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  • Cited by 8
  • Print publication year: 1992
  • Online publication date: October 2009

23 - Personal causation and the origin concept


The concept of personal causation brashly pairs the physical term causation with a human adjective personal, flying in the face of centuries of philosophical controversy. The reason is that personal causation is a human experience and is fundamental to understanding human behavior. It cannot be reduced to physical causation. We can only infer physical causation because we experience ourselves as causes. Personal causation is primary and fundamental; physical causation is secondary. (For more on this see deCharms & Shea, 1976; also, deCharms, 1968/1983, 1976, 1987a, 1987b.)

I have variously defined personal causation, first as a primary motivational propensity to be effective in producing changes in the environment (deCharms, 1968/1983, p. 269). Later, and more simply, “personal causation means doing something intentionally to produce a change” (1984). Personal causation is not the name of a motive, nor is it a personality disposition. Every human being “has” personal causation, that is, experiences herself, as a cause.

Origin is the term that is central to the content analysis system presented here. It is a locution invented not to name a newly discovered kind of personality or behavior, but rather to describe a personal experience that accompanies a behavioral episode of personal causation. A definition of origin is inadequate (like saying champagne tastes like your foot is asleep).