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Can causation be analysed in terms of conditionals?
The notion of causation is one perhaps uniquely fundamental to human experience, adopted as a comprehensible principle very early in life and, habitually at least, relied upon implicitly, and yet a full account of what is meant by statements of the form 'C is a cause of E', is yet to be completed. A major development in the history of this search was a modification to the classical analysis of causation, of the style proposed by Hume, that attempted to frame causation in terms of 'counterfactual conditionals', and it is the success or failure of this addition that the question prompts us to examine. We should begin, then, by making explicit what we will mean by the term 'counterfactual conditional', before outlining what the introduction of this concept means for analyses of causation. This will include outlining a classical pre-'counterfactuals' account of causation, and suggesting what difficulties with this account the introduction of counterfactuals is intended to resolve. Subsequently, then, we should examine counterfactual analyses of causation in greater depth, identifying in each analysis the weaknesses that prevent us from employing it as an adequate account of causation. We will find that no conditional account of causation is suitably free from such weaknesses to be of use, and I will conclude that the consistent failure of conditional analyses, and the identification of general problems with such a method of analysis as a whole, suggests that the construction of a complete account of what we mean when we assert that 'C is a cause of E' lies elsewhere if, indeed, such an account is at all possible. A 'counterfactual conditional' is a description of what properties a thing would have had in other, non-actual circumstances, and takes the form of an if-clause followed by a subjunctive then-clause. For example, if I were to suggest that 'the heavy rain caused me not to play football today', the relevant counterfactual conditional would be this: 'if it had not rained today, I would have played football'. The classical, Humean account of causation attempted to analyse causation without reference to counterfactual conditionals, and ran roughly thus: (1) C is a cause of E iff C and E are events of types T1 and T2 respectively, such that events of type T1 are always a cause of events of type T2. We should note that Hume also at times suggests a requirement of temporal priority in his analysis. This condition has, however, been set aside for now, since, whilst temporally-backwards causation is not something we habitually experience, or have any knowledge of, Lowe, Mackie and others have argued that it is, at least, theoretically possible, and if this is the case, it seems appropriate to first look to find an analysis of causation that does not necessarily rule such instances out. Further, if we can construct an analysis of causation that does not rely upon temporal priority, we can avoid a potential circularity in any future attempt to analysis temporal priority by reference to causation 1: thus we will for now omit the condition of temporal priority. By the first analysis, then, what makes one event the cause of another is the fact that events of the 1
E Sosa and J Kim, A Companion to Metaphysics, Blackwell: Causation
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