Journal Article

Notions of Cause: Russell's thesis revisited*

Don Ross and David Spurrett

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 58, issue 1, pages 45-76
Published in print March 2007 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online February 2007 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI:
Notions of Cause: Russell's thesis revisited*

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We discuss Russell's 1913 essay arguing for the irrelevance of the idea of causation to science and its elimination from metaphysics as a precursor to contemporary philosophical naturalism. We show how Russell's application raises issues now receiving much attention in debates about the adequacy of such naturalism, in particular, problems related to the relationship between folk and scientific conceptual influences on metaphysics, and to the unification of a scientifically inspired worldview. In showing how to recover an approximation to Russell's conclusion while explaining scientists' continuing appeal to causal ideas (without violating naturalism by philosophically correcting scientists) we illustrate a general naturalist strategy for handling problems around the unification of sciences that assume different levels of naïveté with respect to folk conceptual frameworks. We do this despite rejecting one of the premises of Russell's argument, a version of reductionism that was scientifically plausible in 1913 but is not so now.

1 Russell's Naturalistic Rejection of Causation

2 Psychology, Folk Notions and Intuitions

3 Causes in Science

4 Letting Science Hold Trumps

Journal Article.  14575 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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