here are two broad schools of metaphysical thought concerning the nature of interaction in the world – the regularists and the necessitarians. Regularists
follow the thinking of David Hume, claiming that in accordance with inductive reasoning, nothing in nature can entail necessity, and that causation is nothing more than lawful regularity of association according to our best explanations of scientific lawfulness (sometimes known as the Mill/Ramsay/Lewis position after its chief proponents). Expressed another way, Hume was an empiricist who considered that necessity can never be a part of ‘matters of fact
‘ in the world (nothing in nature is absolutely certain), necessity only exists as a ‘relation of ideas
‘, that is, as a component of logic and mathematics (see Immanuel Kant
). On the other hand there are the Necessitarians
who claim that that causation
is a consequence of some kind of power, force, or necessary connection.
In trying to explain causation we can quickly become absorbed in its associated phenomena, diverted from our central mission by claim and counter-claim. To set out the playing field we can apply Aristotle‘s own explanatory four causes (becauses) to causation itself. Remember, Aristotle devised these loose be-causes as a tool to help us cover the range of possible answers to a general question like ‘What is it?‘. Now is a good opportunity to try out Aristotle’s tools, so let’s ask – what is its material cause (what is it made of, of what does it consist?), its formal cause (what are its defining qualities?), its efficient cause (what generated or produced it, what makes it work?), and the final cause (what is its end point i.e. what does it do?).
Of course our answers must be of a general kind; there may well be others, but here goes. The materials or constituents of causation are relatively few. There is cause and effect (the relata, including their number and kind) and the relationship between them, that is, the role that the relationship plays. The formal defining quality of causation offered here is that it creates the order we see in movement and change; the way a particular configuration of the world (the cause) gives rise to another configuration (the effect) in a regular or predictable way. The efficient cause, the source of its activity, is the most contentious aspect. Is it regularity (the laws, principles and constants of nature) or a specific force or power of some kind. The final cause – the end point, consequence, or outcome of causation – is its effect. Significantly cause and effect are locked together as antecedent and consequent, potentiality and actualization, so final cause is an integral part of what we mean by (how we explain) causation.
The main area of contention, the part of the question we need to answer when we ask ‘What is causation?’ is what has been glibly labelled here as the ‘efficient’ cause of cause: what makes cause work; what exactly makes things happen?
We are now ready to look in more detail at some of the theories developed to answer this question.
Relata & relations
To get closer to the what we mean when we talk about causation we must examine in more detail, firstly, the nature of causes (C) and effects (E) (the relata) and, secondly, the relationship between them. What exactly is a cause: and are there different kinds of cause, different causes that cannot be reconciled? Perhaps one kind of cause for law and another for science. We can break down the notion of cause into its basic constituents. Both the philosophical and scientific analysis of causation must address simple key criteria: the characteristics of the cause and the characteristics of the effect (the two relata) and the nature of the relationship between them. The consideration of time in causation usually relates to the asymmetry of cause preceding effect. However, we might also question the reality of our temporal segmentation of change into the units cause, effect, and event.
The causal relata
When we talk of a cause we can ascertain its category (kind), number (how many causes and effects are involved), and role (what the category does).
In everyday conversation we find that causes are treated as many different things: events, facts, objects, properties, functions, relations, features, processes, actions, thoughts, tropes, states of affairs (circumstances and conditions) and more. Causes may also be treated as abstractions like absences, omissions, and pre-emptions. Philosophically Aristotelians treated the relata as substances, as objects but by the time of David Hume it was more conventional to treat causes and effects as events or relationships. An Aristotelian would say that the red light stopped the car, for a Humean it is the event of the red light shining. Events are usually regarded as concrete occurrences within a spaciotemporal framework. For modern philosopher Lewis an event ‘… is a region of spacetime that has certain of its features essentially and some only contingently’, they have different essential and accidental features. For example, when drinking coffee slowly out of a mug the ‘slowly’ is an essential feature (due to the hot coffee) and the more essential features the greater the granularity (fragility) and the larger number of possible worlds needed for counterfactual analysis. Alternatively we might have E because C where C and E are facts (as in the case of omissions and absences) and where causation is characterised in extrinsic terms. Facts are abstract and non-spaciotemporal, they are propositions about the world: not something in the world, but something about the world. ‘Event’ may be treated loosely not only as a change but particular conditions (a circumstance or state of affairs). Objects are causes when bomb exploded or stone broke glass.
A further distinction can be made between an internal relation between the relata only, and an external relation in which the cause involves the relata and something else.
Principle 1 – Causation language is applied with such generality that philosophical and scientific discussion is forced to use the word in a restricted and technical sense.
Depending on the particular circumstances some causes seem necessary others are sufficient and yet others just influential. Cause may be examined either in terms of individual or particular causes located in spacetime (token causes) or as causes in general (type causes). Causes considered in general may described probabilistically (‘Smoking causes cancer’).
The relata are usually two, the cause and the effect, although this number is sometimes increased to three or four.
What are the properties of the relationship? Questions asked about the relationship include: ‘Why should these occurrences always form paired associations?’, ‘Must there be temporal asymmetry as cause always preceding effect?’, ‘How do we distinguish between real causation (colliding billiard balls) from mere correlation (day following night, thunder following lightning, barometer indicating pair pressure), sometimes called accidental or spurious causation, ‘Are cause and effect transitive?’, ‘Must cause and effect be close in space, is there spatial contiguity?’ For convenience alone two kinds of causal role are recognized: difference-makers and cause-producers.
If causation is regarded as a relation between variables then if the variables are properties then this is a special case in which the properties are binary.
Every cause and effect emerges from a complex infinity of antecedents. Assuming there is just one cause for each effect seems unlikely. In many examples this may not be important but we must always remember that the cause-effect relationship occurs within a context and that effects can be produced by multiple causes. In many cases a set of factors may be sufficient for their effect but not necessary (think of a car accident). This is nevertheless a form of necessity. If a set of causal conditions S is sufficient for E then S necessitates E.
Let’s examine predictability more closely.
REDUCTIVE METAPHYSICAL THEORIES
There are at least three reductive theories of causation: as lawful regularity; as counterfactual dependency; as probability; contrastivism; interventionist theory; difference-makers and cause-producers.
This is the approach to causation best known through the work of David Hume that has already been mentioned. He defined cause as having temporal priority, spaciotemporal contiguity and, most importantly, constant conjunction.
Hume was a reductive realist – realist because he believed causation was mind-independent, and reductive because he had explained causation in terms that did not refer to causation itself: causation was nothing more than regularity (constant conjunction). Causation was fixed by facts about general (extrinsic or type) empirical regularities among observed variables. The necessity we usually associate with causation, he believed, is projected onto the world as a ‘habit of mind’. That is, causes do not have a mind-independent worldly essence (ontology) they are connected by epistemological facts that relate to our thinking processes (inferentialism). Other similar theories further explored the theme of causation as the lawful regularity that exists in nature permitting explanation, prediction, and manipulation. A modern reinterpretation of Hume by Galen Strawson paints him as a skeptical realist who claimed that Hume’s position was that we have no idea of necessary connection (an epistemological claim such that there may be a power or necessary connection) but that the traditional interpretation of his work is that there is no necessary connection (a metaphysical claim).
Hume’s regularity theory, sometimes called naive regularity theory, was soon challenged and for the following reasons.
Implausibility & the case for singularist theories
Strawson considered that Hume must surely have entertained the possibility of regularity being grounded in something else, that there must be a reason for regularity. Scientists regarded Hume’s empiricism as too strict. Physical properties like force, energy, momentum and, later, fields, quarks and other unobservables, though not directly accessible to the senses are accepted by science as a consequence of their effects. Though not directly evident to the senses they are accepted as reasonable theoretical postulates, not mystical abstractions. Gravity operates over spatial distance and is apparent to us only by its effects. If Hume could not countenance singularist causation then it seems that causation is an extrinsic (type) phenomenon. Singularists maintained that cause must be present in single events. If I miss a train because there was an electricity blackout I do not understand what happened in terms of a regularity. I say that the blackout caused by lateness on this particular day and at this particular time. Causation is present in the single event. Certainly we need to see many events in order to establish empirical generalizations, but that does not mean that cause is not present in the single event, that is absurd. To the singularist the regularist is simply looking in the wrong place for cause.
Correlation & causation
There are several objections to Hume’s interpretation of causation. Correlations do not have a direction while causation does and regularities (correlation) can be misleading as an indication of causation as is evident in the case of accidental regularities (day following night) and the probabilistic idea of causation as in smoking causing cancer. Correlation is a statistical relation between variables: causation occurs when one event causes another. Nicotine stain on fingers is correlated with lung cancer but it does not cause lung cancer. The occurrence of day is correlated with the occurrence of night but day does not cause night.
Then there are ‘Non-causal’ regularities like day following night and thunder following lightning.
We can think of ‘accidental’ regularities. For example C may be conjoined with E when both are effects of a common cause. So, for example, smoking causes both lung cancer and nicotine stains on fingers but the nicotine stains do not themselves cause the cancer. All these examples challenge causation as simple regularity. Some philosophers simply disagreed with Hume: when we pick up a weight we feel its mass in our muscles: isn’t this empirical evidence of necessary connection? Is there no actual connection between taking a pain-killer and the relief we feel – do we feel no relief until we have taken painkiller several times? These philosophers have become known as necessitarians (non-reductive) in contrast to the (reductive) regularists.
In spite of these difficulties the core principle of regularity was not abandoned but modified by later philosophers who addressed the criticisms. Among these were Sydney philosopher John Mackie and, perhaps most famously, the counterfactual theory of American David Lewis discussed later.
More recent philosophical (metaphysical) reductionist theories that follow Hume’s approach (discussed later) include: Counterfactual Dependence, Probability Theory, and Contrastivism.
Causal claims may relate to particular situations (this stone smashed the glass) or to causes in general (smoking causes lung cancer). It is difficult to apply general conclusions to individuals (this particular smoker will get lung cancer). General cases are studied using statistical methods and these need to take account of to avoid spurious correlations. Probability theory is broadly Humean as they examine statistical regularities. Causality is generally the notion that event E follows preceding conditions C with regularity. Whether event E invariably results or follows condition C is another matter. In fact in the quantum world we know that apparently identical conditions c may give rise to a variety of different events along a stochastic probability distribution. The observed events are thus caused by conditions c but not determined by them. We also know that in complex system even those following deterministic laws chaotic and unpredictable behavior occurs. Causality is also generally not considered to be bi-directional in time as determinism is. The rejection of determinism does not entail rejection of the notion of causality.URL: https://groups.able2know.org/philforum/topic/3022-1.
A probabilistic system is where you can not predict the outcome of whatever you are measuring unambiguously, using whatever laws. There are always multiple possible outcomes and hence there is a probability of getting an outcome, in a certain measurement.
Difference-makers and cause-producers
Causes make a difference to their effects. Changing the value of the cause variable changes the value of the effect variable. A dog jumps into the road and causes me to brake the car. This dog made me brake the car at this particular time. If the dog had not rushed out I would have not braked suddenly? This is a singularist account of cause in which the dog (the cause) made a difference to my driving (to what happened). A Humean account sees no connection bewteen the dog and the braking excepts one event following another. But the dog (or dog running intoi the road) is a cause that makes a difference, it makes something happen. ‘If he had not have swallowed the poison he would not have died‘. ‘If the alarm had rung I would not have missed the train’. This is known as a counterfactual notion of cause and it has proved extremely useful in medicine and law: counterfactual theories of causation demonstrate how our sense of the dependence of effects on causes can be cashed out by helping us to anticipate and predict.
The Counterfactual Theory of Causation – counterfactual dependency
We have seen how to search for a cause is to seek a difference-maker and to imagine what would have happened had things been different. We can notice many events that simply follow one-another but what makes them causal is that had the first event not occurred then nor would the second – it is the counterfactual dependence that does the causal work. This seems counterintuitive since something that didn’t happen is a cause. Counterfactual statements (subjunctive conditionals) are of the form ‘If … then’ and they refer to the way things ‘might’ be, or how they ‘must’ be in order to have particular effects. In other words they are modal statements (statements about necessity and possibility), they are of the form ‘E counterfactually depends of C iff were C not to occur then E would not occur either’. So, for example, ‘If I had got up earlier I would not have missed the train’. Counterfactual theories have gained in popularity since the 1970s and the development of possible world semantics (conditions of truth and falsity and their role in reasoning) and the idea that causal claims are connected to (or reduce to) claims about ‘counterfactual dependence’.
We can evaluate counterfactuals of this kind by checking whether possible world W1 is closer to possible world W2 iff W1 resembles the actual world more closely than W2. We must, for the time-being, accept the dizzying abstraction of combining mysterious causality with obscure possible worlds. Though counterfactuals are occasionally used in science the difficulty of their asssessment means that they are rarely used as standard fare in scientific causal analysis and inference although they certainly have application in law (e.g. criminal negligence) and medicine (pre-emption with medication). To become a viable theory there must be not only a counterfactual assumption but also a dependency. And counterfactual dependencies are not all causal (if today is monday then tomorrow is tuesday) so this needs to be resolved.
>Definition 3 – C causes E iff there is a chain of stepwise influence from C to E
This asserts that causation is nothing more than counterfactual dependence. However, there is another interpretation which is an inversion of this thinking ‘Counterfactual dependence is not the reason why things are causally related; being causally related is th ereason why some events have a counterfactual dependence‘.
Though we have Hume’s theory of causation in which the relation is constant conjunction, under Lewis’s theory the relation is counterfactual dependence – but both theories are Humean in that causation is a contingent relation between distinct events. However, it is by no means certain that causation is a contingent relation between events or even that it is a relation at all as Aristotelians would be quick to point out.
For any causal relation there will be boundary conditions that determine possible worlds: included in this world is the characteristics and properties of the interacting objects. What is possible causally depends on the constraints established by the relationship between interacting materials (material cause) their characteristic properties and history (formal cause), and the deterministic framework or potentiality, inherently directed towards a particular future state (final cause). Counterfactuals are causal facts grounded in other facts. Counterfactual dependence cannot be defended and this led to chains of counterfactual dependence and then stepwise chains of counterfactual dependence.
It is worth bearing in mind in the above case, if as the dog ran into the road some traffic lights turned red then I would have braked anyway. This is what is called overdetermination and it means that the dog was not a difference-maker. And where there is overdetermination there is no counterfactual dependence. One corollary of overdetermination is the way events have necessary conditons. For me to win a prize it was necessary for me to be born, but my being born did not cause my winning the prize. This difference between a necessary condition and ‘true cause’ could be a challenge to counterfactual dependence.
Manipulation & intervention (causal modelling)
Instead of imagining possible worlds, one more direct way of finding out what is causing what is to intervene in or manipulate situations. This would seem to b ea standard scientific method when testing responses, like tapping the knee with a hammer to see if the knee jerks. There can also be careful statistical testing of hypotheses that reduce the likelihood of correlation and increase that of genuine cause.
Probability theory attemmpts to describe how we can discover causal structure from statistical evidence. Though Humean the manipulation and intervention approach cannot provide a truly reductive account because they employ near-causal notions.
Omissions, absences, & preemption
Can events not occurring be causal? My plant died because I did not water it.
Causation is not necessarily transitive (If A causes B and B causes C then A causes C). Must there be a connecting process?
NON-REDUCTIVE MECHANISTIC & PHYSICAL PROCESS THEORIES
Regularity and counterfactual dependence theories do not seem to tell us what causation actually is – it simply gives us a motherhood statement like ‘causation is a relation between events‘, or ‘causes raise the probabilities of their effects‘, even Hume’s ‘causation is constant conjunction’. Rather than asking what we mean by the concept of cause we can ask what it actually is – that is, what it is in physical reality. Under this heading are included all the non-reductive scientific interpretations of causation – bearing in mind that even in science there is no universally accepted scientific (as opposed to any other) definition of cause.
Traditionally causation in science is taken as being underpinned by phyics as the ‘fundamental’ science and the so-called universal laws of nature. There are several difficulties here. Firstly, the challenge to the idea of there being a unity of science built on a foundation of physics. Secondly the fact that universal laws are usually expressed in a non-causal way using differential equations expressing changes in variables that demonstrate temporal symmetry (there is no implied before and after). The preoccupation with universal laws leads to definitions like that of philosopher Armstrong: that ‘Causation is contingent on relations of nomic (law-like) necessity holding between universals’. Universals are general properties like ‘redness’ and we might, alternatively, substitute ’empirical generalization’ for ‘universal’ here.
Among the non-reductive physicalist theories are: process theory (mark theory) or transfer theory, mechanistic theory, singularist theory, and functionalism.
Perhaps we have not yet isolated what exactly causation is. In deciding on what causation actually is we can draw on a distinction made by philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) between nominal essence and real essence. If causation is real in the world (a natural kind) then at cannot amount to lawful regularity as claimed by the Hume/Lewis/Mill thesis. Maybe we are using a nominal essence (properties used as evidence for class membership) instead of its real essence (property actually establishing class membership). For example we can call ‘atomic number 79’ the real essence of the element gold and ‘yellow, shiny, malleable metal’ a nominal essence. We can equate the real essence to what causation is in the world and nominal essence to our concept of cause.
Science discards the various linguistic and abstract notions of cause assuming it boils down to tangible mechanistic factors like one billiard ball hitting another. This meets our intuition of cause involving active force as pushing, pulling, hitting, and motion. Among the various scientific causal factors are energy, momentum, and force. We know that although energy is never lost from a closed system it can be transferred. The most comprehensive recent treatment of this kind of causation and synthesizing the work of the past (notably causal lines and mark theory which need not concern us here) is by Phil Dowe who claims that what is transmitted in a causal process is a ‘conserved quantity’ of some kind identified as such by a law of nature. Our current best science would translate conserved quantity into charge, linear momentum, and mass-energy. So, for example, the clash of billiard balls is accompanied by the transfer of mass-energy and linear momentum.
Singularist Theories of causation
Mechanistic theories of causation hold that each specific instance of causal relation instantiates causation. Singularist theories are non-reductive scientific (empirical, anti-Humean) rather than reductive philosophical accounts of causation. They are particular (token), not general (type) kinds of causation. They hold that singular instances of causal relations are paramount, not regularities, generalities, patterns, or laws. The causal relation is intrinsic, in some sense, to the ralata and the processes connecting them. Singularists are of various kinds but all agree that causation is a physical process of transfer from cause to effect. However, some philosophers maintain that regularities are not needed as evidence for causation: when we drive a car we are aware of the efficacy of using the accelerator pedal and of environmental impacts, causes, on our bodies. Others insist that laws are relations of ‘contingent necessitation between universals’ or some-such.
But what is the scientific causal relation? Science does not provide a technical definition of causation. Differential equations show simultaneous changes in variables. Physics at its heart has no temporal priority or asymmetry while the manifest image (common sense or folk causation) does.
Is it transfer of energy or momentum, field-quanta or mark transmission, property transference or a ‘world line of objects exhibiting a physical persistence’ (Dowe)?
Causation philosopher Armstrong describes it as ‘real nomic necessitation’. If causes are contingent relations of nomic necessity holding between universals then multiple realization is possible. Whatever the fine detail the point is that there is some physical entity or force transferred from cause to effect.
If causation is an empirically verifiable physical process we would expect both necessary and sufficient conditions for its application.
The most productive empirical account probably looks to functionalism but discovering the role that causation plays in our theories is partially a philosophical exercise.
Intrinsic & extrinsic causation
Can we regard causation as an intrinsic or extrinsic relation? The properties and relations of the objects of causation can be termed ‘universals’ as their non-spatiotemporal parts. There is an ontological divide between those theories that regard causation as an extrinsic relation and those theories that take it to be an intrinsic (to its pairs) relation. Humean theories assume causal relations are extrinsic (fixed by factors outside) relations between events, notably the regularities that hold in the world. Anti-Humean singularist theories regard causal relations as intrinsic (determined by the particular events isolated from the world). Singularists emphasize that causation is intrinsic to its pairs but not to its relata – it is an external relation.
Theory of Powers and Disposition
According to one singularist theory causation can be productively thought of as a disposition or propensity to exert causal powers. Because ‘powers’ are so similar to causation itself this cannot be touted as a reductive theory used to explain causation away. Dispositionalism is a singularist theory. There are, first and foremost, singular causal instances which can then be combined and compared to see how they may be grouped according to their similarities and differences. Individual objects contain their own powers. The word ‘power’ implies something manifest as push, pull, or somesuch but ‘disposition’ conveys the idea of properties that may not be manifest. Dispositions only become evident given suitable circumstances and while cause and effect is an all-or-nothing relation, dispositions can be expressed in various strengths. Some dispositionalists think that all properties are dispositional (pandispostionalism) but all dispositionalists think that dispositional properties are real and irreducible. The way an object behaves in relation to external conditions is a manifestation of its dispositions, its intrinsic nature, as opposed to extrinsic law-like regularity. Empiricists have long treated causal powers as unnecessary (non-dispositional) and to be reduced away. The dispositionalist sees technology, for example, as the unleashing of dispositional properties and science as the investigation of the conditions needed to exploit dispositions and discover new ones.
The appeal of dispositionalism is that it is an effective way of dealing with causation given the weaknesses of regularity and mechanistic interpretations of the world and the rise of new metaphysical theories. Regularity theories deal poorly with the causation/correlation distinction; that the equating of regularity with laws of nature and exceptionless regularity which does not account for cases like ‘smoking causes cancer’ where regularity is more a statistical phenomenon. There is the question of how powers have their effects and the way, presumably, different powers are shared in the manifestation of causation.
Dispositionalism conforms to the idea of causation as something that tends towards something else only to a greater or lesser extent, not invariably all-or-nothing. Singular objects exhibit causation as a consequence of their real dispositions which build tendencies towards particular outcomes (there is no need for either necessity or constant conjunction). It is also a kind of transfer theory although it is potentiality that is passed on not energy. It is a form of primitivism since it does not attempt to reduce causation by explaining it away. And it shows us how causes make a difference, producing changes that would not have otherwise occurred. The Humean interpretation of where it comes from can also be retained, that causation springs from our experience as human agents.
There is the problem that absences or omissions have the character of causes e.g. the death of a plant when not watered, or a human when denied oxygen. Causation by absence has no process connecting cause with effect. Process and mechanistic theories do not recognize such causes. Probabilistic theories accept absences which often appear in probabilistic accounts.
Regularity Theory and Counterfactual dependence are reductive realist positions, they reject necessary connection by claiming that causation is no more than lawful regularity and they are reductive insofar as they reduce or translate causation to lawful regularities supported by our best explanatory theories. There is no more to causality than the regularities by which we explain, predict and manipulate the world. Regularities are real because they would occur independently of humans. A single case of causation instantiates a lawful regularity. There would also be a difference between laws and accidental regularities. In the 1980s Galen Strawson claimed Hume was a skeptical realist: a realist because he did not believe that causation was real, but not as a a connection, as a regularity, and a skeptic because we can know nothing about this causal connection.
But it may be claimed that causation is a necessary connection due to the transfer of some sort of force, power, or intrinsic property such that a single case will demonstrate causation which is not therefore dependent on regularity or many conjunctions (a singularist theory). Regularity and counterfactual theories characterize causation as imposed from without by external laws. Singularist theories see causation as intrinsic to a single instance (with or without the requirement for laws of nature).
We must distinguish between two kinds of claims, first, about the idea of necessary connection (epistemological) and, second, the claim of necessary connection itself (ontological, metaphysical). Common sense suggests causation as necessary connection. Also Hume’s suggestion that we form an idea of causation through the increasing number of correlated events seems counter-intuitive. Surely regularities occur for reasons – there must be explanations for them: they cannot occur by chance. Habit of mind makes regularity meaningful but does not comment on causation.
How can the idea of necessary connection arise if not from observation?
If all we know of causation is lawful regularity why should we accept that it is something other than this?
‘causation’ may be regarded as a functional term. Functional terms pick out their referent through the functional role role played by the referent. For example, pain (human experience) is C-fibres (functional definition). Blue (human experience) is 475 nm (functional definition). Thus in any particular case causation is whatever serves the functional role. Functionalists can allow multiple realizability, that e.g. pain may be manifest in many (physically) different ways. Under this view there might be different kinds of connections achieving lawful regularity not just one kind of thing.
Defn 4 – Causation is a functional term such that singular events postulate an unknown connection between C and E that is an intrinsic property of any given case of causation that may, or not, involve regularities
Causal omission takes some account of the total causal milieu, the causal environment. One example would be an indoor plant dying when I stop watering it demonstrating the complexity of interacting factors in causal networks and the importance of distinguishing actual events (token causation) and ‘what if’ counterfactual situations. For example ‘My tomato seedlings are dead through lack of water. If Donald Trump had watered them they would be alive now. Therefore Donald Trump caused their death.’
Another aspect of multifactor causation is the overall constraining influence of any particular environment. Constraint need not be like the constraint of a universal law but simply a matter of what is possible or likely under particular boundary conditions. Change these boundary conditions and new possibilities emerge.
At the outset causation was loosely characterized as the order that exists in movement and change. This ordering takes place in the world itself (not just in our minds) since we would not know how to behave if things in the external world were random and chaotic. Our task then is to give an account of the actual means of producing (causing) this order. We need an account of what causation is, not as a concept, but as an objective feature of the world.
From Hume’s point of view causation just is constant conjunction (law-like regularity or association) but of course constant conjunction may itself be a consequence of of causation – as something else altogether. ‘Regularity’ and ‘constant conjunction’ are abstractions, they are generalities that cannot provide the kind of answer we are looking for here. A regularity cannot be a cause. This Humean characterization of causation is of an external contingency imposed on passive nature, the old idea of ‘laws to be obeyed’ with nature the obedient servant. We must be able to account for causation as it occurs at particular times and places. What happens at other times and places is only of incidental interest. What we are after is the particular salient factor that exists in individual instances whether or not we later notice regularities: it is only multiple instances that make generalization possible. If we are to establish what causation is then we must take care to look beyond what it does and the phenomena that are merely associated with it. We must look to singularist accounts.
Before the Scientific Revolution and the reaction against Aristotelian ideas it had been conventional to consider the properties of objects (properties like weight, shape, density) as ‘powers‘. The word ‘power’ was no doubt chosen because it suggested the causal role that these properties seemed to possess, their capacity to ‘make things happen’. A spherical object would roll, a heavy object makes a splash when dropped in water, and so on. A ‘power’ then was a special kind of property – a capacity or disposition. Powers probably became unpopular during the Enlightenment because they sounded like the spirit forces of witchcraft and because, though they seemed real, they were confusingly abstract because they were not substance-like. Powers were not things like tables and chairs, they were universals (general (type) qualities like roundness and smoothness) instantiated by particular (token) cases like round stones and round ping-pong balls. Most powers, it would appear, are irreducible. We cannot express roundness in simpler terms. Today the word ‘power’ has ofetn been replaced by the word ‘disposition’ in this context. Dispositions or powers are like potentials that may lie dormant before being drawn into action. We all have the potential to murder but few of us do. In science potential energy might at first seem like a fiction. We cannot see it and it seems like something inert and therefore unreal. But consider the potential energy in wood released as the heat and light of fire, or the potential energy of an atom manifest in an exploding atomic bomb. Potentiality is real. A block of stone has the potential to become a sculpture but it could not become a living frog.
There are thus two independent existences: there is the power or disposition itself (the potential) and its manifestation (the actualization or realization of the potential). We can think of powers as causes and their manifestations as effects.
Principle – Causation is the manifestation of powers
The change that we experience in life, the rich flux of our existence, can now be characterized as the interactive manifestation of inumerable dispositions (powers) under constantly varying conditions. Powers have specific manifestations so they are constrained in their possible outcomes. In this way they have a kind of rudimentary ‘directionality’ or ‘functionality’ since they are directed towards particular ends but without any intentional or conscious input. However, the manifestation of powers may of course be thwarted or blended with the manifestations of other powers in various ways.
A taxonomy of different kinds of causal relationship as expressed through Path Analysis, Probability Theory, Process Theory, Manipulation and Intervention Theory, Singularist Theory (particular events), Regularity Theory (events in general).
Principle 11 – the greater difference in size and complexity (causal relations and scale) of the cognitive units under consideration, the greater the difficulties in communication and translation
Perhaps we need to distinguish here between sufficient explanation and scientific explanation.
Since causation is pivotal to our understanding of the world any explanation of it risks circularity.
Substance is that which has properties but what is substance?
Physics tends to use differential equations in preference to simple causal statements.
In criminal law, causation refers to the ‘cause and effect’ relationship between the defendant’s actions and the harm suffered by the alleged victim. To establish the defendant’s guilt, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that his or her actions were a ‘substantial and significant cause’ of the harm.
Consider a vast number of objects with their individual and collective properties and relations all in relative motion. Today our science describes these objects well but our human perspective, our manifest image, perceives this physical reality with various degrees of granularity (degree of detail or scale). The question arises as to whether there is a grain or scale at which causation takes precedence or whether interaction takes place simultaneously at all scales. Perhaps at a large scale and over the long term the earth is being drawn into a black hole while, humans go about their business on the surface of the Earth and fermions and bosons interact.
All interaction between differentiated objects is interconnected, and particular objects will have frames of reference. What something is and how it works we generally explain in terms of component parts. However, what happens appears to be determined at the largest and most encompassing scale or frame of reference. Scales are themselves convenient explanatory constructs with reality a continuum. When we consider the cause of tides we cannot explain it in terms of molecules.
Causation is the demonstration of how one variable influences (or the effect of a variable) another variable or other variables.
We need a taxonomy of different kinds of causation not what causation actually is (theories of causation).
On the one hand cause and effect show covariance (regularity, probabilistic , and counterfactual theories) and, on the other hand, differences in spatiotemporal relations (process theories).
Causes not necessarily absolute, just regularities or patterns of functional dependence. Causal notions are not incoherent. When the relationship is precise causal relations between variables can be expressed in mathematical terms although at other times it can only be qualitative.
What is the causal connection, direct or indirect – absence or omission, physical contact, intervention. The word cause is misleading because there are many types of causal relationship.
Cause not as initiator of change but necessity and regularity. Aristotelian-scholastic causes are the active initiators of change, active qualities and substantial forms put to work. Early modern science established causes as inactive nodes in a law-like implication chain.
The formal cause explained order through structure, laws of nature explained order as relations between things. Rationalists see it as a logical relationship.
Causation and Manipulability Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.
Physical facts are the supervenience base for special science facts, including the non-
fundamental causal facts of the special sciences.
When I had a car accident there was only one minimal set of conditions which, given the uniformity of nature, were sufficient for the accident to occur when and how it did. We might add that to have an accident at all we must encompass not only the crash itself (efficient cause) but the material objects involved (material cause), the origin and nature of their particular characteristics (formal cause), and the inexorability of the outcome given all these conditions (final cause).
We use the orderly connection of cause and effect to understand and predict the world around us, to anticipate what will happen next – we could not survive without it and that is why causation is the cement of our existence. The orderliness of the cause-effect relation may vary in strictness and scope and includes the universal laws of physics, physical constants, principles and laws of biology and other academic disciplines, to the accidental regularities of everyday life.
For example ‘theoretical identifications’ – statements like ‘water is H20’ – appear to be scientifically informative but not causal in character.