Causation, Quasi-Realism, and David Hume

Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2004)

Angela Coventry
Portland State University
Despite the widely recognized importance of Hume's theory of causation, there is no agreement amongst commentators about the upshot of that theory. Causal realists interpret Hume as believing that causal statements are true or false due to the existence in the universe of a power linking causes to effects, while causal anti-realists read him as denying that the existence of powers makes causal statements true or false, and as holding instead either that causal statements can be reduced to statements about regularities in nature or that causal statements express feelings and cannot be genuine propositions, susceptible of truth or falsity. There appears to be considerable textual evidence for, and also against, each interpretation. The explanation for this contradictory appearance, I argue, is that Hume maintains a position that is intermediate between realism and anti-realism. On my interpretation, Hume indeed traces the impression of power between causes and effects to a feeling in the mind and denies that our causal discourse implicates the existence of powers in nature. At the same time, however, he recognizes causal judgments as genuine propositions that are not equivalent to statements of regularities. Hence, anti-realist interpretations are right to emphasize that Hume rejects an account of causation in terms of powers, but wrong to suppose that this leads him either to reductionism or emotivism. Causal realist interpretations are right to suppose that Hume attributes a non-reductionistic truth-value to causal statements, but wrong to think that the truth or falsity of these statements results from correspondence with powers. The intermediate position attributed to Hume is a version of quasi-realism about causation. It is sometimes argued that quasi-realism collapses into a version of either realism or anti-realism, but I outline a topic-independent conception of quasi-realism that allows it to stand as a consistent third alternative
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