Cause and Effect

And if epistemology is defined by its aim or objective, namely, knowledge of the essence, it follows that epistemology and scientific inquiry become a matter of ontology, at least from a social sciences perspective. If this is the case, then what does one make of the issue of objectivity and about the claims to objectivity which certain folks make? As Hannah Arendt wrote, in theory, objectivity “demands that not only utilitarian considerations but reflections upon the stature of man as well be left in abeyance.” 

Essentially, science amounts to “causal knowledge.” Thus, irrespective of whether we are taking epistemological or ontological considerations into account, what we are seeking are the causes of events, things, or phenomena. And as Aristotle argued, there are four causes which we must consider if we want knowledge of something or a basic understanding of something. For one, there is the “material” cause or “that out of which” something is made. Second, there is the “efficient” cause or “the source of the object’s principle of change or stability.” Third, there is the “formal” cause or the “essence” of the object. And finally, there is the “final” cause or the telos of the object. 

Objectivity, then, depends at the very end on knowing what something is made for, or the telos of the object which we are considering. It has been argued that once a person accounts for these four aforementioned causes of something, you have explained that thing. An explanation is replete when you take these four causes into account. In turn, an explanation given in terms of its telos is known as a “teleological explanation.” 

And between man’s subjectivity and nature, it is nature which prompts our notion of objectivity and in turn is the objective entity in the overall picture or scheme of reality. As Arendt wrote:

“Against the subjectivity of men stands the objectivity of the man-made artifice, not the indifference of nature. Only because we have erected a world of objects from what nature gives us and have built this artificial environment into nature, thus also protecting us from her, can we look upon nature as something ‘objective.’ Without a world between men and nature, there would be eternal movement, but no objectivity.” 

Liberal or modern science, if we are to delve deep into its philosophical underpinnings and take it for what it is at its heart, is a criticism or even a denial of the “causality principle.” The “causality principle” has a “two-fold axiom” at its heart, as Arendt wrote. For one, everything must have a cause, and that “the cause must be more perfect than its most perfect effect” as in the case of “the watchmaker who must be superior to all watches whose cause he is.” 

Concepts or ideas such as causality and justice “must appear very strange to the consciousness of the sophisticated intellectual, and it is therefore treated with scorn, or taken to be naïve or primitive or otherwise irrational” as Chomsky suggested. In turn, the criticism or denial of such a priori concepts and ideas leads us to crucial and consequential epistemological differences which are at the heart of all of our collective affairs.

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