Causes and contexts: The foundations of laser theory

Abstract
One of Nancy Cartwright's arguments for entity realism focuses on the non-redundancy of causal explanation. In How the Laws of Physics Lie she uses an example from laser theory to illustrate how we can have a variety of theoretical treatments governing the same phenomena while allowing just one causal story. In the following I show that in the particular example Cartwright chooses causal explanation exhibits the same kind of redundancy present in theoretical explanation. In an attempt to salvage Cartwright's example the causal explanation could be reinterpreted as a capacity claim, as outlined in her recent work Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement. However, I argue that capacities cannot be isolated in the way that Cartwright suggests and consequently these capacity claims also fail to provide a unique causal story. We can, however, make sense of capacities by characterizing them in a relational way and I offer some ideas as to how this approach would retain our intuitions about capacities while denying their ontological priority as dormant powers.
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Citations of this work BETA
Matthias Egg (2012). Causal Warrant for Realism About Particle Physics. Journal for General Philosophy of Science 43 (2):259-280.
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Jakob Hohwy (2003). Capacities, Explanation and the Possibility of Disunity. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17 (2):179 – 190.
Gurol Irzik (1992). Cartwright, Capacities, and Probabilities. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1992:239 - 250.
Deborah G. Mayo (1986). Cartwright, Causality, and Coincidence. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1986:42 - 58.
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