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Is causality circular? Event structure in folk psychology, cognitive science and buddist logic

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Using as a framework the logical treatment of causality in the Buddhist Madhyamika, a theory of the psychology of event coherence and causal connectedness is developed, and suggestive experimental evidence is offered. The basic claim is that events are perceived as coherent and causally bound to the extent that the outcome is seen to be already contained in the ground of the event in some form and the connecting link between them is seen as the appropriate means for changing the outcome-in-the-ground to the outcome-as-perceived. There are four types of such connections: (a) the identity of the object in the ground and outcome is seen as the same (as in the phi phenomenon); (b) a property is seen to be transferred from ground to outcome (as in a Michottean analysis of perceived causal motion); (c) for animate beings, a cognitive representation and a state of the world are seen to match - either the representation-as-outcome coming to match the world-as-ground (as in the folk psychology of perception) or the world-as-outcome coming to match the representation-as-ground (as in intentional action); (d) the ‘essence’ of a category is seen to manifest itself (as in folk explanations based on personality). The standard critique of such coherence explanations is that they are tautological. We demonstrate that ‘nontautological’ scientific accounts become convincing coherent explanations only to he extent that the outcome is re-introduced (in a disguised form) into the ground. Explanations which are noncausal altogether, such as probability or chance, are shown to be psychologically unstable. This critique suggests some new perspectives on causal thinking both in the cognitive sciences and the folk theories of daily life.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.

Publication date: 1994-01-01

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