When there's inanimate objects such as two billiard balls, we determine that ball C is the cause of Ball D's movement if C collides with D and shoves it. In addition, because ball C is an inanimate object, we consider that it cannot have moved without a cause, so there must have been some preceding cause (cause B) that shoved C before C could move D. However, if cause B is also an considered to be an inanimate object (like a pool cue), then B requires yet another cause (cause A), and so on.

Now, if we consider that cause B is a conscious being, would there still be a need of a cause A? After all, a conscious being is not an inanimate object; in fact, a conscious being is able to move itself at will.

My question is whether the actions of conscious beings are considered to be caused by something as well, and whether they are causes in and of themselves? (i.e, if a conscious being performs an action, is the being its own cause?)

I pondered on this and wondered whether nutrition can be considered the cause of a sentient being's actions, because they wouldn't be able to perform actions without nutrition. However, this didn't seem right, and so I've come to ask how sentient beings are perceived in terms of causality.

The way I see it, conscious beings only require a cause for their existence, whereas, after they exist, they become the originators of causal chains (i.e., they no longer require a cause, so the only time a conscious being is an effect is when they come into existence). However, I can also see the validity of the some form of naturalistic determinism, the idea that human actions are the result of thoughts that are caused by sensory information from the external world.

I've pondered on this question for the last year or so, and I've never been able to come to a conclusion.

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    Superficially, consciousness seems to be different from inanimate objects. But, basically, it is not. Consciousness cannot occur alone by itself; it is ultimately the result of the function of a consciousness neural process. It cannot occur without this neural process and can be considered part of this neural process – that is, consciousness is in fact part of a physical process. And there are many physical causes that can affect this neural process, which in turn affect the consciousness and its action.
    – user287279
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 17:34
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    For example, the genetic determination of the consciousness neural process, the various inputs (sensory, emotion, past memories, etc.) to this neural process, the pharmacologic (alcohol, psychedelics, tranquilizers, etc.) and the pathologic effects (from injury, encephalitis, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.), and so on. So, in the end, the effect from the consciousness on anything is in fact a cascade of numerous physical events on the consciousness neural process, like the events of the balls in your question, but in a much much more complex way.
    – user287279
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 17:37
  • I've thought about this, but isn't this some form of determinism that originates from natural philosophy? Do you have any sources that show that this is one of the dominant views? Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 10:43
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    @user3776022 - Though I'm interested in philosophy, I'm not deep into it. Mainly, I'm more into cognitive neuroscience. So, I don't really know what I advocate is called in philosophy. But, yes, I believe and assert that consciousness produces actions based on external, natural causes. The evidence for it is abundant. When you look around, have you ever seen action of consciousness that cannot be not physically explained? The state of fully alert; drowsiness; sleeping; unconsciousness from pharmacologic agents, diseases, or head trauma; delirium from alcohol, psychedelics, or encephalitis;
    – user287279
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 17:23
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    dementia from degenerative or other diseases of the brain; etc. All of them are physically determined and can be physically explained and … predicted! If you’re interested in the detailed proof that all mental processes, including consciousness, are dependent on neural processes, which are physical processes, you could take a look at this article: The mind is part of the brain.
    – user287279
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 17:24

8 Answers 8


I think user3776022 has the right of it---in the conflict between physicalists and dualists there is no winner. But that's just because both physicalism and dualism provide faulty pictures of the world. I'd like to present hints at an alternative view.

The founder of modern action theory is a philosopher named GEM Anscombe; I cannot recommend her book, Intention, highly enough. My answer is based entirely on her work.

Consider the following exchange:

"I'm going to go throw up."


"This tuna-fish sandwich was rancid!"

and contrast it with:

"I'm going to go throw up."


"I need to appear to be ill so they keep me on bed rest."

The first answer gives a cause---eating rancid food---and the second gives a reason---it will prevent the speaker from being taken off of bed rest. One is not reducible to the other. The reason for the action is the explanation of why the action is desirable, while the cause of the action is the explanation of how it came about. (Notably, in both cases, I can give a whole physicalist story about how someone came to throw up, and both will involve motions of the gag reflex and so on. But nowhere in either story will we find reference to any future event, because future events cannot cause past events.)

Anscombe has more to say to rebut physicalism than just that. Her discussion is too complex to be summarized here so I won't try. But as a disclaimer: she's never going to deny that we need brains to be conscious, or that damage to the brain doesn't cause corresponding damage to our ability to think. And humans aren't exceptions to any physical laws. But you won't be able to explain human actions exclusively in terms of physical laws.

Now dualists will say the real cause of the action was a desire or inner movement of the will in the actor. But this is implausible on several grounds.

  1. If a desire were apt to cause actions, instead of just taking part in explaining them, having a desire would be sufficient for action. Now it's certainly true that a desire is a sufficient reason to act. But it is not sufficient to cause action; if it were, then according to the standard (Humean) account of causation, in every case where I had a desire, I would act on it. If I see something I like in a store, and I desire it, I don't have to walk in and buy it. There is no puzzle in this scenario; I just decided not to buy it.

  2. The obvious response: but then I chose not to. And this choice is supposed to be some kind of inner movement. An act of will. But can there be a connection between an inner movement so conceived and a physical event movement? For instance: raise your arm. Did you observe any inner movement, or did you just do it? Now, instead of raising your arm, will that your arm raises. If this has any meaning other than "raise your arm" it can only be something along the lines of "say, 'Raise! Raise!' in your head". And if it did only mean "raise your arm"---then what was the point of the different phrasing? What work did "the will" do in that case? None at all.

Her book is full of fascinating insights and little experiments like that. I really like it a lot.

For an architectonic view of causation and thought that is almost entirely compatible with Anscombe, and fills in a lot of troublesome background details, I recommend PMS Hacker's Human Nature: The Categorial Framework (hopefully available at a library near you because it is quite pricey otherwise). And of course both Anscombe and Hacker build heavily off the ideas of the later Wittgenstein, whose magnum opus is titled Philosophical Investigations.

  • Perhaps it is worth adding one further reference, a classic paper on how reasons can be considered as causes if one is not confined by physicalism or dualism: Davidson, D. (1963). Actions, reasons, and causes. The journal of philosophy, 60(23), 685-700.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 18:50
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    @PhilipKlöcking, I considered it, but in my view Davidson misreads Anscombe. The answer to his carbon-paper objection is already in Intention, in the blackboard example. So while it's obviously important in philosophy of action, I wouldn't recommend it to the lay reader.
    – Canyon
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 20:09

your question: My question is whether the actions of conscious beings are considered to be caused by something as well and whether they are causes in and of themselves? (i.e, if a conscious being performs an action, is the being its own cause?) help us and provide us to find Cause and effect law then find Soul and finally find GOD. I refer you to first Isaac Newton's law:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

in our philosophy, we told: every action has reaction.

so, no reason no cause then no effects.

finally, the end of all reasons, in other words, the first and main cause is God( we called Allah). in your question: why should a ball move? because another ball, why that one should be moved?because your hand, why your hand moved? because of you. who are you? are you your hand? are you your legs? ...? finally, you should find the the Cause of all causes who we called God.

I edited my answer according to your new edition and comments: let classify your question: first class contains not lining things like billiard balls and second contains living things. in first class Newton's law is very clear, OK? but, about second class we need more clarification. we need to have consciousness in re ourself.

who are you? are you your eyes? are you your hand? are you your body? are you your mind?

of course not. because if a person is his hand then after his hands cut, he would destroy, would not he? if a person is his mind, then when he would get Alzheimer we should tell: he is nothing, should not we?

your soul is you

your soul is the reason of your thinking, of your moving, of your acting, of your determination and

your soul is the cause of all your effects.

nutrition and knowledge are only feed for body and mind like gas for a car. let me exit with an example: why did you ask this question? is nutrition be a reason? of course not, is your think be a reason? yes, but is it the main reason and first cause, of course not. you are(your soul is) the main cause because as you told, you have challenged with it near one year.

I've pondered on this question for the last year

who has pondered?

finally, why do we make cause? in another word what is the main cause that moves us to make causes? the answer returns to soul. soul has some properties and need another discussion out of this question but one of its properties is:

the soul is perfectionist and try to arrive perfection

then shoves you to think, to ask this question and so...

  • I appreciate the response, but I wasn't asking for a first cause. I too believe that God is the first cause, but my question pertains to the direct cause of our actions according to the modern scientific view of causality and consciousness (not the first cause of all of reality). I'm asking this question precisely because Newton's First Law of Motion does not seem to apply to conscious beings, or does it? Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 6:32
  • maybe I couldn't get you correct. but about Newton's law: it directly explain cause and effect law there are not any new effects unless a new cause Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 7:17
  • True, but do humans truly stay in motion or at rest for indefinite time until an unbalanced force causes change? If so, in what way is consciousness an unbalanced force? I'm having trouble understanding the relation between consciousness and human action in terms of cause and effect. Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 8:32
  • In case I'm still not understood: I'm trying to uncover where, according to science, the ideas originate that lead to us committing a certain act. For example, I kick a ball after deciding to kick a ball, but where does that decision in my mind originate from? You say the cause is the soul, and I agree, but science would not be eager to claim that it's the soul because that would mean that the world is dualistic. I'm interested in the way scientists view the origins of human actions: I want to know if they say that there is an internal or external cause, and whether they have a valid theory. Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 10:49
  • I edited my answer, hope you find it useful Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 18:30

It may be good to first acknowledge that an event can have more than one cause. If I get up and walk around, one cause of that is nutrition; had I not eaten anything recently, I would not have had the strength to get up. (This is known as "but for" causation; but for the nutrition, I would have stayed seated.) Another cause is that I read a question that made me want to walk around and think. Yet another cause is that I received an education that encouraged me to think about such questions.

All the causes listed above have their own preceding causes. But is there (sometimes) an additional cause of my decision to get up and walk around that is truly "internal" and does not need preceding causes? That seems to get at fundamental questions about free will that we are not likely to resolve here.


I found the solution to this question, along with my adviser in philosophy of science, in Russell and Whitehead and the event ontology they came to share.

They responded to the limiting velocity by reducing dual-parameter space-time to a causal web of time-ordered events, and they situated human sentient events among the other causally primitive events of their ontology. Sensory data such as colors are no part of the theoretical entities of physics--that is, the "explanatory gap" that they treated by situating sentience (and conscious awareness) as purely mental events among the causal web of events that make up the 4-D manifold and the particles of physics.

Thus our conscious actions and reactions are among the primitive causes and effects of physics in their scheme of eventism.

The discrete version, based on discrete time, is re-invented for physics today as causal set theory. I noticed that causal sets form frequency ratios, useful for defining energy ratios and the quantum in accord with Planck's E=hf. That gives considerable momentum to Russell and Whitehead's event ontology.

See my WordPress site for details, temporalsuccession.com

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    I edited your post to break it into paragraphs for readability. You may roll this back or continue editing. Although the link to your site is fine, it would be nice to include the primary sources, with specific locations in those sources, by Russell or Whitehead in this answer so a reader could to directly there in case your site is not available in the future. This would also strengthen your answer. Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 19:00

I like your idea about nutrition so I would like to extend it.

Hunger causes you to act

Whenever you’re hungry, many different biological changes happen to your body, which in turn has several effects on your brain. Rather than even consider the science behind this, it’s easily proven by the fact that the thought “I’m hungry” will pop into your brain. Once your brain catches up with what your body is telling it, you will begin to act accordingly and search for food.

Now you have choices which are limited to what is available. Suppose you must choose between cake or broccoli, but a mixture between a prior desire to slim down- mixed with a mild hatred of broccoli that began when you were three- will eventually cause you to get in your car and drive to Taco Bell because it’s the closest restaurant, it’s cheap for your limited income, and many other factors that cause Taco Bell to be more appealing than other restaurants.

About thirty minutes later, the taco may cause your body to react, and whether you want to or not, you’re going to begin looking for a restroom.

Food is a mind altering substance

It is also worth mentioning how food acts as a mind altering substance. All foods have their own chemical makeup that causes your brain’s neurotransmitters to behave accordingly.

For example, turkey has an amino-acid called tryptophan which our bodies convert into melatonin. This, mixed with the way other foods cause our bodies to react, can make us sleepy. This could cause a car wreck or any number of effects- including just forcing our eyes to close to take a nap.

On the flip side, hunger also has a mind altering effect on our brain. It can make us irritable, which may cause us to say something we would otherwise not say- and now our hunger becomes the cause of another’s unwilled suffering.


Every single event that happens because of your body’s initial biological response to hunger has an effect that will continue to form other cause and effect actions. Each action based on that initial biological response will also form other cause and effect actions. These initial causes can also be seen in the way that society, our environment, our upbringing, our biological limitations, and practically everything interacts and imposes on our will.


The answer to my question appears to be a case of philosophical naturalism vs. dualism (as some of the comments and answers have also alluded to).

When presented with the question of whether sentient beings are originators or mediators of causal chains, we arrive at the question of where thoughts originate from, and this brings us to the ideas of duality and philosophical naturalism.

The dualist asserts that thoughts originate from the soul, and they'll claim that we have God-given free will. Although there are answers to this objection, there is the question of whether there can be free will in a providential world created by an all-knowing God.

On the other hand, the philosophical naturalist asserts that thoughts originate from the brain, and they assert that the brain is essentially just a cogwheel in a natural machine called the universe. The brain is considered to be a formation of matter that works according to the laws of physics. The implications of this belief is that there is no such thing as free will, and there are no answers to this objection. If philosophical naturalism is taken to its logical extreme, then there is no real "you," and all of your thoughts are merely natural reactions. This implies that, if a person considers philosophical naturalism to be true, they do it because the laws of physics force them to think that. Likewise, whoever thinks that philosophical naturalism is false would also be forced by the laws of physics to think that. In short, there is no such thing as truth according to philosophical naturalism, so even the truth asserted by philosophical naturalists (such as that philosophical naturalism is true) does not have to be true.

The real answer to my question is that we simply haven't agreed on where thoughts originate, and both sides of the argument attempt to invalidate the convictions of the other. Because of this, the answer is currently subjective.


There are at least two modes of consciousness. 1 - Auto-pilot, and 2 - Manual control.
When consciousness is in Auto-pilot, it operates just like inanimate objects. For a given cause, there is a "predictable" response. An example of this is, somebody insults you (cause) and you punch him in the face(effect) (reflex action).
When consciousness is in Manual mode, it evaluates the situation, and takes the action(s) that it deems most appropriate/advantageous (well-thought action).


If we consider that cause B is a conscious being, would there still be a need of a cause A?


After all, a conscious being is not an inanimate object; in fact, a conscious being is able to move itself at will.

Yes. This does not mean it doesn't require a cause. Various biochemical and electrical patterns and signals must occur consciously and subconsciously in order to cause you to decide to move something. (And then further signals are required to carry out the movement.)

My question is whether the actions of conscious beings are considered to be caused by something as well, and whether they are causes in and of themselves? (i.e, if a conscious being performs an action, is the being its own cause?)

It is it's own cause in the sense that it contains multiple components, some of which can cause others, but there is nothing special about consciousness: the same applies to a Rube Goldberg machine or a bacterium.

Human actions are the result of thoughts that are caused by sensory information from the external world.

Yes, along with biochemical, genetic, and physical inputs.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Meanach
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 8:56
  • @Meanach These are all basic facts about the world. No additional information is needed
    – BigMistake
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 1:43

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