SUFFICIENT REASON AND CAUSALIYU
SUFFICIENT REASON AND CAUSALITY
D. R. Khashaba
These two notions are liable to be confused or implicitly identified. The confusion and the implicit identification are a source of serious error.
I have repeatedly and emphatically been designating causality as a useful fiction of science which cannot be imbued with either certainty or absolute universality. I have also repeatedly asserted that causal determinism is a superstition. Now if causality is confused with or identified with the principle of sufficient reason, then what I have been saying would be seen as sheer nonsense. It is therefore necessary to distinguish the two notions clearly.
The principle of sufficient reason is an imperative demand of the mind. It issues from the very nature of the mind as a rational power. It is none other than the ultimate principle of intelligibility which underlies all idealistic thinking, clearly affirmed in Parmenides’s pronouncement: To be and to be thought is the same thing. From this follows the corollary that any happening must in principle be explicable, in other words, there must have been sufficient reason for it to happen.
The principle of causality assumes that for any happening there is a fixed, determinate cause. This could be harmless if taken to mean the same as what I have given above as a corollary of the principle of sufficient reason. But there are two pitfalls: (1) When scientists, and empiricists generally, speak of causation they commonly have in mind specific causes extracted by abstraction from empirical observation and experimentation. They gloss over the fact that such causes are necessarily hypothetical and approximate. That the sun will ‘rise’ tomorrow leaves unmentioned the condition that no cosmic catastrophe has shattered our Earth or wobbled the whole of the Milky Way. (2) More seriously, determinism implies that ant given state of affairs absolutely determines the following state of affairs. I maintain that this is an assumption that (a) can never be empirically verified, and (b) is contradicted by our incontrovertible experience of spontaneity and creativity.
I find it incredible that philosophers and scientists have been cracking their heads trying to reconcile our freedom and creativity with the assumption of determinism rather than adjusting the concept of determinism to agree with the reality of our creativity.
The principle of sufficient reason is hospitable to freedom and creativity. Socrates’ willingly drinking the hemlock rather than escaping prison is intelligible in the light of his principles. His action vindicates the principle of sufficient reason and demolishes the superstition of causal determinism.
Cairo, 12 June 2015.