∞ generated and posted on 2016.08.30 ∞
The reason why things happen rather than how.
|Ultimate Causation is a description of the reason that something happens rather than the mechanistic underpinnings of a process, why you go to the bathroom, for example, rather than how. ☺|
When considering organism characteristics we can consider in particular why a given trait or adaptation exists primarily in terms of its contribution to an organism's potential to reproduce.
Typically organism behaviors, for example, occur the way they occur because of their contribute, ultimately, to an organism's reproductive success. Note that it can very often be important to understand also how things happen, their proximate causes, in order to understand also why they happen. Similarly, evolutionary history along with evolutionary constraints can be important contributors to why organisms do what they do.
If those individuals that engage in behavior A (say, running away from lions) produce more offspring than those that engage in behavior B (say, standing very still in the hope that the lion doesn't see them), then typically we may expect behavior A to increase in frequency within the population in comparison to behavior B. The ultimate causation of behavior A thus is that it increases the likelihood that the individuals that engage in this behavior will live to reproduce.
Still another way to express these differences would be to say that proximate causes govern the responses of the individual (and his organs) to immediate factors of the environment while ultimate causes are responsible for the evolution of the particular DNA code of information with which every individual of every species is endowed. The logician will, presumably, be little concerned with these distinctions. Yet, the biologist knows that many heated arguments about the "cause" of a certain biological phenomenon could have been avoided if the two opponents had realized that one of them was concerned with proximate and the other with ultimate causes.