Journal Article

An Action-Related Theory of Causality

Donald Gillies

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 56, issue 4, pages 823-842
Published in print December 2005 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online October 2005 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axi141
An Action-Related Theory of Causality

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The paper begins with a discussion of Russell's view that the notion of cause is unnecessary for science and can therefore be eliminated. It is argued that this is true for theoretical physics but untrue for medicine, where the notion of cause plays a central role. Medical theories are closely connected with practical action (attempts to cure and prevent disease), whereas theoretical physics is more remote from applications. This suggests the view that causal laws are appropriate in a context where there is a close connection to action. This leads to a development of an action-related theory of causality which is similar to the agency theory of Menzies and Price, but differs from it in a number of respects, one of which is the following. Menzies and Price connect ‘A causes B’ with an action to produce B by instantiating A, but, particularly in the case of medicine, the law can also be linked to the action of trying to avoid B by ensuring that A is not instantiated. The action-related theory has in common with the agency theory of Menzies and Price the ability to explain causal asymmetry in a simple fashion, but the introduction of avoidance actions together with some ideas taken from Russell enable some of the objections to agency accounts of causality to be met.

Introduction

Russell on causality

Preliminary exposition of the action-related theory

Differences between the action-related theory and the agency theory of Menzies and Price

Explanation of causal asymmetry

Objections to the action-related theory

Extension of the theory to the indeterminate case

Journal Article.  8690 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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