Journal Article

Of Humean Bondage

Christopher Hitchcock

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 54, issue 1, pages 1-25
Published in print March 2003 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online March 2003 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/54.1.1
Of Humean Bondage

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There are many ways of attaching two objects together: for example, they can be connected, linked, tied or bound together; and the connection, link, tie or bind can be made of chain, rope, or cement. Every one of these binding methods has been used as a metaphor for causation. What is the real significance of these metaphors? They express a commitment to a certain way of thinking about causation, summarized in the following thesis: ‘In any concrete situation, there is an objective fact of the matter as to whether two events are in fact bound by the causal relation. It is the aim of philosophical inquiry to analyze this objective relation.’ Through a variety of examples, I hope to cast doubt on this seemingly innocuous thesis. The problem lies not with the word ‘objective’, but with the word ‘the’. The goal of a philosophical account of causation should not be to capture the causal relation, but rather to capture the many ways in which the events of the world can be bound together.

1 The metaphors

2 Unpacking the metaphors

3 Theories of causation

4 The two assassins

5 The birth control pills

6 The smoker‐protector gene

7 The bicycle thief

8 Further examples

8.1 Indeterminism

8.2 Probability‐lowering causes

8.3 Parts vs wholes

8.4 Symmetric overdetermination

8.5 Delayers

8.6 Causation by omission

8.7 Double prevention/disconnection

8.8 Preemptive prevention

8.9 Quantitative variables

9 Conclusion

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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