As a follow-up to his last post, Peter Heft examines the nature of "causative thinking" and Being and examines the implications of future-oriented causative thought.

It has come to my attention that in my previous post, “Man’s Propriative Event,” where I explained that there is more to solving the ecological crisis than simple political change – rather, we need to reevaluate the ways in which we view the natural world – I did not explore the nuances and complexities of  what I called “causative thinking.” It is my goal in this article to expand upon the idea of causative thinking and explain the implications of a causative view of the world. In other words, I want this post serve as a quasi-Part II to my previous post.

In “Man’s Propriative Event,” I argued that a causative mode of thinking arose from the propriative event of “primitive humans discovering that their agency can act as a cause to create some effect – for example, the utilization of a bone as a hammer,” but I did not really explain what causative thinking was, and that is what I will attempt to rectify here. Causative thinking is, at its core, a way of viewing the world that consists of understanding actions in the world as being part of an infinite chain of X’s leading to Y’s, Y’s leading to Z’s, and so on. In other words, a causative view of the world is one wherein changes are attributed to some agent exerting its agency upon something else, thereby leading to a change in the affairs of the world. Before we continue our analysis, however, it is vitally important to note one key thing, lest our entire project of analyzing causative thinking becomes the victim of prejudice.

When I speak about causative thinking as recognizing that actions have causes and effects, I am not, however, arguing that absent a causative view of the world that things would happen spontaneously. Rather, I am saying that, when one views the world through a causative lens, individual instances of cause-and-effect relationships fade away and are replaced by a larger narrative which consists of a string of cause-and-effect relationships where one can take action in the present and plan for the effects it will have on an indefinite number of future events. In other words, my dog recognizing that when he leaps from my couch he must extend his legs to catch himself is not a causative view of the world insofar as, from humans’ understanding of dog psychology, he is not going through a chain of causes and effects in his head – e.g., jump down, extend legs, catch self, walk right, utilize pads of feet when not on carpet, etc. – but rather is acting purely in the moment. On the other hand, a primitive human recognizing that he must sharpen rocks for spears to be utilized later in a hunt, and that he must live in (or near) an area with prey to subsequently be hunted,  all in order to maintain a constant supply of food, is a way of viewing the world that is fundamentally one of what might be called “to do” or “to be” relationships.

A causative mode of thinking about agency in the world creates a sense of mastery insofar as events that occur are no longer seen as discrete, but rather are linked together via complex relationships of causes and effects. This allows for instances of complex scenarios to be planned and for control to be exacted. Further, what is unique about a causative view of the world is that the notion of “progress” is intrinsically bound up in it. As mentioned in my last post, causative and calculative thinking are ways to change how the present is viewed in such as a way as to enable the “colonization of the future,” and it is this which is at the heart of the issue.

As increasingly complex happenings are viewed as being able to be caused by humans (in other words, human agency can cause complex outcomes), a notion of “discovery” and “progress” develops insofar as we now view the world as something that can be changed by our actions, and which can be mutated to fit our needs. The outcome of this change is significant in that, when the world is viewed as changeable via long-term instances of human agency causing some future effect, we can, and do, change the world around us to suit our needs, e.g. developing cities, razing forests to the ground for agricultural space, and so on. We construct an artificial world; namely, the world of modernity that grows according to the laws of “progress,” in opposition to a more harmonious and natural world that is in a growing and equalizing relationship with the environment that develops around us; something all other species have been able to do.

As Pentti Linkola wrote in Can Life Prevail? and which appeared in “The World at the Turn of the Millennium”:

Man is not a sensible creature, not in the least. Rather than Homo sapiens, the wise primate, man should have called himself Homo insipiens, the insane primate. Every zoologist, even an amateur, can see how inexplicably more practically and reasonably animals arrange their lives than humans, who are now getting ready, according to their strange calendar, to enter a new millennium. Amidst the vast chaos and devastation it has wrought, humanity will just barely make it to the year 2000 — it will hardly make it much further.

Without questioning our current modes of Being in the world, and the destruction they cause, can we really expect to last much longer?

Can Life Prevail?

With the train of civilization hurtling at ever-increasing speed towards self-destruction, the most pressing question facing humanity in the 21st century is that of the preservation of life itself. Can Life Prevail? provides a radical yet firmly grounded perspective on the ecological problems threatening both the biosphere and human culture. With essays covering topics as […]

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About The Author

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A “closet Conservative” on a liberal campus, Peter Heft is a student of philosophy and political science at Ohio’s Denison University where he mainly focuses his studies on Heideggerian and post-Heideggerian, Nietzschean, and Object-Oriented Ontological thought. He has had a life-long passion for knowledge and has been a national level debater since High School. He has maintained a blog for the past five years, Petersaysstuff, which is devoted to politics and philosophy.

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  • Mick

    Are not the recognition of an ecological crisis, in particular a “global climate change”, its anticipated extension and worsening into the future, its causal linking to (historic and/or current) human bevahiour and the resulting request for a drastic change in this human beaviour all prime examples of the causative mode of thinking?

    Is not reluctance or resistence against such a drastic change fuelled by preference of present consumerist desires or urges over future concerns?

    In sum, is not the conflict one of valuing one of differing future states being both anticipated via causative thinking?

    • The recognition you speak of is, of course, an example of a causative mode of thinking (I’m not sure I would go so far as to say a “prime example”). The issues I attempt to interrogate, however, are what this sole mode of Being led to. In “Man’s Propriative Event”, I argued that causative thinking led to the current crisis we are in. Obviously, the current crisis must be viewed within the lens of modernity — that is to say, it must be viewed causally — but that does not mean that we ought not interrogate the methodology behind our ontology.

      In other words, of course our current descriptions of the ecological crisis are causative…but that is because we have passed the threshold (propriative event) of causative thinking.

      I’m slightly unsure what you’re asking when you say “is not the conflict one of valuing one of differing future states being both anticipated via causative thinking?” If you clarify, I’d love to try to answer the question.