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Re: [ontolog-forum] Cause and chemical reactions

To: "Alan Ruttenberg" <alanruttenberg@xxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Barker, Sean (UK)" <Sean.Barker@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2007 09:50:13 +0100
Message-id: <E18F7C3C090D5D40A854F1D080A84CA41F1DD6@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
   Apologies, I can't quite remember what I wrote some 20 years ago. The reference is Aristotle 'Metaphysics', book 5 ch 2 - a 5 minute read. The tricky bit, as some subsequent e-mails on this thread indicate, is trying to understand what Aristotle is getting at, given the way the meaning of 'Cause' has changed. Roughly:
a) The material cause - what atoms are involved (including the electron shell structure)
b) The form - crudely, the shape of the molecules (but see below)
c) The efficient cause - the trigger, initial energy input
d) The 'teleological' cause - not that informative, unless you include general principles such as "entropy" (though why the universe cares about entropy...)
Similarly, understanding what Aristotle means when he uses various terms such as 'form' is not easy, for which see 'De Anima' (on the soul), which is usually summarized by "the soul is the form of the body".
My take on the ancient Greeks is that, since no-one had invented "what to think", much of their philosophy was experiments in what they could think. Aristotle is particularly good at summarizing what had been thought and throwing away much of the dross. In the case of the types of 'cause', the illumination was more to do with how incomplete are explanations which look only at efficient cause than in the discovery of new categories of explanation.
Sean Barker
0117 302 8184

From: Alan Ruttenberg [mailto:alanruttenberg@xxxxxxxxx]
Sent: 19 June 2007 15:38
To: Barker, Sean (UK)
Cc: [ontolog-forum]
Subject: Cause and chemical reactions

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On Jun 19, 2007, at 5:00 AM, Barker, Sean (UK) wrote:

I found Aristotle's discussion of Causation in his Metaphysics very illuminating, particularly when translated into the context of chemical reactions. 

I wonder if you could elaborate on this. The specific problem I've worried about is the assignment of agency or cause in the realm of molecular biology, which would include chemical reactions. 


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