In this talk I offer three ideas characterising my
understanding of causation. Firstly, I will situate it generally in an
ensemble of ideas which together constitute my world view. Secondly, I will
offer a more specific analysis of just the causation idea itself. And thirdly,
I will try to explain why I think it's an idea which, at this particular
historical moment, is in considerable crisis.
Ann Long is the author of three books: Equality (1988), samizdat
distribution; Making God, a New Materialist Theory of the Person (2007),
published by Imprint Academic; and Every Morpheme Counts, working title of a
third, under construction, which offers a non-reductionist hypothesis as to
the 'mechanism' – not genetic but morphemic – whereby language
brings about the emergence of human persons from human animals. She has
degrees in economics and psychology.
We are bombarded with information suggesting the causes of
diseases and how to prevent them. Infectious disease epidemiology is complex
and the multiple causes of infection have a relevance to the examination of
other aspects of life. The postulates of Koch and Loeffler, and Bradford
Hill's criteria provide fundamental principles for determining causation.
Using case studies, I show the small number of initiating causal events
belies the underlying multiple criteria involved. These include the microbial,
natural, personal and other environments.
Gordon Nichols is a scientist who has worked as a Consultant
Epidemiologist within Public Health England. He has contributed to research
projects on gastrointestinal infections, food, water and the environment,
epidemiology, public health and climate change and has been important in
surveillance and outbreak management. He has contributions to international
initiatives and has given over 400 scientific presentations, written 31 book
chapters and 78 papers in peer reviewed journals. He is a member of the
Wycombe Philosophy Association and the Gerrards Cross Philosophy
A counterfactual theory of causation (CTC) is an account of
causation in terms, unsurprisingly, of counterfactual statements. A typical
formulation would be: Event A is a cause of event B if and only if it is the
case that if A had not occurred, then B would not have occurred. Before CTCs
could become plausible, two initial problems had to be overcome: first, the
problem of ascertaining the truth conditions of counterfactual statements and,
second, counterexamples involving cases where potential causes suffer early
pre-emption. The first problem was eventually addressed by the development of
possible-world semantics. In 1973, David Lewis (1941 – 2001) published a
seminal paper in which the second problem was also addressed. However, his
proposal had to be revised later under pressure of further problems. The talk
will outline Lewis's original and revised CTCs and discuss selected
objections to them.
Michael Donnan studied chemistry at Manchester during the
'Swinging Sixties' and, despite a marked maladroitness in the laboratory,
actually managed to graduate. He thereupon entered the world of patents and
eventually qualified as patent attorney. In his 40s, he sampled an
introductory course in philosophy, became captivated by the subject and after
much procrastination enrolled as a part-time degree student at Birkbeck
College, gaining a BA in 2003 followed by an MA in 2006. For about 8½ years
during his retirement he acted as leader of his local U3A philosophy group.
If we ask Why something happens, the answer may well start
Because (by cause), followed by an explanation. In this talk I contend that
there is nothing more to the idea of Causation than that there is some
explanation. We can keep the term Cause as a general term, or a placeholder
for a specific explanation, as long as we avoid reifying it into some sort of
active principle. But 'Causation' is neither itself an explanation, nor a
special sort of process.
This approach, via Explanation, eliminates or resolves some
of the standard problems such as sequence and negative causation. It is also
at once broader and more discriminating than Causation: broader because it
allows explanations via motive or evolutionary process; more discriminating
because the phrasing of the Why? focuses on the particular aspect for which
explanation is desired.
Jonathan Harlow served in the Royal Artillery (National Service)
and worked as a government administrator and business manager in Africa and
Guyana. He taught History and Economics in a comprehensive school for
twenty years and, part-time, at university for ten. Now retired, he is
mainly engaged in local history research and writing.
Previous attempts to persuade my PhilSoc friends that I have
developed a satisfactory account of causation have been unsuccessful. The
problem with my account of causation is that it entails that we are all
talking nonsense. I shall attempt to demonstrate that our causal language
is not consistent with the way that changes occur in this world. I shall argue
that my view is supported by both Hume and Newton.
Geoff Oliver is an independent management system consultant. He
assists businesses with the maintenance of management systems that are
assessed against international standards. Primarily he works in the fields of
quality and environmental management, but has also worked on systems for the
management of information, energy, security and the prevention of terrorism.
His essay, 'We are all talking nonsense', won the 2017 Chadwick Prize.
7.00 Annual Society Dinner, with presentation of Chadwick and
Kant identified a problem that needs solving. If, as he
supposed – and as seems to me inescapable – everything that happens
is caused (or possibly, in some cases, random), including everything we do and
think, how do we account for the fact that we feel ourselves to be 'free', and
– more importantly for my purposes – hold ourselves accountable for
our actions, ready to be blamed for things we do wrong? Is this simply a piece
of cognitive dissonance, self-deception, wishful thinking, intellectual
dishonesty? Or can we hold both positions at once? Kant's own solution was
rather outlandish, but I want to suggest something more plausible –
along the lines of our feeling of freedom and responsibility being an
essential part of the total causal structure.
Bob Stone is a classicist, who specialised in Greek philosophy at
Cambridge, taught classics in schools for 35 years, then since retiring
nine years ago resumed his philosophical studies with a vengeance. He has
done most of the OUDCE online courses, attends 2 or 3 weekly classes every
year, as well as 4 or 5 of the weekend courses, and enjoys holding forth, both
orally and in writing, on any philosophical topic under the sun. The OUDCE is
now his spiritual home.
Our prevailing paradigm for understanding complex entities
leads us to a position that can be described as 'ontological reductivism',
in which we tend to assume that the micro-constituent elements of a complex
entity in some way have greater reality than the entity that they constitute.
This lop-sided understanding of reality, I suggest, relates to our limited
definition of cause as only being 'efficient cause'. Considering arguments
for an emergentist account of consciousness, I will explore the idea of
'Downward Causation' and discuss some of its metaphysical implications for
reconfiguring our understanding of causality.
READING: El-Hani & Pihlstrom (2002): Emergence Theories &
Emmeche et al (2000): Levels, emergence & three versions of downward
Kim (1999): Making Sense of Emergence;
Pihlstrom (2002): The Re-emergence of the Emergence Debate;
Tabaczek (2013): The Metaphysics of Downward Causation: Rediscovering the
Simon Borrington studied philosophy as a mature student at
Middlesex Polytechnic back in the 80s when it was a centre for the 'Radical
Philosophy' movement. He embarked on postgraduate work under the guidance of
Jonathan Rée, but life got in the way. For over thirty years philosophy has
been a persistent background noise to his engagement with the world and his
encounters with PhilSoc have provided a welcome opportunity (for him, at
least) to re-engage with the conversation.