Causal thinking

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Causal thinking is the result of the causal principle (or causality) which according to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant is defined as follows:

"Everything that happens (begins to be) presupposes something from which it follows in accordance with a rule".[1]

Basic considerations[edit]

Although the belief in causality determines essentially the development of humanity, it suffers a number of drawbacks:

"It will now be obvious that the concept of cause, as used in our practical Weltanschauung suffers from lack of clearness – perhaps, also, from inherent contradictions. Partly in consequence of such obscurities and partly because of the metaphysical implications of the concept, it has undergone modifications at the hands of natural science; and 'cause' is now being eliminated from scientific terminology altogether."[2]

Instead of using the term causality physics uses the following paraphrase:

"From appreciation of these difficulties and metaphysical mysteries, science, and empiricist philosophy steeped in science, came to speak of an event as the cause of another only in the sense that it is a real condition, on the occurrence of which something else happens which would not happen without it. A cause, in fact, becomes a sine qua non antecedent, but does not itself necessarily 'produce' the event which is called effect."[2]

This change in the way of speaking in science does not affect causal thinking particularly because the scientific approach and the scientific rules and laws remained unchanged. The scientific approach is built on the assumption that any development may be represented by an alternating sequence of causes and effects, where the last effect is the cause of the next effect.

Problem solving by causal thinking[edit]

Causal thinking for solving problems proceeds in three steps:

  • Causal thinking as a basis for making decisions starts with observing an effect or problem which needs a decision. The effect is observed as an isolated event since monitoring refers generally to isolated components or subsystems of the whole.
  • Once a problem is observed, a search for the causes is started. Again each component or subsystem of the whole is examined and finally "the causes" are detected.
  • The third step consists of eliminating the causes and as soon as it is eliminated, the normal operations are resumed.

Causal thinking follows the line given by a sequence of cause-effects relations and therefore causal thinking is described by Binder[3] as thinking in points. Similarly, von Collani[4] compares the prevailing causal thinking in science with logical thinking since it is based on a sequence, the logical relations if a then b.

Effects of causal thinking[edit]

Causal thinking is closely related to reductionism that tries to explain the whole by its parts through causal laws.[5] In other words, causal thinking focus on the parts, or points as Binder calls them. Searching for the cause means to search for that part of a system whose maloperation had finally produced the observed event.

Causal thinking may have two results:

  • The trigger of a problem is identified and eliminated and the earlier state of the given system is restored.
  • The performance of a part of the system is improved by applying general principles obtained by breaking the system down to smaller parts.


  1. ^ Cited from William A. Harper and Ralf Meerbote (eds.), Kant on Causality, Freedom, and Objectivity, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, p. 4, 1984. ISBN 0-8166-1266-8
  2. ^ a b James Hastings and John A. Selbie, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Part 5, Kessinger Pub Co, Whitefish, MT, p. 263, 2003. ISBN 0-7661-3675-2
  3. ^ Andreas Binder, Die stochastische Wissenschaft und zwei Teilsysteme eines Web-basierten Informations- und Anwendungesystems zu ihrer Etablierung, PhD-Thesis, Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, University Würzburg, p. 66, 2006, [1].
  4. ^ Elart von Collani, "Response to 'Desired and Feared—What Do We Do Now and Over the Next 50 Years' by Xiao-Li Meng", The American Statistician, 2010, 64(1): 23–25.
  5. ^ Robert L. Flood, Rethinking the Fifth Discipline, Routledge, London, p.84, 2000. ISBN 0-415-18530-0

External links[edit]

  • The Open University, UK, [2]
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, [3]
  • J.E. Adler and L.J. Rips (EDs), Reasoning: Studies of Human Inference and Its Foundation, [4]