The claim that abstractions are non-causal

– From the moment I heard it, I’ve had an allergy to the claim that abstract differs from the concrete by being non-causal.

– This means either that speech is being left out or that speech is non-causal, and both options seem ridiculous. Either way, the very axiom we use to express the idea (i.e. the abstractions we use in the hope of causing knowledge) is left out of what the axiom is supposed to capture.

-As a consequence, we deny the I-thou relation any causal power.

– If you claim to see that Platonism is axiomatically wrong, you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. It might be wrong, but you need to do a lot more work to prove it.

-If speech is left out of the causal picture, so (presumably) is all semantic information. So the axiom would rule out the possibility that all information is semantic.

-Making God concrete as opposed to abstract gives rise to the Euthyphro problem irresolvable. It also renders an account of divine simplicity impossible, and all denials of divine simplicity are pushed by force of logic to a god that is a material being.

-The concrete is particular, and no particular is formally causal. Causality formally transcends the genus of particular causes. It would be truer to say that the concrete is non causal.

– And no, it won’t do to say that the axiom arises from a more restricted view of Aristotle’s causes. Abstractions are efficient causes. An advisor is an efficient cause (he’s actually the example that Aristotle gives of efficient causality in Physics II. 3), which makes advice a cause of the same order.



  1. Jameson said,

    July 10, 2014 at 8:11 am

    Does the statement “Abstractions are efficient causes” not suffer some of the same limitations?

    E.g. doesn’t it allow that, say, mathematical modeling of physical processes could have an efficient causal power of that physical reality, instead of being just descriptive of it?

    Or as TheOFloinn has recently suggested, it might help one confuse “predictable” with “cause”?

    • July 10, 2014 at 9:16 am

      I don’t get the problem. Why is it axiomatic that laws are only descriptive? I don’t think that.

      If the laws are descriptive of natures, then these natures can be seen as laws also so far as they participate in an extrinsic reason like providence or the universal causes of the natures. This is what “natural law” is.

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