Saturday, July 23, 2022

 548. Relational causality?

 On several occasions, for different purposes, I have used Aristotle’s multiple causality of action, with the efficient, final, material, formal, conditional and exemplary causes. Does that apply also for social systems? For that, I have widened the final cause to ‘the generative cause’: factors that affect the final cause of people and groups, by motivation, enforcement or by feeding the exemplary cause. I have also added the ’institutional cause’. That is close to the conditional cause, but referring more specifically to the institutions that enable and constrain actions, such as regulations, laws, customs, enactment of laws, the judiciary and public works and amenities.

 Does that suffice, for social systems? An omission that I can think of is that of a ‘relational cause’, that affects social relations. Part of that may already be included in the material cause of communication systems, and in the institutional cause of language. How is one affected by relations, and what effects does one have on relations? How does one build ‘absorptive capacity’. How does one build and betray trust? What makes people trustworthy?

 A big role here plays what I have called ‘cognitive distance’, the fact that people see and interpret things differently, depending on what they are used to and how they grew up. Cognitive distance is an obstacle to mutual understanding, but also a source of variety, as a basis for innovation by ‘novel combinations’ An art of relations is to find ‘optimal cognitive distance’: small enough for mutual understanding, and large enough to offer a source of learning. In order to achieve a common purpose, organisations must to some extent limit cognitive distance, by means of an ‘organisational focus’, as discussed previously in this blog. Some of the rhetoric of economics is for a firm to take over or fuse with another, so as to increase control and efficiency. But that can reduce cognitive distance too much, by forcing partners into a shared focus, and there are limits to advantages of large size. An alternative way to profit from larger cognitive distance is to engage in an alliance, where partners maintain more cognitive distance. However, that requires the art of building and maintaining trust and trustworthiness.

 Relational causality includes the ability to understand each other and to make oneself understood, perhaps by the use of metaphor, to give and take, patience, self-control, and imagination of how others might feel and think in their situation, in other words empathy.

 Is all this to be seen as a separate cause, or as a feature of the formal cause, of how, on what basis, people operate?

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