Newton, science, and causation

Journal of Mind and Behavior 16 (1):77-86 (1995)

James Faulconer
Brigham Young University
Contrary to common belief, acceptance of Newtonian causation does not commit one to a mechanistic, materialistic, or deterministic understanding of the world. I argue that the Newtonian view can be assimilated to contemporary theoretical alternatives in psychology. This means that, given the Newtonian understanding of causation, it is possible for such alternatives to be scientific - to treat of causes - without requiring either mechanism, materialism, or mathematical formalizations. I argue that we best understand Newtonian causation as formal causation. I do this by discussing the history of Newton's theory of causation and comparing his theory to Bacon's. I also compare Newton's theory of causation to Aristotle's, arguing that when we speak of formal causes we speak of our descriptions rather than the nature of things. We may accurately impute various elements of our scientific descriptions to the nature of things, but when we speak of formal causes, we are speaking of the patterns we use to describe the changes we observe rather than the nature of things themselves. Since any science must use such patterns, even alternative psychologies use Newtonian causation - if they are genuinely scientific alternatives. However, mathematics is not the only discipline that offers such patterned explanations. Moral explanations offer an alternate model for causal explanation
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