Category Archives: Causation

In my posts involving causation, two key ideas are:

1. By what she wears or anything else, a person does not cause the harm that you do to her. This comes up in “The Istanbul Seaside.”

2. For a given event, there is no unique cause, ascertainable by science, despite the seemingly common view discussed for example in “Happiness.” Causation is relative to us, as illustrated in a passage from Collingwood’s Essay on Metaphysics, quoted in “War and Talk” (which itself is based mainly on Tolstoy and considers also Plato):

For example, a car skids while cornering at a certain point, strikes the kerb, and turns turtle. From the car-driver’s point of view the cause of the accident was cornering too fast, and the lesson is that one must drive more carefully. From the county surveyor’s point of view the cause was a defect in the surface or camber of the road, and the lesson is that greater care must be taken to make roads skid-proof. From the motor-manufacturer’s point of view the cause was defective design in the car, and the lesson is that one must place the centre of gravity lower.

If the three parties concerned take these three lessons respectively to heart accidents will become rarer …

The post “On Causation” is dedicated to Collingwood’s theory.

On Being Given to Know

  1. What if we could upload books to our brains?
  2. What if a machine could tell us what was true?

We may speculate, and it is interesting that we do speculate, because I think the questions do not ultimately make sense—not the sense that seems to be intended anyway, whereby something can be got for nothing.

View from Şavşat

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On Causation

Causation seems commonly to be understood as a physical concept, like being a fossil. The paleontologist seeks the one right answer to the question of when a particular dinosaur bone became part of the fossil record; likewise readers of international news seem to think there is one right answer to the question of whether Donald Trump or Ali Khamenei caused the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8, 2020.

There is not one right answer. If you are Trump, you caused 176 civilian deaths by attacking the Iranians and provoking their response. If you are Mitch McConnell, you caused the deaths by inhibiting the removal of Trump from office. If you are Khamenei, you did it by meeting Trump’s fire with fire.

Being a cause does not mean you deserve condemnation or praise: that is another matter.

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NL XLIV: The Turks

Index to this series

The last part of Collingwood’s New Leviathan (Oxford, 1942) is “Barbarism.” The first chapter of the part is “What Barbarism Is”; the remaining chapters describe examples of barbarism in turn. The fourth and last example is the one that Britain is fighting as Collingwood writes.

Sun behind mosque on cover of The Ottoman Centuries (Lord Kinross, a.k.a. Patrick Balfour) Continue reading

A Defense

Here is the defense (savunma) of Ayşe Berkman before the 36th Heavy Penalty Court (Ağır Ceza Mahkemesi) of Istanbul, January 10, 2019, against the charge of making propaganda for a terrorist organization (terör örgütü propagandası yapmak).

Crowd of mostly smiling people outside a courtroom

The crowd from the courtroom when the session was over.
From a tweet of the Peace Academics

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NL XLI: What Barbarism Is

Index to this series

Civilization being agreement, barbarism has no chance in the long run (41. 67):

41. 76. For barbarism implies not only a quarrel between any barbarist and any civilized man; it also implies a quarrel between anyone barbarist and any other; and that any state of harmony between them is merely this quarrel suspended.

The barbarist is somebody “who imitates the conditions of an uncivilized world” (41. 53); but an actual attempt to bring about those conditions will need cooperation, and this will be a step towards civility. Here perhaps we should distinguish cooperation from the kind of coerced organization seen in a fascist state. Specific examples will be considered in the later chapters of Part IV of the New Leviathan. We are now considering “What Barbarism Is,” in general terms.

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What It Takes

This essay ends up considering arguments that natural science—especially mathematical physics—is based on absolute presup­positions whose mythological expression is found in Christianity—especially the doctrine of Incarnation.

I take note along the way of continuing censorship of Wikipedia by the Turkish state.

The post falls into sections as follows.

  • Where to start. To the thesis that everybody can be a philosopher, an antithesis is that persons with the professional title of philosopher ought to know the history of their subject.

  • Ontology. Disdain for this history may lead to misunderstanding of Anselm’s supposed proof of the existence of God.

  • Presupposition. To prove anything, you need a pou sto, or what Collingwood calls an absolute presupposition.

  • Progression. Newton rejected antiquated presuppositions.

  • Reaction. Coal-burners and racists reject new presuppositions.

  • Universality. From the 47th chapter of the Tao Te Ching (in the translation of Gia-fu Feng and Jane English):

    Without going outside, you may know the whole world.
    Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven.
    The farther you go, the less you know.

    Thus the wise know without traveling;
    See without looking;
    Work without doing.

  • Religion. To say that we can know the laws governing the entire universe is like saying a human can be God.

  • Censorship. Thus everybody who believes in mathematical physics is a Christian, if only in the way that, by the Sun Language Theory, everybody in the world already speaks Turkish.

  • Trinity. That the university has several departments, all studying the same world—this is supposed to correspond to the triune conception of divinity.

This post began as a parenthesis in another post, yet to be completed, about passion and reason. To anchor that post in an established text, I thought back to David Hume, according to whom,

Reason is, and ought only to be[,] the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

This might express something I said in my previous post: “Reason is the power of testing what we want.” However, I had not really read Hume since college. I thought more about things that had not ended up in the previous post—which was called “Effectiveness” and concerned the article of Eugene Wigner with that word in its title. As I thought and wrote, it seemed I was putting so much into a parenthesis that it could be another post. True, the same might be said of many things in this blog. In any case, the parenthesis in question became the present post.

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The Tree of Life

My two recent courses at the Nesin Mathematics Village had a common theme. I want to describe the theme here, as simply as I can—I mean, by using as little technical knowledge of mathematics as I can. But I shall talk also about related poetry and philosophy, of T. S. Eliot and R. G. Collingwood respectively.

An elaborate binary tree, with spirals

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War and Talk

This is a foray into the mystery of how things happen, based the 164th of the 361 chapters of War and Peace. This chapter contains, in a one-sentence paragraph, a summary of Tolstoy’s theory of history:

Each man lives for himself, using his freedom to attain his personal aims, and feels with his whole being that he can now do or abstain from doing this or that action; but as soon as he has done it, that action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined significance.

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NL XV: “Utility”

Index to this series

George Inness (American, 1825–1894), The Lackawanna Valley, c. 1856, oil on canvas (National Gallery of Art, Washington; gift of Mrs. Huttleston Rogers)

George Inness (American, 1825–1894), The Lackawanna Valley, c. 1856, oil on canvas (National Gallery of Art, Washington; gift of Mrs. Huttleston Rogers). See footnote

In the previous chapter, “Reason,” we have seen that an intention x may have another intention y as a ground or reason; and we may symbolize this relation by yx. In Collingwood’s example now, x is giving a sum of money to a tobacconist, and y is receiving a pound of tobacco (15. 17). Continue reading


If only tangentially sometimes, this is about living in Turkey, especially under the ongoing official state of emergency.

Aristotle, Marx & Engels, and Collingwood

Aristotle, Marx & Engels, and Collingwood

A blog article on Medium recently struck me for its treatment of science. Dated October 3, the article is called “The Purpose Of Life Is Not Happiness: It’s Usefulness,” and its opening section is as follows.

For the longest time, I believed that there’s only purpose of life: And that is to be happy. Continue reading