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Causation Notes

PPE Notes > Epistemology & Metaphysics (Knowledge & Reality) Notes

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Causation Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding- David Hume
? "All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect. By means of that relation alone can we go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses."
? "If we would satisfy ourselves, therefore, concerning the nature of that evidence, which assures us of all matters of fact, we must enquire how we arrive at the knowledge of causes and effects."
? Wants to argue "a general proposition, which admits of no exception, that the knowledge of this relation of cause and effect is not, in any instance, attain'd by reasonings a priori; but arises entirely from experience"
? "Let any object be present to a Man of ever so strong natural reason and abilities; if that object be entirely new to him, he will never be able, by the most accurate examination of its sensible qualities, to discover any of its causes or effects."
? example of knowing that a billiard ball would transfer its momentum to another upon contact
? The mind "can never possibly find the effect in the suppos'd cause, by the most accurate scrutiny and examination. For the effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it."
? "the utmost effort of human reason is, to reduce the principles, productive of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity, and to resolve the many particular effects into a few general causes, by means of reasonings for analogy, experience, and observation. But as to the causes of these general causes, we should in vain attempt their discovery; nor shall we ever be able to satisfy ourselves, by any particular explication of them."
? "the most perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphysical kind serves only to discover larger portions of our ignorance. Thus the observation of human ignorance and weakness is the result of all philosophy, and meets us, at every turn, in spite of our endeavours to conquer, or avoid it." Not relevant but still interesting.
? Even "Every part of mix'd mathematics goes upon the supposition, that certain laws are establish'd by Nature in her operations"
? "When we reason a priori, and consider mereal any object or cause, as it appears to the mind, independent of all observation, it never could suggest to us the notion of any distinct object, such as its effect; much less, show us the inseparable and inviolable connexion betwixt them."

?

Past experience can "give direct and certain information only of those precise objects, and that precise period of time, which fell under its cognizance"
? example of whether bread will always provide nourishment
? ""All reasonings may be divided into two kinds, viz. demonstrative reasonings, or those concerning relations of ideas, and moral or probable reasonings, or those concerning matter of fact and existence."
? "whatever is intelligible, and can be distinctly conceived, implies no contradiction [even if contrary to experience], and can never be prov'd false by any demonstrative arguments or abstract reasonings a priori."
? "If we be, therefore, engaged by Arguments to put trust in past experience, and make it the standard of our future judgment, these arguments must be probable only"
? "all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect;...our knowledge of that relation is deriv'd entirely from experience, and...all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the supposition, that the future will be conformable to the past. To endeavour, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding existence, must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that for granted, which is the very point in question."
? Even when you say you infer a connection btw causes and effects after several experiments, "The question still recurs, on what process of argument this inference is founded; where is the medium, the interposing ideas, which join propositions so very wide of each other?
? Objects' "secret nature, and consequently, all their effects and influence may change, without any change in their sensible qualities. This happens sometimes [e.g. when a machine breaks?], and with regard to some objects: why may it not happen always, and with regard to all objects? What logic, what process of argument secures you against this supposition?" 'Causal Relations' - Donald Davidson I Hume's definition of causation "pretty clearly suggests that causes and effects are entities that can be named or described by singular terms; probably events, since one can follow another." But elsewhere he also seems to suggest that "it seems to be the "quality" or "circumstances" of an event that is the cause rather than the even itself, for the event itself is the same as others in some respects and different in other respects." "The suspicion that it is not events, but something more closely tied to the descriptions of events, that Hume holds to be causes, is fortified by Hume's claim that causal statements are never necessary. For if events were causes, then a true description of

some event would be 'the cause of b', and, given that such an event exists, it follows logically that the cause of b caused b." "To talk of particular events as conditions is bewildering, but perhaps causes aren't events, but correspond rather to sentences. Sentences can express conditions of truth for others - hence the word 'conditional'." "If causes correspond to sentences rather than singular terms, the logical form of a sentence like: (1)The short circuit caused the fire. would be given more accurately by: (2)The fact that there was a short circuit caused it to be the case that there was a fire." "This approach no doubt receives support from the idea that causal laws are universal conditionals, and singular causal statements ought to be instances of them. But there are difficulties. If a causal law is just a universally quantified material conditional and if (2) is an instance of such, the italicized words have just the meaning of the material conditional, 'If there was a short circuit, then there was a fire'.
? "No doubt (2) entails this, but not conversely, since (2) entails something stronger, namely the conjunction 'There was a short circuit and there was a fire'."
? We could treat (2) as the conjunction of the appropriate law and 'There was a short circuit and there was a fire', but this is a problem because then (2) would no longer be an instance of the law.
? "And aside from the inherent implausibility of this suggestion as giving the logical form of (2) (in contrast, say, to giving the grounds on which it might be asserted) there is also the oddity that an inference from the fact that there was a short circuit and there was a fire, and the law, to (2) would turn out to be no more than a conjoining of the premises." "Suppose, then, that there is a non-truth-functional causal connective". "In line with the concept of a cause as a condition, the causal connective is conceived as a conditional, though stronger than the truth-functional conditional." III "The salient point that emerges so far is that we must distinguish firmly between causes and the features we hit on for describing them, and hence between the question whether a statement says truly that one event caused another and the further question whether the events are characterized in such a way that we can deduce, or otherwise infer, from laws or other causal lore, that the relation was causal." Mill "was wrong in thinking we have not specified the whole cause of an event when we have not wholly specified it." "The fuller we make the description of the cause, the better our chances of demonstrating that it was sufficient (as described) to

produce the effect, and the worse our chances of demonstrating that it was necessary; the fuller we make the description of the effect, the better our chances of demonstrating that the cause (as described) was necessary, and the worse our chances of demonstrating that it was sufficient." "The symmetry of these remarks strongly suggests that in whatever sense causes are correctly said to be (described as) sufficient, they are as correctly said to be necessary." "Can we then analyze 'a caused b' as meaning that a and b may be described in such a way that the existence of each could be demonstrated, in the light of causal laws, to be a necessary and sufficient condition of the existence of the other?" Objection: the analysandum, but the analysans does not, entail the existence of a and b. 'Causality: Production and Propagation' - Wesley C. Salmon, reprinted in Causation - Sosa and Tooley (eds.). OUP (1993) "It has long been disputed whether individual events or only classes of events can sustain cause-effect relations." Isn't going to argue against the standard view but is going to present a "radically different notion". Two Basic Concepts Two basic concepts that need to be explained in order to deal with the problems of causality in general: production and propagation. "Although causal production and causal propagation are intimately related to one another, we should, I believe, resist any temptation to try to reduce one to the other." Processes "One of the fundamental changes which I propose in approaching causality is to take processes rather than events as basic entities." "The main difference between events and processes is that events are relatively localized in space and time, while processes have much greater temporal duration, and in many cases, much greater spatial extent."
? "In space-time diagrams, events are represented by points, while processes are represented by lines." Then how are processes more basic?
? "A baseball colliding with a window would count as an event; the baseball, travelling from the bat to the window, would constitute a process." "Although I shall deny that all processes qualify as causal processes, what I mean by a process is similar to what Bertrand Russell characterized as a causal line: 'A causal line may always be regarded as the persistence of something - a person, a table, a photon, or what not. Throughout a given causal line, there may be constancy of quality, constancy of structure, or a gradual change of either, but not sudden changes of any considerable magnitude'." He says a sneeze is an event.

But surely you need to define the context within which you are using the words 'gradual', 'sudden', and 'considerable'? If there were no clear meaning for these then all 'events' would just count as processes since they are not infinitely small and short-lived... He says a material object at rest will count as a process. "We need to make a distinction between what I shall call causal processes and pseudo-processes:...causal processes are those which are capable of transmitting signals; pseudo-processes are incapable of doing so." "The basic method for distinguishing causal processes from pseudoprocesses is the criterion of mark transmission. A causal process is capable of transmitting a mark; a pseudo-process is not." "The difference between a causal process and a pseudo-process, I am suggesting, is that the causal process transmits its own structure, while the pseudo-process does not."
- "If a process - a causal process - is transmitting its own structure, then it will be capable of transmitting modifications in that structure. Radio broadcasting presents a clear example...Such processes are the means by which causal influence is propagated in our world." The Causal Structure of the World Three fundamental aspects of causality: "1. Causal processes are the means by which structure and order are propagated or transmitted from one spacetime region of the universe to other times and places." 169 "2. Causal interactions, as explicated in terms of interactive forks, constitute the means by which modifications in structure (which are propagated by causal processes) are produced." "3. Conjunctive common causes - as characterized in terms of conjunctive forks - play a vital role in the production of structure and order. In the conjunctive fork...two or more processes, which are physically independent of one another and which do not interact directly with each other, arise out of some special set of background conditions. The fact that such special background conditions exist is the source of a correlation among the various effects which would be utterly improbable in the absence of the common causal background." "Causal processes and causal interactions seem to be governed by basic laws of nature in ways which do not apply to conjunctive forks." "[I]t seems plausible to suppose that all fundamental physical interactions can be regarded as exemplifications of the interactive fork."
? "Conjunctive common causes are not nearly as closely tied to the laws of nature."
? "[C]onjunctive forks depend crucially upon de facto background conditions." Concluding Remarks "If we are talking about the typical cause-effect situation, which I characterized above in terms of a causal process joining two distinct interactions, then we are dealing with cases in which the cause must precede the effect, for causal propagation over a finite time interval is an essential feature of cases of this type." 170

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