This is a rather basic question about causality, but I'm a bit confused over it (especially in terms of the "first cause" argument).

Causality (from Wikipedia):

Agency or efficacy that connects one process (the cause) with another process or state (the effect), where the first is understood to be partly responsible for the second, and the second is dependent on the first

In short, we can say that causality implies that there's some connection (either direct or indirect) between two processes, where the connection is mostly created (artificially or intentionally) by some kind of force (where the most common place to use this is physical forces; but it is also used in many other fields of study such as management, history, law, theology, and more).

If we dig deeper into that "connection", we can suggest that it can only happen when the two "processes" have one or more attributes in common (where the first process' attribute would cause the effect in the second process' attribute, for example transfer of movement power between two objects via collision, where both processes have the same attribute "movement" [that's an example using very general terms, not exactly the physical terms used for such event]).

Now, considering attributes from both processes must, in its essence, be the same (maybe not exactly the same, but two different representations of the same attributes - for example kinetic force and gravity force, where both represent movement), can we expect to find a causation between two attributes that aren't related to each other at all?

Another question, would be the reason I'm asking the first one, and is about the "first cause" argument. If we consider a series of events that are linked by the causality of time, and we consider it to be infinite regression to not include an entity outside of that causality, how can we expect such entity to have the possibility to transfer/affect the attribute of "time" to this series of events, without it having this attribute in itself?

[this is basically a question about causality with emphasis on the "first cause" argument, but it's possible that an answer to the first question in the post would dismiss the second question.]

  • Consider randomness as one attribute in a node which produces more "random" attributes in future nodes. So all the past nodes had "randomness" attribute, and at each progression, this attribute produces more "random" attributes.
    – novice
    Jun 27, 2018 at 15:21
  • 2
    This is not what causation means, it means that there are "causal powers" that effect (partially or fully) transitions from earlier to later states. In principle, the later states can be as "entirely new" (whatever that means) as one wishes. Atemporal causation is an extension of the usual concept where an atemporal entity (God, Kant's noumenal soul) is vested with powers to affect temporal objects. However, mathematical entities are abstract, i.e. lack any causal powers, so it makes little sense to talk about causation in mathematics.
    – Conifold
    Jun 27, 2018 at 17:52
  • @Conifold I'd admit, as I've stated in a comment to CriglCragl's answer, that the mathematical example is debatable. I would however insist on the idea that causation represents the connection between two "processes"/"events"/"nodes", in a way that the first process has a certain "attribute" that's is being transferred partially/fully to the next process. Whether it be a causal "power" or simply a sort of connection, I'm not sure it's related enough to the question as in my opinion both definitions would achieve the same goal the question presents. Jun 27, 2018 at 18:48
  • What your definition is is very murky, and the mathematical "example" makes it even murkier. As a result it is unclear what you are asking. My first impression was that you are making something like Spinozian identification of causes with reasons, which is a conflation few would defend today. It might be better to stick to the conventional notion of causality and rephrase the question in its terms if you think it achieves the same "goal" (what goal?).
    – Conifold
    Jun 27, 2018 at 20:58
  • @Conifold thanks, I've rephrased the question, hopefully it's more understandable now. I might actually even come up with an answer while writing this rephrasing, so it definitely helped. Jun 28, 2018 at 4:33

3 Answers 3


It is strange to describe mathematics as using causal reasoning. An analogy can be drawn though between how a series iterates from one term to the next, and the universe iterates from moment to moment. The relevant constraint or function for the iterations, would be the conservation laws.

Can the conservation laws be violated? Was there a time they didn't hold? Noether's Theorem relates each conservation law to a dimension. So when space and time didn't exist, the conservation laws we are familiar with didn't hold. One possibility is that our universe is tge collision between two surfaces in an 10 dimensional space, which larger domain contains all the things that can ever happen https://m.phys.org/news/2014-12-universe-dimensions.html

The universe is not constrained by our notions of causality. Whatever it does, that is how it behaves. 'First cause' is just an unnecessary and unjustified hypothesis. And to imbue whatever that cause is, with interest and intervention into our daily affairs, is profoundly suspect.

  • About mathematics - I know, I considered it while giving this example, but wanted to give it especially because of it. Sure, we can change the term and say that we're talking about iteration, but in its essence iteration would be a special case of causality. And the answer you give to the violation is essentially that the "first cause" argument simply doesn't hold up its logic - the two surfaces holds all the attributes that we can find in mathematics, according to the Theorem, making it essentially the "first cause" argument with the same issue I presented in the post. Jun 27, 2018 at 15:06

Thé limit of a sequence in a set need not be in the set itself.

The first cause could then as well be outside temporality, this is in line with St Augustine’s assertion, who identified the first cause or first mover with God, that God is outside of time altogether.

Can we expect to find a causal relation between attributes that aren’t related in any way?


The question is incoherent in its own terms. A causal relation is also a relation. To have no relation but to then expect a causal relation is just wrong-headed. It’s a relation, and so to expect it, and then to find it, contradicts your assumption that there are no relations whatsoever.

I hope that helps unconfuse your ‘confusion’!

  • True indeed, that sentence is poorly written. What I meant is "can we expect to find a causal relation between two attributes that (or, between two processes in which two of their attributes-) don't have the same 'roots', i.e. they don't have a common 'sub-attribute' (sorry I don't have a word for it, lacking in philosophical linguistics)". Jan 25, 2019 at 11:26
  • @Yechiam Weiss: The sentence is grammatically correct, but is as confused as the overall question is. Jan 25, 2019 at 20:53
  • I don't mean grammatically; I know it is. I mean conceptually. Jan 26, 2019 at 12:31
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    Well put, Ullah. I think many times such issues are debated because the relations between cause and effect do exists but are not easy to find/spot.
    – Overmind
    Feb 25, 2019 at 12:44

As a cell divides how can we affect the attribute of having a closed, independent circulatory system to the end product when it is not in the origin and was not introduced from outside at any given point? This is the fallacy of division, the idea that parts must share the attributes of the whole for no other reason than that of being its parts. In the form you are using it, it is related to the sorites paradox and to various kinds of equivocation.

Sometimes when you partition an object a given property of that object belongs to some and not others of the parts, sometimes it disappears entirely, almost never is absolutely every property of the whole preserved in one or the other of the parts. At the very least, the attribute of being whole is lost, as are attributes dependent upon the homeostasis of the whole, such as sustainable life, or meeting various definitions based on holistic structural characteristics like "having a single head and two feet". (There is a joke about Quine requesting the collected totality attained by the parts of a chicken. The problem being that no pike of parts has 'collected totality' and the whole chicken does not actually have any given set of parts until we decide where to cut it.)

There is an equivocation on 'having' treating the meaning 'fitting the parameters' with a more literal meaning that identifies a real 'object' that is had. One does not have a property the way one has a hat. We imagine some materiality of a property because of a habit language.

So obviously conversely as a thing comes into being, the end whole can have attributes that no previous stage or part has. The succession of processes do not have to have all the properties of the entire process in the same way the segmented chicken will no doubt lack the property of being able to continue living for very much longer.

But the composing direction is trickier than the segmenting direction because things like the independent circulatory system or functioning brain of a fetus clearly exist at later points, while it is impossible to identify at exactly what stage they were absent and came into being. So this introduces another dimension to the fallacy of division related to the sorites paradox where one cannot identify the exact grain of wheat that turned the collection of grains into a pile of grain. Properties of the whole can come into existence without being present at earlier stages.

  • I like this answer, because I can emphasize my exact question more clearly now. I do not mean that the original stage, or "the whole", would have exactly every attribute that it's successive stages would have, but at the very least a metamorphosis of them. The segmented chicken would still have the attribute "life", but perhaps a "lower percentage of it"-meaning that it will still have the attribute, but a different variation of it (unfortunately I lack the vocabulary to phrase this on philosophical terms). Jun 24, 2019 at 17:16

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