Causation (Oxford Readings in Philosophy)


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Michael Tooley presents a major new philosophical study of time and its relation to causation. The nature of time has always been one of the most fascinating and perplexing problems of philosophy; it has in recent years become the focus of vigorous debate between advocates of rival theories. Time, Tense and Causation offers a new approach, in many ways intermediate between these two rivals. Tooley shares with tensed approaches the views that the universe if dynamic, and that the past and present are real while the future is not; but he rejects the viewthat this points to the existence of irreducible tensed facts.

Tooley's approach accounts for time in terms of its relation to causation; he argues that the direction of time is based upon the direction of causation, and that the key to understanding the dynamic nature of the universe is tounderstand the nature of causation. He analyses tensed concepts, and discusses semantic issues about truth and time, Finally, addressing the formidable difficulties posed for tensed accounts of time by the Special Theory of Relativity, he suggests that a modified version of the theory, compatiblewith the account of time in this book, is to be preferred to the standard version.

The fact, for example, that sodium chloride is observable and that one can tell by simply looking and tasting that a substance is sodium 21 Michael Tooley, 'Laws and Causal Relations', Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 9, ed. Peter A. French, Theodore E. Uehling, and Howard K.

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Wettstein Minneapolis, ,, and id. Similarly, the fact that one can tell by looking that something is round, or square, does not imply that those concepts are analytically basic. The ideas of agency and causation are obviously intimately related, and this suggests the possibility of analysing one in terms of the other. Most philosophers would hold, however, that causation is the more basic notion, and thus that there is no prospect of throwing light on the latter concept by appealing to that of agency.

But this view of the matter has been challenged by some writers-perhaps most notably, G. There is a set of n basic states, and a state of the world, at a time, is a conjunction with n terms such that each of the basic states or its negation appears as a term. Occasions are locations in time and space , and, on any given occasion, 2n different states are logically possible. Over m occasions, then, 2mn different histories are logically possible.

Not everything that is logically possible is physically possible. What is physically possible will be defined by a system which specifies a series of occasions, a set of basic states, and a starting-point, and which contains all the physically possible historical ramifications of the world defined in terms of the n basic states, the m occasions, and the given initial state.

Then there are the following four logically possible histories:. For Gasking's approach. See e. Collingwood's An Essay on Metaphysics Oxford, , ff. But of these four logically possible histories, it may be that only the first and lhe last are physically possible. The relevant system will then be this:. One further point concerning von Wright's model needs to be notednamely, that von Wright assumes that, at any point in the course of history, there is a natural course of development that things will take following that point, unless some agent intervenes. The sloping lines represent what will happen if some agent intervenes.

Consider now a system with four occasions: a h, d,. Here each node is a state of the system with basic states PI, Von Wright now proceeds to define causation by reference to the interference of agents: P is a cause relative to q, and q an effect relative to p, if and only if by doing p we could bring about q or by suppressing p we would. But if we interpret 'by doing p we could bring about q' as meaning only that 'if we were to do p, we would thus bring about q', then it does not imply that we, or anyone else, actually has the power to do p, and so the reign of causation can extend far beyond the actual reach of agents.

There are, however, at least three serious objections to the above account. In the first place, the proper conceptual order would seem to be reversed. For the idea of bringing about one thing by doing something else would itself seem to presuppose the concept of causation, and this in at least two ways. First, even basic actions would seem to involve a causal relation between certain mental states-such as the relevant beliefs and desires-and other events, such as certain bodily movements, or certain thoughts, if the action is a mental one. Secondly, the notion of bringing about something by doing something else also needs to be cashed out, it would seem, in terms of the concept of causation.

In the second place, not all cases of bringing about q by doing p involve a causal relation between p and q. For in some cases one may bring about q by doing p in virtue of the fact that p entails q via relevant conventions. Finally, von Wright's analysis of causation is in terms of counterfactual statements about what would have been the case if someone had performed Explanation and Understanding, In particular, the question arises whether a satisfactory account can be given that does not make use of the notion of causation.

This is a difficult issue that we cannot discuss here, except to say that some of the objections that are advanced later, in Section 12, against David Lewis's attempt to analyse causation in terms of counterfactual dependence are also objections to his attempt to provide truth conditions for counterfactuals without employing the concept of causation.

Hume complains about his own first regularity definition of causation that it is 'drawn from circumstances foreign to the cause' and 'from something extraneous to it'. The change C occurred during a time and through a space tenninating at the instant I at the surface S. The change K occurred during a time and through a space beginning at the instant I at the surface S. No change other than C occurred during the time and through the space of C, and no change other than K during the time and through the space of K.

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An issue that immediately arises concerning this account is why it is formulated only in terms of changes. For, as Ducasse himself recognized,37 it would seem that not only changes, but also non-changes, can be causally " For further discussion bearing upon this issue, see Jonathan Bennett, 'Counterfactuals and Temporal Direction', Philosophical Review, 93 ,, and FrankJackson, 'A Causal Theory of Counterfactuals', Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 55 , VII below, p.

If so, this means, within the context of Ducasse's approach, that it is the total complex of changes and non-changes that is the cause. But are non-changes really causally relevant? For might it not be objected that non-changes can never be sufficient, since, even when the relevant non-changes are present, the effect never takes place until there is a change which triggers the effect?

But this claim cannot be sustained. In the first place, it is not in general true that an effect must be triggered by a change. There is, for example, a causal explanation of why a pencil lying on a desk remains at rest, but the situation need not involve any relevant change. And in the second place, what Ducasse urges concerning changes is equally applicable to non-changes: 'Step on a man's foot and apologize.

Then repeat in precisely the same manner. Then repeat accurately a third time, and so on. Ducasse's definition yields, then, the following picture. Take any continuous spatio-temporal volume and slice through it on a plane perpendicular to the time axis. The total complex of events, states, and processes in the earlier part of the volume causes the corresponding totality in the later part.

Furthermore, every concrete cause and its effect form the contents of the earlier and later parts, respectively, of such a sliced volume, and that they do so is all that is meant, strictly speaking, when one says that the first causes the second. As Ducasse explicitly recognizes,39 the definition just given is not true to ' But his avowed principal aim is to give us an account of a concept of causation commonly accepted, and one involved in such ubiquitous ideas as those of breaking, bending, killing, heating, twisting, melting, etc. Accordingly, Ducasse goes on to offer an analysis of ordinary causation in terms of his account of strict causation.

With some minor but, it would seem, necessary modifications, Ducasse's analysis of ordinary causation would appear to be this: This case of C causedo caused in the ordinary sense this case of E if and only if this case of C causeds caused in the strict sense defined above this case of E, and every case of C causess a case of E. Ducasse, Causation and the Types of Necessity Seattle, , For the passage on which this reconstruction is based, see ibid. This case of C caused this case of E if and only if this case of C was spatio-temporally immediately followed by this case of E, and every case of C is thus followed by a case of E.

If this is right, then Ducasse's account is subject to all of the difficulties that attach to such a Humean account. One of the more significant developments in the philosophy of causation in this century has been the emergence of the idea that causation is not restricted to deterministic processes-a conclusion that, as we noted above, appears to be strongly supported by quantum physics.

What implications might this conclusion have with respect to the analysis of causal concepts? One suggestion, advanced by philosophers such as Reichenbach, Good, and Suppes, is that probabilistic notions should playa central role in the analysis of causal concepts. This basic idea of analysing causation in probabilistic terms can be carried out in a variety of ways.

The traditional way of attempting to capture this idea, within probabilistic approaches to causation, has been in terms of the notion of positive statistical relevance, where an event of type B is positively relevant to an event of type A if and only if the conditional probability of an event of type A relative to an event of type B is greater than the unconditional probability of an event of type A.

Thus Suppes, for example, introduces the notion of a prima-facie cause, defined as follows: 'An event B is a prima facie cause of an event A if and only if i B occurs earlier than A, and ii the conditional probability of A occurring when B occurs is greater than the unconditional probability of A occurring. Wettstein Minneapolis, ,; see p. Wesley Salmon's article, Probabilistic Causality, contains a very careful exposition, and detailed criticisms, of the probabilistic analyses of causation proposed by Suppes, Good and Reichenbachin all of which the notion of conditional probability plays a pivotal role.

But Salmon's central criticisms are not limited in scope to such approaches: they also apply, in general, to the more recent attempts to analyse causation in terms of counterfactuals concerning the objective chances of individual events. While Salmon argues that purely probabilistic approaches to causation are exposed to serious objections, he is, at the same time, very sympathetic to the idea that the concept of probability enters into the analysis of the concept of causation in a fundamental way.

As a consequence, he suggests that the appropriate response to the difficulties in question is not to abandon the attempt to relate causation to probability, but to supplement probabilistic concepts with other ones-and, in particular, with the concept of a causal process. One of the crucial questions confronting any attempt to relate causation to probability, as Salmon emphasizes, is whether it is true that causes always make their effects more likely, in some appropriate sense.

Salmon believes that, properly understood, this dictum is defensible. This conclusion appears difficult to sustain, however, in the face of the following sort of objection to the thesis that causes render their effects more likely. Suppose that there are two types of disease, satisfying the following conditions.

First, each disease is potentially fatal within a certain time span, but the first leads to death with probability 0. Secondly, each disease confers lifelong immunity against the other. Thirdly, at least half of the individuals in question contract the second disease. Finally, there is no other condition that will cause death within the relevant time period. It then follows that both the unconditional probability that one will die within the relevant period, and the probability of death given that one does not have the first disease, must be equal to or greater than 0. So both the unconditional probability of death, and the probability of death given the absence 43 See e.

But what if the idea that causes make their effects more likely is explicated, instead, in terms of counterfactuals and the relevant objective chances? The answer is that the objection then needs to be reformulated slightly, with references to probabilities replaced by references to corresponding, probabilistic laws.

Suppose, then, that there are two types of disease, A and B, satisfying the following conditions. First, it is a law that contracting disease A causes death with probability 0. Secondly, it is a law that contracting disease A produces complete immunity to disease B, and a law that contracting disease B produces complete immunity to disease A. Thirdly, it is a causal law that in condition C an individual must contract either disease A or disease B.

Condition C might be a weakening of the immune system. Fourthly, individual X is in condition C, contracts disease A, and the latter causes his death. Given that these conditions obtain, the question is what would have been the case if X, though being in condition C, had not contracted disease A, and the answer, it would seem, is given by the following counterfactual: if individual X had not contracted disease A, he would have contracted disease B.

But if individual X would have contracted disease B if he had not contracted disease A, then his probability of dying had he not contracted disease A would have been 0. So, once again, it is not true that causes need make their effects more likely. The view that causes necessarily make their effects more likely appears to be exposed, in short, to a crucial objection based upon the possibility of there being one or more other causal factors that are incompatible with the given factor, and more efficacious than it.

For, given such a possibility, C may be the cause of E even though the probability of E's occurring would have been greater had C not occurred, and even though the conditional probability of an event of type E, given an event of type C, is less than the unconditional probability of an event of type E. But is there nothing, then, in the rather widely shared intuition that causation is related to increase in probability? The answer is that causation may For it would seem to be true, for example, that the logical probability of an event of type E, given only that events of type C causally necessitate events of type E, will be higher than the a priori logical probability of an event of type E.

Salmon's own account of causation is set out in his Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World,47 and, more concisely, in 'Causality: Production and Propagation', which is reprinted below Chapter IX. The central elements are as follows. First, Salmon draws a distinction between causal interactions, which involve change, and causal processes, which involve the spatio-temporally continuous transmission of a causal influence from one region to another.

Secondly, he argues that causal processes can be distinguished from pseudo-processes in terms of the ability of the former to transmit a mark.

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Thirdly, Salmon distinguishes three sorts of causal forksinteractive forks, conjunctive forks, and perfect forks--each of which is explained in terms of causal processes plus certain statistical relations. Fourthly, he suggests that the concept of a causal interaction is to be analysed in terms of interactive forks. Finally, Salmon argues that neither causal processes nor causal interactions exhibit any intrinsic directionality.

An explanation of the direction of causation must be given, instead, in terms of conjunctive forks. Salmon's approach enables him to avoid a number of difficulties confronting purely probabilistic analyses of causal concepts. Nevertheless, serious objections remain, most of them connected with his account of what it is that constitutes the direction of causation. First, consider the possibility of a causal process leading from event A to event B, and which does not involve, at any point, a conjunctive fork. What makes it so, in such a case, that A causes B, rather than vice versa?

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On Salmon's approach, the direction of causation will have to depend upon states of affairs that are external to the causal process linking A to B. But this conflicts with a strong intuition to the effect that the direction of causation is something intrinsic to a causal process. For a proof, see Tooley, Causation, and Secondly, if the direction of causation is logically determined by the direction of conjunctive forks, it is essential that all conjunctive forks exhibit the same direction. But what reason is there for believing that this is so?

It is not, as Salmon himself points out, a fact that is guaranteed by the laws of nature. Moreover, given that the world does not appear to be a deterministic one, it would seem that it cannot be guaranteed by the combination of laws of nature plus boundary conditions. Accordingly, it would seem, first, that, for any spatio-temporal region, however limited, there must be some nonzero probability of its containing a conjunctive fork whose direction is opposite to that of most conjunctive forks, and secondly, that it is therefore extremely improbable that no such oppositely directed conjunctive forks are to be found anywhere in space-time.

A third objection is that, regardless of what is the case in our world, it is surely possible for there to be worlds, either with the same laws of nature as ours, but different boundary conditions, or with different laws of nature, in which not all conjunctive forks exhibit the same direction. Salmon's account implies that, in such worlds, causal processes would have no direction.

Fourthly, it would also seem possible for there to be worlds where there are no conjunctive forks at all. This might be so, for example, because the world was an extremely simple one. Alternatively, the world might be very complex, but deterministic. For in a deterministic world, the probability of any effect, given its complete cause, must be equal to I, and this fact precludes the existence of conjunctive forks. Why has the problem of finding a satisfactory analysis of causal concepts proved so intractable?

Is it merely that no one has yet succeeded in getting all of the details right, or is there some deeper problem? He contends that the source of the difficulty is that philosophers have tried to construct reductionist accounts of causation, and that reductionist approaches, both to causal laws and to causal relations, are necessarily exposed to very serious objections. In the case of laws, Tooley mentions a number of familiar problems. First, there is the following epistemological argument.

Suppose that laws were.. IX below, pp. If laws were simply regularities that lacked any such backing, would it not be likely that, at some time and place, a counter-instance would arise? Secondly, there is the difficulty of drawing a distinction between those regularities that are laws, and those that, though universal, are merely accidental.

Thirdly, it would seem to be possible even for basic laws of nature to fail to be instantiated at any time, due to an accident with regard to the 'boundary conditions' of the universe. But this possibility would appear to be precluded by a reductionist approach. Finally, there is the problem posed by probabilistic laws, and connected with the fact that worlds with slightly different probabilistic laws might nevertheless not differ at any point throughout their histories. With regard to causal relations, Tooley advances three main lines of argument.

The first claims that there are very simple possible worlds that, though causal, exhibit no temporal asymmetry, and so contain no states of affairs that can, on a reductionist approach, serve to fix the direction of causation. The second claims that, in the case of at least some worlds, there can be an inverted counterpart that differs only with respect to the direction of time and the direction of causation. A reductionist account of causation will necessarily assign the wrong direction to causation for one member of each pair of temporally inverted, twin worlds. Finally, Tooley's third argument involves an attempt to show that, once probabilistic causal laws are admitted, situations can arise where the causal connections between events are not logically fixed by the totality of non-causal facts, together with causal laws, even when the direction of causation in all potential causal processes is taken as given.

That there are serious obstacles that must be overcome if a reductionist approach to laws is to be sustained is, as was noted in Section 1, a point that has been developed at length by a number of recent writers-though it is surely an open question whether those difficulties are insurmountable. But what about the arguments directed against reductionist accounts of causal relations? Do they also pose serious problems, or are there satisfactory answers available to the reductionist? Consider, for example, the argument which appeals to the possibility of certain very simple worlds that exhibit no asymmetry with respect to events in time.

Could it be contended that such worlds would not really contain causal processes? Or, in the case of the 'inverted universes' argument, is it really clear that there could be a world that was just like ours, except for the direction of time, and the direction of causation? Or, finally, and as Tooley himself points out, the third line of argument can apparently be extended into.

But if this is so, then the question of whether one can make sense of a singularist account becomes crucial for an evaluation of that third line of argument. The traditional view on this matter is that an account of the truth conditions of counterfactuals must involve reference to causal laws. Consider, for example, a situation involving a match that is dry and in the presence of oxygen, but not struck, at time t, and that is not lit thereafter.

Of the following two counterfactuals: 1 If the match had been struck at time t, it would have lit; 2 If the match had been struck at time t, it would not have been dry at time t. On this view of the relation between causation and counterfactuals, the concept of causation is more basic than that of counterfactual dependence, and so there is no possibility of analysing the former in terms of the latter. But there are alternative views concerning the truth conditions of counterfactuals. In particular, there is the view developed by Robert Stainaker50 and David Lewis,51 according to which the truth conditions of counterfactuals are to be given in terms of relations of similarity between relevant possible worlds.

According to one version of that alternative approach, a counterfactual of the form, 'If p were the case, then q would be the case' is true if and only if there is a possible world in which both p and q are true which is more similar to the actual world than any possible world in which p is true but q is false. Stalnaker, 'A Theory of Conditionals', in N. Rescher ed. Given this alternative approach, is it possible to analyse causal concepts in terms of counterfactuals?

The answer depends upon what sorts of states of affairs are basic. If a realist view of causation is correct, so that causal states of affairs are not logically supervenient upon non-causal ones, then the degree of similarity of one world to another will depend, among other things, upon the causal structure of the two worlds, and so, once again, any attempt to analyse causal concepts in counterfactual terms will necessarily be circular.

But if, on the other hand, causal facts are not basic, then judgements concerning the similarity of one world to another will not presuppose information about the causal structures of the two worlds, and so the door will in principle be open to a counterfactual analysis of causal statements.

In 'Causation', reprinted below Chapter XI , and in subsequent papers,52 David Lewis has set out and defended such an approach to causation. His basic idea is to analyse causation in terms of a narrower notion of causal dependence, and then to analyse causal dependence in terms of counterfactual dependence.

Thus, if we restrict attention to the case where C and E are actual events, to say that E is causally dependent upon C is, on Lewis's account, just to say that if C had not occurred, then E would not have occurred. Causation can then be defined as the inverse of the relation which is the ancestral of causal dependence, so that to say that C causes E is to say that there is an appropriate chain of causally dependent events linking E with C.

A crucial task in the philosophy of causation is to provide an account of the direction of causation. How does the above approach fare with regard to this problem? Given Lewis's account, the direction of causation is the opposite of counterfactual dependence. But what is it that fixes the latter? On the traditional view of the truth conditions of counterfactuals, it is the direction of causation that does so. Precluded from offering this answer, Lewis appeals instead to the idea that, in our world, events typically have many effects, but rarely have many causes: witness the frequency of outgoing spherical wavefronts, produced, for example, by sources of light, in contrast to that of incoming wavefronts.

The idea then is that, given this fact, one can argue that, if p is any proposition that is false in our world, the closest worlds in which p is true will almost always be worlds that differ from ours with respect to the future, rather than with respect to the past. For if events typically have many more effects than causes, a world in which p is true will involve more violations of laws of nature if it is its future, rather than its past, which agrees with that of the actual world.

There are at least two problems with this account of the direction of counterfactual dependence, and so of causation. The first is that this approach makes it impossible to accept the very appealing idea that the direction of causation is an intrinsic property of individual causal processes.

For, on Lewis's approach, the direction of the causal process linking two events, C and E, is not fixed by features of that single causal process itself. It is determined, rather, by other causal processes into which C and E enter. The second objection turns upon the fact that it is not a necessary truth that any world containing causally related events is one where events typically have more effects than causes.

The world could well have been an inverted one, where the opposite was true. Or it could have been a very simple one, where there were no causal forks at all. Lewis's analysis cannot be sound, therefore, since there are logically possible causal worlds for which it yields the wrong results with respect to the direction of causation. Underlying the second of these objections is the fact that Lewis's account is a reductionist one, and, as such, it is necessarily exposed to all of the objections that tell against non-realist approaches to causation, including the arguments which appeal to the logical possibilities of inverted worlds, and of very simple worlds.

But there are also several other objections that have been directed against Lewis's account, and that are completely independent of the reductionism versus realism issue. Kim argues that counterfactual dependence is not a sufficient condition for causal dependence, since causation is only one among a heterogeneous group of dependency relations that give rise to counterfactuals.

One, which is especially important, and which Kim also mentions briefly, involves cases of causal over-determination. This objection can be developed in two slightly different ways. Horwich, in his discussion, formulates the objection in terms of macroscopic events in the actual world. Thus put, however, the objection may be problematic, since, first, the thesis that, in the actual world, causal relations between macroscopic events are logically supervenient upon causal relations between submicroscopic events, plus the laws of nature, seems very appealing, and secondly, a consideration of physics, as it has developed so far, strongly suggests that causal over-determination at the most fundamental level may be precluded by the basic laws of nature.

For Lewis's responses to a number of these objections, see his 'Counterfactual Dependence' and 'Postscripts to "Causation" '. Since, however, Lewis is offering an analysis of the concept of causation, and not merely an account of what causation is in the actual world, one can appeal instead to what is logically possible. The thrust of the argument will then be that, regardless of what may be so in the actual world, it is surely logically possible for there to be cases where there are two causally independent events, C and D, each of which is not only a causally sufficient condition for the occurrence of event E, but an immediate cause of E.

In such a case, however, it would. In his essay, Bennett focuses upon causation viewed as a relation between events, rather than as a relation between facts, and he attempts to show that any counterfactual analysis of event causation must be unacceptable. The argument which Bennett develops turns upon the claim that our ordinary concept of causation involves an asymmetry with respect to those events that hasten a given type of event, and those that delay it: if an event hastens the occurrence of an event of a certain type, then it is a cause of that event, whereas if it delays the occurrence of an event of a certain type, then it is not a cause of that event.

Given this asymmetry thesis, Bennett argues that a counterfactual analysis of event causation leads to unacceptable consequences concerning the identity of events. Bennett's argument is subtle and original, and carefully set out. But can it be sustained? One ground for doubting that it can is that Bennett's argument, if sound, would tell against all current accounts of event causation, since none of the accounts on offer are sensitive to the distinction between hasteners and delayers.

As a consequence, it would seem that an advocate of a counterfactual analysis of causation can reply to Bennett's argument by simply adding an additional requirement which will ensure that while hasteners get classified as causes, delayers do not. For while the employment of what may seem to be an ad hoc modification would, other things being equal, count against a counterfactual approach, it will not do so if alternative approaches to causation must incorporate parallel clauses in order to deal with the distinction between hasteners and delayers.

But if current accounts of causation classify both hasteners and delayers as causes of an event, why not conclude that all current accounts must therefore be defective? The answer is that there is reason for thinking that. But then one should be able, it would seem, simply to build upon the analysis of the regimented causal sentences, with their technical notion of an event, and, by incorporating a clause that, directly or indirectly, brings in the relevant asymmetry, arrive at a satisfactory account of the truth conditions of ordinary language sentences concerning event causation.

In short, there appears to be a plausible, and perfectly general strategy for dealing with the problem that Bennett raises, and, given that that is so, it is not at all clear why an advocate of a counterfactual analysis of event causation should be unable to avail himself of that strategy. If B is caused by A, it is natural to say that B occurred because of A, or that it was a consequence of A, or that it happened as a result of A.

But it is usually held that not all cases where one state of affairs obtains because of some other state of affairs, or as a consequence of, or as a result of, another state of affairs, are cases of causation. Consider, for example, the fact that the existence of a table in a certain room at a specific time is a consequence of there being a certain arrangement of molecules in the relevant location at that very time, or the fact that certain apples are good because they are crisp and juicy. Such facts, most philosophers would say, do not involve causal relations between the states of affairs in question.

This view has recently been challenged, however, by Ernest Sosa, who argues in 'Varieties of Causation', which is reprinted below Chapter XV , that the relations in question are causal relations. For, Sosa suggests, 'the root causal relation is being a "source", whose converse is being a result or consequence' ,55 and if this is right, then facts such as those just cited do 5.

III below, pp. XV below, pp. Those causal relations will not be, of course, precisely the same as the relation that obtains between a match's being struck and its igniting-a relation that Sosa refers to as nomological causation-but they do, Sosa argues, belong to the same family. The basic conclusion to which Sosa is led, in short, is that there is a variety of causal, or source-consequence, relations. Nomological causation is the most familiar, but there are also others-including what Sosa refers to as material causation, consequentialist causation, and inclusive causation. One immediate objection to this thesis is that while nomological causation seems to involve a contingent relation between states of affairs, the other source-consequence relations that Sosa discusses appear to be necessary relations.

In response, however, Sosa points out that if one thinks of nomological causes as consisting not merely of the earlier states of affairs, but also of the relevant laws of nature, then the relation in the case of nomological causation will also be one of logical necessitation. But there are serious obstacles that must be surmounted if the idea that necessitation lies at the heart of ordinary causation is to be acceptable.

First, the idea of direction seems essential to causation, and it seems unlikely that this idea can be explicated in terms of logical necessitation. For in a Newtonian world, for example, the occurrence of later states of affairs, together with the relevant laws of nature, logically necessitate, but do not cause, earlier states of affairs. One is therefore left with the problem of what it is that explains the direction of causation, and with the question of whether this additional element is also present in the other source-consequence relations.

Secondly, the idea that logical necessitation is essential to causation presupposes that a singularist conception of causation is incoherent, and, while this view has been, and still is, very widely accepted, some serious arguments in support of the intelligibility of a singularist approach have recently emerged. Finally, there is the difficulty posed by the idea of probabilistic causal laws. If, as many philosophers are inclined to believe, such laws are possible, then logical necessitation cannot be an essential feature of causal relations.

Systematic discussion of the topic of causation began with Aristotle, and with his idea that one can distinguish between four kinds of cause-often referred 56 An alternative response would be to argue that laws of nature are logically necessary. There are various reasons for this. One is that Aristotle's conception of causation, and, in particular, his. Another is that Aristotle did not think of causation, as present-day philosophers do, as a relation between events or states of affairs.

Perhaps the most important reason, however, is that Aristotle was apparently unaware that there are very serious difficulties concerning the concept of causation. The realization that the concept of causation is deeply problematic, and very difficult to analyse, begins with David Hume, and it is for this reason that his work represents a decisive turning-point. But Hume did much more than point to a serious problem. He also advanced arguments of great depth and originality-so much so that many present-day philosophers still hold that, as regards the central metaphysical issues that arise concerning causation, Hume was essentially right.

The fact that we have not included any selections from Hume's writings is not due, therefore, to any feeling that Hume's contribution was mainly one of raising an important problem. On the contrary, Hume's arguments are still among the most crucial in the area, and the reductionist approach that he advanced-or, at least, that he has generally been thought to have advanced-remains one of the most important views on the nature of causation. But, precisely because of this, the inclusion of a selection from Hume's writings on causation would not be satisfactory.

One needs to approach the topic of causation with a thorough understanding of Hume's arguments, and this would involve, at a minimum, the reading of sections , II, 12, 14, and 15 of book I, part 3, of Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, plus sections 4 and 7 of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.

More than years have passed since the publication of Hume's Treatise. But although Hume's arguments remain crucial, and although the fundamental issues are as yet unresolved, there has been progress, and subsequent discussions have contributed to our understanding in a variety of ways. First, a number of reductionist accounts which are important alternatives to Hume's own have gradually emerged.

Secondly, recent developments in semantics have shown that it is possible to make sense of the idea of a realist approach to causation. Thirdly, reasons have even been advanced for thinking that a singularist approach to causation may not be incoherent. Finally, the 57 Aristotle, Physics, II. Discussion of Aristotle's views on causation can be found in W. Ross, Aristotle New York, ,, and in A.

Taylor, Aristotle New York, , There are, then, grounds for optimism concerning the problem that Hume posed, in spite of the fact that even the general form that the solution is likely to take remains very much an open question. Asked what a cause is, we may be tempted to say that it is an event which precedes the event of which it is the cause, and is both necessary and sufficient for the latter's occurrence; briefly that a cause is a necessary and sufficient preceding condition.

There are, however, many difficulties in this account. I shall try to show that what we often speak of as a cause is a condition not of this sort, but of a sort related to this. That is to say, this account needs modification, and can be modified, and when it is modified we can explain much more satisfactorily how we can arrive at much of what we ordinarily take to be causal knowledge; the claims implicit within our causal assertions can be related to the forms of the evidence on which we are often relying when we assert a causal connection.

Suppose that a fire has broken out in a certain house, but has been extinguished before the house has been completely destroyed. Experts investigate the cause of the fire, and they conclude that it was caused by an electrical short-circuit at a certain place. What is the exact force of their statement that this short-circuit caused this fire? Clearly the experts are not saying that the short-circuit was a necessary condition for this house's catching fire at this time; they know perfectly well that a short-circuit somewhere else, or the overturning of a lighted oil stove, or anyone of a number of other things might, if it had occurred, have set the house on fire.

Equally, they are not saying that the short-circuit was a sufficient condition for this house's catching fire; for if the short-circuit had occurred, but there had been no inflammable material near by, the fire would not have broken out, and even given both the short-circuit and the inflammable material, the fire would not have occurred if, say, there had been an efficient automatic sprinkler at just the right spot.

Far from being a condition both necessary and sufficient for the fire, the short-circuit was, and is known to the experts to have been, neither.

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In what sense, then, is it said to have caused the fire? At least part of the answer is that there is a set of conditions of which some are positive and some are negative , including the presence of inflammable material, the absence of a suitably placed sprinkler, and no doubt quite a number of others, which combined with the short-circuit constituted a complex condition that was sufficient for the house's catching fire-sufficient, but not necessary, for the fire could have started in other ways.

Also, of this complex condition, the short-circuit was an indispensable part: the other parts of this condition, conjoined with one another in the absence of the short-circuit, would not have produced the fire. The short-circuit which is said to have caused the fire is thus an indispensable part of a complex sufficient but not necessary condition of the fire. In this case, then, the so-called cause is, and is known to be, an insufficient but necessary part of a condition which is itself unnecessary but sufficient for the result.

The experts are saying, in effect, that the short-circuit is a condition of this sort, that it occurred, that the other conditions which conjoined with it to form a sufficient condition were also present, and that no other sufficient condition of the house's catching fire was present on this occasion. I suggest that when we speak of the cause of some particular event, it is often a condition of this sort that we have in mind.

In view of the importance of conditions of this sort in our knowledge of and talk about causation, it will be convenient to have a short name for them: let us call such a condition from the initial letters of the words italicized above an INUS condition. An important part of the investigation will have consisted in tracing the actual course of the fire; the experts will have ascertained that no other condition sufficient for a fire's breaking out and taking this course was present, but that the short-circuit did occur and that conditions were present which in conjunction with it were sufficient for the fire's breaking out and taking the course that it did.

Provided that there is some necessary and sufficient condition of the fire-and this is an assumption that we commonly make in such contexts-anyone who wanted to deny the experts' conclusion would have to challenge one or another of these points. We can give a more formal analysis of the statement that something is an INUS condition. Stove, who has also given me a great deal of help by criticizing earlier versions of this article. Then the conjunction 'ABC' represents a sufficient condition of the fire, and one that contains no redundant factors; that is, ABC is a minimal sufficient condition for the fire.

Now provided that there is some necessary and sufficient condition for this result, the disjunction of all the minimal sufficient conditions for it constitutes a necessary and sufficient condition. We can indicate this type of relation more briefly if we take the provisos for granted and replace the existentially quantified variables 'X' and 'Y' by dots. This article gives an analysis of singular causal statements, with special reference to their use by historians, which is substantially equivalent to the account I am suggesting. Many further references are made to this article, especially in n.

This presupposition is equivalent to the presupposition that there is some possibly complex condition that is both necessary and sufficient for C. It is of some interest that some common turns of speech embody this presupposition. To say 'Nothing but X will do,' or 'Either X or Y will do, but nothing else will,' is a natural way of saying that X, or the disjunction X or Y , is a necessary condition for whatever result we have in mind.

But taken literally these remarks say only that there is no sufficient condition for this result other than X, or other than X or Y. That is, we use to mean 'a necessary condition' phrases whose literal meanings would be 'the only sufficient condition', or 'the disjunction of all sufficient conditions'. Similarly, to say that Z is 'all that's needed' is a natural way of saying that Z is a sufficient condition, but taken literally this remark says that Z is the only necessary condition.

But, once again, that the only necessary condition will also be a sufficient one follows only if we presuppose that some condition is both necessary and sufficient. To forestall possible misunderstandings, I would fill out this definition as follows. I shall speak of an INUS condition only where the disjunction of all the minimal sufficient conditions is also a necessary condition.

Secondly, the definition leaves it open that the IN US condition A might be a conjunct in each of the minimal sufficient conditions. If so, A would be itself a necessary condition of the result. I shall still call A an IN U S condition in these circumstances: it is not part of the definition of an IN U S condition that it should not be necessary, although in the standard cases, such as that sketched above, it is not in fact necessary.

Fifthly, and similarly, it is part of the definition that A is not by itself sufficient for P. The fourth and fifth of these points amount to this: I shall call A an INUS condition only if there are terms which actually occupy the places occupied by 'X' and 'Y' in the formula for the necessary and sufficient condition. However, there may be cases where there is only one minimal sufficient condition, say AX. Again, there may be cases where A is itself a minimal sufficient condition, the disjunction of all minimal sufficient conditions being A or y ; again, there may be cases where A itself is the only minimal sufficient condition, and is itself both necessary and sufficient for P.

As we shall see, we often have evidence which supports the conclusion that something is at least an INUS condition; we mayor may not have other evidence which shows that it is no more than an INUS condition. I suggest that a statement which asserts a singular causal sequence, of such a form as 'A caused P,' often makes, implicitly, the following claims: I am indebted to the referees for the suggestion that these points should be clarified.

Special cases where an INUS condition is also a necessary one are mentioned at the end of sect. See esp. As a rule, this means that whatever 'Y' represents was absent on this occasion. If 'Y' represents a single conjunction of factors, then it was absent if at least one of its conjuncts was absent; if it represents a disjunction, then it was absent if each of its disjuncts was absent. But we do not wish to exclude the possibility that' Y' should be, or contain as a disjunct, a conjunction one of whose conjuncts is A, or to require that this conjunction should have been absent.

This account is in fairly close agreement, in substance if not in terminology, with at least two accounts recently offered of the cause of a single event. See sects. Marc-Wogau's full formulation is as follows: 'Let "msc" stand for minimal sufficient condition and "nc" for necessary condition. Then suppose we have a class K of individual events a" a" My analysis of the singular causal statement: IX is the cause of 13, where IX and 13 stand for individual events.


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If a, is a necessary condition post factum for 13, then every moment in a, is a necessary condition post factum for As has been mentioned before n. Similarly, Michael Scriven has said: Causes are not necessary, even contingently so, they are not sufficient-but they are, to talk that language, contingently sufficient. They are part of a set of conditions that does guarantee the outcome, and they are non-redundant in that the rest of this set which does not include all the other conditions present is not alone sufficient for the outcome.

It is not even true that they are relatively necessary, i. There remains a ghost of necessity; a cause is a factor from a set of possible factors the presence of one of which anyone is necessary in order that a set of conditions actually present be sufficient for the effect. There are only slight differences between these two accounts, or between each of them and that offered above. Scriven seems to speak too strongly when he says that causes are not necessary: it is, indeed, not part of the definition of a cause of this sort that it should be necessary, but, as noted above, a cause, or an INUS condition, may be necessary, either because there is only one minimal sufficient condition or because the cause is a moment in each of the minimal sufficient conditions.

On the other hand, Marc-Wogau's account of a minimal sufficient condition seems too strong. He says that a minimal sufficient condition contains 'only those moments relevant to the effect' and that a moment is relevant to an effect if 'it is a necessary condition for p : p would not have occurred if this moment had not been present'. This is less accurate than Scriven's statement that the cause only needs to be non-redundant.

If two or more minimal sufficient conditions say al and a2 were present, but a was a moment in each of them, then though neither al nor a2 was necessary post factum, a would be so. I shall use this phrase 'necessary post factum' to include cases of this sort: that is, a is a necessary condition post factum if it is a moment in every minimal sufficient condition that was present.

For example, in a cricket team the. Scriven, review of Nagel's Structure of Science, However, in n. Further complications are involved in the account given in sect. A condition which is minimally sufficient in relation to one degree of analysis of factors may not be so in relation to another degree of analysis.

He is injured during a match, and does not bat in the second innings, and the substitute wicket-keeper drops a vital catch that the original wicket-keeper would have taken. The team loses the match, but it would have won if the wicket-keeper had both batted and taken that catch. His injury was a moment in two minimal sufficient conditions for the loss of the match; either his not batting, or the catch's not being taken, would on its own have ensured the loss of the match. But we can certainly say that his injury caused the loss of the match, and that it was a necessary condition post factum.

This account may be summed up, briefly and approximately, by saying that the statement 'A caused P' often claims that A was necessary and sufficient for P in the circumstances. This description applies in the standard cases, but we have already noted that a cause is non-redundant rather than necessary even in the circumstances, and we shall see that there are special cases in which it may be neither necessary nor non-redundant.

Both Scriven and Marc-Wogau are concerned not only with this basic account, but with certain difficulties and with the refinements and complications that are needed to overcome them. Before dealing with these I shall introduce, as a refinement of my own account, the notion of a causal field. The question 'What causes influenza? It may mean 'What causes influenza in human beings in general? But the question may mean, 'Given that influenza viruses are present, what makes some people contract the disease whereas others do not?

In all such cases, the cause is required to differentiate, within a wider region in which the effect " This section is something of an aside: the main argument is resumed in sect.

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