Are we all victims of cause and effect?
Answer by Shaun Williamson
In ‘Philosophical Investigations’ Wittgenstein poses the question ‘What is the difference between raising my arm in the air and my arm going up in the air?’ He also suggests as an answer to this question: ‘The absence of surprise’.
If my arm goes up in the air just by itself then I would be surprised and if this happened repeatedly I would also be disturbed and would probably consult a doctor and a neurologist to find out why this was happening. I would certainly regard myself as a victim of cause and effect.
However if my arm only goes up in the air when I raise my arm in the air then I am not disturbed and I do not regard myself as being a slave to causality.
Humans use this ordinary way of classifying their actions as either voluntary or involuntary or coerced (if someone is holding a gun to our head) and they find this way of classifying actions useful and essential to human life.
Humans are physical material beings composed of atoms etc. So they are subject to the same laws of causality as any other physical thing but this doesn’t make them a slave to causality.
In the same way we expect certain actions such as breathing to be automatic and involuntary. If we we had to make a conscious effort to breathe then again we would soon be consulting the doctor and the neurologist.
It is only in Philosophy that we are tempted to think that because all human actions are subject to the laws of cause and effect that this means we must all be slaves to cause and effect.