Ideas from 'Logic and Epistemology of Causal Relations' by G.H. von Wright [1973], by Theme Structure

[found in 'Causation' (ed/tr Sosa,E. /Tooley,M.) [OUP 1993,0-19-875094-3]].

green numbers give full details    |     back to texts     |     unexpand these ideas

10. Modality / B. Possibility / 1. Possibility
What is true used to be possible, but it may no longer be so
                        Full Idea: It is not very natural to say of that which is true that it is also possible. ...What is true was possible - but whether it still is a potency of the world is not certain.
                        From: G.H. von Wright (Logic and Epistemology of Causal Relations [1973], 5)
                        A reaction: A simple and rather important distinction. Before encountering this, I would certainly have been happy to affirm that the actual is possible, but actually it may not be. The power to create differs from the power to sustain. Could God re-create the world?
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 5. Direction of causation
p is a cause and q an effect (not vice versa) if manipulations of p change q
                        Full Idea: What makes p a cause-factor relative to the effect-factor q (rather than vice versa) is the fact that by manipulating p, producing changes in it 'at will', we could bring about changes in q.
                        From: G.H. von Wright (Logic and Epistemology of Causal Relations [1973], 8)
                        A reaction: As a solution to the direction-of-causation problem, I suspect that this proposal is begging the question. Will a causal explanation be offered of the action of manipulation? If he mistook his manipulation for a cause when it is actually an effect...
We can imagine controlling floods by controlling rain, but not vice versa
                        Full Idea: Given our present knowledge of the laws of nature, we can imagine ways of controlling floods by controlling rainfall, but not the other way round. That is should be so, however, is contingent.
                        From: G.H. von Wright (Logic and Epistemology of Causal Relations [1973], 8)
                        A reaction: Despite my objections to Idea 8363, this is a good example. It won't establish the metaphysics of the direction of causation, though, because God might control rainfall by controlling floods. Maybe causation is more like a motorway pile-up than dominoes.
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 8. Particular Causation / a. Observation of causation
The very notion of a cause depends on agency and action
                        Full Idea: There is an implicit dependence of the very notion of a cause on a concept of agency and action.
                        From: G.H. von Wright (Logic and Epistemology of Causal Relations [1973], 10)
                        A reaction: This is because he thinks experimental intervention is the key to the concept of causation (see Ideas 8362 and 8363). Others go further, and say that the concept of causation arises from subjective experience of performing actions. I quite like that.
We give regularities a causal character by subjecting them to experiment
                        Full Idea: What confers on observed regularities the character of causal or nomic connections is the possibility of subjecting cause-factors to experimental test by interfering with the 'natural' course of events.
                        From: G.H. von Wright (Logic and Epistemology of Causal Relations [1973], 7)
                        A reaction: This is von Wright's distinctive proposal, making causation a feature of the culture of science, rather than of ordinary life. But see Idea 2461. Causation is becoming too epistemological for my taste. Either it is a feature of reality, or forget it.
26. Natural Theory / C. Causation / 8. Particular Causation / c. Conditions of causation
We must further analyse conditions for causation, into quantifiers or modal concepts
                        Full Idea: We may be able to analyse causation into conditionship relations between events or states of affairs, ...but conditions cannot be regarded as logical primitives, ... and must be analysed into quantifiers, or modal concepts.
                        From: G.H. von Wright (Logic and Epistemology of Causal Relations [1973], 2)
                        A reaction: [very compressed] A nice illustration of the aim of analytical philosophy - to analyse the elements of reality down to logical primitives. This is the dream of Descartes and Leibniz, continued by Russell and co. Do we still have this aspiration?
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 2. Types of Laws
Some laws are causal (Ohm's Law), but others are conceptual principles (conservation of energy)
                        Full Idea: Not all laws are causal 'experimentalist' laws, such as those for falling bodies, or the Gas Law, or Ohm's Law. Some are more like conceptual principles, giving a frame of reference, such as inertia, or conservation of energy, or the law of entropy.
                        From: G.H. von Wright (Logic and Epistemology of Causal Relations [1973], 9)
                        A reaction: An interesting and important distinction, whenever one is exploring the links between theories of causation and of laws of nature. If one wished to attack the whole concept of 'laws of nature', this might be a good place to start.