Last time I suggested a couple of rules on efficient causality.
- Cause and effect are simultaneous. Changes in state may certainly persist beyond the time the cause operates, the persistence then being something not explicable from the cause, but temporal succession is not a defining feature of causality.
- One way to identify an effect in a physical law is that it’s the thing with the highest time derivative.
- Identifying efficient causes depends on knowing what doesn’t need an efficient cause, what constitutes “default” behavior (which is a matter of formal causality).
To which I’d add
- For A to be the cause of B, it is not necessary that A always cause B given the same circumstances. The universe might be such that this is true, but if so, it’s a synthetic truth about our world rather than an analytic truth about causality as such.
- Abstractions are not causes, only positively existing things. In particular, “the laws of physics” don’t cause things to happen. These laws only describe the way existing things exert causality; they are ontologically grounded in the natures of existing things. It’s just crazy to think of an entity called “Faraday’s Law” pushing around magnetic field lines like the occasionalists’ God. I had thought this was obvious to everyone until some years ago I read an article by (I think) Steven Weinberg claiming that the laws of physics might themselves be the First Cause in the cosmological argument. At this time, I realized that what I had thought everyone understood to be a figure of speech was being taken very literally by many of my colleagues. It follows that equations, Hamiltonians, and the like are not properly speaking causes, but descriptions of how causes operate. We can be sure of this even though it may happen that scientists know the mathematical description of a causal relation but not its ontological ground.
- The main sense of causality is what acts to generate what actually exists. Absences as causes or effects (e.g. “death due to lack of oxygen to the brain”) are valid in a broader, more abstract, sense of causality, but a philosophy of causality should first describe causality in its main sense.
Filed under: philosophy of science |