Review of Max Kistler, Causalité et lois de la nature Paris: Vrin 1999, 311 pages, FRF 198 [Book Review]

Michael Esfeld
University of Lausanne
Max Kistler’s first book, based on his Paris Ph.D. thesis, is an elaborate defence of a transference theory of causation. Such a theory conceives of causality as the transfer of a conserved quantity. A transference theory of causation is thus one form that a regularity account of causation, as opposed to a counterfactual account, might take. Kistler’s original contribution consists (a) in the way in which he develops an account of causation based on transference and (b) in relating a theory of causation to a specific view of natural laws. Kistler first considers what a relation of causation is and thereby contrasts the transference theory with other explanations (Ch. 1). He then develops a view of natural laws (Ch. 2) and combines this view with his transference theory of causation (Chs. 3 & 4). The second part of the book focuses on causally efficacious properties. Kistler employs the notion of properties that are responsable for a relation of causation. The function of such properties in laws of causation is examined (Chs. 5 & 6). The last chapter discusses examples that are to show how this theory of causation works (Ch. 7). Kistler argues for a realistic view: there is causation in the world independently of whether and how people conceptualize causal relations. The relata of a causal relation are events. An event is the content of a continuous space–time region (which may be as small as being pointlike) (18, 64–68). Events are in space–time what objects are in space (196): An object has spatial parts, whereas an event has spatio–temporal parts. To give an example, a volcano has spatial parts such as a top, whereas an eruption of a volcano can be gentle and limited to its northern side first and then become violent and extending to all sides. There is a relation of causation between two events if and only if at least one conserved quantity is transferred between them (39–40, 100). That is to say: an event x has a certain value of a physical quantity, and that individual value is transferred to another event y..
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