Causes, Conditions, and the Pragmatics of Causal Explanation

Jim Woodward

in Philosophy of Science Matters

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738625
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894642 | DOI:
Causes, Conditions, and the Pragmatics of Causal Explanation

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Many standard accounts of causation, whether framed in terms of regularities involving necessary and sufficient conditions, statistical relevance, or counterfactual dependence, fail to distinguish factors that (at least in ordinary language) are described as “causes” from those regarded as mere “enabling conditions”. Partly as a consequence of this, it is also frequently argued that the cause/condition distinction is merely “pragmatic,” reflecting facts about the interests and other psychological states of explainers and their audiences, rather than being grounded in “objective” differences “in the world,” having to do with the different ways that causes and conditions are related to effects. This chapter argues that in an important range of cases there are objective bases for the cause/condition distinction. These have to do with the fact that in many cases relationships between causes and effects are more stable and more specific than relationships between conditions and effects.

Keywords: cause; condition; stability; specificity; pragmatics of explanation

Chapter.  5182 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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