Causation in a Physical World

Hartry Field

in The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics

Published in print September 2005 | ISBN: 9780199284221
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Causation in a Physical World

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Of what use is the concept of causation? Bertrand Russell argued that it is not useful: it is ‘a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm’. His argument for this was that the kind of physical theories that we have come to regard as fundamental leave no place for the notion of causation: not only does the word ‘cause’ not appear in the advanced sciences, but the laws that these sciences state are incompatible with causation as we normally understand it. But Nancy Cartwright has argued that abandoning the concept of causation would cripple science; her conclusion was based not on fundamental physics, but on more ordinary science such as the search for the causes of cancer. She argues that Russell was right that the fundamental theories of modern physics say nothing, even implicitly, about causation, and concludes on this basis that such theories are incomplete. This article begins a discussion on this cluster of issues.

Keywords: causation; Bertrand Russell; Nancy Cartwright; law of science; modern physics; theories of science

Article.  13728 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Philosophy of Science

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