THE FOUR CAUSES Miguel Espinoza Taken from: Studies on Mario Bungeâ€™s Treatise, edited by P. Weingartner and G. J. W. Dorn, Rodopi, Amsterdam â€“ Atlanta, GA., 1990, pp. 170 â€“ 190.
1. Foreword The natural philosophy underlying this essay can be stated in a few propositions: 1: Nature is composed of emergent systems. 2: Natural systems are discrete entities which come out of a continuous substrate space. This continuous substrate space accounts, in the last analysis, for the continuity of nature and the possibility of obtaining a step by step explanation. 3: Natural systems are intrinsically intelligible. Reason, meaning, and truth are intrinsic properties of natural systems. These properties exist in things before existing consciously in our minds. 4: The intrinsic intelligibility of a system is due to (i) its stability, (ii) the necessity or reason inscribed in it, (iii) the presence of universal aspects or elements, and (iv) the fact that the system has a logos, a principle which organizes its unity. 5: The intellect is an emergent natural system whose function is the conscious apprehension of natural intelligibility. 6: Knowledge and understanding are the conscious apprehension of natural intelligibility, even if the intelligibility in things is not exactly the same as the intelligibility in the intellect.
2 7: Knowledge rationally extended by understanding should be expressed in a scientific-metaphysical system. 8: The aim of science-cum-metaphysics is the search for intelligibility. 9: To explain is to climb up the ladder of necessity. Formal and final causes are as natural and as rationally conceivable as material and efficient causes. The Aristotelian inspiration of this thesis is evident. That is why sometimes I refer to it indistinctly as "realist metaphysics" or "Aristotelian realism". Aristotle's realism is the finest example of hylomorphic naturalism, that is, of a system where matter aspires to form and finality. Aristotle's philosophy, being materialist, is more relevant to the problems of modern science than most materialists and ontological dualists suggest. 2. The four causes Causality and the intelligibility of nature have been tied together since Aristotle's systematic treatment of causality. All men, says the Stagirite, naturally desire knowledge, but only some of them can attain wisdom. All men have the easy and spontaneous knowledge coming from sense evidence, but only some of them can attain a theoretical understanding of the principles that explain the constitution and the functioning of the universe. Obviously the search for principles is difficult; those who are able to undertake it approach wisdom. To understand something means to understand its causes, the reasons why. One of the clearest expressions of the present condition of causality modelled by modern science is to be found in the scientific-realist philosopher Mario Bunge. The chapter devoted to scientific realism contains a list of the main features of this movement. For the present purposes it is sufficient to say that according to scientific realism, nothing is superior to science as far as the knowledge of nature is concerned; therefore, it is science who tells us finally what there is. How can we conceive of science and nature without damaging either the rationality of science, or the philosophical quest for intelligibility, or the integrity of nature? A critical point, capable of engaging metaphysical and scientific realists in an interesting dialogue, is doubtless that of the acceptance or rejection of formal and final causes. As everyone knows, Aristotle distinguished four kinds of causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. The first two are internal or intrinsic; the others, external or
3 extrinsic. Matter is the passive, albeit adequate, flux on which the other causes act. The formal cause is the quality, the defining idea, or the essence of the thing. The efficient cause is the agent or motive force. The final cause is the goal to which the thing is oriented. (Aristotle, Metaphysica, Book I, Ch.iii, 983 a,b). Let us examine now some of the problems related to matter. 3. Self-organization: reduction to ignorance? As an introduction to the study of Bunge's notion of matter, I propose to review a materialist doctrine â€”not quite Bunge's, but similar to itâ€” interesting for two reasons closely related: it illustrates some of the deficiencies in the explanations provided by present biology and physics, and, because of these deficiencies, it sets a definite limit to Bunge's (or to anybody's) movement away from the four causes. How is it that a set of homoiomerous qualities become anhomoiomerous? How can an homogeneous matter become differentiated? How can living beings tend to organize themselves? The development of molecular biology has shown that biological molecules are intelligent entities capable of recognizing the spatial presence of proteins and of DNA. This phenomenon leads scientists to think of the virus forming itself by a sort of "crystallization" process which would show that, in the end, the same basic processes occurring in the inorganic kingdom take place at the organic level. (Viruses do not seem to encounter any difficulty in passing from inorganic to organic matter; they become living entities by exploiting the facilities offered by a living environment). This is clearly a step forward compared to the idea, widely accepted before the recent development of molecular biology, that organization was nothing but the result of a series of chance events and happy coincidences. Yet the appeal to chance (that is, to an unintelligible process, or in the words of RenĂŠ Thom, a process which no mechanism can simulate, which no formalism can describe) comes in at least twice in the self-organization story: In the first place, at the level of evolution, the formation of a complex genetic code would be the result of chance (the formation of life from a series of systematic combinations would take longer than the age of the universe). In the second place, there are at the organic level some stable structures of dissipate systems (open systems where at least part of the energy set into action is dissipated, that is, transformed into thermic agitation energy) whose explanation would be found, in the end, in the presence of some global, geometric, deterministic conditions,
4 as well as in the presence of a series of unforeseeable, unverifiable, microscopic fluctuations, that is, of spontaneous, unceasing, random evolutions of physical systems at the proximity of their equilibrium state. A suitable example of this phenomenon seems to be Benard's experiment showing the emergence of organization in a non-equilibrium system. To describe and to explain means, in part, to show the place occupied by something in a system, to show how the actual comes out of the virtual, how things are generated. It follows that if something spontaneous exists, as those evolutions just mentioned, it is utterly ineffable and unthinkable. Logicians know that even a proper name is a category of identification and that, to identify something, one has to be able to show its continuity with its environment or context. According to the self-organization ideology, the history of the universe is, in part, the result of the random mixing and unmixing of the properties constituting matter. To explain means to reduce any organization to its material components. Because neither formal nor final causes are in action, matter organizes itself through a series of random events (even if some global conditions must be recognized). Stupid matter becomes intelligent organism by a series of blind combinations (the 'intelligent' biological molecules would disagree). Materialism, says A. Comte, means to explain the superior by the inferior. Computer science is supposed to clarify and sharpen this contradictory idea. The reductionism typical of rough materialism is untenable: it satisfies neither the conditions of intelligibility nor the conditions of understanding. Indeed the order-through-chaos and the order-through-fluctuation programs are far from answering the questions relative to the final cause. For instance, one would like to know why and how the first program appeared, and why individuals and the species through them seem to do all they can possibly do to survive. Finality, understood as the strive for survival, takes us back to Aristotle. It is no wonder, for the principles of intelligibility are more stable than theories. (The suggestion that order may come from chaos -a correct idea, according to Bunge- has become popular at least in France's intelligentsia, but it is legitimate to ask to what extent, if any, this hypothesis has had an effect in the actual work of scientists so far). I said at the beginning of this section that the version of self-organization just outlined is not quite Bunge's. Why? He criticizes the models coming from computer science: they are purely formal and disregard neuroscience. Secondly, his concept of matter is richer than the one used by most reductionists.
5 But here is a difficult point. One of the most attractive features of Bunge's epistemology is his examination and use of the category of determination. There is no science without explanation, no explanation without laws; the mind has no taste for chaos, disorder or random events. The attribution of anything to chance if often the result of ignorance concerning the reason of things because most of the time a chance event, a happy coincidence, is the crossing of lawful lines which echoes Cournot's definition, although Cournot conceived a chance event rather as the result of the crossing of independent causal series of events. Let us remember, in passing, that some mathematicians, for instance H. PoincarĂŠ and E. Borel, describe as 'chance event' every event resulting from a high number of causes or from very small causes so that it becomes impossible for us to estimate their value. Thus conceived, a chance event is not a break of causality but a kind of complicated causality which makes it difficult or impossible for us to establish a calculus and a precise prediction. Epistemological lack of prediction or chance at the epistemological level is compatible then with ontological causality. Faithful to the results of quantum mechanics, Bunge believes that chance is one of the objective properties of nature, that causation and chance intertwine. It is true that, according to physicists, the attempts at finding a deterministic space (hidden variables) underlying the explicit indeterminism of quantum mechanics, have been so far unfulfilled. Be that as it may, what is beyond doubt is that science is incapable of proving determinism or its rival thesis, although the determinism inscribed in the way a system of symbols generates meaning, that is, develops its structures, postulates a real determinism: otherwise science would not have any chance of being a knowledge of nature. (Whoever believes that the universe, ruled by chance, is the work of the divinity, adores an evil god: why would the divinity make the universe in one way, man, on a different way? The ethical equivalent of indeterminism is evil: nothing constructive or positive can come out of them). If scientific evidence is always circumscribed to a domain accessible to our senses, what is beyond our reach is beyond scientific evidence -which does not mean that it is absolutely unknowable since sense evidence can be rationally extended by metaphysics. To believe that the real existence of chance can be proved from our incapacity to predict successfully means to jump illicitly from the epistemic (discourse) to the ontological (to the way things are). From the impossibility of successful prediction it does not follow that nature is not ruled by necessity.
6 Of course, Bunge knows all this. Yet his assertion that quantum mechanics proves that chance events are real, is not devoid of confusion between the epistemic and the ontological, at least as far as I have been able to understand this difficult subject. Anyway, Bunge's appraisal of the descriptive category of determination at the epistemological level, together with his recognition of chance events at the ontological level, poses a problem for the understanding of organization. The range of the epistemological category of determination is wide: it goes from strictly determined events to events that are merely probable, but the recognition of random, though lawful, events, is not an explanation of the ontological formation of order from chance, nor do I think Bunge would present it as that. To the extent that anybody would insist on the reality of chance events, the question is posed, that is, how can order come from them. Is it possible to confine chance to the quantum universe? In that case, the underlying continuity of nature, necessary to an ontological monism such as Bunge's, would pose a new problem. The main difficulty here is the presence of a break, of a lack of resonance, between reality and knowledge. (Bunge, 1981, pp.53-38). 4. Plastic and emergent matter Every real entity is material and concrete. To be is to become. The main token of materiality is changeability. Everything which can be scientifically studied is material and changeable. These are some of the main characteristics that, according to Bunge, all ontologies should possess (scientism). I have said at the beginning that Aristotle's philosophy is a materialism. So far so good to Bunge's eyes. But to the extent that hylomorphism includes some fixed objects (among them, essences, forms, and goals), it is not scientific, according to Bunge. We will see throughout this essay how Aristotle could explain himself. In a word, Aristotle would say that everything changes according to quantity, but it is because objects have an unchanging form that we get to know them. Moreover, in a way compatible with the dynamic universe revealed by our contemporary science, nothing in nature nor in the intellect forces us to conceive of essence, form, and goal as immutable things: all that is required is that they be conceived as stable in relation to some changes or movements. Aristotle conceives of matter in two senses, absolute and relative, or primary and secondary. First matter is the most abstract element of reality. Secondary matter is the matter of something, for instance, that which is common to all men. The feature present in all kinds of matter is that matter at any level is ready to receive a form, a
7 determination. Unlike the matter of common sense, Aristotelian matter is not an opaque, sticky, amorphous mass. First matter underlies earth, water, air, and fire, and would explain the passage from one element to the other. Because first matter has absolutely no form, it is directly unknowable; we can refer to it in an indirect, analogical manner: "as brass is to statue, so is matter to substance". First matter cannot be the object of any science. It is a kind of flux, a quantitative equivalence, a principle comparable to the conservation of energy as it was propounded by some 19th-century scientists. Galileo was conscious that first matter is unknowable, and in order to develop a mathematical science of matter, he had to change its meaning: matter was no longer pure potentiality but an eternal and necessary property. Thus physical and mathematical intelligibility could become one in reality and in understanding. Galileo's (and Bunge's) matter resembles rather Aristotle's secondary matter: it already has a form which may receive another form. Let us not be surprised if our contemporary physics is incapable of neatly defining or explaining matter; nor are we taken by surprise when we are told that matter begins to look ephemeral and elusive. Why? Because matter needs form to become something. The obvious lesson is that physicists have to recognize the importance of form and become less suspicious of theories oriented towards qualities, even if they look anthropomorphic: man is part of nature. Aware of the difficulties of narrow materialism, Bunge has been led not to reduce matter to a single property like impenetrability, space, extension or quantity. Matter is plastic and emergent, present at all levels of reality. (Bunge, 1983, pp.139-141; 1985 b, pp.1O5-1O7, 117). The immediate reaction to the proposal that everything is material is that the concept of matter has to be very comprehensive and varied, which, on the one hand, diminishes its interest (everyone has noticed that, at first sight, the assertions: "everything is material" and "everything is spiritual" differ only in words) but, on the other hand, we do not see a different option as long as we look for a real referent to the idea that nature is continuous. Bunge says that plasticity and emergence are the two main features of matter. We will see that this, or something close to it, can be put in Aristotelian terms. Bunge's matter (one version of the 20th-century scientist's) is always in motion, unlike Aristotle's. It is true that first matter does not exist as such by itself: it needs form to become a substance. But it is conceivable as potentiality. Moreover, it is not evident
8 that a concept covering that which remains identical through formal change is not needed in modern and contemporary science. (Think of the referent of conservation principles). Plasticity is a concept used literally in neuroscience. Without a plastic nervous system, animals could not learn anything. Learning is possible, at least in part, because not all the neuronal connections are completely and rigidly established from the birth of the organism. The composition of some connections, the obliteration of some others, and the recomposition of still other sets of connections are the result, first, of a program inscribed in the nervous system (animals are programmed to learn), and secondly, of the experience of the organism as a result of its interaction with the environment. In Aristotelian terms, one can say that plasticity is, in a way, another name for 1째 potency (an organism is capable of experience, capable of learning) and 2째 for contingency, because at birth, the members of a species are equipped with more or less the same program which will be carried out differently. During life, the areas of indetermination become gradually determined. Emergence, according to Bunge, is evident -and so it is for Aristotle. The object of the Aristotelian theory of matter and form, potentiality and actuality, is the explanation of coming to be. Genesis is a real process, and there can be no genesis unless there is something new. (Physica, I, Ch.8). Reality exists on several levels of organization: physical, chemical, biological, psychological, linguistic, social. At each level there are properties and a behaviour not explainable exclusively in terms of its components. Ontological pluralism acknowledges some degree of autonomy at each level. This is compatible with Bunge's recommendation to reduce as far as possible, one of its guiding ideas concerning the unity of the cognitive field: each science has a background (to which it cannot be reduced) and no science can be developed in ignorance of its background. Now if we generalize plasticity to all matter, to matter at all levels, we can say that each emergent level resolves some of the indeterminations (contingencies) that were left open at the inferior level. How does this happen? Bunge believes that contemporary biology shows three fruitful ways of explaining emergence: (1) in terms of physics and chemistry, (2) in terms of control theory, and (3) in terms of the theory of evolution. Even before these three theories clarify emergence, it is pertinent to note that from a philosophical standpoint, two major possibilities are open: emergence may occur in an ordered, determined manner, or at random. Deletion of formal and final causes renders ordered becoming incomprehensible. The idea that the
9 explanation of adaptation reaches bottom on the principle of selection, as consequence of a process whose origin is a series of random mutations, is intellectually unsatisfactory. Bunge's dislike of this mumbo jumbo called "chaos" should lead him to prefer an ordered becoming, and it is once again pertinent to observe that order (presence of stable forms, absence of random, permanent motion) depends on the action of formal and final causes. (We will come back to some of these problems in the sections devoted to formal and final causes). It is time to examine efficient causes. 5. Modern science and the primacy of efficient causes The history of knowledge is a crisscrossing of observation and speculation. Middle Age scientists and philosophers pushed speculation too far while neglecting rational criticism, observation and experience. The Modern reaction headed by Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza, is the attempt at restoring the value of rational criticism and of sense evidence assisted by the epoch-making introduction of the mathematical idea of function (Newton, Euler). Moderns want to avoid verbal explanations among which they classed spiritual forces and teleology. Bunge sides with those who think that formal and final causes are remnants of a non-scientific, spiritualist metaphysics whose explanations are illusory. He tells us that modern science has shown that formal and final causes are neither empirically testable nor mathematically expressible. Moreover, if we realize that matter, even if it is an essential part of the content of physics, has not been considered as a cause, it follows that, of the four causes, only the efficient cause has been regarded as worthy of scientific research. (Bunge, 1979, p.32). Metaphysical realists propose, on the contrary, that one cannot do justice either to understanding or to the integrity of nature unless one includes formal and final causes. Nature is intelligent. Natural beings tend to form and finality. No没s, the higher power in the universe, is (according to Aristotle) better embodied in the stars than in man. More radically, I believe that man's intelligence is a small expression of nature's intelligence. In this context, I use "intelligence" to refer to the capacity of a set of elements to constitute and apply mechanisms allowing permanence or survival, to the capacity of harmonizing means to attain a goal, to become a form. Therefore, intelligence does not necessarily include consciousness. For a contemporary scientific realist such as Bunge, however, intelligence belongs exclusively to (some) animals and (to all) humans. If Bunge is
10 willing to recognize that not all intelligent acts are conscious, is he then ready to admit that non-conscious systems, living and non-living, can also be intelligent? Since I am saying here what I mean by 'intelligence', the choice of the term is not important: what counts is the fact or the capacity to which I refer. The search for conceptual clarity has to respect the established meanings of words which are a "sedimented" knowledge and wisdom. Nowhere do I intend to change the meanings of words, or extend them beyond measure for otherwise we would be explaining something by using concepts which in their turn have to be explained. What did Schopenhauer gain by calling his principle 'Will'?). It is easy to ridicule the pseudo-explanations given by some Schoolmen (L.P. Lagrange, the Jesuits of Co誰mbre, Toletus and many others) who often misunderstood Aristotle and were led to postulate the existence of a different substance, quality, form, or virtue to explain events (for instance, the falling or rising of bodies) which are actually explained by one and the same law (gravity). Hence the importance of Descartes' new ideas for the foundations of physics: all we need is mathematics and the properties of extension, that is, form, position, and motion. One can imagine the impression left by mechanism in the mind of those 17th-century scholars who wanted to understand. It is a well known fact that Cartesian mechanism, geometrically conceived, gives primacy to spatial (formal) explanations. Accordingly, no explanation is satisfactory without appeal to structure. Such an explanation is static, and it is true that Cartesian mechanism avoids as much as possible considering extrinsic elements such as efficient and final causes. Leibniz observed that extension, combined with the sole notion of change, cannot explain that matter resists motion (inertia). He felt the need to conceive of active substances, causes, forms and forces: he recovered the Aristotelian tradition while keeping the main components of modern science. By saying that forms or entelechies are forces, Leibniz suggested a modern way of interpreting some parts of the Aristotelian system. In doing so, he was giving a metaphysical interpretation of scientific mechanism, showing that science and metaphysics are compatible and need each other. In following Leibniz' metaphysical revision of mechanism, we must be careful not to revive those merely verbal explanations rejected by the fathers of modern science. Fortunately, we do not have to inject new entities and forces into the ontology of contemporary physical sciences to appreciate the action of formal and final causes.
11 6. That formal and final causes are not less observable or less conceivable than efficient causes It is true that in a dynamic universe, efficient causes (forces) are important. But is it true, as Bunge believes, that efficient causes are the only ones clearly conceived and therefore the only ones capable of mathematical expression? We cannot say, I think, that formal and final causes are less clearly conceived than efficient causes: at least to the extent that efficient causes are unobservable forces, they are as subject to speculation as the other causes. Nor can we say that formal and final causes are incapable of mathematical expression. It is true, however, that Cartesian mechanism is less capable of explaining movement than the dynamic theories of Newton and Leibniz. Furthermore, this latter criticism cannot be made to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. For instance, what produces the bending of a planet's trajectory is not a force (as it is believed in classical mechanics) but the spacetime curvature around the Sun. Every object behaves according to the formal rails traced by the physical geometry of space. Why do planets move in circles? (according to the Aristotelian cosmology). Aristotle would answer: because of all the isoperimetrical curves, the circle encloses the maximal area. (Many examples of the action of the formal cause in physics are shown by Largeault who argues, convincingly, that mathematics is a reservoir of forms underlying phenomena. Largeault, 1988, pp.227, 229, etc.). Since Bunge does not hold the realist doctrine according to which mathematics is inscribed in nature, he thinks that whoever considers Einstein's theory as an example of the action of the formal cause confuses the central referent of the theory, i.e. the gravitational field and its sources, with its geometrical representation. He insists that General relativity is not about manifolds but about physical things and points out that force is not done away with but redefined. I have said that formal and final causes can be mathematically expressed. How so? The mathematician teaches us that the passage from a local to a global figure can be carried out, for instance, through analyticity. A germ whose function is analytic determines, by analytic development, the function in its entire domain of existence. On the other hand, the passage from the global to the local figure can be accomplished thanks to the notion of singularity (Bruter, 1989). A punctual singularity can be seen as a global figure that has been concentrated on that point (Thom). Two of the theories studied by Lautman containing models that give us an idea of what happens when the whole (the
12 form, the structure) comes down to its parts, and vice-versa, are: differential geometry in its relationship to topology, and the theory of groups. Who speaks of form and finality is led to emphasize the global, spatial conditions of the production of phenomena, the other end of the process being the local, material conditions. Contemporary science has favoured the latter approach. Molecular biology and quantum mechanics are among the sharpest illustrations of this analytical tendency. These two approaches, explaining from top to bottom and from bottom up, are compatible. The complaint one can address to contemporary science is not that it chooses the local, materialistic approach, but that often it chooses it exclusively. Global conditions are tied to some general principles such as the search for stability. From an ontological point of view, the category of stability has to be placed immediately under the ultimate natural category, being or substance, for the simple reason that something is to the extent that it is stable. The search for stability poses problems tied to space which demand geometrical and dynamical solutions. Similar problems seem to call for similar solutions. Analogy is a reality in the production of all beings, inanimate and living. C. P. Bruter has called our attention to the fact that one of nature's favourite archetypes at work in the production of beings, is the obtaining of stability by duplication of the unstable object, and the formation of a regulating system going from one to the other. A coin placed on its edge is an unstable mechanical system. We can stabilize it by welding a rigid rod to the first coin and to a second, similar coin. It is the search for stability that starts the symmetry producing mechanisms whose function is to warrant the permanence of the object. In the realm of living beings, it is not strange to observe a process of regeneration by doubling, and the symmetrical unfolding of the external limbs of animals is the result of a stabilizing technique in spacetime proper to the species. (Bruter, 1976, p.47). These observations suggest that stability, the main condition for being, is a formal and a final cause, one of the organizing centers of the production of beings, and the search for stability presents itself as one of the paradigmatic ways in which a formal and a final cause act. Another way is the objects' search for extreme values. Crystallographers have always been impressed by the way that some particular substance crystallizes in a specific characteristic form. "Nature doth everywhere geometrise" (N. Grew). Apparently the knowledge of the chemical constitution of a substance does not always allow us to predict what the crystalline form of the substance
13 will be. If the formal cause is excluded, it is legitimate to ask just how a constant and specific figuration can arise accidentally. "Nothing happens without a reason" (Leibniz). Most modern thinkers do not want to confuse cause and reason. While causes and conditions are responsible for the production of the particular and unique, reasons are tied to the universal, abstract aspects underlying the production of phenomena. The universal or abstract (the form) is not sufficient to produce an object or a phenomenon. Hylomorphism recognizes this distinction: the world we know cannot exist unless there are particular, efficient causes, and a reservoir of universal forms embodied in the production of particular phenomena. One of the interesting facts for a philosopher is that scientists from ancient times on have been led to propose metaphysical speculation (atomism, Platonism, hylomorphism, etc.) to answer their pressing questions, as if the light coming from empirical research were utterly insufficient. It is no wonder, for no knowledge is possible without principles. This is a lesson for those who are convinced that we should always think from the bottom up, that is, begin with sense experience and postpone consideration of principles as long as possible. (For instance, it is not only the endless analysis of matter -as many physicists believe- that will deliver for us the principles of nature). In a dynamical system, what is given, the independent variable, is not a static universe exclusively ruled by formal structures, but a universe whose substance is movement. The paradigm, i.e., that which does not require explanation, is inertia. What must be explained is the transformation of movement, and it is postulated that the agent responsible for transformation is force. Efficient causes are forces. Let us then restate the question: is Bunge right when he says that forces are more clearly conceivable than formal and final causes? Since Leibniz' dynamics, forces have been associated with metaphysics, and when Leibniz wanted to call attention to the superiority of his system in comparison to materialist mechanism, he stressed the fact that forces are not material: his system is a dualism of matter and force. Scientists and philosophers, from the beginning of modern science to our days, agree that forces are unobservable; we observe only their effects. Forces are guessed from observable transformations. It seems to me plausible to argue that the existence of stable forms, of a nature of things, as well as the existence of goals -at least at the level of natural human perception- are not less observable than forces, that is, than efficient causes. 7. Form and finality as principles of knowledge
14 When Bunge rejects the ideal, the Platonic, the medieval, the spiritual or the religious, in a word, when he rejects everything which according to him is not scientific, he does it (with an Aristotelian reflex) because those elements are immobile, eternal. When Aristotle rejected Plato's Ideal Forms, he did it because we cannot see how these unchangeable archetypes separated from material nature can possibly interact with moving matter unless we postulate the existence of intermediate elements between those extremes, then other elements between the extremes and the intermediate ones, and so on ad infinitum. It is interesting to observe that scholars after Aristotle found that there was too great a difference between first matter and form in the Aristotelian sense, and so they went on to conceive a "material form": they had understood the Philosopher. Matter is in motion: Bunge willingly agrees. But if everything which really is, is in motion, how is knowledge possible? In stating some of Bunge's conditions for all ontologies, I had the occasion to point out that the act of knowing what a thing is requires a set of stable forms. How can knowledge exist and progress without structures, without an orderly repetition of universal forms, without definitions which capture the nature of things? There is no knowledge without grasping a bit of eternity. In this Plato is right. Aristotle had no choice but to immerse form in matter. He thus tried to reconcile the tradition of form with that of matter, the result being his hylomorphic doctrine. Bunge recognizes that knowledge is the search for pattern. (Bunge, 1981, pp.35-36). He is aware that even the smallest conceivable particle is a system. His own way of doing philosophy in as exact as possible a manner requires form understood both as stable structure and as the inner nature of things. Because Bunge recognizes all this, the issue may to some degree be a mere matter of words, and to some extent the differences of view between scientific realism and realist metaphysics may actually be less factual than they would seem to be on first sight. But if this is so, it is regrettable that Bunge's explicit rejection of formal and final causes is so categorical. He says, for instance, that immanent teleology (Aristotle, Lamarck) as well as transcendent teleology, died with the birth of modern science. (Bunge, 1981, p.39). What Bunge finds quite unacceptable are form and teleonomy conceived in a nonnatural way; but Aristotle leaves no doubt that he thinks of them in a natural way. "Teleonomy" is a term Bunge prefers to "teleology", a token of physicalism because it means that goal-oriented activity is explainable in biological or chemical terms.
15 8. No knowledge without abstraction What exists is substance, a compound of matter and form (Aristotle). Neither matter nor form nor goals exist by themselves although they can be conceived separately: this is one of the main conditions of intelligibility. If we were incapable of conceiving the components of substance separately (matter, form, act, and potency), no knowledge would be possible. Knowledge supposes both the existence of things and abstraction. The condition for the possibility of all sciences and arts, from metaphysics to medicine and including mathematics, physics, and astronomy, is abstraction. Aristotle found that the best way to talk intelligibly about moving substances is his theory of the four causes. Form and finality are inscribed in nature; they exist primarily in nature and only secondarily in the intellect. For instance, at least some of the fundamental structures of mathematics are supposed to reflect the structures underlying phenomena; they exist potentially in prehuman nature and actually as science. In a physicalist, resolutely anti-aprioristic manner (typical of anthropologists), I think we must look for the biological and physical sources of symbol systems. They express a physical and biological order, although I do not mean to say that absolutely and exactly each single formal structure represents a real structure. At least some of the fundamental structures of natural language and of mathematical systems are not the result of chance but of the animal necessity to survive. That is why the problem of categories is tied to ontology: the order of knowledge has to reflect the order of things. Insects cannot live unless they are capable of using some of the elementary theorems of logic. The vital action of all animals (orientation, predatory practice, recognition of mate, communication, etc.) shows that mathematics (algebraic structures, structures of order, topological structures) is inscribed in their brains. How could animals live unless these structures are also present in their physical environment? According to the Philosopher, there are three theoretical sciences, physics, mathematics, and theology. The proper object of theology is the immovable, the eternal, the separable; the object of physics is the movable and temporal, and that of mathematics is the separable from motion and time in thought. One of the senses of form is the geometrical figure, the mathematical structure, i.e. the mathematical idea (Metaphysica, E.I. 1O25 b 18 - 1O26 a 5; 1026 a 6 - 19). On the contrary, the typical way of rejecting the explanatory value of the formal cause consists of postulating, like Bunge, that mathematical entities are fictitious, that they are nothing but useful concepts. (Bunge, 1985 a, p.123). A consequence of mathematical conceptual fictionism is that the
16 mathematics constituting theories cannot have an ontological value, they are just instruments. In themselves, mathematical objects explain nothing, according to Bunge, because form cannot preexist or rule over matter (Bunge, 1981, p.54; 1985 a, p.84). A mathematical fictionist separates thought from nature. To the reasons and examples already given to show the reality of formal and teleological explanations, the following observations can be added: An Aristotelian will argue that the real thing is embodied in phenomena, that the object is an aspect of the thing: the object is the thing in the intellect. Object is part of Being. Reality is not veiled by phenomena nor by our concepts. Reality manifests itself in phenomena. Logos, the intelligible unity of reality, can be apprehended by our categories. A proof of this is that some ideas, propositions or formulas pass unchanged from one theory to another, deeper and with more explanatory value. This physical and ontological continuity and unity is real truth, the basis of the more superficial adequacy between our action and the events of the world, between propositions and facts; real truth is the basis of truth as correspondence. Nature is not intelligible unless it tends towards form, structure, order, stability, that is, unless it realizes a series of ideas mathematically constituted. (For instance, is "chance" a clear idea without the theory of probability, and what is the meaning of "determinism" outside the generative powers of calculus or geometry? Of course, I do not mean that determinism is only an epistemological category; the point is that its meaning is clear only within an adequate system of symbols). Nature is not knowable unless it is rational. Reason and form exist in prehuman nature before existing in human brains. Mathematics, eternal objects, are inscribed in nature. It is no wonder that mathematics is applicable to the world of sense perception because nature is the primitive source of mathematics. It is time to try to answer the question whether finality can be considered in a natural way. 9. Steps towards the natural conception of finality To put it bluntly: one of the most difficult questions the finalist has to answer concerns the way a future end can act at an earlier moment. (Things would be easier if time were thought of as a coordinate of dimension, not as a parameter of evolution); in that case, physical time would be the deployment of a structure). Anyway, the situation becomes less mysterious if we realize, as Aristotle did, that the final cause does not act directly on matter. Efficient causes do; that is why final causes need adequate efficient
17 causes. Furthermore, the matter aspiring to a definite end is not just any matter but, so to speak, a matter already invested with some kind of appropriate information (think of the development of an egg: its relatively formless matter becomes increasingly formed). There is no question about this: the passage from formless to formed matter has a number of vague areas difficult to handle, which shows as clearly as one can ask that some of the most important facts of the world are still, in some degree or other, unintelligible to us. One of the strategies to naturalize finality -which Bunge would encourage- leads us to see what happens in those mechanical systems where a teleological language is used, for instance, in ballistics, navigation, and servomechanisms. The understanding of natural teleology is linked to mathematical progress: today we are better equipped than the first mechanical thinkers to understand those systems which require teleological concepts: systems can be dynamical, hereditary; they can have a continuous memory; they can be non-fatal, perishable, proliferous, etc. In these systems, the "choices" (an anthropomorphic, provisional concept) a system has to make in order to attain the goal, can be systematically imposed by a series of supplementary conditions drawn from a general and theoretical principle such as a principle of least action. (Vide, for instance, Vogel, 1973). This principle has a great importance both in science and philosophy. In physics, the principle states that the actual motion of a conservative dynamical system between two points takes place in such a way that the action has a minimum value with reference to all other paths between the points which correspond to the same energy. "If a change occurs in nature, said Maupertuis by the middle of the 18th-century, the quantity of action required to produce such a change is the smallest possible." In philosophy, this principle is a version of the ancient idea that nature tends to simplicity, that nature operates by appealing to the easiest means and ways (lex parcimoniĂŚ). It is interesting to note that the property of minimum is a local or infinitesimal property. For instance, if the trajectory of a free point on a surface is a geodesic, it does not mean that the point knows that it has to go, say, from A to B, and that, once it knows this, it chooses the shortest way or that it chooses to cover the distance in the shortest period of time. What happens is that once the point begins to move in a certain direction animated of a given starting velocity, it travels in that direction by following a way which, in each point, satisfies a certain local condition. In the case of a geodesic, this condition is that its osculating plane is normal to the surface. We can see here how the
18 geometry of the situation (a formal cause) prepares the way for the action of the efficient cause and how sometimes the formal and the final cause coincide. It seems that today, among the major handicaps of mechanical systems to model biological finality, we have to mention: (1) the rigidity of their structure; only the numerical parameters vary, and (2), in close relationship to (1), the fact that nothing in mechanical systems seems capable of resembling hierarchical adaptations. Despite these limitations, we begin to have an articulated idea of the underlying intuition that finality does not necessarily imply the existence of consciousness, of an immaterial power external to the system. If psychĂŠ is consciousness, teleology does not imply panpsychism. Among the steps to conceive finality as a natural process, mention must be made of teleonomy (an idea attributable, although not exclusively, to Jacques Monod). Some biologists assert that the final cause, understood as a future state mysteriously capable of attracting a collection of elements, does not exist. What actually exists is a program placed at the beginning of a process which develops in a perfectly foreseeable manner. In the case of the development of an individual (of a given biological species), the program is contained in the genome typical of the species. The program is the outcome of evolution resulting from the interplay of mutations and the characteristics of the environment to which the organism must adapt itself in order to survive (natural selection). If life is the accomplishment of a program, no room is left for novelty or contingency. By definition, a program is written in advance. It is a well known fact that people such as Ch.S. Peirce, who are willing to account for the growing complexity of nature, the diversity of its objects, the action of the mind, have been led to indeterminism. (I think, on the contrary, that it is possible to give an account of freedom, and of the other mental activities, within the categories of mechanism). Let us at least ask the question: how can the ideas of program and biological contingency be reconciled? Furthermore, the notions of code and message are anthropomorphic: what do they mean when applied to physical and biological reality? No program exists without a programmer: who programs living beings? Strange question. Nobody, of course. On the other hand, the idea that matter organizes itself raises some important problems, although it is not devoid of conceptual confusions. One of these confusions has already been mentioned: it pretends that order has come out of chance.
19 Contemporary biologists are convinced that Aristotle is wrong when he says that nature does nothing in vain (because there are goals to be achieved): consider that while a few millions of animal species have survived, more than 5OO millions have disappeared. (Number calculated by Simpson). To say that nature is not perfect sounds like a euphemism: what a waste! Darwin used to insist on this point. But (at least outside the Aristotelian context) saying that teleology exists does not necessarily mean either that nature is perfect or that final causes exist everywhere. Among the victories of non-finalist thought against finalism we can mention the erroneous finalist interpretation of some of the phenomena of co-adaptation of plants and insects. During a long time, some biologists had imaginatively and reasonably speculated with great detail about the role of the dispositions of the petals of flowers, their colour, odor, and so on, to attract the appropriate insects because -so it was assumed- the fertilization of the plants concerned was allogamic (crossed-fertilization). But it turned out that some of the plants treated as allogamic are actually self-fertilized (autogamy): in some of those plants, fertilization takes place while the bud is still closed and so the visit of insects is useless; it does not fulfil any fertilizing purpose. Belief in finality can lead to some ridiculous extremes: it is not the case that melons have ridges marked on their rind to facilitate division at a family meal, nor is it believable that fleas are dark in colour so that they be more easily picked off the human skin, as Bernardin de Saint-Pierre suggested. The same biologists would be less ready to smile when the Philosopher points out that the main goal of organisms is survival. Organisms are capable of self-repair, of taking care of, and of reproducing themselves to guarantee the survival of the species. (Vide, for instance, Aristotle, De Anima, III, Chs.12,13: 434 a 22-25; 434 a 3O-434 b I, 16-18). In Aristotle's natural way of conceiving teleology, nothing exists exclusively for the sake of a particular being or species. Aristotle's way of thinking of goals has nothing to do with the religious, transcendent teleology according to which the universe exists for the sake of man. The Philosopher does not ask himself the transcendent question concerning the origin of natural teleology in the plannings of an extra-natural, superior being. Think, for instance, of what the organism of carnivorous animals has done so that it does not eat itself; or the way plants and animals use symmetry as a means to attain stability, another condition of survival. Then there is the adequacy of the feeding apparatus of parents to the needs of newborns and the adequacy of the organs of
20 reproduction in males and females. Consider finally a classic of finalists: the eye: Once upon a time there was an animal, the nautilus, whose eye had a hole so that light might come in. Other animals, more sophisticated, developed a lens so that even more light might come in. But the lens introduced a complication: only objects at a certain distance were sharply seen, so the necessary was done: the ciliary muscles grew to move the lens nearer or farther from the receptors. Imagine that an anti-finalist who believes only in the determination of the efficient cause sets out to find every determination: he will realize how complex and fragile the set of relations is; he will see that he has in front of him a very delicate mechanism where the minor deviation can have as a result the production of something far from the precise organ envisaged. In these circumstances, would the anti-finalist not be led to conceive the idea of a final cause which directs the production of something? What I am suggesting is that the search for an explanation exclusively in terms of efficient causes is likely to convince the anti-finalist of the necessity of a finalist direction. Who would dare attribute the remarkable mechanism of the formation of the eye to blind chance? Is it believable that the eye is the result of some happy coincidences, of a series of chance events sorted out by utility? (Darwinism). Of course the eye, and everything nature does, could be better, but in an Aristotelian mood (nature does nothing in vain) one is tempted to say that the eye is as perfect as it has to be so that the organism can find food, recognize its mate, and avoid predators. (The reader can choose his own examples of teleology: they are all wonderful!). 10. The Aristotle-Bossuet-Janet criterion In teleology naturally conceived, there is a kind of calculation, an adequacy or proportion of means towards ends. How can we know whether there are means and ends in nature? An Aristotelian idea restated by Bossuet and ably developed by P. Janet is the following: "If there are proportions well taken, proper to certain effects, then there are goals". (Janet, 19O1, p.16). Let us call it "The Aristotle-Bossuet-Janet (ABJ) criterion for transforming effects into goals and other causes and conditions into means". (I do not mean that these three
21 philosophers are the only ones to have stated such a criterion. My proposal is only a convenient way to fix the idea). Bunge says that teleological accounts are not arguments proper because we do not have today a satisfactory calculus of means and ends yielding the desired conclusions from premises consisting in law statements, rules and value judgments, and that because they are not arguments proper, they do not have any explanatory power. (Bunge, 1983, pp.3O-31). Of course the ABJ criterion does not fulfil the requirements stated by Bunge. But then I think Bunge asks too much, too soon -even after 25 centuries of discussion! Calculus should be the last stage of the intellectual process, admissible only when most of the main conceptual difficulties are cleared away -which is not the case of teleology. What is the intellectual value (to be sharply distinguished from the pragmatic value) of a calculus if we do not know exactly what its content is? Furthermore, I do not think we should demand, at the outset, that an explanation be an argument proper. An explanation, in the form of a neat argument, is to be ranged, like a calculus, at the end of the intellectual process. Before we get there, several ways have to be tried, only some of them will lead somewhere. For my part, I take the ABJ criterion to be also the general description of a natural fact that has to be explained by all the systems (favourable or unfavourable to teleology) which purport to account for being and becoming. When speaking about final causes, Bunge prefers "control" to other more humansounding terms. It is clear that no conciliation, no harmony can exist without control. Despite these steps towards the understanding of final causes, Bunge concludes that teleonomy should be restricted to some kinds of higher vertebrate behaviour. He seems to think that every time we can avoid using terms that do not refer necessarily to conscious, spiritual activity, we should refrain from describing the processes in question in teleonomical terms. In other words, he traces too sharp a distinction between conscious and non-conscious processes. But to the extent that non-conscious things satisfy the ABJ criterion, one is entitled to imagine that nature is continuous from a teleological point of view, that the domain ruled by final causes is larger than Bunge suggests. In teleology naturally conceived, no mention is made of mysterious, hidden causes. Teleology is implied in tendency. Tendency is implied in natural laws. Laws enjoy a more or less universal validity; they are not only descriptions of what has happened since they are also useful in prediction: they express nature's tendencies.
22 11. Further steps towards the naturalization of teleology Much of what Bunge rejects in teleology is welcomed by natural teleologists. Goal is not the same thing as purpose. Non-conscious goals can be found also in instinctive animal action and in inorganic arrangements. For example, the processes of crystal formation fulfil the ABJ criterion. When conscious purpose is in question, Spinoza says that what is usually called "final cause" is nothing but a human desire, that is, an efficient cause; that men call it a first cause (prima) only because they ignore the causes of their desires. (Spinoza, Ethics, Part Four). Bunge agrees: the accurate thing to say is that it is a desire, a present state of the nervous system, which leads us to behave in a certain way, and not a future state. A non-existing thing cannot cause anything. Furthermore, one of Spinoza's conditions for teleology, that if everything follows with eternal necessity from the nature of the deity, there is no room for an activity according to ends, is compatible with Bunge's remark that the universe is not a compact whole of efficient causes. (Spinoza, Ethics, I, Append.). If we want to avoid an anthropomorphic description, is it preferable to say, as Bunge suggests, that something steers towards a goal, to saying that something is directed by a goal? (Bunge, 1985 b, pp.22 and ff.). Bunge's conclusion from this method is that, with the exception of man and some animals, we will eventually find that teleological explanations are necessarily provisional: only explanations in terms of efficient causes will turn out to be sound (reductionism). But the Aristotelian will not be convinced: teleology forces us to try to understand how a future event (the goal) preexists -in a sense to be specified for every kind of process- in the efficient cause so that its action makes sense. The alternative is order (without teleology or teleonomy no order is possible) or chaos. Because Bunge has no taste for chaos, he would have to consider the action of the final cause. The process of controlling the action of several causes, the search for conciliation and harmony that produce these wonderful effects teleologists call goals, is not understandable unless there is at every level of reality a contingency oriented by the final cause, by an organizing center. Aristotle writes that the efficient cause of the child is the father, but the father is also the form towards which the child will tend. Thus necessity or determinism seems to have two ends: a lower one, so to speak, the agent or the motor cause, and an upper one, the formal and final cause inscribed (in a way difficult to bring to light) in the "adequate matter" and in the efficient causes. Having recognized the
23 obscurities in the Aristotelian analysis, are we really sure that contemporary science does substantially better -from the point of view of understanding?
12. Philosophy is the quest for intelligibility Philosophy asserts its autonomy to the extent that science moves away from the search for intelligibility. From the point of view of knowledge, a philosophy devoid of scientific information may become irrelevant. (Bunge would agree). On the other hand, if my defense of formal and final causes is correct, it follows that ontology does not necessarily stand and fall with science. (Bunge would disagree). For instance, concerning the criteria for deciding the quality of understanding, it is advisable that philosophy remain independent, at a definite distance from science. In a word, one of the main differences between my realism and Bunge's philosophy (and, by the same token, between realist metaphysics and a possible interpretation of contemporary science) is Bunge's tendency to introduce ontological breaks. I have mentioned three of them: One is that human knowledge is always lawful, which presupposes that nature is stable; nevertheless, at least at the quantum level, nature presents some areas of randomness. Another break is mathematical conceptual fictionism: mathematics, and the rationality it includes, exist only in man. The third concerns weak hemiteleonomy, i.e., the restriction of teleonomy to higher vertebrate behavior of certain types. These ontological breaks put man on one side, the rest of nature on the other. Bunge's breaks are coherent with emergentism, but I wonder if emergence is not underlaid by the continuity of a sort of "adequate matter", flux or field. (I am conscious that this suggestion, as some others advanced in this essay, will acquire a full cognitive value when a down-to-earth interpretation of it can be afforded). Bunge ably treats determination as a broad category covering a wide range of order, from the rigid order of the efficient cause (strict determinism exemplified in Laplace's thought experience â€”Laplace's â€œdemonâ€?) to the less strict determinism expressed, for example, in models linked to probability theory. (Aristotle would agree: he treated becoming as a mixture of necessity and contingency). The rich concept of matter proposed by Bunge is more apt than others (where matter is identified to one property only) to constitute the flux that runs through all beings, thus warranting the continuity of nature. As far as the study of the efficient cause is concerned, Bunge has been perceptive
24 and constructive. Concerning the final cause, he has accomplished some positive work. But in his hands the formal cause has not enjoyed the same fortune. It would be contrary to evidence to state that everything is clear and solved forever in the Aristotelian system. For instance, the passage from potency to actuality, the way matter adopts a form, and the action of the final cause, contain some stubborn areas of vagueness. (Aristotle was conscious of it, which explains his repeated attempts at solving these difficult problems). It follows that an interesting program for philosophy (most scientists are too busy measuring observable quantities: "please do not disturb") is the construction of a metaphysics, sensitive to the best scientific information, capable of discovering some intelligibility in the areas Aristotle left vague. Of course, it would be shameful to study science just to clarify Aristotle's thought, as some religious people do in relation to sacred texts (although believers do not hold the monopoly of irrationality since many atheists, just as irrationally, use science and logic to justify their own dogmas). From an empirical point of view, contemporary research is by far more adequate than Aristotelian science, and this is true mainly of physics. Historians teach that not a single Aristotelian proposition has been retained by contemporary physics. (The same cannot be said of biology). On the other hand, contemporary science has stressed too much the need for the empirical justification of theories at the expense of theoretical understanding. The criteria of being and truth are too pragmatic: some say something exists if it can be effectively acted upon (to be, is to be the object of manipulation), while truth is for them nothing but empirical adequacy (everything else would be uninteresting). Theory has become a means to action. Bunge knows this as it is evident from his criticisms of pragmatism, positivism, instrumentalism, relativism, and anarchism. Bunge is a very productive writer whose ideas evolve. I have not been able to read everything he has said on the four causes. So it is not impossible that some of my comments will turn out to be uncalled-for or outdated. The visible, explicitly controversial parts of this essay shall not close our eyes to the implicit resemblance of some ideas. For instance, I think Bunge is right when he says that the two most popular views on causation today are the logical and the probabilistic ones, neither of which is adequate. (Bunge, 1983, p.27). I have looked for light elsewhere. Judging from what I have been able to understand, it is not evident to me that we have today a better understanding of being and becoming than the one sought -if not
25 attained yet- under the light of metaphysical principles among which we can range the four causes.
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26 René Thom, Stabilité Structurelle et Morphogenèse, Paris: Inter-Editions. .................................(1988), Esquisse d'une Sémiophysique, Paris: Inter-Editions. Théodore Vogel, (1973), Pour une Théorie Mécaniste Renouvelée, Paris: Gauthier-Villars. ***
Published on Apr 7, 2013