One of the arguments marshaled against traditional cultures' invocation of spirits is that they're simply projecting their own fears onto the world. That they're anthropomorphizing the world.

It is notable that individuals have a telos. It would be bizarre for us to come across someone who did things arbitrarily. Even say the incorporation of chance elements in an artwork is motivated by telos.

Are we anthropomorphizing the world when we incorporate cause and effect into our understanding of how the world acts?

4 Answers 4


The question you're asking is the main reason Kant wrote the Critique of Pure Reason. According to Kant, causality is one of the pure concepts ie the set of categories included a priori in our understanding abilities (along with modality, quantity, etc.).

So Kant's answer would be : yes and we can never know if the causality we see is real or not.

  • I had Kant at the back of my mind somewhere when I wrote this question. I'm glad you picked up on it. Can you explain what his other pure concepts are. What do you mean by modality. Quantity I have a handle on, unless he means by this something very different from the usual usage. Jun 24, 2012 at 4:35
  • 'Modality' in this sense is centered around the question of possibility. Kant posits 3 types of modal judgements : problematic (possible), assertoric (true), apodictic (necessary). You can find more about this on [plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-judgment/]. Also Schopenhauer was very critical of all this, claiming Kant had sacrificed common sense to symmetry. The more I dive into this, the more I agree.
    – rloth
    Jun 25, 2012 at 0:44

Are we anthropormising the world when we incorporate cause & effect into our understanding of how the world acts?

I'm not sure if "anthropomorphising" is the correct word here; when referring to a cause and effect, we are not necessarily viewing this cause in human-like terms (although we certainly do that on occasion.) However, we are implying a relationship between the cause and the effect that we know (since Hume) may be really no more than a regularity.

  • 1
    I agree that anthroporphising isn't traditional usage. Part of my motivation was to draw a similarity between different ways of looking at the world (mythological/rational), which are on the whole seen either in collision, or a maturing of the other. If cause-effect is not in the world; as Hume argues, it is just regularity; the notion is still applied, and applied fruitfully; so where does the notion come from? It can only be in ourselves, surely? And why is that not in human-like terms? Jun 23, 2012 at 14:00

As a slightly cryptic answer, the relation of the mind to cause & effect is similar to the relation of a computer to primitive recursive functions. Even so there are partial recursive functions which are not primitive recursive, primitive recursive functions are significantly simpler than general partial recursive functions and sufficient for most practical purposes.

An analogy to telos might be to characterize the result of a computation as a fix point or a minimization. While this is a nice and concise description, such a description neither ensures uniqueness, existence, nor computability. Hence it can be as suspicious as telos.


Causality is within boundaries. If causality is outside boundaries then there is no causality.

And we are not changing the element of causality, but we rearranged, directing possibilities within boundaries for specific purposes.

And each time we do arranging, directing possibilities, we will get new knowledge that may be adapted for our own purposes.

This knowledge can be considered as assertion to a specific behavior of causality.

And cause & effect part of an individuals theory of the mind, it's where we collect different knowledge compared to someone else.

Further, cause & effect is not a part of an individuals theory of the mind, it's where we can't be outside boundaries.

Causality is theory of the mind, when we capture it as knowledge,

But causality is not theory of the mind, where we understand that causality is an assertion that we are living within boundaries, and we can't live outside boundaries.

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