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Causation, further themes

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N114-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2018
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Recent work in the philosophy of causation has explored a number of issues relating to the objectivity of causation, including the place of causation in metaphysics and science, its temporal asymmetry, and whether causation is context-sensitive.

Regarding the place of causation, some have argued that causation is fundamental, such that the most basic level of reality is structured in causal terms (Tooley). Others take causation to be a higher-level phenomenon, and either attempt to derive causal relations from more basic noncausal relations (Lewis) or accept that causal relations are irreducible (Woodward). Others still take a more sceptical approach, and question the need for giving a metaphysics of causation (Price). How one conceives of causation’s place has implications for both the relation between fundamental physics and higher-level sciences, as well as the relation between science and metaphysics.

Regarding the temporal asymmetry of causation, a characteristic feature of causation is that causes come prior in time to their effects. We might accept this temporal asymmetry as a ‘metaphysical primitive’ – a basic feature of causation not to be further explained. But some, particularly those defending reductive accounts (Lewis, Loewer), have attempted to explain causation’s temporal asymmetry by relating it to other temporal asymmetries, such as those of evidence or entropy. While most accept that explanations of causation’s temporal asymmetry must appeal to special initial conditions, there is debate over what kind of initial conditions are required.

Finally, counterfactual accounts of causation seem able to recover much of what one might want from an account of causation. But it is unclear whether such accounts agree (or can be made to agree) with our intuitive causal judgements about core cases. Some remain sceptical that any counterfactual account of causation can succeed. Others have taken putative counterexamples to show that causation is context-sensitive, such that broadly pragmatic concerns are relevant to whether causal claims are either true or appropriate.

Citing this article:
Fernandes, Alison. Causation, further themes, 2018, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N114-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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