synonymous with determinism; rather, determinism is a type of causality.
Determinism is a metaphysical hypothesis about the universe which may or may not be true. But however the universe may be determinate, it is not so in any way which can be given scientific meaning or verified scientifically; hence, the notion of determinism is not required for the conduct of science.
What does this signify for the nature of knowledge, and especially scientific knowledge? Physics after quantum mechanics no longer has the meaning of investigation of absolute space and time, of reality in an ultimate sense, the sense which gave rise to the so-called scientific proofs of the existence of God, based on such things as Fermat's principle of least time, or the second law of thermodynamics. Indeed, "Physics, even more than in the case of Einstein, has nothing more than a human meaning. Strictly speaking, for God not only is there no physics, there is no Nature in this sense, either."(39) In other words, even nature as we perceive it is not absolute reality in the sense that God sees things the way we do, and accordingly is reduced to the role of a superphysicist in heaven plotting the motion of all particles in the universe.
So with strict determinism an unverifiable and somewhat arbitrary metaphysical principle, not required for the conduct of science, nature and physics become exclusively human ways of knowing rather than absolute truth about reality and God's way of thinking about it. And with the fundamental openness of reality, there lies the possibility of multiple explanations of the same events, at different levels. The scientist sees the working out of non-determinate, statistical laws. But events can still be directed at a level which is the working out of a plan.
This intervention can occur in at least two ways. First, there is the structural way alluded to above in connection with evolution: nature is such that man arose through natural processes which led to him as a stable outcome. In other words, man was programmed into creation from the first instant. Or more directly, those who act according to a moral code, say that of Christianity, will receive what they need for happiness. For example, a person with psychological problems may receive help from a friend, spiritual advisor, or other person, the actions of whom are quite in accordance with normal behavior and in no way something which would appear unusual to a scientific observer.
At another level, God could intervene in processes not in such a way that they directly and observably violate any scientific principles or laws (as occurred, for example, in the transformation of water into wine as at the wedding feast of Cana), but in ways which are lost in the probabalistic fog that is part and parcel of the human condition of knowledge and which surrounding physical events, especially those we associated with chance-the stray cosmic ray, weather patterns, accidents, etc. And this could occur over vast time, complexity, and distance scales, and as such be impossible to discern.
VII. Summary of Zubiri's position on causality and its significance in his philosophy
We do not directly perceive the productive influence of one thing upon another, therefore with the exception of the moral sphere, we cannot directly perceive causal connections; we cannot penetrate to the core of things in some Leibnizian sense and see them as they are. But this is not a problem because we do not need causality to connect us with reality. In primordial apprehension, we directly perceive reality and do not require the validity of any causal principle to guarantee this perception. In primordial apprehension, we are given functional relations between things, through the formality of reality; and at higher levels of intelligence, additional functional relations can be discerned, as in science, but not causal relations in the traditional, deterministic sense. Moreover, causality is a broader concept than determinism, which emerges as only a special type of causality. Functionality, in turn, is a broader concept than causality, which yields the inclusion relation:
determinism Ì causality Ì functionality
implying that philosophical knowledge cannot be built upon causality.
Zubiri's position on causality with reference to the four dimensions discussed at the beginning of this paper may be outlined as follows:
Causality and metaphysics
- Causality is unnecessary to account for our perception of reality, which is given to us directly because our intelligence is sentient. Therefore metaphysical knowledge is possible, but does not depend on the validity of some causal principle.
- Rational knowledge does seek to explain reality in apprehension using mechanisms which may posit other realities. But there remains a prior, direct link which does not require a causal connection. For example, color is associated with electromagnetic waves of a certain frequency and photons of a certain energy. But the color is real, and furthermore, it is the photons as perceived.
- Causality in the strong, deterministic sense-never extensively verified but only sketched out as a program-is irrelevant, not just because we cannot perceive the influence of one thing on another, but because the causal nexus is too complicated to unravel in any real case.
- Causality in the classical sense assumes a paradigm oriented toward distinct things or substances; but reality is constitutively open and respective, so that the idea of one thing acting on another is highly problematic.
Causality and science
- The causality with which the scientist is concerned is really functionality, not causality in the metaphysical sense.
- Scientific laws are functional, not causal; and science has a purely human meaning. Its laws do not express the mind of God. Therefore no conclusions about God can be drawn from the existence of irreducibly statistical laws. If the type of functionality involved is statistical or probabilistic, it reflects limitations of the human mind rather than some fundamental disorder in reality.
Causality and knowledge
- Causality cannot be understood without reference to the distinction between content and formality of reality, since its locus at the level of primordial apprehension is the formality of reality, not the content of apprehensions.
- Ordinary knowledge does not require causality in the strict, deterministic sense, but only the weaker notion of functionality.
- Much of our knowledge about reality stems from methods that do not involve causality at all: at the lowest level, primordial apprehension; at the highest, art, music and literature. Science itself uses causality only in the sense of functionality.
Causality and moral theory
- Human reality is fully substantive, and therefore can be the seat of causality in respect of his moral dimension. Thus, the principles of moral law and jurisprudence are not undermined by the restrictions on causality as an explanatory principle in metaphysics and natural science.
- Personal causality, not reducible to the physical causality paradigm, is the basis for human morality.
Does functionality imply that every event has a cause in some ultimate, deterministic sense, even if we can never perceive it? Zubiri does not address this question; he thinks that from a human standpoint (the only one available if one does not consider Divine Revelation), we have reason to believe that the answer is no. All we have from experience-including empirical science-is functionality, which may be statistical in form. He does believe in causality in the moral arena; but he also believes that the human reality is a different type of reality than ordinary objects or even other living things. He does not believe that reasoning from the moral to the physical or metaphysical order is valid, in the sense that one can generalize about causality based on moral experience, or create metaphysical principles such as, "every event has a cause".
Does God know the cause of every event? Zubiri does not address this question either; however, based on his remarks about nature, he may feel that such a question projects our understanding of nature onto God anthropomorphically. God sees things in a creative vision; for Him, there is no physics or any nature in our sense, either. To ask this question, therefore, may be akin to asking whether God can make a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it.