Kent Worthington on Cause and Effect

How Ideas Work Review Series: Part III

G. Stolyarov II

A Journal for Western Man-- Issue XLIV-- December 19, 2005

Note: This is the third of five articles discussing Kent Worthington’s innovative book, How Ideas Work. The first two articles are “Kent Worthington on Consistency and Contradiction” and “Kent Worthington on Similarity and Difference.”

             In the third chapter of How Ideas Work—“Cause and Effect”—Mr. Worthington develops a new theory of causality which exhaustively classifies the three causal relationships, presents the required conditions for causality, and explains the compatibility of causality with volition.

            Entities do not act in a vacuum; they act under specific conditions. Under a given condition, they will act in a certain way—provided that the condition exhibits one of three causal relationships to the action. The law of causality does not specify the content of a given action or condition; rather, it “tells you that every action has a specific explanation” (65). The law of causality also stipulates the form which causal relationships may take.

            The condition may be causally related to the action in one of three ways:

1)      The condition is essential to the action, but not enough for it to occur (necessary, but not sufficient).

2)      The condition is enough for the action to occur, but not essential to the action (sufficient, but not necessary).

3)      The condition is both essential and enough for the action to occur (necessary and sufficient).

In cases 1) and 2), the condition is causally related to the action, but it is not a cause of the action, nor is the action an effect of the condition. When a condition is essential, but not enough, one needs to narrow one’s focus to find the condition which is both necessary and sufficient for the action to occur. However, one can draw the following implications from any instance of case 1) by examining the nature of the statement and its contrapositive (which must be true if the statement is true).

-         The condition is essential to the action.

-         If the action took place, then the condition was present.

-         If the condition was not present, then the action did not take place.

From case 2), likewise, the following implications can be drawn.

-         The condition is enough for the action.

-         If the condition was present, then the action took place.

-         If the action did not take place, then the condition was not present.

Case 3) is an instance of true cause and effect. An action and its cause always exist as a one-to-one pairing. Mr. Worthington does away with the popular misconception that a given action can have a multiplicity of causes—or that a given cause can explain a multiplicity of actions:

An effect is the action of an entity. A cause is the condition that explains the action. A specific condition either causes an action or it doesn’t; an action is not explained by a variety of causes, but by a specific cause. Under a specific condition, an entity doesn’t act one way and then another; a cause does not explain a variety of effects, but a specific effect.

An action has one explanation: its cause.

A cause does one thing. It explains an action 

Cause and effect is not a hodge-podge of many different kinds of connections, conditions, circumstances, events, and situations. It is something specific, a specific relationship between a specific condition and a specific action (68).

            Mr. Worthington’s insights into the one-to-one pairing of cause and effect demolish the popular theory that historical events, human society, and nature have “irreducible complexity” and hence immunity to accurate analysis by man’s mind. Quite the contrary, reality consists of neat, tidy one-to-one cause and effect relationships, and every action has some one specific cause. There is a multiplicity of relationships of both case 1) and case 2) with respect to a given condition or action. However, none of these relationships is the cause of the action or the effect of the condition. If one encounters a relationship that is necessary but not sufficient, one needs to narrow it until it meets both criteria. If one encounters a relationship that is sufficient but not necessary, one needs—on the other hand—to broaden it.

            Mr. Worthington applies this model to explain the cause of the American Civil War. Slavery was necessary to the war, but not sufficient for it to take place. It is too broad an explanation. The shelling of Fort Sumter was sufficient for the war to start, but not necessary: many other events could have initiated armed hostilities. It is too narrow an explanation. The one fact that was both necessary and sufficient for the war to start was the fundamental contradiction in the U.S. Constitution, which “on the one hand, sanctioned the idea of individual rights and, on the other hand, sanctioned the institution of slavery” (81).

Because compromise is no way to resolve a contradiction, no attempts at compromise on the slavery issue worked in the years leading up to the Civil War. Mr. Worthington eloquently explains that “Americans could not have it both ways. They could not hold their nation together because they could not hold contradictory ideas together” (81). Once the irresolvable nature of the contradiction was recognized, hostilities were bound to erupt. The contradiction was both essential to the war and enough for it to occur. The proper application of cause and effect can clear away mounds of historians’ speculation on this allegedly “irreducibly complex” question. Rather, the cause of the Civil War is fully known. All that the historians are left to illuminate are some other necessary-but-not-sufficient and sufficient-but-not-necessary causal relationships with the war.

Man is, too, an entity with a specific nature. Man’s nature is that of a volitional being. Historically, many thinkers have attempted to show an irreconcilable conflict between man’s volition and causality—refusing to acknowledge either one or the other as a result. Mr. Worthington demolishes this dichotomy and shows how volition and causality are, in fact, perfectly compatible. Man is both an entity guided by volition and in perfect accordance with cause and effect.

           Man’s volition implies his capacity to make choices—“to take a particular course of action, as opposed to an alternative course” (82). There are ways in which man can act for which only his choice is both necessary and sufficient. For these actions, man’s choice is also the cause. No conflict exists between the two. Rather, volition and causality are necessary to explain each other.

Mr. Worthington illustrates the relation of volition to causality by debunking popular fallacies about the cause of crime. Guns are not the cause of crime, because they are not essential to crime. One can commit murder with a pocket knife or even a fist. Nor are they enough for crime to occur: millions of law-abiding citizens own guns and have never harmed anybody. Hostility is not a cause of crime; even though it might be an essential motive for crime to occur, it is not sufficient. One can be hostile toward another and abstain from harming him through choice. The only condition which is both necessary and sufficient for the commission of crime is a choice of a specific nature: the choice to initiate force against another. Crime is a volitional human action—and it is also caused by man’s choices. In every instance, “the exercise of volition constitutes the operation of causality, in the realm of human action” (86). Without causality, it would be impossible to explain the role of volition in human life. Without volition, the entirety of human action would be left unaccounted for.

            Because man has volition, however, he is capable of making a choice that no other entity can make—the choice to act against his nature, against his requirements as a living being. The consequences of that choice are man’s actions “against his goals, his happiness, and his life” (86). Acting in accordance with his nature does not come to man automatically. It is every man’s individual responsibility to discover the proper way to use his volition to obtain his objective needs and values in reality.

            Whenever man ignores the critical role his volition plays in his life and pretends that certain crucial events and decisions are simply beyond his control, he suffers. The reason why so many people today are plagued by psychological crises is that they have heeded the theories of men like Sigmund Freud and B.F. Skinner, who “have systematically purged volition from their explanation of subconsciously driven actions. These two influential scientists have made a disaster of the study of psychology” (87). Modern psychology tells man that his emotions, motivations, and complexes are not his problem, that they are beyond his control and influenced by deterministic external factors. Thus, modern psychology influences man to abandon the quest to volitionally control his entire mind. Without this volitional control, however, man will continue to wallow in utter misery and helplessness.

            What does man need to use his volition properly, to fulfill his nature as a volitional being? He needs to follow a method, “a chronological organization of the choices required to reach a goal” (88). All successful human action is based on a proper method. In order to be proper, the method must be based on fundamentals, which refer “to an order of procedure essential to the success of human action” (89).

            Fundamentals are identified by analyzing relationships as primary and derivative. The primary relationship is broader than the derivative one and fundamental to it. Learning arithmetic is fundamental to learning algebra, which is derivative. Looking before one crosses the street is fundamental to crossing it; the crossing is derivative (89). Man must aim his choices at fulfilling the fundamentals—and the derivatives will follow from them. The root of all human error is putting the derivative before the fundamental and pursuing the derivative without fulfilling the essential conditions on which it relies. If one pursues the derivative without the fundamental by crossing the street without looking, reality will penalize one for that mistake.

Because man has volition, man is individually responsible for subordinating derivatives to fundamentals—and for suffering the consequences whenever he does not. The evasion of this responsibility has been the cause of a litany of truly horrendous outcomes. Mr. Worthington enumerates them:

[Man] can choose to proceed without a method, without the guidance of fundamentals. And, goodness knows, how he has tried: Tried letting blood to cure illness. Tried sticking pins into voodoo dolls to inflict pain on his enemies. Tried dancing in the desert to make it rain. Tried taking drugs to achieve happiness. Tried banning weapons to prevent war and crime. Tried to stifle job growth in order to slow inflation. Tried to expropriate from producers in order to advance justice. Tried to restrain some men for others to achieve success. Tried using fewer resources to insure that there will be more such resources. Tried to indulge children in order to induce in order to produce good behavior. Tried to acquire knowledge by reference to emotions. Tried to get motivated with the notion of self-sacrifice. And, of course, tried fighting wars without the principle of victory (92).

All the disasters of human history—all the blunders, follies, absurdities, and atrocities men have ever committed—have been caused by people’s willful ignorance of the inescapable operation of causality in their lives. Mr. Worthington’s theory, by unambiguously explaining the nature of causality and how cause and effect are properly discerns, enables all rational thinkers to guard against the horrid mistakes of the past.

You can order How Ideas Work at

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent filosofical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician and composer, contributor to organizations such as Le Quebecois Libre, Enter Stage Right, and the Autonomist.  Mr. Stolyarov is the Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator and a Senior Writer for the Liberal Institute ( He can be contacted at

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