A reader asks:
I have carefully read most of your argument with Dr Andreassen and I find that the point where you and him disagree is that you affirm final causes and he does not. Would you be willing to give a defense of final cause? Or in other words why you affirm that there is such a thing as final cause and why it can not be a form of a how in disguise and is indeed a why.
Final cause is defined as the cause that answers the purpose for which an action is done, the aim.
Defining a term does not mean the object so defined actually exists, so the next question is whether anything fits this definition?
To argue that there are no final causes is aimless. The man making the argument against the existence of final causes would have to admit that his statements serve no purpose, are not aimed at anything. That would be a self-refuting admission.
This proves final cause can be defined, and that at least some existing things fit the definition. The next question you asked is whether final causes can be reduced to efficient causes, that is, can one deduce, without error, the purpose of an action from the mechanics of the action?
I use the example of chess because it is a simple enough game that even machines can play it, or go through the motions of playing it. Since many modern people suffer from an inability to distinguish computers from people, I will use an even simpler example, using tic-tac-toe and played with cards.
Suppose you had a deck, not of 52 cards, but of each move of the 255,168 possible unique tic-tac-toe games. The cards are kept in a chest of drawers. Each drawer is also marked with a diagram of a possible board. Within each drawer is every legal move that can be made in response.
Two instructions are carved into the top of the chest of drawers. The first says to compare the diagram on the drawer with the board, open the drawer, and play a card within. The second says that, as you play each game, whenever you lose, you throw away the card representing the losing move from the drawer representing the previous move. That way, next time you play the game, the move that lost is not the one among the available options to play from that drawer.
Now, suppose your grandfather avidly played tictactoe and carefully threw out every card that represents a losing move. The Naughts and Crosses chest would now only contain cards leading to victory or stalemate.
Again, suppose you inherit the chest and do not know the rules of the game, and no one ever told you the victory conditions. Nonetheless, merely by following the instructions carved in the lid of how to open the drawer and play a card taken blindly from inside that drawer, you can win or stalemate every game.
Now suppose a philosopher strolls up while you are on the last move of a winning game. There are two crosses in in the upper left and right squares, and your opponent has not placed a naught in the upper middle square to block.
You inspect the board, find the drawer that represents it, and open it. Inside is a single card showing the winning move. You follow the card’s instructions and place a third cross in the upper middle square.
The philosopher asks, “Why did you make that move? What was your aim?”
You explain the mechanisms of the chest carefully to him. You show him that your grandfather threw out all the other cards which would have you place a cross elsewhere on the board. There was only one card in this drawer.
The philosopher says, “No, you have told me the mechanics of how you select which move to play. You have not told me what the purpose, point, or aim of the move itself is.”
You look carefully over the chest of drawers. Nowhere are the rules of ticatactoe written down, nor the victory conditions.
The other player says, “The victory condition is to place three a row, either horizontally, diagonally, or vertically.”
Now, studying the chest of drawers a second time, you do notice that all the possible moves of the cards your grandfather did not throw away do, in fact, fit the pattern of being intentional moves meant to bring about the three in a row for crosses while preventing three in a row for naughts.
The word ‘pattern’ here refers to no material property of the chest or the cards, but to the model you carry in your head that you use to deduce the purpose or aim of the grandfather’s chest. The word ‘pattern’ refers to the form.
The pattern is not in the chest, but in the head of you, the gameplayer.
One can say, metaphorically, that the chest of drawers thinks about tictactoe; that the act of throwing away cards is like punishing a dog for pooping on the carpet in order, that is, tossing cards is teaching the chest to play; one can say that the chest ponders moves and calculates decision trees; and that the chest selects the winning move because it aims to win; but this is clearly a metaphor, and a grossly misleading metaphor at that.
The chest of drawers has no brain and it is not alive. Its drawers open and shut when and only when you open or shut them. The discarded cards are thrown away not because the chest wants you to win a game, or wants anything, or knows what a game is, or knows anything. If the cards were replaced with autumn leaves, the chest would not act any differently. It does not act at all.
The chest is, in fact, a tool. As a tool, it has the final cause, or aim, the toolmaker made it to serve. This aim is only served if the game player follows the grandfather’s instructions. The chest does not decide to play, grow ambitious for victory, or lie awake at nights thinking furiously about strategy. It is not a creature capable of thought because it is not a creature.
If the why of the game (three in a row) were something that could be reduced to a how (opening the drawer that corresponds the current board and play a card from within) then purpose of the game would be a mechanical property of the chest, a physical property.
Examining the mechanics of the game chest would explain everything about it, except the meaning of the game.
If the purpose of the game were a physical property of the chest, the game player in this hypothetical who knows no rules of naughts and crosses could answer the question of why he made the winning move merely by looking at the chest of drawers and the cards, without knowing the instructions, or knowing how to read the cards, because the answer would be a physical property of the chest or the cards, not a mental property of the gameplayer using the chest.
If the why were a physical property rather than a mental property, then the cards could be replaced by blank cards or autumn leaves, and the chest would still serve the same purpose.
If the why were a physical property rather than a mental property, the chest would still have the craving and the burning desire to play naughts and crosses even after the game player died, and the instructions on how to use the chest were lost.
In reality, you need to know the victory condition being sought in order to know the aim of the moves being made. Th emoves have no meaning in and of themselves: they only have meaning to a human observer with a mind.
Since this is true for a simple tool like a chest of drawers, it is also true if the cards are punchcards, or there is a clockwork mechanism to react to the board to match the cards to the corresponding board and unlock the proper drawer; or if the representation is entirely abstract, such as a circuit board leading to neon lights shaped like naughts or crosses, lit or unlit to show the move; or if the machine is more abstract again, and streams of electrons passing through logic gates represent one and zeros of a software representing naughts and crosses.
No matter how abstract the machine, and no matter whether it is given a mainspring or electric motor to impart motion to it, the machine is still a machine with the nature of a machine.
Adding more mechanics does not make somehow suddenly into a self-aware, alert, self-moving and living organism which is engaging in the act of contemplating, selecting from options, forming a preference, and deciding on a tactic to satisfy an aim.
Now, having gone over this argument countless times, I will point out that no materialist deigning to present an argument has ever once given even a single example of describing a why as a how, or describing a final cause in terms of mechanical cause, reducing a quality to a quantity, or defining a quality to a quantity.
None of them has been able to define the term ‘checkmate’ in terms of standard international units. Why not? Acceleration can be defined in terms of such units. If checkmate is a property of matter as acceleration is a property of matter, the definition should be the same.
Many have made the windy claim that intelligence is an emergent property of matter in motion, but not one has given a single example, simple or complicated, real or imaginary, of such emergence.
No one has even tried.
No one has responded, except to change the subject.
(I make one exception: one materialists said rolling a ball down a Y-shaped chute with two exist was an example of thinking, pondering and decision-making. The response was like a zen koan.)
No one (including the zen materialist with his Y-shaped chute) has even seemed to understand what the question is asking.
All that happens is that the materialist assumes that if an observer attributes a symbolic meaning to a bit of matter in motion (my zen materialists seemed to be assuming a rolled ball exiting one chute represents “no” and the other “yes”) that the symbol exists not in the mind of the observer, but as a physical property of the object.
The problem is that everyone carries something like a codebook in his imagination which translates symbols from any physical incarnation to their symbolic meaning in their mind. The meaning is in the mind, not in the instantiation in matter. If the meaning were in the matter, it would be impossible to use a circle to represent zero in on instance and an omicron in another.
If the meaning were in the matter, any one would be able to read a language with which he were unfamiliar, merely by examining the material properties of the symbols, their weight, duration, and temperature and so on.
If the meaning were in the matter, no one could play blindfold chess.
If the meaning were in the matter, any one, even a man who just escaped from the dreaded Chinese room of Robert Searle, could play naughts and crosses with his grandfather’s chest of drawers, even if he were not told the instructions.
If the meaning were in the instantiation, any one, even a man who just escaped from the dreaded Chinese room of Robert Searle,
Simply repeating the absurdity that atoms think and clocks talk does not answer the question when someone asks you how atoms and clocks come to have the power to think and talk.
The reason why no one tries to answer the question is that the thing cannot be done; it cannot even be imagined.
No matter how many hows you add to an explanation of how, it cannot by magic emerge into a description of why. No matter how many moving wheels you add to a complex clock, the clock cannot spring to life, look at its own face, and worry about the time.
If I were wrong on this point, a single, solitary, sole example of it being done would refute me.