Chance as an Admission of Ignorance

“Everything that exists in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity”. Falsely attributed by Jacques Monod (1910-1976)1 to Democritus (c. 460-370 BC) – in whom it is absent, as it is in the Greek mind in general and in the thinking of the atomists in particular, who even reject chance outright2 – the apparent paradox of scientific knowledge of the infinitely small (the “nano”) – of particles (especially in quantum physics3) to living organisms (molecular biology) – will ultimately have led to a clearer distinction between “determined” and “predictable”.

Indeed, science remains intrinsically knowledge through causes (scienta est cognitio per causas)4, which biochemist Antoine Danchin (1944-) expresses today as follows:

Intrinsic chance, in my opinion, could not really be a scientific notion [… because] as soon as we use this word, it amounts to saying that we know nothing about what is happening.5

Antoine Danchin

Which, incidentally, is just what everyone thinks, as we read in a novel by Erckmann-Chatrian, for example: “what is chance, after all, if not the effect of a cause that escapes us”6; or again, according to a common dictionary: chance is a “power considered as the cause of apparently fortuitous or inexplicable events”.7

For Hume, the notion of cause cannot be derived from what we perceive of external things, nor, above all, can it benefit from intuitive certainty; however, according to Reid, “the conception of an efficient cause may very probably be derived from experiences we had, in the first ages of our life, of our own capacity to produce these certain effects”8. Chisholm stops at this “plausible solution”9, but for Reid, “causation” is much more than the “consciousness we have of exercising some power over our thoughts and actions”, it is, after Leibniz, one of the “First Principles of Necessary Truths”10, which consciousness of the effects produced reveals. Moreover, how else could this notion of cause be simply intelligible?11

Indeterminism Was Only That of Measurement

In quantum physics, the fundamental indeterminism is only that of measurement: the results of quantum measurements are indeed given as perfectly unpredictable, while the theory remains fundamentally causal and deterministic (as long as there is no measurement). Although macroscopic determinism remains compatible with microscopic indeterminism, many theories seek to eliminate the latter, either through determining “hidden variables” (which would contradict the first postulate of quantum physics)12, or through a “veiled real”13, or by a return to the Aristotelian “final cause” – i.e. a cause said to be “posterior” to effects14 or retroactive -, or by a more radical paradigm shift: by appealing to physical entities more fundamental than space and time15.

So Final Cause didn’t Die with God

The final cause was therefore not dead with God16. Physicist Bernard d’Espagnat (1921-2015) comes to suggest a search upstream from the relativity of time, such as “eternity” and “continuous creation” (theological notions to be adapted to physics, of course). He also suggests bringing Aristotelian final cause closer to his “enlarged causality”: “since the real is primary in relation to time, the causality it exercises cannot be subject to a strict condition of anteriority”. From his “veiled reality”, he wished to bring power and act closer to the Stagirite and, following Heisenberg (1901-1976), supported by the recent theory of decoherence, bring materia prima closer17 to the “wave function of the Universe”18. Finally, he rightly suggests that his “veiled reality” should be compared with Plato’s myth of the cave19, and this, up to a parallel between the Platonic Good and the “real”. This is, far from idealism, Plato’s “realism of essences”20. And this is exactly what physicist Bryce DeWitt (1923-2004) suggested:

To take quantum mechanics literally is to regard this theory as true reality, i.e., as belonging to the Platonic realm of ideal essences.

Bryce DeWitt21

For his part, mathematician, physicist and metaphysician Wolfgang Smith settles the fact that “no one understands quantum theory” (Richard Feynman) by the simple distinction between the “physical world” and the “corporeal world”, the former not existing as such (“by itself”)22 and their relationship being that of the passage from power to act.

In the science of history, we have also shown that the final cause, or eschatological causality, properly defined, is inescapable. Reprobate, rejected, it remains a minima implicit: the postulate of all historical consciousness23. Indeed, neither Theilhardian evolutionism (which confuses the above with the before24, nor Hegelian-Marxism (which confuses duration with eternity), such causality is necessarily extra-temporal in nature and the mode of causation, metaphorically, is that of “exemplary cause”25.

To become, for a being, is to “be” its essence according to the temporal mode… It is the same being that is “simultaneously” essence in its reality, and nature in its realization. Nature is the temporal modality of essence.

Jean Borella 26

Put another way, such causality is of the order of “cognitive or defining determination” compared to those of the order of “determination-production”27.

The Cause of the Disappearance of the Notion of Cause!

If, in general terms28, the cause is indeed that on which a thing depends according to its being or becoming (causas autem dicuntur ex quibus res dependet secundum esse suum vel fieri), such causality therefore requires: a real distinction between cause and effect, an effective dependence in the order of being and the anteriority of cause over effect. In the Aristotelian demonstration by the final cause, we have a syllogism that leads to knowing (demonstratio est syllogismus faciens scire), knowing being knowing the cause thanks to which a thing is, knowing that it is the cause of that thing, and that the thing cannot be otherwise (scire est cognoscere causam propter quam res est, quod hujus causa est, et non potest aliter se habere). Scientific knowledge therefore requires: knowledge of the cause, perception of the relationship between cause and effect, and the necessity of the thing caused.

As this leads to what is necessary – as opposed to what is probable or contingent – we would have to exclude the non-syllogistic or deductive sciences, starting with physics, and symmetrically retain only mathematics, and the next level of knowledge: metaphysics. From this point of view, once certain principles have been accepted – or the axiomatics have been laid down – the same level of certainty formally follows from these two sciences. Of course, reasoning by syllogism means that Aristotelian science “leads to necessary conclusions according to a process of causality that is not only logical but also metaphysical”29. From then on, certainty is not merely formal, as long as first principles are “experienced” (“lived”30, such as the principle of finality, causality or non-contradiction.

Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum (1561-1626), which founded the method of experimental science, naturally specifies that “to know truly is to know by causes”, even if it is no longer a question of a producing force, which generates the effect and continues in it, but of a cause reduced to a simple antecedent, constant and unconditional. The idea that “the same causes produce the same effects” is retained only for its aspect of constant repeatability in the presence of two facts, one of which always precedes the other. Metaphysical simultaneity – the effect is included in the cause, or the cause is present in the effect – gives way to scientific chronology. This would be the view of David Hume (1711-1776): the only experience is that of a succession of phenomena, but in no case of the “force” that links them, this radical empiricism paving the way for the positivism of Auguste Comte (1798-1857): “science renounces the search for causes”31. However, such a principle of causality, which “would have as its sole basis the probability that the ordinary series of phenomena would be verified in the case under consideration [… is a notion] manifestly insufficient. Many things are related which do not relate to each other as cause and effect, such as the different sensible qualities of an object”32. We are therefore in the midst of a sophism (whose ideological source is obvious); as the original Sophist claimed: “thanks to discourse, true and false no longer exist”, without realizing that his assertion remains unintelligible if the notions of true and false have no meaning. Thus this criticism of Hume:

The knowledge of past events, if no general principle is added to it, cannot inform us about the future, whatever the number and similarity of the experiences we have had. If, nevertheless, we conclude without hesitation from the past to the future, it is a sign that our intelligence possesses other notions and knows other truths than the brute succession of facts.

Jacques Lamine33

Developed by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), this notion of cause will, through the inductive method, be transformed into the notion of law34.

In any case, the double principle of causality: “Everything has a cause and, under the same conditions, the same cause is followed by the same effect”, becomes the double principle of determinism: “1° The order of nature is constant, and the laws suffer no exception [=the same cause is followed by the same effect]; 2° The order of nature is universal, and there are no facts or details of facts that are not regulated by laws [=everything has a cause]. This double principle is determinism”35.

Undeniably, this change of era, from that of causality to that of determinism, is much more than a triple change of vocabulary: from Thing to Fact (from ontological to phenomenological; Bacon, 17th c.)36, from Cause to Law (from explanatory to sequential; Hume, 18th c.), and from Force to Function (Mill, 19th c.). )37: the result is a shift from the concrete entity to the functional relation, to abstraction and systematic mathematization38. And the provisional abandonment of the concern for explanation is in favor of relationships between phenomena, which are ultimately more descriptive than explanatory39.

That said, believing in determinism doesn’t seem so far removed from Leibniz’s determinant reason, even if, with the latter, the determined is not the necessary, far from it:

It is never arbitrarily and without sufficient reason that one possible is realized to the exclusion of others; the ambiguity of futures is always an appearance, due to the fact that some determining circumstance is disregarded

Henri Poincaré (1854-1912)40.

Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749-1827), in his famous text, was already saying the same thing:

We must therefore consider the present state of the universe as the effect of its previous state, and as the cause of that which will follow. An intelligence which, for a given instant, knew all the forces of which nature is animated, and the respective situations of the beings which compose it, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to [mathematical] analysis, would embrace in the same formula the movements of the largest bodies in the universe and those of the lightest atom: nothing would be uncertain for it, and the future, like the past, would be present to its eyes.41.

Nor, more recently, Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976):

Wenn der gegenwärtige Zustand eines isolierten Systems in allen Bestimmungsstücken genau bekannt ist, so lässt sich der zukünftige Zustand des Systems daraus berechnen.42.

This determinism is methodological at a minimum, but once implemented, provable or not, it persists, failing which the results obtained will be meaningless; and it naturally includes probabilities. In the case of complex phenomena with multiple and still “muddled” causes, in the absence of other laws, the calculation of probabilities makes it possible to establish statistical laws. Based on large numbers of facts, their overall results give these laws an acceptable level of prediction – if only probable for a particular individual, reliable for the whole (as in the case of life insurance):

While doing research, all scientists are necessarily theoretically deterministic. This is the case even when only probabilities are involved. J. Bernoulli’s law of large numbers can only be deduced from deterministic hypotheses, and the propositions of the calculus of probabilities only have value if the chances are regularities masked by complications43.

Ernst Mach

While the probability of a physical or chemical phenomenon thus appears – and rightly so – as an effective determination, the modern notion of chance was born of the development of biology, which initially saw life as the result of a long series of accidents, and the evolution of life as “a set of random genetic mutations”, or even as a simple “physico-chemical fluctuation that has lasted for three and a half billion years”44. This is Monod’s chance, from which he wrongly drew eschatological and ethical consequences:

The old covenant is broken; man knows at last that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe from which he emerged by chance. Neither his destiny nor his duty is written anywhere ((Jacques Monod, Le hasard et la nécessité. Essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne (“Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology”), Paris: Le Seuil, 1970, pp. 224-225. Or denounced by J. Lejeune: “An immense rumour holds man to be an anomaly without a cause, whose destiny, no more than his duty, is written nowhere, an object forever incomprehensible, the fortuitous outcome of an impassible universe”, Biology, Conscience and Faith, Téqui, p. 8).

Jacques Monod

It is complexity, in place of chance, and its explanation by evolution, that led a contemporary ethologist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins (1941), to draw the same atheistic and amoralist conclusion.

I suppose that by that time the main residual reason why I was religious was from being so impressed with the complexity of life and feeling that it had to have a designer, and I think it was when I realized that Darwinism was a far superior explanation that pulled the rug out from under the argument of design.45.

Hence his 1986 “Blind Watchmaker”46 in 2006. However, we believe that it was his rationalist delusion that made God unacceptable to him, and led to his relentless anticlericalism, going so far as to assert that the after-effects of paedophilia would be less than religious education47, certainly provocative.

These two cases, both drawn from the world of biology, and its own complexity linked to living things, seem to us to illustrate, more than simple rationalist reductionism, the risk involved in considering chance as a cause. It seems to us that we are losing sight of determinism and, beyond the series of second causes, the necessity of sufficient reason. What’s more, in both cases we’re dealing with the science of the living, so it’s hardly surprising that ethical conclusions are drawn in each case48 – even if incongruous.

Determined yet Unpredictable.

It’s better to think of chance and necessity as two poles constituting the two limits that nature never reaches, on either side, in the macrocosmic or the microscopic. This formulation by Hubert Reeves, in fact, combines determination and predictability, which need to be distinguished.

Determination may well be total, but prediction is always limited by its predictive horizon (the period of validity of the prediction), and this predictive horizon itself depends on the sensitivity to initial data of the system under consideration, whether natural or artificial. Reeves gives the example of three typical clocks: “theoretical”, “macroscopic” and “microscopic”.

  • The theoretical clock would give the time to within one second, but would maintain this accuracy over time. The predictive horizon would then be unlimited, retaining this initial inaccuracy of plus or minus one second.
  • The macroscopic clock, initially, also gives the time to within one second; but with each passing day, a new second is added to this second of inaccuracy, as the system’s reliability deteriorates over time. It is calculated that after sixty years, accuracy is down to within six hours, and after one hundred and twenty years, imprecision is total.
  • The microscopic clock, also set to plus or minus one second, on the other hand, will degrade in reliability at the rate of twice as many seconds for each day elapsed; it will therefore give the time to within two seconds on the second day, four on the third, eight on the fourth, and so on. Thus, in less than sixteen days, the uncertainty will be twelve hours, i.e. total. In this case of non-linear degradation, sensitivity to initial data is such that the predictive horizon is very short. Adjusted initially to a thousandth of a second, this predictive horizon would only increase to twenty-six days; using the smallest possible duration: Planck time (10-43 seconds), this horizon would not exceed three months. Hence the famous “butterfly effect”((The fact that extreme sensitivity over the long term due to a small initial variation makes any prediction impossible, was illustrated in 1972 by the provocative title given by the organizer to a lecture by meteorologist Edward Lorenz (1917-2008) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?”. The meteorological example is first found in Poincaré: “Here again we find the same contrast between a minimal cause, inappreciable to the observer, and considerable effects, which are sometimes appalling disasters”, Science et méthode, Paris: Flammarion, 1947, p. 69).

If Poincaré, undoubtedly the first, noted this “very small change in the initial conditions”49 and “which escapes us [but which can determine] a considerable effect that we cannot fail to see”50, it’s because “chance must therefore be something other than the name we give to our ignorance”,

And for chance phenomena themselves, it is clear that the information provided by the calculus of probabilities will not cease to be true the day these phenomena become better known.51

Henri Poincaré

Here, the fortuitous phenomenon is one that not only precedes knowledge of the causes that led to it, but also one that, depending on the imprecision or approximation of the initial situation, will remain so:

But even if natural laws no longer held any secrets for us, we could only know the initial situation approximately. If this enables us to predict the subsequent situation with the same approximation, that’s all we need, we say that the phenomenon has been predicted, that it is governed by laws; but this is not always the case, it can happen that small differences in the initial conditions give rise to very large ones in the final phenomena; a small error in the former would produce an enormous error in the latter. Prediction becomes impossible, and we have the fortuitous phenomenon52.

Henri Poincaré

And Danchin can apply the same formulation to living systems:

We have to get rid of chance in order to remain deterministic, while admitting the unpredictable, especially with the living system, which is the product of a compromise between a large number of solutions. This compromise is the result of competition between different solutions. Every individual is a compromise53.

Antoine Danchin

From then on, the “appearance” of the cosmos, or life “appearing” from matter, or man “appearing” from life, seems rather to express the realization of a (pre)determined potentiality. Whereas Mach might have said: “it is impossible to prove the correctness of the deterministic or indeterministic thesis; for the question to be decided, Science would have to be complete or impossible”, almost on the contrary, the possibility of science develops thanks to and between these two poles of “unpredictability” and necessity, each constituting a limit beyond which science would no longer be possible: an absolute necessity reduced to the tautology “it is so, because it is so” would be no more scientific than a total impossibility of prediction (to understand is to foresee or anticipate).

In Llya Prigogine’s (1917-2003) 1972 formulation, “chance” should be replaced by “unpredictability”:

It is not instability but a succession of instabilities that have made it possible to cross the no-man’s-land between life and non-life. […] The fluctuation that enables the system to leave states close to thermodynamic equilibrium represents the random element, the element of chance. On the other hand, the instability of the environment, the fact that this fluctuation will increase, represents necessity. Chance and necessity cooperate instead of opposing each other. […] It does not seem unreasonable to think that the phenomenon of life is as predictable as the crystalline state or the liquid state.54)

An illustration of this possibility of science, between these two poles, is the theory of deterministic chaos, although it should be pointed out that this is a theory of classical physics, which does not apply directly to other fields, such as quantum physics, where quantum indeterminacy has nothing to do with deterministic chaos, and where the Schrödinger equation (whose solution is the wave function that calculates the probability of the electron’s presence at any point in space) is completely deterministic, even if it is intrinsically probabilistic. To put it simply, we speak of non-linear dynamic systems, whose unpredictability is referred to as “chaos”55, which is the subject of the eponymous theory.

A deterministic system (governed by a law) is such that its subsequent state is determined by its previous state; to be able to predict, therefore, we need to know not only the law of evolution, but also the initial state of the system. If knowledge of the system’s initial state is not matched by undetectable causes (even if only within the framework of this law), or if the law itself induces chaos, then we have a chaotic system. Thus, a phenomenon is said to be chaotic when, although governed by a deterministic law, it is unpredictable beyond a relatively short period of time.

Finally, it should be noted that the limit of the possibility of prediction can no longer be considered as surpassable, since, in the example of the clock, the initial precision was the greatest possible (Planck’s time) or that, in other examples, a precision on the level of Planck’s distance (10-31 m) can also limit predictability. Such a limit to scientific prediction is a problem, moreover, that is precisely addressed by scientific methods (i.e., without recourse to philosophy).

The respective situations of causality, determinism and predictability can be summarized as follows56. First there is the philosophical principle of causality57 (“one reality exerts a real influence on the becoming, being or mode of being of another reality”58. Certainly, in wanting to limit all possibility of knowledge to sensible experience, the necessity of causality is reduced to the psychological order (Hume)59; if the power of intuitive knowledge (that which makes sense to the mind) is denied60, this principle is no more than the expression of an a priori form of thought (Kant)61. Now, every contingent being, i.e. one that does not have its reason for being within itself, necessarily depends on a cause, an extrinsic reality that determines its becoming, its being and its mode of being; per absurdum, no phenomenon has been identified that has emerged from nothingness without the activity of any cause.62.

Having established the principle of causality, we can understand that the nature of the cause may vary. In the first place, it will be either free (to act or not, in one way or another)63 or necessary, i.e. its action will be determined by its nature; in the latter case, we’re dealing with the scientific principle of determinism (whether or not the causes are mechanical, quantum, for example)64. It should be pointed out that, if this determinism is conditional, in the sense that the intervention of a free cause (building a dam, observing a particle) can interfere and modify the natural course of things, there can be no spontaneous phenomenon: every phenomenon is an effect65.

If everything in nature is determined, this doesn’t mean that everything can be predicted; that in turn depends on the predictability of the system of phenomena under consideration: if it is not knowable (initial state and causes in action), no prediction is possible; if it is known but chaotic (sensitive to initial conditions), predictability will be confined within the associated “predictive horizon”; finally, if it is known and not chaotic, then only better predictability is possible66 :

If it is not possible to demonstrate that every phenomenon is the effect of a cause, this is because a first principle is not demonstrable (by definition). The principle of causality, or more universally the principle of sufficient reason, is one such principle:

§ 31. Our reasonings are founded on two great principles, that of contradiction, in virtue of which we judge false that which envelops it (that which has to do with contradiction), and true that which is opposed or contradictory to the false.

§ 32. And that of sufficient reason, by virtue of which we consider that no fact can be found to be true or existing, no true statement, without there being a sufficient reason why it is so and not otherwise, although these reasons most often cannot be known to us.67


If this principle is in the nature of the intelligence, it is because it is made to know the truth; this is implicit in all intellectual knowledge, and “our knowledge has no objective value unless our mind is fit to know the truth”,

Just as our mind is determined to assert the irreducible distinction between being and non-being, so it is determined to assert that every fact has its reason, and this subjective necessity corresponding to the objective truth of these principles is nothing other than their obviousness68.

Jacques Lamine

That evidence, which is a given, is unacceptable to some, is above all, it seems to us, an illustration of the illusion of self-sufficiency of any rationalism.

Where has reality gone?

Metaphysics, supposedly impossible (Kant), senseless (Carnap), deconstructible (Derrida), misled into ontotheology (Heidegger), or even dead and a thing of history69, nevertheless has a real, academic relevance, in philosophy as well as in the field of scientific research70. If reality remains formally inaccessible to science, as the physicist Max Planck (1858-1947) put it :

From the point of view of the exact sciences, there always remains an unbridgeable gulf between the phenomenological world and the metaphysical real world… In this aim for an absolute real, and its inability to be attained, lies the irrational element inherent in scientific activity… The metaphysical real world is therefore not the starting point of scientific research, but its inaccessible goal.71

or, very recently, physicist Marc Lachièze-Rey:

Physical description is deliberately reductive, i.e. it doesn’t take an interest in many things. It refuses to take many things into account because it doesn’t need to. In the quantum conception, a dog is a wave function. What’s more, I don’t think we can separate the wave function of the dog from that of the rest of the Universe, because the quantum conception implies a globality, according to which there is only one wave function, that of the Universe… Nobody can exhaust it, either by naming the dog, or by loving it, or by dissecting it. But I repeat that physics does not need to suppose that this reality exists or does not exist.72

is that it is indeed within the purview of metaphysics, founded on intelligence, as distinguished from reason, as the sense of being (just as the eye is the organ of sight)73.

Bernard d’Espagnat thus rightly proposes to consider, in physics, a Platonic metaphysics (“symbol of the cave”74 or an Aristotelian one (power and act), which corresponds to a world that is not entirely there, not entirely given.

This “ontological absence” of the world is increasingly apparent in physics, where, breaking with the ancestral ontology of substance and the more recent but still material ontology of matter-energy, an “ontology of substratum absence” is emerging:

Field theory, quantum mechanics, information theory and dynamical systems theory are all working together to bring dematerialized concepts such as process and information to the forefront of our worldview. […] This is the world of the signal. A world of the objectless, where only signs matter. A culture dominated by multiform information75.

Simon Diner


  1. Cf. Le hasard et la nécessité (Paris: Seuil, 1970)/Chance and Necessity.[]
  2. Indeed, the exact opposite can be read in Leucippus (c. 460-370 BC), whose pupil Democritus most certainly was: “No thing becomes without a cause, but everything is the object of a law [reason] (λόγος), and under the constraint of necessity”, Antoine Danchin, Entretien avec Émile Noël, 1991, Compte-rendu d’un entretien oral à propos du livre Le Hasard aujourd’hui, Paris : Le Seuil, 1991, online : site[]
  3. It should be pointed out that “quantum” and “nano” are far from being exclusively associated: “The quantum […] is often macroscopic. The nano is not necessarily quantum”; as Simon Diner reminds us in “Après la matière et l’énergie, l’information comme concept unificateur de la physique?” (De la science à la philosophie (“From Science to Philosophy”), Paris, Albin Michel, 2005), p. 109).[]
  4. These Latin references are a reminder of Scholasticism’s work of formalization and its perpetual relevance; they can also be found, for example, in Roderick Chisholm (1916-1999), notably in “Human Freedom and the Self”, Metaphysics: the Big Questions, London: Blackwell, 1998, trans. M. Le Du, Métaphysique contemporaine, Vrin, 2007, pp. 325-341.[]
  5. ibid., who rightly prefers the terms “contingency” or “opportunism” to “chance”.[]
  6. Erckmann-Chatrian, Contes fantastiques/”Fantastic tales” (Hachette, 1860); Paris: J.-J. Pauvert, 1963, p. 349. Thus, at least as far back as Aristotle, “chance is indeterminate and always obscure to man; it is not reasonable” (Physics, L. II, ch. V.[]
  7. Larousse (emphasis added), which completes: “Circumstance of an unforeseen or unpredictable character”; definitions which, implicitly, refer to the distinction between “determined” and “foreseeable”: an unforeseeable is not an indeterminate. Nevertheless, the term “power” seems abusive – and, above all, misleading.[]
  8. Thomas Reid (1710-1796), Essays on the active powers of the human mind… (1788), London: Tegg, 1843, Essay I, ch. V. § VI, p. 102[]
  9. Chisholm, “Human Freedom and the Self”, op. cit, p. 336.[]
  10. Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785), Dublin: L. White, 1786, Essay VI, ch. VI, p. 309.[]
  11. Monod makes a clear distinction between an admission of ignorance and facts: “To say that the sequence of amino acids in a polypeptide is ‘at random’ is by no means, it must be stressed, an admission of ignorance, but a statement of fact” (op. cit., p. 127). However, “at no point does Monod explicitly oppose such a conception of chance to the fundamentally deterministic nature of the biochemical processes that may be the causal origin of these sequences”, Francesca Merlin, “Le hasard et les sources de la variation biologique : analyse critique d’une notion multiple”, Philosophie, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne – Paris I, 2009. See infra ch. III, § 3. Evolution without change, changes without evolution.[]
  12. This is the case of Einstein (1879-1955), Louis de Broglie (1892-1987) or Roger Penrose (1931).[]
  13. Bernard d’Espagnat (1921-2015).[]
  14. In particular Bernard d’Espagnat and Olivier Costa de Beauregard (1911-2007).[]
  15. Typically Abhay Ashtekar (1949-) and Alain Connes (1947-).[]
  16. In reference to Nietzsche’s famous apophthegm: “God is dead […] and it is we who have killed him”(Joy of Learning, L. III, 125).[]
  17. “I call matter the primary substratum of each thing, from which it originates and which remains immanent to it”, Phys., I, 9, 192 a 31-32. Idem in Wolfgang Smith, “Physique et Causalité verticale”, Physique et métaphysique, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2018. translated into Rediscovering the Integral Cosmos[]
  18. Bernard d’Espagnat, Traité de physique et de philosophie, Paris: Fayard, 2002, 19-5-2 (“Causalité élargie”).[]
  19. Cf. also “Physique et réalité”, in M. Cazenave (dir.) Unité du monde, unité de l’être (Paris: Dervy, 2005, pp. 109-110), where non-locality (as demonstrated by physicist John Bell, “any realistic theory that reproduces certain quantum predictions is necessarily non-local”, ibid.) renders any theory “ontologically interpretable” not “scientifically convincing”. Hence: “one can really wonder whether […] it is not the Platonic myth of the cave that is the expression of truth” (p. 110).[]
  20. It is this Platonic realism of essences that Frege’s analytical realism joins: ontological realism of the world of the mind, its drittes Reich – the third kingdom alongside that of representations (internal, subjective) and the world (external, objective) – which constitutes the condition of possibility of effectively shared knowledge.[]
  21. Quoted by Diner, op. cit., p. 121.[]
  22. As Sir Arthur Eddington put it: “We have discovered a footprint in the sand; and lo, it is our own! The Philosophy of Physical Science, Cambridge University Press, 1939, p. 137; cf. Wolfgang Smith, “The Tripartite Wholeness, Philosophy of Physics”,, Aug. 15 2019. See especially his The Quantum Enigma: Finding The Hidden Key, Angelico Press, 2005 and coll. (Bruno Bérard dir.): Jean Borella, Wolfgang Smith, Physique et métaphysique, L’Harmattan, 2018 / Rediscovering the Integral Cosmos.[]
  23. Jean Borella, Marxisme et sens chrétien de l’histoire (“Marxism and the Christian sense of history”), coll. Théôria, l’Harmattan, 2016, p. 153.[]
  24. The Above is not at the end of the before, (temporal) becoming has no term per se.[]
  25. Jean Borella, ibid., pp. 153-162.[]
  26. Ibid., p. 160. Italics from us.[]
  27. Jean Borella relates the other Aristotelian causes to history as follows: formal cause (political forms: royalism, democracy, etc.), material cause (or societal or conditioning cause – historiology), efficient cause (or anthropic: man as historical agent); ibid., pp. 140-143.[]
  28. We borrow here from François Chenique’s masterly exposé: Éléments de Logique Classique, L’art de penser et de juger, l’art de raisonner (“Elements of Classical Logic, The art of thinking and judging, the art of reasoning“), Paris: Dunod-Bordas, 1975, reed. Paris: l’Harmattan, 2006.[]
  29. Cf. François Chenique, op. cit.[]
  30. “It is not the intellect that knows, it is man” or again: “It would perhaps be better to say, not that it is the soul that has pity, that learns or that thinks, but rather that it is man who does all this through his soul”, Treatise on the Soul, 408b § 12 (trans. J. Barthélémy Saint-Hilaire, Paris: Ladrange, 1846), online, cf. Remacle.[]
  31. Or again: “Tout est relatif, voilà le seul principe absolu”, quoted by Roger Verneaux, Histoire de la philosophie contemporaine, Paris: Beauchesne, 1987 (6th ed.), p. 58. If, for Comte, it renounces the search for causes, it is above all because he understands, following Kant, that we must stick to phenomena and laws that can be described[]
  32. Jacques Laminne, “Le principe de contradiction et le principe de causalité”, Revue néo-scolastique de philosophie, t. 19, n° 76, 1912, p. 464.[]
  33. Lamine, op. cit., p. 465.[]
  34. See Appendix 5, in the book.[]
  35. Cf. Edmond Goblot, Traité de Logique (1902), e.g. Paris: A. Colin, 1918, p. 366.[]
  36. “The world is the set of facts, not of things. The world dissolves into facts”, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), 1.1. and 1.2. P. Klossowski, Paris: Gallimard, 1961, p. 29. We underline.[]
  37. Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) ironized this evolution over three centuries: “In the 17th century, it was God who established the laws of nature; in the 18th, it was nature itself; in the 19th, it was scientists who took charge of them”, “Wer ist der Gesetsgeber der Naturgesetze?”, Philosophische Studien, 1886, t. III, fasc. 3, pp. 493 ff, quoted by Théodule Ribot (1839-1916), Idées générales, p. 223. The laws are named after their discoverers: Mariotte’s law, Gay-Lussac’s law, Ohm’s law, Weber’s law and so on. That said, with quantum physics, we are faced with a reality that intuition can no longer visualize. For example, the wave function is indeed “a mathematical representation of reality, but it is the closest representation of physical reality that we can give”; Marc Lachièze-Rey, in “Discussion”, De la science à la philosophie, Paris: Albin Michel, p. 58. This is even the realist position – albeit a non-intuitive one – that the wave function “exists independently of our knowledge” (p. 59).[]
  38. “It matters little, in general, whether we see in the equations of physics the expression of substances, laws or forces, they always express functional dependencies”, Ernst Mach (1838-1916), Knowledge and Error, trans. M. Dufour, Paris: Flammarion, 1908, p. 278.[]
  39. This is the case with the Big Bang theories, since they only unfold their narrative after the supposed beginning; admittedly a short time after (10-43 seconds), but that makes all the difference between a description and an explanation.[]
  40. La science et l’Hypothèse (1902), p. 244.[]
  41. Essai philosophique sur les probabilités, Paris: Bachelier, 1825, pp. 3-4. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (or indeterminacy theorem), on the one hand, and the temporal limit of necessary calculations, on the other, can be contrasted with his excessive “principle of certainty”. That said, “we know that Laplace meant by this a theoretical possibility that would always exceed our practical means”, Hervé Zwirn, “Les limites de la connaissance scientifique”, De la science à la philosophie, op. cit., p. 128. Laplace, in fact, seems to be describing God here, after having made a useless hypothesis of it[]
  42. “If the present state of an isolated system is known in all its details, it is possible to calculate its future state”, Erkenntnis, 2 (1931), p. 172; quoted by P. H. van Laer, “Causality, determinism, predictability and modern science”, Revue Philosophique de Louvain, 3e série, t. 48, n° 20, 1950, p. 524. As with Laplace, the principle of determinism is implicit; on the other hand, the predictability asserted will not always be possible, cf. “Chaotic systems”, in the book[]
  43. Mach, op.cit., pp. 277-278. Emphasis added.[]
  44. Hubert Reeves, Malicorne, Paris: Seuil, 1990, p. 91.[]
  45. Cf. Simon Hattenstone, “Darwin’s child,” The Guardian (online), Feb. 10, 2003[]
  46. L’Horloger aveugle, Paris: Robert Laffont, 1989), which the evolutionary processes of living organisms seem to demonstrate, and his recent denunciation of the “God Delusion” (Pour en finir avec Dieu, Paris: Robert Laffont, 2008). For Dawkins, nothing, starting with the existence of God, escapes scientific treatment.[]
  47. “In one of the letters that he regularly fires off to newspapers, he suggested that child sex abuse in the Church “unpleasant as it is, may do less permanent damage to the children than bringing them up Catholic in the first place”); Simon Hattenstone, op. cit.[]
  48. For physicist Steven Weinberg, “The more we understand the Universe, the more meaningless it appears to us” (Jean Staune, Notre existence a-t-elle un sens?, Paris: Presses de la renaissance, 2007, preface). It seems significant to us that the first feeling is that of nonsense or absurdity, and that, as we move on to the living, we then add ethical conclusions.[]
  49. Poincaré, Science et méthode, op. cit., p. 78.[]
  50. Poincaré, ibid., p. 68.[]
  51. Poincaré, ibid., pp. 66-67. For a commentary on chance in Poincaré, see Pierre Cartier, “Le Calcul des Probabilités de Poincaré”, in Éric Charpentier, Étienne Ghys, Annick Lesne (dir.), L’héritage scientifique de Poincaré, Paris: Belin, 2006, pp. 305-307.[]
  52. Poincaré, ibid., pp. 66-67.[]
  53. Danchin, op. cit., n.p.[]
  54. “The thermodynamics of life”, La Recherche n°331 (1972).[]
  55. A non-linear dynamic system may be called chaotic, but it remains determined; a distinction is made between stochastic or random processes.[]
  56. We follow in large part P. H. van Laer, “Causality, determinism, predictability and modern science”, Revue Philosophique de Louvain, 3e série, t. 48, n° 20, 1950, pp. 510-526.[]
  57. The principle of sufficient reason is even more general, but, “applied to contingent beings this principle of sufficient reason becomes the principle of causality”; Jacques Laminne, op. cit., pp. 463-464, also p. 484.[]
  58. Van Laer, op. cit., pp. 510-511. The same is true of Kant, for whom the principle of causality “is a synthetic a priori judgment expressing both a condition of the possibility of experience and of the possibility of the objects of experience. But as these objects are phenomena, as opposed to the thing-in-itself, the condition in question is purely subjective”, Laminne, op. cit., pp. 485.[]
  59. “The principle of causality, though confirmed by experience, is not a mere product of experience, any more than is the principle of contradiction. We never see contradictory things; but that’s not why we assert their impossibility. In the same way, we never positively observe that a thing occurs without a cause, but the certainty we have of the existence of the cause does not depend on this experience”; Jacques Laminne, op. cit., p. 465.[]
  60. “Intellectual intuition, indeed, is not ours, and (…) we cannot even envisage the possibility of it”, wrote Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Tremesaygues et Pacaud, P.U.F., p. 226[]
  61. Kant admits that the principle of causality is the indispensable condition for knowledge of the Universe, but he would like the value of this principle to be rigorously restricted to the order of phenomena. But how can this principle, which applies to individual sentient beings, no longer apply to the whole? Such a restriction is clearly arbitrary. And, of course, applying the principle of causality to the whole of the sensible (or phenomenal) world, which is a contingent being as much as each of its parts, the principle affirms the existence of a cause that can only be extra-sensible (or extra-phenomenal); cf. Laminne, op. cit., pp. 466-467.[]
  62. P. H. van Laer, op. cit., p. 515. Quantum mechanics’ characterization of the quantum object is abstract (a state vector in a Hilbert space); therefore, if it is not a “realistic description”, it is because, wrote physicist Asher Peres (1934-2005), “quantum mechanics is not a theory about reality”; Simon Dener, op. cit., p. 109[]
  63. Thus, in Aristotle, “the idea of chance always implies the idea of freedom” (Physics, L. II, ch. VI), and, of course, “To believe in chance is to deny nature; the motor is no less real for being invisible” (ibid.. ch VIII), ch VIII[]
  64. We could say that cause is a matter of being, determinism a matter of phenomenon.[]
  65. The oxymoron “spontaneous effect” is thus an absurdity.[]
  66. This scheme complements that of Van Laer, op. cit, p. 526.[]
  67. Leibniz, La Monadologie (1714), annotated by É. Boutroux, Paris: Delagrave, 1881.[]
  68. Lamine, op. cit., p. 488.[]
  69. Cf. François Nef’s analysis in Qu’est-ce que la métaphysique?, Paris: Gallimard, 2004; a work “salutary because it opens (at last! ) the door to an in-depth reconsideration of the dogma about the end of metaphysics, which for years has plagued French thought”; Dominique Demange, “Qu’est-ce que la métaphysique? de Frédéric Nef”, Le Philosophoire 3/1999 (n° 9), p. 156. Isabelle Thomas-Fogiel, too, judges that “the adjective ‘metaphysical’ must be stripped of its pejorative character”; op. cit., p. 1.[]
  70. For example, ontologically-based reflections in artificial intelligence, cf. Nef, op. cit., p. 77.[]
  71. Max Planck, L’image du monde dans la physique contemporaine, Gonthier, Paris, 1963 (Das Weltbild der neuen Physik, 1929). The conclusion of his research, if only binding on him, is even more lapidary: Als Physiker, der sein ganzes Leben der nüchternen Wissenschaft, der Erforschung der Materie widmete, bin ich sicher von dem Verdacht frei, für einen Schwarmgeist gehalten zu werden. Und so sage ich nach meinen Erforschungen des Atoms dieses: Es gibt keine Materie an sich. Alle Materie entsteht und besteht nur durch eine Kraft, welche die Atomteilchen in Schwingung bringt und sie zum winzigsten Sonnensystem des Alls zusammenhält. Da es im ganzen Weltall aber weder eine intelligente Kraft noch eine ewige Kraft gibt-es ist der Menschheit nicht gelungen, das heißersehnte Perpetuum mobile zu erfinden-so müssen wir hinter dieser Kraft einen bewußten intelligenten Geist annehmen. Dieser Geist ist der Urgrund aller Materie” (As a physicist who has devoted his entire life to the most rigorous of sciences: the study of matter, I am sure to avoid the suspicion of being taken for a visionary. So, here’s what I can tell you about my research into the atom: there is no such thing as matter per se. All matter arises and subsists from a force that vibrates the particles of the atom and sustains this tiny solar system. Since we can’t say whether there is an eternal, intelligent force in the universe – it’s not up to man to find perpetual motion – we have to admit that behind this force there is a conscious, intelligent Spirit. This Spirit is the principle of all matter); Das Wesen der Materie [The Nature of Matter], lecture, Florence, 1944; Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797; Planck adds: “Damit kommt der Physiker, der sich mit der Materie zu befassen hat, vom Reiche des Stoffes in das Reich des Geistes. Und damit ist unsere Aufgabe zu Ende, und wir müssen unser Forschen weitergeben in die Hände der Philosophie” (Thus goes the physicist, who has dealt with matter, from the empire of substance to that of spirit. And so our work comes to an end, and we must place the continuation of our research in the hands of philosophy).[]
  72. In “discussion”, De la science à la philosophie, pp. 60-61.[]
  73. Cf. “Vérité ou réalité (le choix impossible)”(“Truth or reality, the impossible choice”), in the book.[]
  74. Jean Borella rightly suggests replacing “myth” with “symbol”; cf. Penser l’analogie, Genève: Ad Solem, 2000, pp. 209 sq.[]
  75. Simon Diner, op. cit., pp. 92, 96. Diner questions the primacy of technology in favor of the ideology that precedes it, citing works on the transition to the Neolithic or Heidegger’s remark: “Our epoch is not a technological epoch because it is an epoch of the machine, but it is an epoch of the machine because it is a technological epoch” (ibid., p. 94). See recent Wolfgang Smith’s book: Physics, A Science in Quest of an Ontology. For our purposes here, this doesn’t change the need for a metaphysical approach, except to reinforce it even further[]