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Causality (also referred to as causation, or cause and effect) is efficacy, by which one process or state, a cause, contributes to the production of another process or state, an effect, where the cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause. In general, a process has many causes, which are also said to be causal factors for it, and all lie in its past. An effect can in turn be a cause of, or causal factor for, many other effects, which all lie in its future. Some writers have held that causality is metaphysically prior to notions of time and space.

Causality is an abstraction that indicates how the world progresses, so basic a concept that it is more apt as an explanation of other concepts of progression than as something to be explained by others more basic. The concept is like those of agency and efficacy. For this reason, a leap of intuition may be needed to grasp it. Accordingly, causality is implicit in the logic and structure of ordinary language.

In the English language, as distinct from Aristotle’s own language, Aristotelian philosophy uses the word “cause” to mean “explanation” or “answer to a ‘why’ question”, including Aristotle’s material, formal, efficient, and final “causes”; then the “cause” is the explananation for the explanandum. In this case, failure to recognize that different kinds of “cause” are being considered can lead to futile debate. Of Aristotle’s four explanatory modes, the one nearest to the concerns of the present article is the “efficient” one.

The topic of causality remains a staple in contemporary philosophy.

The nature of cause and effect is a concern of the subject known as metaphysics. Kant thought that time and space were notions prior to human understanding of the progress or evolution of the world, and he also recognized the priority of causality. But he did not have the understanding that came with knowledge of Minkowski geometry and the special theory of relativity, that the notion of causality can be used as a prior foundation from which to construct notions of time and space.

A general metaphysical question about cause and effect is what kind of entity can be a cause, and what kind of entity can be an effect.

One viewpoint on this question is that cause and effect are of one and the same kind of entity, with causality an asymmetric relation between them. That is to say, it would make good sense grammatically to say either “A is the cause and B the effect” or “B is the cause and A the effect”, though only one of those two can be actually true. In this view, one opinion, proposed as a metaphysical principle in process philosophy, is that every cause and every effect is respectively some process, event, becoming, or happening. An example is ‘his tripping over the step was the cause, and his breaking his ankle the effect’. Another view is that causes and effects are ‘states of affairs’, with the exact natures of those entities being less restrictively defined than in process philosophy.[12]

Another viewpoint on the question is the more classical one, that a cause and its effect can be of different kinds of entity. For example, in Aristotle’s efficient causal explanation, an action can be a cause while an enduring object is its effect. For example, the generative actions of his parents can be regarded as the efficient cause, with Socrates being the effect, Socrates being regarded as an enduring object, in philosophical tradition called a ‘substance’, as distinct from an action.

Since causality is a subtle metaphysical notion, considerable intellectual effort, along with exhibition of evidence, is needed to establish knowledge of it in particular empirical circumstances.

Causality has the properties of antecedence and contiguity. These are topological, and are ingredients for space-time geometry. As developed by Alfred Robb, these properties allow the derivation of the notions of time and space. Max Jammer writes “the Einstein postulate … opens the way to a straightforward construction of the causal topology … of Minkowski space.” Causal efficacy propagates no faster than light.

Thus, the notion of causality is metaphysically prior to the notions of time and space. In practical terms, this is because use of the relation of causality is necessary for the interpretation of empirical experiments. Interpretation of experiments is needed to establish the physical and geometrical notions of time and space.

The deterministic world-view holds that the history of the universe can be exhaustively represented as a progression of events following one after as cause and effect. The incompatibilist version of this holds that there is no such thing as “free will”. Compatibilism, on the other hand, holds that determinism is compatible with, or even necessary for, free will.


The Essential Dialectic of Causality is:

{Material-Formal ⇆ Formal-Material ⇵ Material-Material} ↻ Formal-Formal


The Complete Dialectic of Causality is ….

{Formal ⇆ Material ⇅ Efficient} ↻ Final



The Equivalency Dialectic of Causality is:

{Causality ⇆ Space ⇅ Time} ↻ Event