Causation and Determinable Properties : On the Efficacy of Colour, Shape, and Size

In Jakob Hohwy & Jesper Kallestrup (eds.), Being Reduced: New Essays on Reduction, Explanation, and Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 176-195 (2008)
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This paper presents a puzzle or antinomy about the role of properties in causation. In theories of properties, a distinction is often made between determinable properties, like red, and their determinates, like scarlet (see Armstrong 1978, volume II). Sometimes determinable properties are cited in causal explanations, as when we say that someone stopped at the traffic light because it was red. If we accept that properties can be among the relata of causation, then it can be argued that there are good reasons for allowing that some of these are determinable properties. On the other hand, there are strong arguments in the metaphysics of properties to treat properties as sparse in David Lewis’s (1983) sense. But then it seems that we only need to believe in the most determinate properties: particular shades of colour, specific masses, lengths and so on. And if we also agree with Lewis that sparse properties are ‘the ones relevant to causal powers’ (1983: 13) it seems we must conclude that if properties are relevant to causation at all, then all of these are determinate properties. I call this ‘the antinomy of determinable causation’. On the one hand, we have a good argument for the claim that determinable properties can be causes, if any properties are. I call this the Thesis. But on the other hand, we have a good argument for the claim that only the most determinate properties can be causes, if any properties are. I call this the Antithesis. Clearly, we need to reject either the Thesis or the..



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Tim Crane
Central European University

Citations of this work

Mental Causation.David Robb & John Heil - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Proportionality and omissions.Phil Dowe - 2010 - Analysis 70 (3):446-451.
Exclusion Excluded.Brad Weslake - forthcoming - In Alastair Wilson & Katie Robertson (eds.), Levels of Explanation. Oxford University Press.

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