David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Norton (2003 and 2006) has recently argued that causation is merely a useful folk concept and that it fails to hold for some simple systems even in the supposed paradigm case of a causal physical theory – namely Newtonian mechanics. The purpose of this article is to argue against this devaluation of causality in physics. My main argument is that Norton’s alleged counterexample to causality (and determinism) within standard Newtonian physics fails to obey what I shall call the causal core of Newtonian mechanics. In particular, I argue, Norton’s example is not in conformity with Newton’s first law. Moreover, Norton’s reformulation of this first law (in an instantaneous form) seems insufficient as a replacement for the original version since the notion of inertial frames in the resulting reformulated theory lacks a physical justification, and since an intelligible notion of time in Newtonian mechanics appears to be closely tied to Newton’s first law in its standard form. I will finally suggest how, given a plausible relationist account of time, the causal core of Newtonian mechanics may play a central role also in relativity and quantum theory.
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