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Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Prof Nancy Cartwright

Cartwright, N. (2010). Comments on Longworth and Weber. Analysis 70(2): 325-330.

Author(s) from Durham


As Francis Longworth discusses, HC&UT argues that there is no such thing as the causal relation nor a handful of causal relations and not even a truckload. Rather, there is only a seemingly endless array of relations, called ‘thick’ relations in the book, that may be loosely grouped under the label ‘causal’, with a vast variety of different clusterings for different purposes. So I do not see Hitchcock’s question as posing an objection. Once we have served our purpose by labelling a relation ‘causal’, there may well be nothing added, helpful to this purpose, by noting further that the relation is one of feeding gasoline to the carburettor rather than, say, stuffing it in or making it available. For instance, if our purpose is to predict how probabilistic changes propagate across a set of quantities supposing the probability of one is changed ‘surgically’, this purpose is served once we can point to the probability-change-making relations among these quantities and label them as ‘causal’ in the Bayes-nets sense.

My purpose in labelling a great many relations as ‘causal’ is to counter current-day ‘Humeans’, like David Lewis, John Earman and Bas van Fraassen. These philosophers are enamoured of some one or another special set of features in nature, features that are conceived of as ‘inert’, ‘non-active’, ‘temporally and spatially local’ or whatever. A great many features I see around me – and that appear to be essential in every successful scientific intervention I have studied – are missing from their special sets. These philosophers – the ‘Humeans’ – are the ones who make the causal/non-causal distinction, with their favoured concepts labelled ‘non-causal’. In maintaining that pushing, pinching, compressing, repelling, attracting and so forth are causal, I imply that these are not among the favoured sets of the Humeans and they are not …