Causation and Explanation

Causation and Explanation

Stathis Psillos
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 337
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  • Book Info
    Causation and Explanation
    Book Description:

    In the section on laws of nature, Psillos considers both the regularity view of laws and laws as relations among universals as well as alternative approaches to laws. In the final section on explanation he examines in detail the issues arising from deductive-nomological explanation and statistical explanation before considering the explanation of laws and the metaphysics of explanation. Accessible to students of all levels the author provides an excellent introduction to one of the most enduring problems of philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8395-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
    S. P.
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The birth of our daughter was thecauseof great happiness to my wife and me. Thisexplainswhy I decided to dedicate this book to her. It alsocausedcertain changes in our life (for instance, that our study at home had to be converted to a nursery). Itbrought abouta delay in the completion of the current book, which (hopefully)explainswhy this book might well be a bit better than it would have been had I rushed to finish it. It isbecauseof her birth that I have come to realize how challenging and exciting...

  6. I Causation
    • 1 Hume on causation
      (pp. 19-56)

      A good starting point for our philosophical endeavours is David Hume’s account of causation. His work on this subject has been, by far, the most important and influential ever. Hume’s account has been taken to be areductiveone. It’s been typical to call this account the Regularity View of Causation (RVC).



      (a)cis spatiotemporally contiguous toe;

      (b)esucceedscin time; and

      (c) all events of typeC(i.e., events that are likec) are regularly followed by (or are constantly conjoined with) events of typeE(i.e. events likee)...

    • 2 Regularities and singular causation
      (pp. 57-80)

      The prospects of singular causation, that is, of causal relations that do not instantiate regularities, will be the main topic of this chapter. We shall focus our attention on Ducasse’s critique of Hume and on his defence of singular causation. But, along the way, we shall examine Mill’s version of RVC, and Davidson’s attempt to reconcile RVC with singular causation.

      According to Ducasse (1969: 9), Hume offered a definition of themeaningof causation: “Causation means nothing but constant conjunction of objects in experience.” This definition can be easily demolished. Ducasse (1969: 16) uses the following example to show that...

    • 3 Causation and counterfactuals
      (pp. 81-106)

      In the firstEnquiry, after the statement of the first definition of causation, which, as the reader might recall, was a Regularity definition, Hume (E: 146) added the following,prima faciepuzzling, remark: “Or in other words, where, if the first object had not been, the second never had existed.” But these are not merely “other words”. They offer a distinct definition of causation. They define causation not in terms of actual regularities, but in terms of a counterfactual dependence of the effect on the cause: the cause is rendered counterfactually necessary for the effect. Almost everybody agrees that counterfactual...

    • 4 Causation and mechanism
      (pp. 107-134)

      Hume couldn’t see the link between cause and effect. For his followers, causation, as it is in the objects, just is regular succession. In this chapter, our focus will be some prominent philosophical attempts to show that there is more to causation than regular succession by positing amechanismthat links cause and effect. We shall start with Mackie’s argument and move on to examine Salmon’s and Phil Dowe’s theories of causation. In the final section, I shall attempt to offer a conceptual guide to the theories we have discussed in the first part of the book.

      Although Mackie has...

  7. II Laws of nature
    • 5 The regularity view of laws
      (pp. 137-158)

      The Humean RVC ties causation as it is in the world to the presence of regularities in nature: to call a sequence of eventscandecausal is to say that this sequence instantiates a regularity, namely an invariable succession between event-types C and E. We have already seen, though, that not all regularities establish causal connections. There can be mere correlations of event-types (e.g. the night invariably following the day) that are not causal. So the advocate of RVC, namely, a Humean about causation, should be able to say a bit more about what distinguishes betweengoodregularities...

    • 6 Laws as relations among universals
      (pp. 159-178)

      We have already seen that what underwrites the Humean RVL is a disdain for the claim that there are necessary connections in nature. Laws are nothing but contingent regularities plus something else, which distinguishes them from accidents. In this chapter, we shall examine some prominent attempt to show that there is some kind of necessity with which laws of nature hold. It should be noted from the outset that Humeans and many non-Humeans share the intuition that laws of nature arecontingent.So some non-Humeans try to defend a notion of necessity which is compatible with the view that laws...

    • 7 Alternative approaches to laws
      (pp. 179-212)

      In recent years, there have been a number of alternative approaches to the characterization of laws of nature. They are quite different from each other, but they all unite in claiming that we are not forced to choose between the Humean RVL and the ADT view that laws are necessitating relations among universals. In this chapter, we shall examine the most prominent of them.

      After reviewing some standard Humean attempts to distinguish between laws and accidents‚ L.J. Cohen (1980) suggests that they wrongly pay too much attention to the ill-motivated task of defining the conditions under which a statement expresses...

  8. III Explanation
    • 8 Deductive-nomological explanation
      (pp. 215-240)

      The modern empiricist approach to the connection between causation and explanation was shaped by Hume’s critique of the relation between cause and effect. As was already noted in the Introduction, the logical empiricists took Hume to have offered areductiveaccount of causation, and in particular one that frees talk about causation from any commitments to a necessary link between cause and effect. Within science, Carnap stressed, “causality means nothing but a functional dependency of a certain sort” (1928: 264). The functional dependency is between two states of a system, and it can be called a “causal law” if the...

    • 9 Statistical explanation
      (pp. 241-262)

      Hempel’s pioneering work on explanation consists really in his analysis of the circumstances under which we can explain events whose occurrence is not certain (cf. 1965: 376–412). Hempel’s models of statistical explanation were really the first systematic treatment of the subject. In this chapter, we shall examine these models, and a major alternative to them. Our focus, in the end, will be the implication of statistical explanation for the Humean approach to causation. For there is a firm thought that there are causal relations between event-types that are not linked by strict (deterministic) laws. For instance, we do believe...

    • 10 Explanation of laws
      (pp. 263-280)

      Necessitarians (see Chapter 6) insist that Humeans cannot adequately show how laws explain their instances. Armstrong, for instance, notes that when we explain why all observed Fs have been Gs by stating thatAll Fs areGs, we “explain something by appealing to a state of affairs part of which is the thing to be explained” (1983: 40). “But”, he adds, “a fact cannot be used to explain itself”. His point is that a generalization A: “All Fs are Gs” is equivalent to the conjunction of the following two statements: A₁: “Allobserved Fsare Gs” and A₂: “Allunobserved...

    • 11 The metaphysics of explanation
      (pp. 281-294)

      It’s about time to tackle an important issue that lies behind the debate around the nature of explanation. It is, I think, the basicmetaphysicalissue: what comes first, explanation or causation? Kitcher’s and Salmon’s general views will be the focal point of this chapter.

      Salmon has made a distinction between three broad approaches to the nature of explanation. He has called them the “epistemic conception”, the “modal conception” and the “ontic conception”.

      Theepistemic conceptionis the Hempelian conception. It makes the concept of explanation broadly epistemic, since it takes explanation to be, ultimately, nomic expectability. Themodal conception...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 295-308)
  10. References
    (pp. 309-316)
  11. Index
    (pp. 317-324)