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Causation and Laws

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Florian Boge (University of Cologne, University of Cologne)
About this topic
Summary Many accounts of causation, i.e. theories that answer to the question when an event e can be said to have been caused by an event c, say that c-type events and e-type events have to be connected by a law of nature: a law that says that all C events are followed by E events. So, for example, saying that throwing this powder into this glass of water caused an explosion is, roughly, true only if it is a natural law that that kind of powder (magnesium, say) explodes when in contact with H2O. A contrary view says that causation is singular, i.e., whether two events are cause and effect, does not depend on the respective event kinds being related by a law.
Key works For the classic expression of the nomicity of causation see: Davidson 1995. For the locus classicus of the singularist account see: Ducasse 1966
Introductions Carroll 2008
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  1. Sara Albieri (2011). Causes and Laws in the Sciences of Man. Kriterion: Journal of Philosophy 52 (124):331-342.
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  2. Peter Alexander & Peter Downing (1970). Symposium: Are Causal Laws Purely General? Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 44:15 - 49.
    Peter Alexander: It is presumably admitted that laws, whether causal or not, are universal in form; they are appropriately stated in universal categoricals or unrestricted hypotheticals. I assume that this is not at issue in the question set. I take our question to be this: given that causal laws are universal statements, can they be said to be about, to apply to, to hold for, individual things? -/- Peter Downing: Mr. Alexander maintains that there are 'irreducibly singular' causal statements, and (...)
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  3. D. M. Armstrong (1997). Singular Causation and Laws of Nature. In John Earman & John Norton (eds.), The Cosmos of Science. University of Pittsburgh Press 498--511.
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  4. David M. Armstrong (1999). The Open Door: Counterfactual Versus Singularist Theories of Causation. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer 175--185.
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  5. Clint Ballinger (2008). Initial Conditions as Exogenous Factors in Spatial Explanation. Dissertation, University of Cambridge
    This dissertation shows how initial conditions play a special role in the explanation of contingent and irregular outcomes, including, in the form of geographic context, the special case of uneven development in the social sciences. The dissertation develops a general theory of this role, recognizes its empirical limitations in the social sciences, and considers how it might be applied to the question of uneven development. The primary purpose of the dissertation is to identify and correct theoretical problems in the study (...)
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  6. Clint Ballinger (2007). Initial Conditions and the 'Open Systems' Argument Against Laws of Nature. Metaphysica 9 (1):17-31.
    This article attacks “open systems” arguments that because constant conjunctions are not generally observed in the real world of open systems we should be highly skeptical that universal laws exist. This work differs from other critiques of open system arguments against laws of nature by not focusing on laws themselves, but rather on the inference from open systems. We argue that open system arguments fail for two related reasons; 1) because they cannot account for the “systems” central to their argument (...)
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  7. Clint Ballinger, Classifying Contingency in the Social Sciences: Diachronic, Synchronic, and Deterministic Contingency.
    This article makes three claims concerning the concept of contingency. First, we argue that the word contingency is used in far too many ways to be useful. Its many meanings are detrimental to clarity of discussion and thought in history and the social sciences. We show how there are eight distinct uses of the word and illustrate this with numerous examples from the social sciences and history, highlighting the scope for confusion caused by the many, often contradictory uses of the (...)
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  8. Michael Baumgartner (2008). Regularity Theories Reassessed. Philosophia 36 (3):327-354.
    For a long time, regularity accounts of causation have virtually vanished from the scene. Problems encountered within other theoretical frameworks have recently induced authors working on causation, laws of nature, or methodologies of causal reasoning – as e.g. May (Kausales Schliessen. Eine Untersuchung über kausale Erklärungen und Theorienbildung. Ph.D. thesis, Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, 1999), Ragin (Fuzzy-set social science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), Graßhoff and May (Causal regularities. In W. Spohn, M. Ledwig, & M. Esfeld (Eds.), Current issues in (...)
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  9. Clive Beed & Cara Beed (2000). Is the Case for Social Science Laws Strengthening? Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 30 (2):131–153.
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  10. Nora Berenstain & James Ladyman (2012). Ontic Structural Realism and Modality. In Elaine Landry & Dean Rickles (eds.), Structural Realism: Structure, Object, and Causality. Springer
  11. Ned Block (1995). Reply: Causation and Two Kinds of Laws. In Cynthia Macdonald & Graham Macdonald (eds.), Philosophy of Psychology: Debates on Psychological Explanation. Blackwell 78--83.
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  12. Gerd Buchdahl (1965). Causality, Causal Laws and Scientific Theory in the Philosophy of Kant. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 16 (63):187-208.
  13. Henry Byerly (1990). Causes and Laws: The Asymmetry Puzzle. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1990:545 - 555.
    For many laws causal asymmetries in dependencies among the variables are not reflected in functional relations of the law equation. In the case of the simple pendulum law, why can we cite the length to explain the period but not the period to explain the length? After surveying attempts to explain the asymmetries, I propose a new account based on an analysis of the relation of causes and laws. This analysis is used to criticize the very notion of causal laws (...)
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  14. John W. Carroll, Laws of Nature. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    John Carroll undertakes a careful philosophical examination of laws of nature, causation, and other related topics. He argues that laws of nature are not susceptible to the sort of philosophical treatment preferred by empiricists. Indeed he shows that emperically pure matters of fact need not even determine what the laws are. Similar, even stronger, conclusions are drawn about causation. Replacing the traditional view of laws and causation requiring some kind of foundational legitimacy, the author argues that these phenomena are inextricably (...)
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  15. Nancy Cartwright (1993). In Defence of `This Worldly' Causality: Comments on Van Fraassen's Laws and Symmetry. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (2):423-429.
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  16. Nancy Cartwright (1979). Causal Laws and Effective Strategies. Noûs 13 (4):419-437.
    La autora presenta algunas criticas generales al proyecto de reducir las leyes causales a probabilidades. Además, muestra que las leyes causales son imprescindibles para poder diferenciar las strategias efectivas de las que no lo son y da un criterio para considerar cuando podemos deducir causalidad a través de datos estadísticos.
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  17. F. John Clendinnen (1999). Causal Dependence and Laws. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer 187--213.
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  18. John R. Cook (2006). Review of Donald Davidson's Truth, Language, and History. [REVIEW] Philosophy in Review (6):399-401.
    Language, Truth, and History is an excellent volume of essays coming from one of the most important philosophers in the last fifty years. It would be of interest to anyone interested in the ways Davidson's philosophy evolved after the publication of the first two volumes, and it is essential reading for anyone working in philosophy of language or philosophy of mind.
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  19. Richard Corry (2006). Causal Realism and the Laws of Nature. Philosophy of Science 73 (3):261-276.
    This paper proposes a revision of our understanding of causation that is designed to address what Hartry Field has suggested is the central problem in the metaphysics of causation today: reconciling Bertrand Russell’s arguments that the concept of causation can play no role in the advanced sciences with Nancy Cartwright’s arguments that causal concepts are essential to a scientific understanding of the world. The paper shows that Russell’s main argument is, ironically, very similar to an argument that Cartwright has put (...)
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  20. Richard Corry, Robert N. Brandon, H. Frederik Nijhout, Richard Dawid, Ron Mallon, Jonathan M. Weinberg & Hong Yu Wong (2006). Causal Realism and the Laws of Nature. In Borchert (ed.), Philosophy of Science. Macmillan 261-276.
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  21. Joseph K. Cosgrove (2012). Causation and Laws of Nature in Early Modern Philosophy, by Walter Ott. International Philosophical Quarterly 52 (3):379-381.
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  22. Barry Dainton (2009). Causation and Laws of Nature. In John Shand (ed.), Central Issues in Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell
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  23. Donald Davidson (1995). Laws and Cause. Dialectica 49 (2-4):263-79.
    Anomalous Monism is the view that mental entities are identical with physical entities, but that the vocabulary used to describe, predict and explain mental events is neither definitionally nor nomologically reducible to the vocabulary of physics. The argument for Anomalous Monism rests in part on the claim that every true singular causal statement relating two events is backed by a law that covers those events when those events are appropriately described. This paper attempts to clarify and defend this claim by (...)
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  24. Steven M. Duncan, Causal Necessity and the Future: Two Views.
    In this paper I offer an alternative to the standard, mechanistic/fatalistic account of causal necessity, one compatible with the existence of laws of nature but not deterministic in the way this is usually understood.
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  25. A. S. Eddington (1933). Causality. A Law of Nature or a Maxim of the Naturalist? By L. Silberstein, Ph.D. (London: Macmillan & Co. 1933. Pp. Viii + 159. Price 4s. 6d.). [REVIEW] Philosophy 8 (32):486-.
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  26. Dorothy Edgington (1990). Explanation, Causation and Laws. Critica 22 (66):55 - 73.
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  27. Frederick S. Ellett Jr & David P. Ericson (1985). Causal Laws and Laws of Association. Noûs 19 (4):537 - 549.
    In her paper entitled "Causal Laws and Effective Strategies" (1979), Cartwright sets out to establish the connection between laws of association and causal laws. In part Cartwright is trying to show the sense in which a cause increases the probability of its effect, and to explain what causal laws assert by giving an account of how causal laws are related to certain kinds of statistical laws. In section II we explicate the essential features of Cartwright's for- mulation and in section (...)
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  28. Brian Ellis (2000). Causal Laws and Singular Causation. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61 (2):329-351.
    In this paper it will be argued that causal laws describe the actions of causal powers. The process which results from such an action is one which belongs to a natural kind, the essence of which is that it is a display of this causal power. Therefore, if anything has a given causal power necessarily, it must be naturally disposed to act in the manner prescribed by the causal law describing the action of this causal power. In the formal expressions (...)
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  29. Steven Ericsson-Zenith (forthcoming). Explaining Experience In Nature: The Foundations Of Logic And Apprehension. Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering.
    At its core this book is concerned with logic and computation with respect to the mathematical characterization of sentient biophysical structure and its behavior. -/- Three related theories are presented: The first of these provides an explanation of how sentient individuals come to be in the world. The second describes how these individuals operate. And the third proposes a method for reasoning about the behavior of individuals in groups. -/- These theories are based upon a new explanation of experience in (...)
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  30. Michael Esfeld (2010). Causal Overdetermination for Humeans? Metaphysica 11 (2):99-104.
    The paper argues against systematic overdetermination being an acceptable solution to the problem of mental causation within a Humean counterfactual theory of causation. The truth-makers of the counterfactuals in question include laws of nature, and there are laws that support physical to physical counterfactuals, but no laws in the same sense that support mental to physical counterfactuals.
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  31. Evan Fales (1993). Are Causal Laws Contingent? In John Bacon, Keith Campbell & Lloyd Reinhardt (eds.), Ontology, Causality and Mind: Essays in Honour of D.M. Armstrong. Cambridge Up
    It has been nearly a decade and a half since Fred Dretske, David Armstrong and Michael Tooley, having each rejected the Regularity theory, independently proposed that natural laws are grounded in a second-order relation that somehow binds together universals.' (l shall call this the ‘DTA theory’). In this way they sought to overcome the major - and notorious — shortcomings of every version of the Regularity theory: how to provide truth conditions for laws that lack instances; how to distinguish laws (...)
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  32. Evan Fales (1990). Causation and Universals. Routledge.
    Then, adopting the view of Armstrong and others that causation is grounded in a second-order relation between universals, he explores a range of topics for ...
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  33. Matt Farr & Alexander Reutlinger (2013). A Relic of a Bygone Age? Causation, Time Symmetry and the Directionality Argument. Erkenntnis 78 (2):215-235.
    Bertrand Russell famously argued that causation is not part of the fundamental physical description of the world, describing the notion of cause as “a relic of a bygone age” (Russell in Proc Aristot Soc 13:1–26, 1913). This paper assesses one of Russell’s arguments for this conclusion: the ‘Directionality Argument’, which holds that the time symmetry of fundamental physics is inconsistent with the time asymmetry of causation. We claim that the coherence and success of the Directionality Argument crucially depends on the (...)
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  34. Michael Friedman (2014). Laws of Nature and Causal Necessity. Kant-Studien 105 (4):531-553.
    Name der Zeitschrift: Kant-Studien Jahrgang: 105 Heft: 4 Seiten: 531-553.
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  35. Michel Ghins (2010). Laws of Nature: Do We Need a Metaphysics? Principia 11 (2):127-150.
    In this paper, I briefly present the regularity and necessity views and assess their difficulties. I construe scientific laws as universal propositions satisfied by empirically successful scientific models and made — approximately — true by the real systems represented, albeit partially, by these models. I also conceive a scientific theory as a set of models together with a set of propositions, some of which are laws. A scientific law is a universal proposition or statement that belongs to a scientific theory. (...)
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  36. Adrian Heathcote & D. M. Armstrong (1991). Causes and Laws. Noûs 25 (1):63-73.
  37. Eric Hiddleston (2001). Causation and Causal Relevance. Dissertation, Cornell University
    I argue against counterfactual theories of causation , develop a pragmatic version of the Covering Law view, and offer a causal theory of counterfactuals. ;The initial idea of CTCs is that event a causes event b if b would not have occurred, if a had not occurred. David Lewis proposes this view as a solution to problems of "effects" and "epiphenomena". I argue that CTCs cannot solve these problems. Covering Law theories can, but only by rejecting traditional Humean accounts of (...)
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  38. Tyler Hildebrand (2013). Tooley's Account of the Necessary Connection Between Law and Regularity. Philosophical Studies 166 (1):33-43.
    Fred Dretske, Michael Tooley, and David Armstrong accept a theory of governing laws of nature according to which laws are atomic states of affairs that necessitate corresponding natural regularities. Some philosophers object to the Dretske/Tooley/Armstrong theory on the grounds that there is no illuminating account of the necessary connection between governing law and natural regularity. In response, Michael Tooley has provided a reductive account of this necessary connection in his book Causation (1987). In this essay, I discuss an improved version (...)
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  39. Christopher Hughes & Robert Merrihew Adams (1992). Miracles, Laws of Nature and Causation. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 66 (66):179 - 224.
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  40. Andreas Hüttemann (2013). Kausalität, Determinismus und Physik Schlicks frühe Überlegungen zum Kausalbegriff im Lichte der zeitgenössischen Diskussion. Schlickiana 6:323-336.
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  41. Gurol Irzik (1990). Singular Causation and Law. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1990:537 - 543.
    Humean accounts of law are at the same time accounts of causation. Accordingly, since laws are nothing but contingent cosmic regularities, to be a cause is just to be an instance of such a law. Every particular cause-effect pair, according to these accounts, instantiates some law of nature. I argue that this claim is false. Singular causation without being governed by any law is logically and physically possible. Separating causes from laws enables us to see the distinct role each plays (...)
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  42. Tomáš Károly (2010). W. Ott, Causation And Laws Of Nature In Early Modern Philosophy. Organon F: Medzinárodný Časopis Pre Analytickú Filozofiu 17 (4):555-559.
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  43. Max Kistler (2007). Causation and Laws of Nature. In Michael Beaney (ed.), The Analytic Turn: Analysis in Early Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology. Routledge
    Causation is important. It is, as Hume said, the cement of the universe, and lies at the heart of our conceptual structure. Causation is one of the most fundamental tools we have for organizing our apprehension of the external world and ourselves. But philosophers' disagreement about the correct interpretation of causation is as limitless as their agreement about its importance. The history of attempts to elucidate the nature of this concept and to situate it with respect to other fundamental concepts (...)
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  44. Max Kistler (2002). The Causal Criterion of Reality and the Necessity of Laws of Nature. Metaphysica 3 (1):57-86.
    I propose an argument for the thesis that laws of nature are necessary in the sense of holding in all worlds sharing the properties of the actual world, on the basis of a principle I propose to call the Causal Criterion of Reality . The CCR says: for an entity to be real it is necessary and sufficient that it is capable to make a difference to causal interactions. The crucial idea here is that the capacity to interact causally - (...)
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  45. Douglas Kutach (2014). Causation. Polity.
    In most academic and non-academic circles throughout history, the world and its operation have been viewed in terms of cause and effect. The principles of causation have been applied, fruitfully, across the sciences, law, medicine, and in everyday life, despite the lack of any agreed-upon framework for understanding what causation ultimately amounts to. In this engaging and accessible introduction to the topic, Douglas Kutach explains and analyses the most prominent theories and examples in the philosophy of causation. The book is (...)
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  46. Douglas Kutach (2013). Causation and Its Basis in Fundamental Physics. Oxford University Press.
    I provide a comprehensive metaphysics of causation based on the idea that fundamentally things are governed by the laws of physics, and that derivatively difference-making can be assessed in terms of what fundamental laws of physics imply for hypothesized events. Highlights include a general philosophical methodology, the fundamental/derivative distinction, and my mature account of causal asymmetry.
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  47. Douglas Kutach (2011). Backtracking Influence. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 25 (1):55-71.
    Backtracking influence is influence that zigzags in time. For example, backtracking influence exists when an event E_1 makes an event E_2 more likely by way of a nomic connection that goes from E_1 back in time to an event C and then forward in time to E_2. I contend that in our local region of spacetime, at least, backtracking influence is redundant in the sense that any existing backtracking influence exerted by E_1 on E_2 is equivalent to E_1's temporally direct (...)
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  48. Douglas Kutach (2011). The Asymmetry of Influence. In Craig Callender (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time. Oxford University Press
    An explanation of our seeming inability to influence the past.
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  49. B. M. (1982). Causal Necessity. [REVIEW] Review of Metaphysics 35 (4):913-914.
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  50. J. E. Moyal (1949). Causality, Determinism and Probability. Philosophy 24 (91):310 - 317.
    The prediction of future events from our knowledge of past events is one of the main functions of Science. Such predictions are made possible by inferring causal relations between events from observed regularities. These relations are then codified into “laws of nature,” and it is through knowledge of these laws that prediction becomes possible. The concept of “causal relation” is thus a fundamental one in the structure of science. Now recent advances in physics have led scientists to modify considerably their (...)
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