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Causes and If p, even if x, still q

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2009

Ted Honderich
Affiliation:
University College, London

Extract

‘The door's being shut made the room warmer.’ What does it mean and what are our reasons for saying it? There is much agreement that singular statements of cause and effect are conditional statements, and also that they are more than that, but at this early moment of inquiry the agreement ends. Can it not be carried further?

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Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1982

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References

1 I am most grateful to John Watling for many conversations and it is certain that ideas in this essay come in part from him. Peter Downing has the credit of having clarified something close to a fundamental idea of the essay—see footnote 27. The essay has also been improved by J. L. Mackie, David Sanford, W. D. Hart, and critics in several university audiences. It owes much, despite our disagreements, to Mackie's distinguished work, notably The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), beyond doubt the best full treatment of causation. His death deprives us of an exemplary philosopher.

2 Donald Davidson, ‘Causal Relations’, ‘The Logical Form of Action Sentences’, and ‘The Individuation of Events’, all in his Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980).

3 See D. M. Armstrong, Nominalism and Realism (Cambridge University Press, 1978), Ch. 8.

4 Ibid., 87.

5 Jaegwon Kim, ‘Causation, Nomic Subsumption, and the Concept of Event’, Journal of Philosophy LXX, No. 8 (1973).

6 My principal conclusions about causation, none the less, can be stated on other assumptions.

7 Cf. Mackie, The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation, Ch. 10.

8 We are left with this Leibnizian criterion, which has been quickly stated, as a result of what seems to be the unsatisfactoriness or inapplicability of its rivals, (i) It appears to be a conceptual possibility that two individual properties, and indeed two events, could have a common cause, and common effects, and yet be non-identical in virtue of different spatio-temporal position. If so Davidson's causal criterion (‘The Individuation of Events’, op. cit.) is unsatisfactory, (ii) Might not the revolving and the warming-up of a sphere occur in the same spatio-temporal location? As Davidson notes (ibid.), it is difficult to deny, and hence the criterion of spatio-temporal position seems unsatisfactory, (iii) Kim's idea (op. cit.) of sameness of general property, time and instantiating thing is not directly applicable to individual properties. In any case it appears to be an application, to events as defined, of the Leibnizian criterion. To speak of monadic events, they have (so to speak) but three features: general property, time and instantiating thing. Each is by definition a subject of only three truths. Thus to say e1 and e2 are identical if they are the same in general property, time and instantiating thing is to say that they share all truths.

9 Mackie, op. cit., 32.

10 Kim, ‘Causes and Counterfactuals’, Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973); ‘Noncausal Connections’, Noûs 8 (1974).

11 The different situation in which the door's being shut would not necessitate the warming-up would be the situation where other conditions, perhaps the windows’ being shut, were lacking. The different situation in which the door's being shut would not be necessary to the warming-up would be the extraordinary situation (as explained below) where there was an additional causal circumstance for the effect.

12 See Martin Bunzl, ‘Causal Overdetermination’, Journal of Philosophy LXXVI, No. 3 (1979).

13 Mackie, who requires that all causes be necessary, is thereby committed to saying that neither the striking of the match nor the red-hot poker caused the lighting when the match was simultaneously struck and touched by the poker. Op. cit, 47.

14 In Ch. 3 of Truth, Probability and Paradox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), Mackie considers the applicability of doctrines about conditionals to a very wide range of ‘if sentences. It does not seem to me that a view of the conditionals involved in causal statements is much tested by its applicability to, say, ‘There are biscuits on the sideboard if you want them’.

15 Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), Ch. 1.

16 David Lewis, ‘Causation’, Journal of Philosophy 70, (1973); Counterfactuals (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1973).

17 Counterfactuals, 75.

18 Truth, Probability and Paradox, 106.

19 Ibid.

20 Goodman, op. cit., 17, 23.

21 Lewis, Counterfactuals, I.

22 Mackie, Truth, Probability and Paradox, 64.

23 In the Goodman analysis, these are c and l. See, e.g., op. cit., 17. Different elements go into the Lewis analysis.

24 Mackie, Truth, Probability and Paradox, 86, 88, 100.

25 Given my aims in this essay, I have not set out the formal derivation of the ordinary conditional from the two premises, which derivation I trust will be granted. It involves, evidently, a categorical premise excluding changes other than those specified by way of X.

26 Thomas Reid, Essays on The Active Powers of Man.

27 J. S. Mill, A System of Logic, Bk. 3, Ch. 5, S. 5. Such a view has been implicit in the comments, pro or con, of subsequent philosophers. See Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1954). 23; John Hospers, Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (London, 1956). The idea was arrived at independently and made explicit by Peter Downing, from whom I first heard of it. Downing's view of causation, however, is very different from my own. See his ‘Levels of Discourse’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of London (1959); ‘Subjunctive Conditionals, Time-Order and Causation’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1958–1959); and ‘Are Causal Laws Purely General?’, Supplementary Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society XLIV (1970).

28 Cf. my ‘Causes and Causal Circumstances as Necessitating’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society LXXVUI (1977). My views have in some respects changed.

29 See, e.g., Goodman, op. cit., Ch. I.

30 Goodman, op. cit., Ch. 4.

31 Davidson, ‘Emeroses by Other Names’, Journal of Philosophy LXIH, No. 24 (1966).

32 p. 302.

33 In the exposition above, the leap occurs between the fourth and fifth sentences of the first paragraph on p. 298.

34 Truth, Probability and Paradox, 105–106. See also p. 89.

35 Ibid.

36 For a discussion see John Watling, ‘The Problem of Contrary-to-Fact Conditionals’, Analysis 17, No. 4 (1957).

37 See Ch. 2, Truth, Probability and Paradox.

38 p. 295.

39 See, e.g., The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation, Ch. 7.

40 David H. Sanford, ‘The Direction of Causation and the Direction of Conditionship’, Journal of Philosophy LXXIII, No. 8 (1976). Mackie discusses and accepts a version of Sanford's view in ‘Mind, Brain and Causation’, in Midwest Studies in Philosophy IV (1979).

41 Sanford's view, which is not discussed fully here, allows him to attempt another line. See his requirement D, op. cit., 196. Partly for reasons given by Mackie, op. cit., this alternative seems to me not an effective one.

42 This objection applies to what seems to be a different expression (by Mackie, in ‘Mind, Brain and Causation’, op. cit.) of the same proposal about priority. Consider G. H. von Wright's box, with two buttons on it, red and blue, so connected inside the box that if one goes down so does the other (Explanation and Understanding (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971), 174). Or rather, in Mackie's words, the going-down of either button is ‘in the circumstances’ necessary and sufficient for the going-down of the other. When I pressed the red one, why was its going-down the cause, as it was, of the blue one's going down? The answer given by Mackie is that the blue button's going down was ‘conditional upon the connection’ in the box but the red button's going down was not so conditional. If the connection were now broken, and I were to press the red button, it would go down and the blue one would not. What this comes to is that when I did press the red button, there also existed a certain condition, such that if it had not existed, the red button would still have gone down but the blue would not. That is true, and gives us a distinction between red's going down and blue's going down. But there is the objection pertaining to the whole causal circumstance, which we may take to have been constituted by the going-down of the red button plus the connection in the box. We regard the circumstance too as having been causally prior to blue's going down. But there is not some condition such that if it had not existed, we would have got the causal circumstance, including red's going down, but not blue's going down.

43 von Wright, op. cit., 70–81.

44 For a relevant brief discussion of other ‘powers’ see my review of Will, Freedom and Power by Anthony Kenny, Mind LXXXIX, No. 353 (1980).

45 When W is conjoined with (D or D’ or …) then S & C is fixed, but that is not to say W does the job. There are further complexities here, but they seem to me not to affect the issue.

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