[OPE-L] Anita's Chocolate Cake

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat Nov 05 2005 - 10:47:00 EST

> I see your point in your example above, but I am bit cautious of your 
> use of "minor importance" and "great explanatory power".  If you 
> work with the idea of overdetermination or constitutive causality (as 
> I do and I recognize most others don't), then the ranking, layering, 
> or creating a hierarchy of causes, whether deterministic or stochastic, 
> is problematic.  Causality is a matter of qualitative difference, and to 
> say something is more or less causally important is a category mistake, 
> from the POV I am working with.  

Hi Steve:

Thanks for the reply.  In what follows in this post, I want to test the extent
to which you believe that "to say something is more or less causally important
is a category mistake."  In so doing, I want to probe the extent to which we
agree and disagree.

>  Overdetermination is a theory of existence that states that nothing exists in 
> and of itself, prior to and independent from everything else, and therefore all 
> aspects of a society exist only as the result of the constitution (mutual 
> determination) of all of society's other aspects. Overdetermination implies, 
> then, a theory of causality, one where everything constitutively determines 
> everything else. <snip, JL>
> 1. Consider the simple example of baking a cake. The ingredients would 
> likely consist of sugar, flour, milk, eggs, water, and chocolate. In the combining, 
> or overdetermination, of the ingredients of the cake, the cake emerges. But it 
> would be folly to argue that the cake is primarily the result of such and such 
> an individual ingredient, or that 40 percent of the cake is due to its flour content, 
> and 20 percent is due to its sugar content, etc. You might want to say that 40 
> percent of the weight of the ingredients is due to the flour, but that is a different 
> question that presumes one metric (weight) among the many. The point is that 
> the cake emerges as the result of all of its conditions of existence (ingredients) 
> and is qualitatively different from its constituent parts, and it would be a category 
> mistake to reduce the cake's existence to any one, or a percentage of any, 
> ingredient. 

OK, let's consider this example more.  To begin with, the "ingredients" for the cake
not only include those you mentioned.  Making a cake is a productive and re-
productive activity.  One therefore has to include labor activity as an ingredient. 
To do that, one must recognize that the baker, as the creator of the cake,  is also
constitutive of the cake.  To the extent that the cake is a product created by
an individual baker, then all matters which are constitutive of the individual baker
are also constitutive of the cake.

With this as background, let us see whether it is or is not possible to rank 
an individual factor in the creation of the cake as more or less causally important 
and having a greater or lesser explanatory power as all other factors.


Suppose the chocolate cake is being made by Anita De Los Santos, a chef 
in Caracas who grew up in a wealthy family in  San Juan, Puerto Rico,  and 
was trained at a famous culinary school in Paris.  Her specialty is pastries.

Do you want more detail?  OK.  Anita has been a feminist since she was in 
her teens.  When she first became a socialist in 1975,  her role models were
Lolita Lebron and Rosa Luxemburg.  She has three children (2 girls and 1 boy,
ages 4, 7, 9),  is divorced, and is 48-years-old.   She moved to Caracas 2 years 
ago in order to support the Bolivarian Revolution.  Although a  socialist and a
feminist, she is also a devout Catholic and supporter of Liberation Theology.
She attends church every Sunday.  The cake that she made is for a birthday 
party for her 7-year-old,  Mariarosa. 

Anita, being a middle-aged person, has various health problems, including
an in-grown toenail, dandruff, and heart disease (she had a mini-stroke a 
year ago). 

I could provide more detail if you wish.

As planned, Anita returns from work in the evening and bakes the 
chocolate cake for Mariarosa.   The date:  Wednesday, November 5,


Now, is it or is it not possible that some of the above factors are more or
less causally important in the constitution of the cake?

I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the fact that Anita has an
in-grown toenail is probably of  little importance in the baking of the
cake?  Do you agree?

I'll also go out on a limb and add that for the constitution of Anita
herself,  the fact that she has heart disease and had a stroke is
more important (and has greater explanatory power in considering her
overall health condition) than the fact that she has dandruff and an in-
grown toenail.  Do you agree?

I'll further stick my neck out and claim that the proportion in which
she added sugar, flour, milk, eggs, water and chocolate has greater
explanatory power in considering the outcome (the quality of the
cake) than the fact that she at one point in her life wanted to grow
up to be like Lolita Lebron.  Do you agree?

I'll further stick out my neck and assert that what temperature she 
cooked the cake and for how long has greater explanatory power for 
considering the outcome than the fact that Anita is a Catholic who
goes to church on Sundays.  Do you agree?

I'' further claim that the skill she acquired as a chef having trained at
a Parisian culinary school is now more important in terms of  the quality
of the cake than the fact that Anita is divorced.  Do you agree?

Now, I will agree with you that it is difficult or impossible to develop a 
legitimate _scale_ for accurately and quantitatively ranking all of the factors
(direct and indirect) that went into the baking of the cake.  _Despite that_,
I still think it's possible in some legitimate but unscientific way to attach 
greater or lesser causal importance to some variables.  Do you agree?

In solidarity, Jerry

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