Ontological Dimensions of Causation

May 7, 2018

Ali Sebetci

It is well known that the modern conception of science is fundamentally different from the traditional. What makes science modern, moreover, is its naturalistic  methodology: “The philosophical doctrine of methodological naturalism,” writes Alvin Plantinga, “holds that, for any study to qualify as ‘scientific,’ it cannot refer to God’s creative activity or any sort of divine action.”1“Methodological Naturalism?” Philosophical Analysis: Origins & Design  18:1. Based upon the description of Nature as the corporeal reality which presents itself to us in a spatio-temporal mode, methodological naturalism could be defined as the exclusion of all supernatural agency or causal principle from the “scientific” enterprise. As Richard Lewontin has famously put it: “We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”2“Billions and Billions of Demons,” New York Review of Books, 9 January 1997.  Retrieved 23 March 2018. To differentiate methodological  from philosophical or ontological  naturalism it can be said that the former proposes to do science as if  there were no reality other than the spatio-temporal, the implication being that, even if there were such a reality, it would not affect the scientific enterprise. Such is the modern conception of science which contradicts the traditional as exemplified by the ancient sciences, inasmuch as the latter regarded the corporeal domain, specified by its own spatio-temporal conditions, as an ontological stratum within an ontological hierarchy, from which it cannot be separated in an absolute sense.

There are characteristic differences between these two kinds or notions of science. Modern science is bounded by natural causes, be they random or deterministic. If there are some cases suggesting a kind of design, they should be reduced to stochastic processes, which are nothing but some combination of random and deterministic natural causes, in principle even if not in practice. Modern science constructs nature by the so-called fundamental particles. Aggregations of fundamental particles constitute corporeal objects. A number of fundamental physical laws governing these particles together with some continuous fields are not only responsible for the observed phenomena, but also the absolute explanations of their behavior and existence. Mathematics is the language of this science and discrete and continuous modes of quantity are the fundamentals of this language. For this understanding, existence is symmetric. There is neither any special point in space-time nor any special being within it, in the ontological sense of the word. Thus, this is an analytic and bottom-up (from parts to whole) way of constructing reality.

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On the other hand, the metaphysical notion of sciences is open to supra-natural causes. Be it divine, human or animal, design categorically differs from random and deterministic natural processes and cannot be reduced to them, which means that it is a new dimension of causality. This new dimension — new only for the modern mind: in reality it is ancient — is called the ontological or “vertical” dimension, that which manifests itself within spatio-temporal bounds as a discontinuity in the course of natural processes. In contrast to the temporal or “horizontal” dimension — which is the only one recognized by the modern sciences — the vertical dimension is not ontologically symmetric. It starts from the Absolute and goes down to pure nothingness. In this understanding, the ontological principles of one thing are always dependent on those of another, superior thing. Unlike modern scientific thinking, ontological explanations are synthetic and top-down (from whole to parts). In this mode of thinking, it is not the case that an apple looks, smells, and tastes as such due to its molecular structure, but the other way around: its molecular structure is due to its quiddity, substantial form, and qualities — which are synonymous with the ontological principle of the corporeal apple itself.

As Jean Borella reminds us, Leibniz says that a being that is not a being is no longer a being.3In Foreward to Wolfgang Smith, Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions  (Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis, 2013). René Guénon expounds what this means as the following:

Indeed, a whole that is thus only the sum or result of its parts and which consequently is logically posterior to them, is, as such, nothing other than an ens rationis  [a being of reason or of the mind], for it is “one” and “whole” only in the measure that we conceive it as such; in itself it is strictly speaking only a “collection,” and it is we who, by the manner in which we envisage it, confer upon it in a certain relative sense the character of unity and totality. On the contrary, a true whole possessing this character by its very nature, must be logically anterior to its parts and independent of them.4The Metaphysical Principles of the Infinitesimal Calculus  (Sophia Perennis, 2004).

Thus, molecular collections without a unitary principle, such as a substantial form, do not constitute a true whole.

The medieval notion of the substantial form is the key to the difference between corporeal and non-corporeal beings. It is the basis on which Wolfgang Smith has built his wonderful solution for the measurement problem in quantum mechanics and interpreted the so-called wave function collapse in accordance with traditional metaphysics. Smith defines corporeal and physical worlds as distinct but not severed ontological levels, where the entities belonging to the former have substantial forms, whereas those of the latter have not. He clarifies nicely that the wave function collapse is due to neither the difference between the micro and macro worlds nor to an effect of consciousness (a point which confused some of the giant figures such as Heisenberg and von Neumann). Instead, Smith declares clearly that the reason for the wave function collapse is the fact that wave functions have no substantial forms such as corporeal objects have. In addition, this is not a matter of quantum mechanics alone. The same applies to classical physics as well. No matter whether you describe a corporeal object classically or quantum mechanically, any physical description of an object lacks substantial form and therefore lacks the essence of an object, as essence is not a mathematical being. The physical world is beneath the corporeal world. Thus, physics is fundamental but not essential.5The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key  (Sophia Perennis, 2005). These are just amazing clarifications possessing historical significance.

Traditional metaphysics does not reject the quantitative sciences. It denies only the claim that if a concept could not be measured in a quantitative way and could not be confined in a mathematical form, it should not be included in the “scientific” enterprise. Traditional metaphysics does not reject experimentally observed facts either. It denies only the reductionist, naturalist interpretations of these observations. For the metaphysical sciences, qualities have a higher ontological status than quantities and they cannot be reduced to them. The modern scientific methodology may have an advantage for the improvement of a certain kind of technology, but this does not mean that this methodology is enough to probe the whole of reality. The true position of traditional metaphysical science is neither a total rejection of the modern scientific methods and natural causes nor an exclusive submission to them. Instead, it reveals what modern science is and what it is not, which is quite different from the former two positions. I believe the correct accommodation of modern scientific thought into the hierarchy of the sciences and the revival of traditional metaphysical conceptions have a vital importance in the current age of humanity, which is not only more comprehensive, but also more consistent with both what we can see with our eyes and what we can contemplate with our intellects.


Ali Sebetci is a professor of physics from Turkey, where he taught at various universities. He continues to maintain research productivity, having published several papers in international journals on modeling small metal clusters, as well as presenting research in conference talks and posters. He is also an active peer-reviewer for various international journals.
Sebetci has a long-standing interest in the philosophy of science in general as well as the Sophia Perennis in particular, and is translator of Wolfgang Smith’s masterworks The Quantum Enigma and Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions into Turkish.

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1. “Methodological Naturalism?” Philosophical Analysis: Origins & Design  18:1.
2. “Billions and Billions of Demons,” New York Review of Books, 9 January 1997.  Retrieved 23 March 2018.
3. In Foreward to Wolfgang Smith, Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions  (Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis, 2013).
4. The Metaphysical Principles of the Infinitesimal Calculus  (Sophia Perennis, 2004).
5. The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key  (Sophia Perennis, 2005).