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5. Causation


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics causation, science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00008.x


Ordinary language is saturated with causal concepts, with talk of tendencies, consequences, mechanisms, and a host of other thinly disguised causal terms. But ordinary language is no reliable guide to ontology, and for scientific purposes we must ask whether advanced sciences need to refer to causes in their theories and methods. Then, if we find that they do need to make such causal references, we must ask what the nature of the causal relation is and how we can discover instances of it. Here we shall reverse that order of questioning, by first laying out some standard approaches to characterizing and discovering the causal relation, and then examining whether such relations are dispensable in certain parts of science. One's choice of causal ontology is crucial, for, like choosing a spouse, an initial error of judgment inevitably leads to later disaster. Of primary importance is the nature of the causal relata. Many kinds of things have been suggested to play the role of cause and effect: events, property instances, objects, variables, facts, states of affairs, propositions, events under a description, amongst others. Yet objects do not cause anything: it is the properties possessed by them that do the causing. Likewise, propositions themselves are not generally causally efficacious; rather, they are a mode of representing facts about the events that are the real causes and effects. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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