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Monday Message Board

June 27th, 2016

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

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  1. June 27th, 2016 at 08:53 | #1

    Here is a blog post using an evolutionary model as the basis for economics. This contrasts with the deterministic model used by most economists.

  2. Ernestine Gross
    June 27th, 2016 at 11:20 | #2

    On a previous thread I said a few words about the term ‘austerity’ and its lack of a unique meaning under all conceivable circumstances.

    I’d appreciate getting some feedback on my reflections on the word ‘competition’.

    There is a theoretical benchmark characterisation of ‘competition’, namely ‘price taking behaviour’. Without further specifications about ‘the economy’, this characterisation is also not helpful.

    Against my better judgement, I am going to try using an analogy to introduce what I have in mind about quite different notions of the term ‘competition’.

    Consider football (any type you like as long as you don’t change the type as a means to create an argument). There is amateur football and there is professional football.

    As far as I understand ‘football’, the players in both types of football are ‘competitive’.

    On the face of it, both types involve teams, which compete with each other. In both types a ‘scoring system’ (number of goals) determines which team wins.

    But there is a difference.

    Players in amateur games are part of a coalition, they self-select which coalition to join (subject to some physical constraints, I assume – no femaile team would have me I am quite sure). They are not paid. They do not have ‘an owner’ and individuals cannot be traded at a price.

    The contrast to professional teams is obvious. The players are paid, like employees of a corporation that has owners and corporate managers. There is now ‘competition’ between the football corporations including competition for players from other teams at a price. The profit motive is now central because without deep pockets football corporation A cannot outbid football corporation B to ‘buy’ player XYZ from B.

    We clearly have too distinct notions of ‘competiton’ here.

    Irony alert: Apply a version of the MMT story. Give every player a ball. This may then also solve the competition problem in many households for TV time. End Irony alert.

  3. Ken Fabian
    June 27th, 2016 at 15:35 | #3

    Whilst a successful competitive business doesn’t have any of the financial problems of it’s failed rivals on it’s books, those failures – bankruptcies, job losses etc – remain on the nation’s books. That is one reason I am dubious of the notion of a successful business person running a nation more like a business would be a road to success. Competition encompasses winners and losers and everyone in between, not the winners alone. I have no idea how this gets dealt with by economists but surely it does.

  4. GrueBleen
    June 27th, 2016 at 16:47 | #4

    @Ernestine Gross

    Your division into only two groups – ‘amateurs’ versus ‘professionals’ is basically fairly true for Australia at present, but does the existence of the College circuit -essentially ‘professional’ competition with unpaid players (ie a very extended ‘internship’) – make any difference ? Well, unpaid except for walking away with a college degree that required virtually no academic input. Also, the genuine ‘amateur’ players not only are unpaid, in fact they frequently have to pay in order to play.

    I’m not sure whether either of those thoughts really affect your analogy, but I would postulate one more: warfare in its various forms. Very definitely a ‘team game’ where the players aren’t paid much (if at all) but there’s very little in the way of “competition for players from other teams at a price” – other than the usually small number of traitors and defectors, of course. How about Kim Philby and his mates for instance – an example of competition ?

    So, where exactly do you want to take this discussion ?

  5. Ikonoclast
    June 27th, 2016 at 16:59 | #5

    @Ernestine Gross

    That’s an interesting post.

    1. I ought to have sympathy with you for taking issue with the word “austerity” in economic arguments, namely “its lack of a unique meaning under all conceivable circumstances”. After all, I have exactly the same problem with Prof. J.Q.’s use of “tribalism”. That is why I proposed he use “neotribalism” which at least is a more robust sociological concept postulated by Michel Maffesoli. Wikipedia gives it as: “Neotribalism or modern tribalism is a sociological concept which postulates that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society, as opposed to mass society, and thus will naturally form social networks constituting new “tribes”.”

    2. Re Competition.

    When it comes to words or phrases like “free market”, “freedom”, “rights” and “competition” I always like to refer to a concept I call “freedom within bounds”. I don’t know if I have come up with this idea independently but almost certainly I have not. It might have a different term in academic literature.

    To me none of these claimed freedoms or rights or processes are in any way absolute or unconditioned by environmental or societal constraints. Indeed, quite the reverse. No matter what “free market” you point to it will have bounds set by customs, laws and regulations not to mention environmental and logistical constraints (the latter involving at least quantity, time and space constraints). My “freedoms” are also constrained as freedoms within bounds. I am free to go around in public or go at large in the world but there are still bounds I must observe and often rightly so. My “rights” are freedoms within bounds and also come, again quite rightly, with obligations.

    Thus, so it is with “competition”. The correct question to ask in each case, on a case by case basis, is “Competition within what bounds, parameters, laws of rules?” Competition is the genus of the concept but which species of the concept are you referring to?

    Competition, mostly without laws or rules, occurs mainly in nature and there mainly but not exclusively in inter-species competition. Even in nature competition has bounds if one wants to be pedantic. Domain or medium bounds exist in that deep sea predators do not compete with land predators in any direct way, so far as I can envisage.

    3. Down the Rabbit Hole of the NFL.

    Being a little bit a sports tragic, I followed the Jarryd Hayne story as he attempted to become an NFL player for the San Francisco 49ers and then quit prematurely to chase a place in the Fijian Rugby 7s team. That last move was and is in hopes and going to the Olympics for Fiji which he claimed as “a lifelong dream”. In doing this, he “damaged his brand” as one sports marketer put it. Others ribbed Hayne with headlines like “Jarryd Hayne Retires To Pursue Lifelong Dream He’s Had For Half An Hour” (at SBS comedy).

    There are many levels to the NFL “competition” story of course. Aside from salary caps and the player draft which is a highly managed competition for players, the issue to highlight is the huge level of public subsidy for the NFL, which is a private organisation with privately owned teams. The NFL governing body has, until very recently, been tax exempt. This is fascinating considering the NFL Commissioner makes about $44 million per annum.

    The privately owned teams do pay tax if they make a profit. I have not researched how much tax they pay. When it comes to stadiums, state governments and city or county local governments often gift large subsidies or nearly interest-free loans to the private owners of NFL teams for stadium construction. This is to ensure the team stays in or relocates to their city. With state-of-the-art stadiums sporting all facilities and mod-cons now costing up to a billion dollars (it’s true, that’s BILLION), these public subsidies for private profit can come to something like 300 million dollars per stadium over the life of a financing deal.

    In turn, we could talk about the deluded state of mind of fans who root for “our team”. They pay for the team at least twice, first by public subsidy and then by cable TV subscription or live attendance. However, all the control and all the profits belong to the private owners. It is hard to see how it is the fans’ team under these conditions. They pay for it, at least twice over as said, but have no control over it; except, one would assume, by a total fan and consumer boycott.

    The NFL would be a marvellous subject for cultural studies as would our own corporatised AFL. It is simply that the NFL, like the USA as a whole, is at a higher stage of capitalist development. I found myself amused at all sorts of cultural studies gems. There is the coach’s weekly press conference for example.

    Insofar as the coach reveals unavoidable facts well after match day, like the week’s injury list, any underling or factotum could report this to the news wire or online. When it comes to substantivel items, it is clear the coach is not going to give anything away. If he knows or believes he knows how to beat the next team on the schedule, then he is not going to give anything – schemes, schematics etc. – away. And if his team is a shambles, as the SF49ers were in 2015, and he does not know how to fix it, then he is not going to admit that either. There is nothing substantial he can say on any of these topics without telegraphing his punches or putting up his hand to be fired. He has to waffle on with truisms and trite sayings for the press to dutifully report. With Jim Tomsula, now ex-coach of the SF49ers after a truly disastrous season, one could not tell, before the end of the 2015 season, whether he was a genius waffler or just a waffler.

    Then, it might be worth looking at the 2015 post-season press performances of owner Jed York and GM Trent Baalke on YouTube or at other sites. I mean worth looking at if you have a really strong stomach. I won’t say much about these. You can watch them if you can stand watching corporate weasel-word performances. The iconography, presentation and delivery style of the “important man” all play key roles in these speeches. These are “important men” saying nothing. However, everyone, factotums and the press alike, collude in attributing importance to strings of empty statements. The man is in an expensive suit; formal or casual-debonair as occasion demands. He is standing at a podium or at least in front of a lot of microphones. Therefore he must be saying something important. The speeches are of that general type where CEOs and GMs justify and exculpate themselves after truly disastrous years for their company. The depth of the rabbit hole becomes manifest when you discover that the SF49ers can have a truly disastrous football year and yet make fabulous profits for their owners. This is mostly on pre-sold tickets to a new, subsidised football stadium.

    I could also have mentioned the NFL, cover-ups, conflicts of interest and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy or concussions), but that as they say is a whole other (unpleasant) story.

  6. Ikonoclast
    June 27th, 2016 at 17:14 | #6

    @Kevin Cox

    It occurs to me, that as first poster you deserve a response (at least one). It’s only good netiquette after all. When I have time to read your linked blog and all the further links I will try to formulate a response. You’ve opened a complex arena of discussion with a lot of ramifications. I will try to come up something cogent. Give me maybe up to 24 hours.

  7. Ivor
    June 27th, 2016 at 22:34 | #7

    How the capitalists are admitting that much of their scare campaign before the Brexit votes was just politically motivated lies.

    http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2016/06/27/business/27reuters-britain-eu-king.html?src=busln

    Such lies from capitalists, is part of the reason why most of Wales and England turned against Europe. They were probably just voting out to blame something.

  8. derrida derider
    June 27th, 2016 at 22:40 | #8

    Yawn, Kevin @1, try googling “Evolutionary Economics”.

    It is vanishingly difficult to think of an idea that has not been thought of, formalised (this one is VERY mathematical – all dynamic game theory), systematically investigated and then either discarded as useless or forming the basis of an academic cottage industry.

  9. Ikonoclast
    June 28th, 2016 at 08:06 | #9

    @Kevin Cox

    I am going to have to renege on my earlier promise to reply on your idea. The irony of this with respect to promise theory was not premeditated or foreseen. It’s simply that I can’t find a full exposition of your ideas in your links. Without that I am flying in the dark. Is your theorising related to blockchain technology and ideas like Ethereum (Network supporting storage of Turing-complete smart contracts)? One ought to mention here that Ethereum has been hacked.

    One also ought to mention that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and I presume Ethereum (and smart contracts) carry high energy overheads for creation and maintenance. This energy costs money and resources. Huge resources are being wasted creating Bitcoins for example. How these resource costs compare to the resource costs of conventional modern electronic money and finance I do not know. It could be an area for a young economics student to research. The idea of “zero cost money”, if that is the correct phrase for one of your ideas, is a bit concerning in the sense that it uncomfortably reminds one of claims to have built a perpetual motion machine or a free energy machine.

    In what sense is “zero cost money”, zero cost? Is it zero cost energetically (impossible) or zero cost as in zero interest? A zero interest system could work in some contexts though not for a capitalist system as a whole. Zero interest is a more socialist-like idea. It is also the Christian idea of “no usury”, abandoned in the 16th C by the Christian Church and the Sharia concept now burgeoning in the 21st century as Islamic Banking and Finance.

    “The term “Islamic banking” refers to a system of banking or banking activity that is consistent with Islamic law (Shariah) principles and guided by Islamic economics. The contemporary movement of Islamic finance is based on the belief that “all forms of interest are riba and hence prohibited”.[48] In addition, Islamic law prohibits investing in businesses that are considered unlawful, or haraam (such as businesses that sell alcohol or pork, or businesses that produce media such as gossip columns or pornography, which are contrary to Islamic values). Furthermore, the Shariah prohibits what is called “Maysir” and “Gharar”. Maysir is involved in contracts where the ownership of a good depends on the occurrence of a predetermined, uncertain event in the future whereas Gharar describes speculative transactions. Both concepts involve excessive risk and are supposed to foster uncertainty and fraudulent behaviour. Therefore, the use of all conventional derivative instruments is impossible in Islamic banking.[49] In the late 20th century, a number of Islamic banks were created to cater to this particular banking market.

    Islamic banking has the same purpose as conventional banking: to make money for the banking institute by lending out capital while adhering to Islamic law. Because Islam forbids simply lending out money at interest, Islamic rules on transactions (known as Fiqh al-Muamalat) have been created to prevent it. The basic principle of Islamic banking is based on risk-sharing which is a component of trade rather than risk-transfer which is seen in conventional banking. Islamic banking introduces concepts such as profit sharing (Mudharabah), safekeeping (Wadiah), joint venture (Musharakah), cost plus (Murabahah), and leasing (Ijar).” – Wikipedia.

    A syncretist or synthesizing thinker attempting to envisage a workable socialist system at all levels of work, ownership, market operations and finance might do well to study modern Islamic banking for possible ideas re workable non-capitalist institutional arrangements. However, an agnostic existentialist and Marxian autonomist like myself would not accept any form of religious dogma as metaphysical or moral philosophy support for such a system. Socialist humanism and scientific empiricism would have to be the philosophical basis in my opinion.

  10. wmmbb
    June 28th, 2016 at 22:55 | #10

    Is it not accurate to observe that As Cameron was responsible for Brexit, so Turnbull is responsible for the Double Dissolution? I notice that Malcolm has recommended:”If you do not know the candidates do not vote for them.” On that basis it would not be possible to vote for anybody. I am sure he is not intentionally we should cast blank ballots, albeit a valid option. Meantime, I am having fun looking into the 42 parties on the NSW Senate paper. I don’t know why people would stand as independents or why parties with notionally similar agendas do combine – if for no other reason than to make it easier for the voters.

  11. Ernestine Gross
    June 29th, 2016 at 09:48 | #11

    @GrueBleen

    Thank you for your reply, including telling me about the ‘college circuit’. Your warfare example is also welcome and so is your question. Where is this going to lead to?

    The words ‘competition’, ‘competitiveness’, ‘competitive’ are in our face more or less on a daily basis, be it in economic policy debates, at work, in the business section of the press or in private conversations. Like other abstract notions, these words can facilitate mutual understanding or they can result in exactly the opposite. As such they are potential tools for propaganda, good or bad, depending on a reader’s or writer’s point of view.

    We all acquired, one way or the other, an understanding that the meaning of many words depends on the context. I am trying explore this understanding of contextual meaning of abstract words in an economic context.

    My example of amateur and professional ‘football’ is the simplest example I could think of to show how the meaning of the word ‘competition’ depends on the institutional environment. You kindly provided two further examples of different institutional environments.

    Let me know if you’d like me to expand. My reading of your reply is that you guessed right in what I have in mind.

  12. Ernestine Gross
    June 29th, 2016 at 09:59 | #12

    @Ikonoclast

    Thank you for your reply. In a sense I am surprised you didn’t pick the change in the institutional environment (leaving the ‘production technology’, knowledge of the rules of the game called ‘football’ unchanged). The first institutional environment I listed, amateur football, comes close to what you want when you promote ‘worker cooperative’ (in the theory of the core such an arrangement is called ‘coalition’). The second example I gave, professional football, comes close to what you don’t want, namely corporatist-managerialist arrangements.

    GrueBleen provided two other examples of institutional environments for ‘football’.

    Words get in the way, don’t they?

  13. Ikonoclast
    June 30th, 2016 at 18:45 | #13

    @Ernestine Gross

    I suppose I always have my idiosyncratic take on things. I like words although I am limited to English words. I had the NFL thing already written so thought it worth posting as an example of the worst of corporatist-managerialist arrangements.

    Marxist Professor Richard D. Wolff gives some amusing talks. He hams it up sometimes and he may be too hammy for some people’s tastes. A while ago he gave an excellent talk about a battle within a family owned company in Vermont. IIRC it was a grocery chain, with maybe several hundred employees, throughout Vermont. The company was owned by two brothers and one brother was more sympathetic employee issues and demands and one brother was less sympathetic. Let’s call them good brother and bad brother. The employees of course were supporting good brother in whatever way they could to help him win control of the company. Wolff likened it to a medieval contest where the lesser nobles and serfs were supporting the Good Prince against the Bad Prince to become King. He then went on to point out that we had long ado gotten beyond that and discovered democracy was better than than being ruled by Kings. Then he questioned why do we want let our enterprises be owned by “kings”. Wouldn’t it better to own and manage them ourselves with worker democracy?

  14. Ikonoclast
    June 30th, 2016 at 19:15 | #14

    @Ernestine Gross

    A second reply in addition to the one above.

    Now in human societies, I think the key competition is in many respects the meta-competition. It is a higher-level competition to set up the rules of basic competition. So there is a competition to set the rules of the institutional environment which rules then govern the basic competition.

  15. Ernestine Gross
    July 1st, 2016 at 21:42 | #15

    @Ikonoclast

    Perhaps it is only the words that get in the way when I say I believe my idea is no the same as yours. Correct me if I am wrong, your ‘higher level competition’ sounds to me like the top layer in a pyramidal representation of Marx’s ideas with economics at the bottom. (This is what I remember from a lecture in alternative economic systems taken – well I won’t tell you exactly the number of years – a long long time ago.

    I am more interested in the evolution of institutional changes over time. Whereby I don’t wish to exclude in line one that an error (mutation of a thought, if you like) of some kind can set of a process. I also don’t wish to exclude in line one a possible evolutionary outcome, one of many possible outcomes, is something like the pyramidal representation I mentioned above. I also don’t wish to exclude in line one a social system akin to that conceived in the theory of the core of an economy.

    I am not a fast writer.

  16. Ikonoclast
    July 2nd, 2016 at 08:11 | #16

    @Ernestine Gross

    I didn’t have that kind of crude support pyramid in mind consciously. I assume you mean the pyramid with workers, leisured class, army, church, king and capitalists (a rather English social pyramid). I was rather thinking about how the rules are set. What I mean is this. A worker competes with other workers to get a job. Employers (capitalists large or petty plus state employers) compete for workers. Immediately, I guess this demonstrates that the arena of competition I find interesting is the labour market not the supermarket.

    Above this arena, a competition, I would call it a meta-competetion (a competition to set the rules of the competition below), occurs. Employer organisations and Unions go to arbitration to set rules (already a kind of admission that this is a managed competition not a free-for-all. This is an old model even no of course. Then, for example, the employer organisations get cosy with a right wing government in secret meetings and in return for party donations ask for laws to weaken unions and or for laws to end the arbitration system. Here we see a third level of competition but here the workers and unions and not even invited to the game (the game table or meeting table). This is a crude description too.

    You are not talking about the above (and it is rather basic). You seem to be talking about evolutionary and emergent phenomena. There is also more than a hint of the ideas of “chaos” and indeterminism in your ideas. I agree with this thinking in general. “Chaos” here means when a small change in initial conditions can generate a big change in outcomes including different possible oscillations around different equilibria.

    At the same time (to my mind) humans appear to have certain self-organising principles that are part of their “nature”. When it comes to Marxian thinking I am a bit heretical at this point. I do not subscribe to the notion that humans are infinitely malleable and without a human nature. We are certainly malleable but not infinitely malleable. We have a nature and although that nature comprises a wide spectrum of capabilities and behaviours, again that spectrum is not infinitely wide. It has limits.

    I only say the above to say that human nature will condition political economy possibilities and outcomes. There are social institutions we cannot socially evolve. An extreme example would be a social evolution where it is an absolute requirement to kill all children. Such a society is not going to last very long. The necessity that there be children to continue society (any society) then conditions sets of possibilities and impossibilities. This is all very jumbled thinking on my part. I am sure I don’t get your idea and that my “ideas” are not helping.

  17. Ivor
    July 2nd, 2016 at 09:10 | #17

    @Ernestine Gross

    You may need to review your understanding of Marx.

    There is no pyramid, and it is the mode of production which determines economics.

    Politics determines the mode of production although the outcomes of a mode of production also determine politics.

    This is a dialectical relationship.

  18. Ikonoclast
    July 2nd, 2016 at 09:48 | #18

    @Ivor

    “Dialectical materialism” as a thesis is an interesting case of changes in nomenclature and strands in ideological and academic fashion over time. In my view and not just my view, dialectical materialism is a precursor of complex systems theory and attendant ideas on feed-backs within and between systems. Dialectical materialism also deals with the notions of evolution, supervenience and emergence.

    “The main idea of dialectical materialism lies in the concept of the evolution of the natural world and the emergence of new qualities of being at new stages of evolution. As Z. A. Jordan notes, “Engels made constant use of the metaphysical insight that the higher level of existence emerges from and has its roots in the lower; that the higher level constitutes a new order of being with its irreducible laws; and that this process of evolutionary advance is governed by laws of development which reflect basic properties of ‘matter in motion as a whole’.”” – Wikipedia.

    I wouldn’t necessarily agree precisely with Engel’s position or perhaps the way Wikipedia states it but the ideas are in the right ball-park IMO. Modern complex systems theory, the uncovering of evolution, supervenience and emergence and so on support this general view.

  19. Ernestine Gross
    July 3rd, 2016 at 17:03 | #19

    @Ikonoclast

    I wish I hadn’t said anything about the pyramidal representation. At the time I found the lecturer’s representation quite meaningful. The trouble is, while I still have a clear memory of the layers, I can’t remember the words which go with it. But I do know the abstract representation had nothing to do with a social stratification by say income.

  20. Ernestine Gross
    July 3rd, 2016 at 17:06 | #20

    @Ivor

    I can make sense out of a lot of Ikonoclast’s writings but I cannot make any sense out of yours.

    Ikon comes across to me as a person with a searching and mostly open mind. You come across to me, rightly or wrongly, as a little dictator.

  21. Ivor
    July 3rd, 2016 at 18:22 | #21

    @Ikonoclast

    I am not keen in using Wikipedia if there are other sources. It is useful as an introduction and some Universities actually do not allow students to cite Wikipedia in their submissions – eg Oxford.

    I doubt that Engels ever used the term “metaphysical insights” whatever this is and never supported metaphysics. Marx rejected Hegelian metaphysics.

    Dialectical materialism is not

    that the higher level of existence emerges from and has its roots in the lower

    Engels specifically rejected the notion that development only goes to a higher level. Dialectics can produce a regression.

    The fundamental process is that change occurs through interraction of opposites. Engels specifically says this is “in contrast to metaphysics”.

    He also warned “Physics, beware of metaphysics”.

    Irreducible laws, when appropriate, come from the scientific understanding of nature – not metaphysical insights.

    Ernestine will not be able to follow this.

  22. Ikonoclast
    July 3rd, 2016 at 19:30 | #22

    @Ivor

    Wikipedia seems as good as any encyclopedia. An encyclopedia is never a primary source so I assume serious students never cite encyclopedias. Blogging is not a serious academic pursuit so I determine, at least for myself, that Wikipedia cites will at least sometimes do for blogging.

    It’s not as easy to sever physics from metaphysics as you seem to think. Try this as a thought-provoker. Do objects exist or do processes exist? Is an object really a set of closely connected processes acting over time? If the latter, in what manner does an object exist? In what manner does a process exist? What is a process?

    Or consider this;

    “The scientific paradigm and the philosophy of science together constituted the
    intellectual framework of scientific orthodoxy for more than a century of scientific
    understanding. The evident fit between philosophy (of science) and (scientific) paradigm supported the conviction that both were right, the logical clarity and elegance of the philosophy
    reinforcing that conviction. From within this framework, the greatest challenge
    is that of quantum theory to determinism and simple causality. But while this is
    a profound problem, the immediate theoretical challenge is also limited since the
    fundamental dynamical idea of a universal deterministic flow on a manifold characterised
    by its symmetries remains at the core (indeed is abstractly strengthened
    — see e.g. [Brown and Harre, 1988]).

    That this orthodoxy could prove unduly confining became obvious first in biology,
    even if it had made earlier, tacit appearances in physics and engineering….

    The consequence of (hard science) orthodoxy for biology is that
    either life is radically reduced to simple chemical mechanisms and then to applied
    traditional physics, or it has to be taken outside the paradigm altogether and
    asserted as metaphysically sui generis. Both were, and are, implausible positions.” – INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY OF COMPLEX SYSTEMS: (A) – Cliff Hooker.

    Ernestine can follow this I am sure. I mean at least where we make logical sense.

  23. Ivor
    July 3rd, 2016 at 20:41 | #23

    @Ikonoclast

    Everything has a cause – just not a metaphysical cause.

  24. Ikonoclast
    July 4th, 2016 at 08:27 | #24

    @Ivor

    You have expressed the “Principle of sufficient reason” which is a metaphysical postulate. First, let us be clear about the term “metaphysics”. In the philosophical sense it means;

    “The branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, identity, time, and space.”

    “Metaphysics” does not here mean “supernatural” nor the idea of “abstract theory with no basis in reality”. Concepts such as being, knowing, identity, time, and space are abstract but generally accepted in common speech and in scientific or academic investigation (such as physics or economics) as having real meaning and reference (following the congruence theory of truth perhaps); that is to say having a basis in reality.

    “The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason or cause. This simple demand for thoroughgoing intelligibility yields some of the boldest and most challenging theses in the history of metaphysics and epistemology. In this entry we begin with explaining the Principle, and then turn to the history of the debates around it.”- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    The principle that “everything has a cause” looked good in the era of mechanistic, deterministic science. This is despite the fact that David Hume had already put a big question mark under the idea of “cause”. We don’t actually observe “cause”. We observe B following A and say A caused B. If B follows A regularly we are strengthened in our supposition that A caused B. But we still would have to demonstrate something more than mere correlation. Remember, correlation does not equal causation.

    There are plenty of problems now with “hard determinism” or “everything has cause” as a philosophical position. I’ll just mention quantum indeterminacy, chaos theory, complex systems theory, supervenience and emergence as areas of modern scientific and philosophical investigation.

    One old problem with causation is that of getting involved in positing an endless chain or regression of causes. Every cause must have an antecedent cause. What caused the first cause? Or as we might say now, what caused the universe? Causation is a theory of proximal and pragmatic value. It is a shorthand for something more difficult to grasp. Simple, macro physical events close to each other in time and space can be pragmatically linked in this way if we can demonstrate a consistent “linking” mechanism, something we might call the “causative mechanism”. But why does the “causative mechanism” work? It is “nature working within” as Bacon said and we really cannot say more about it. Again, we get the infinite regress problem as we examine smaller and smaller components of material nature for the essence of “nature working within”. If we reach the end of the regression then we get to raw inexplicability or “brute fact” as the philosophers call it.

    Another problem is the problem of “cause as explanation” when it just becomes “explaining away”. Supernatural and religious theories are in the “explaining away” category. But regress theories also suffer from this fault. Atoms and their structures explain compounds and chemical reactions. Sub-atomic particles explain atoms. What explains subatomic particles? If they are the “strings” of string theory what explains “strings” and so on?

    “Everything has a cause” is too strong an a priori assumption in my opinion. I prefer something more cautious like this. There is nothing that can be called a cause, and nothing that can be called an effect; there are merely sequences of events (processes) in the space-time manifold. Some of these may be linked by formulae and expositions of connecting mechanisms indicating a greater or lesser connection or “influence” (not absolute cause) proceeding in the direction of “the arrow of time”.

  25. Ivor
    July 4th, 2016 at 09:25 | #25

    @Ikonoclast

    “Reason” is a different concept to “cause”.

    By “cause” I mean a physical cause that can be known by science.

    Reason only appears when life emerges. Reason is caused by the operation of a physical object – the brain.

    Universes can exist without “reason” but not without a physical cause.

    You do not have to know what every cause is and it is not a question of preference.

    Once you have described cause – you have the basis for explaining reason. But if you have only a reason – you still may not have access to the underlying cause.

    Where ever reason successfully explains something sufficiently, you can just cross this out and write over it “cause”.

    False metaphysical reasons can be invented by politicians that cannot be falsified by science. They are created more by social agreements than science. However false physical causes can be eventually falsified by science even if this contradicts previous agreements.

    There is no physical object or process that does not have a physical cause, and I suppose there could well be objects and processes that, though they have a cause, either have no reason or, more likely, the cause is the reason.

    Reasons are themselves “caused”.

  26. Ikonoclast
    July 4th, 2016 at 09:49 | #26

    Perhaps we should take this to the sandpit. I will reply there.

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