122: The Why of Things by Peter Rabins

by Gerard


122: Rabins, Peter V. The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. 253 pp. ISBN 978-0-2311-6472-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 120: Epistemology
  • 122: Causation

Peter Rabins’s The Why of Things tries to get to the philosophical root of everything. He’s not trying to find a single underlying cause for all actions and entities in the universe, but rather develop a system of thought that helps the thinker come to useful and fundamental conclusions about observable phenomena (and even some unobservable phenomena). Rabins’s system involves thinking about the world using three different facets and then breaking them down into different subfacets. Looking at things as a model, you have categorical, probalistic, and emergent models; using differing types of logic, there are empirical, empathic, and ecclesiastic logics; and using differing levels of analysis, we find predisposing causes, precipitating causes, programmatic causes, and purposive causes. All these would take far too long to explain here, though.

Each of these lines of thought and investigation lead to a new way of framing the question. Using these models, Rabins takes the reader through their many different applications, including the discovery, spread, and analysis of the HIV/AIDS virus, the publication of the theory of plate tectonics, and even an investigation into the causal explanation of human aggression and grief. The writing here is not inspiring or elevated, but rather seeks to educate. It’s not as heady as some philosophy textbooks, but does have that feel throughout. I halfway expected there to be thought exercises at the end of each chapter at points. The author does, however, show how parts of the world connect and spur causal relationships as well as how many complex systems can be seen as analogous. This one is not for everybody, but if you’re looking to learn how to better reason things out through logic and comparative analysis, then this one may be for you.