Following are definitions of goal, problem, and cause, as well as a few auxiliary concepts.

A state (or status) of an entity is an attribute which can appear or vanish after some time, for example, hungry as an attribute of a person.

A goal is a future state of an entity which is desired by people (there is little use for the word ‘actor’ or ‘agent’ here.) It does not make sense to talk about goals which cannot be attained or which, on the other hand, would be reached without any effort. For example, letting the sun set when seen from a particular location is not an endeavour worth talking about.

A sub-goal of a goal is a goal which must have been reached at the same time the main goal is attained. For example, to eradicate poverty, the sub-goals are both the availability of freshwater and the availability of food.

A preliminary goal (sometimes: objective) of a goal is one which must be reached before the ultimate goal is attained, or more generally, which is a necessary condition. For example, before returning to horse and carriage, horses must be bred.

A means is a method for changing the status of an entity. A preliminary goal can also be a means, like horse breeding in the previous example.

An end is a goal which is to be attained using a particular means. Hence, the expression ‘means to an end’ (note 2.) If the goal is to solve a problem, then the means is called a measure against the problem.

A problem is an obstacle to attaining a particular goal or end. An insoluble problem can be mentioned in order to show that other problems cannot be solved either. 

A sub-problem of a problem is part of a problem. See sub-goal for an example.

A problem type is a problem having additional attributes. (It is a subtype of the problem.) For example, squandering energy is a type of squandering (when considered a problem.)

A measure is an action against a problem. (A goal is a future state which people want to reach, so by definition there is a problem which obstructs reaching the goal. Therefore, there an action towards a goal naturally translates to a measure against the corresponding problem.)

A phenomenon is an event, thing, attribute of the event, or even a law. For example, the fall of a thunderbolt, the thunderbolt itself, the velocity of its fall, or even the law for that velocity (note 3.)

A cause of (or reason for) a phenomenon (which is the effect of the cause) is a phenomenon which is a sufficient condition for the effect, that is, if the cause occurs, then so does the effect. (A necessary condition for an effect is an event for which the effect is a sufficient condition. In other words, without this phenomenon, no effect.) If a cause is discussed, then some necessary conditions often are tacitly assumed (note 4.) (If some conditions are unknown, then there is only a chance of the relation between cause and effect.) A cause of becoming is a cause of a change or of the coming into existence of something. By definition, it occurs before the effect. A cause of being is a cause productive of the sustained existence of a being (note 5.)

Effects in the present context are only interesting if they are problems. So, causes inherit the problematic nature of their effects and therefore will be presented as problems.

For example, the combined cause of the more frequent Australian bushfires in 2019 and 2020 is drought and heat (no mention needs to be made of lightning, trees, and so on.) A cause of the more frequent forest fires in Brazil and neighbouring countries is clearance of forest for agriculture; fire to torch the woods obviously is a necessary condition.

This leads to a counterexample: smoke is a sufficient condition for fire but it does not cause fire because it does not precede fire.

To illustrate the causes of being and of becoming: synthetic polymers are a cause of being of many plastics; ignition is the cause of becoming of a fire; trees are both the cause of being of the sustained forest fire and the cause of becoming of every new flame.

A cause of one problem may or may not be a problem, depending on the goal. For example, heat as a necessary condition for bushfire is not an obstacle for survival of the bush but it can be a problem for people at work. However, the problematic nature of the effect easily carries over to the cause. For example, plastic polluting the seas strictly seen is only a problem when swallowed by marine fauna; it is more natural to consider the pollution proper a problem too.

The following picture illustrates the computation of effects and goals as well as the inheritance of the problematic nature of effects.

Problem Q1 is caused by problem P1 and P2. Problem Q2 is caused by P3 and also by P2. Problem Q3 is caused by P3 too. What are the effects of P2? As P2 is the cause of Q1 and of Q2, these are two of its effects. However, to determine whether there are no other effects, problem Q3 and possibly many other problems need to be considered. So, manually entering the effects is more efficient, provides a double-check, and does not force the user to specify causes in other problems only to list the effects.

Now for an illustration of the inheritance of a problematic nature. The goal G1 is hindered by problem Q1 and similarly, Q2 is an obstacle to reaching G2. This has been indicated by the dashed vertical arrows emanating from Q1 and Q2 which, as it were, block the arrows towards goals G1 and G2. Which goals are blocked by problem P2? That is, how to derive the vertical dashed arrows which point from P2 to the vertical arrows? The effects of P2 are Q1 and Q2, which hinder getting to G1 and G2, so P2 indirectly blocks both G1 and G2. Rather than carrying out this deduction, one would manually enter these goals as the ones blocked by P2. This is also more natural, because a phenomenon which as such is harmless but which cause a problem is considered a problem too. In other words, this is a picture of how the problematic nature of Q1 and Q2 carries over to P2.


(2) Zweck (‘end’) in J. Mittelstrass (ed.) Enzyklopädie Philosophie und Wissenschaftstheorie, Stuttgart & Weimar: J.B. Metzler, 1996.

(3) H.W.B. Joseph, Introduction to Logic, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1916 (Impression 1931, 1st ed. 1906) p.427.

(4) Kausalität in the same Enzyklopädie and Causation in P. Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, New York: MacMillan & the Free Press; London: Collier MacMillan, 1967.

(5) G.H. Joyce, Principles of Logic, London etc.: Longmans, 1908, p.247.