Reason vs. Cause

Imagine you walk down a path in the mountains. All of a sudden a huge rock falls down just a few meters from your feet. You nearly got crushed. You might wonder why the rock fell down. This seems quite a clear question, yet it can be interpreted in two ways.

In the Dutch language there are two words for ‘why’. The first one ‘waarom’ inquires about the reason behind someone’s action, the second one ‘waardoor’ inquires about the cause of something happening. When we ask ‘Why are we here?’ we are inclined to think about the first of the two meanings, we wonder what reason there is for our existence.

For something to have a reason there has to be someone who has a reason for it. It requires an intentional agent. In the case of the rock it could be someone who pushed the rock down. The person could have had several reasons for it. He might have pushed the rock over the edge because it was in his way, or he might have wanted to hit you. In this case the reason why the rock fell down is that the man intended it to fall down. The cause for it would be him nudging the rock over the edge of the cliff.

However, even if the man pushing the rock was the cause of the rock falling down it doesn’t necessary mean that there is a reason for it. The man could have accidentally pushed it down by leaning against it. He never intended the rock to fall down. In this case there is no reason why the rock fell down, just a cause. It could be that a little earthquake caused the rock to fall down. In this case there also is no answer to the question why the rock fell down, it just did. Again the event had a cause but no reason.

Similar as in the case of the falling rock we might be tempted to ask similar questions about life. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? These questions might not have an answer for the simple reason that there isn’t a reason in the first place. Since there is no convincing indication that there is some supernatural creator who created the universe with a certain goal in mind we have to conclude that there is no answer to the question ‘why are we here?’ There is no reason for the existence of the universe and life, just a cause.

So how should we deal with this realization? Check out my previous post In Short

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