Journal Article

Causation and Its Relation to ‘Causal Laws’

Sheldon R. Smith

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 58, issue 4, pages 659-688
Published in print December 2007 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online January 2007 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI:
Causation and Its Relation to ‘Causal Laws’

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Many have found attractive views according to which the veracity of specific causal judgements is underwritten by general causal laws. This paper describes various variants of that view and explores complications that appear when one looks at a certain simple type of example from physics. To capture certain causal dependencies, physics is driven to look at equations which, I argue, are not causal laws. One place where physics is forced to look at such equations (and not the only place) is in its handling of Green's functions which reveal point-wise causal dependencies. Thus, I claim that there is no simple relationship between causal dependence and causal laws of the sort often pictured. Rather, this paper explores the complexity of the relationship in a certain well-understood case. 1



The Causal Covering-Law Thesis


The Laws of String Motion


Green's Functions and Causation


Green's Functions and Boundary Conditions


The Green's Function as a Violation of the Wave Equation 6.1

The Green's Function and other Senses of ‘Causal Law’: Temporal Propagation and Local Propagation


The Distributional Wave Equation


Why is not the Green's Function a ‘Causal Law’?



Journal Article.  14438 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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