“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mental Illness and Causation

...of course the perennial argument on CNN et al. is “is it innate or environmental?” the sickening Shakespearean nature and nurture being used with brain addling frequency.

Levi Bryant's post on all this got me thinking as it contains a very interesting final paragraph about the deep reasons why we're stuck in this “debate”:

I think a big part of the problem here lies in how impoverished our concept of causality has become. The Enlightenment famously reduced all causes to the efficient and material cause, getting rid of Aristotle’s formal and final cause. When we approach self-reflexive objects like human beings we’re thus placed in a straight jacket where we have to decide whether the material cause is cultural (the signifier/discourse) or material (the brain/genetics) and where we have to decide whether the efficient cause is cultural or genetic. Yet if we reintroduce formal and final causation back into our thought, treating the formal cause as the cultural and natural milieu in which we develop and where the final cause is treated as the goals and aims we set for ourselves, we get a much richer developmental picture of human beings where we’re no longer forced to decide between biology and culture, genes and signifiers, but can instead think an interplay between culture, genetics, environment, goals, and biology in the course of our lifelong development. In other words, we now get a democracy of causes where we don’t treat one factor as the cause, but rather see these phenomena as multilaterally determined. This gives us a far wider set of means for engaging with our psychic maladies, allowing both political engagement and chemical engagement.
I need to think about this kind of argument as I work on my book on causality.

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