Discussing causality

Questions for discussion

  1. How convincing is the claim that the ultimate cause of dissatisfaction is ignorance or misunderstanding? Can you think of examples of dissatisfaction that do not seem to be caused by ignorance or misunderstanding? Can you make a case for the view that dissatisfaction that appears to have some cause other than misunderstanding is, when examined more closely, in fact due to misunderstanding?
  2. Vasubandhu claims that what causes something to begin existing is sufficient to cause it to cease existing at the same time. This departure from common sense entails numerous other departures from how most of us usually look at the world. What do you see as the advantages and the disadvantages of such a departure from common sense?
  3. How useful do you find Nāgārjuna’s approach to causality? In laying out the possible relationships between a cause and an effect, were there possibilities that he failed to take into consideration? What do you think it means to say that “never in any way is there any existing thing that has arisen”? How would your daily life be different than it now is if you took that claim seriously?

2 thoughts on “Discussing causality

  1. Sonny Day

    Great questions! I am not sure if I am on the same page, but here we go:

    1) I think this is a tough question to answer. How could we reconcile a situation where the cause for dissatisfaction was the very existence of ignorance, dissatisfaction and misunderstanding?

    Regarding case for dissatisfaction stemming from misunderstanding, let us find something modernly relevant:

    One person could wholeheartedly believe that the slander of Islam or Mohammad is a slander against an entire progeny, history, and plot line of existence; another individual might see the very act of slander as a basic, required necessity to put the sanctity of human life above ideas or symbols; finally, another might see the commitment to free speech as an excuse to disrespect every one/thing else.

    2) Though I believe Vasubandu’s claim is logically sound, I wonder if it is practically sound. I think it was mentioned that going down this path requires us to have perfect knowledge of all causes of an effect. If time were not an issue and perfect knowledge was needed, then I see a great advantage to this; however, are these types of methods even within our capabilities?

    3) I find it a great thought exercise into realizing the scope of knowledge we must have and how far we must see back to really get at the root causes of anything. The fact that events that have occurred millions of years ago affect our reality today make me view my normal view of ’cause and effect’ as inadequate, and in need of refinement.

    I liked these questions. Allowed me to conceptualize the concepts discussed previously. Thank you for this resource.

  2. Richard P. Hayes Post author

    Sonny Day offers a thoughtful response to the questions. I am reminded of an article I read so long ago that I can no longer recall the name of the author or the title of the article, but I do recall the central issue, which was to find a definition of what it means for an action to be considered morally right. The author advanced the view that an action can be called morally right if it is approved by a benevolent person who is aware of all the morally relevant factors in the situation in which the action takes place. The author went on to say that the only way anyone could know which which factors are morally relevant would be to know all factors. For example, it might be morally irrelevant that the agent of a particular action was wearing green socks, but one could know if that fact was irrelevant only if one knew everything about everything. In other words, the benevolent being whose approval determines the moral rectitude of an action would have to be omniscient, in which case it is probably a practical impossibility to find the being whose approval determines moral rightness. Only an omniscient being would be in a position to know whether another being was omniscient.

    As Sonny Day has pointed out, we might well ask whether Vasubandhu’s logically coherent position is practically achievable. Perhaps our practical situation is that we can never have enough knowledge of a situation to know what the causes of the situation were.


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