Causation and Universals

Causation and Universals

Causation and Universals

Causation and Universals

Synopsis

The world contains objective causal relations and universals, both of which are intimately connected. If these claims are true, they must have far-reaching consequences, breathing new life into the theory of empirical knowledge and reinforcing epistemological realism. Without causes and universals, Professor Fales argues, realism is defeated, and idealism or scepticism wins. Fales begins with a detailed analysis of David Hume's argument that we have no direct experience of necessary connections between events, concluding that Hume was mistaken on this fundamental point. Then, adopting the view of Armstrong and others that causation is grounded in a second-order relation between universals, he explores a range of topics for which the resulting analysis of causation has systematic implications. In particular, causal identity conditions for physical universals are proposed, which generate a new argument for Platonism. The nature of space and time is discussed, with arguments against backward causation and for the view that space and time can exist independently of matter or causal process. Many of Professor Fales's conclusions seem to run counter to received opinion among contemporary empiricists. Yet his method is classically empiricist in spirit, and a chief motive for these metaphysical explorations is epistemological. The final chapters investigate the perennial question of whether an empiricist, internalist and foundational epistemology can support scientific realism.

Excerpt

The world, as I see it, contains objective causal relations. It also contains universals. The first fact and the second are intimately connected. These claims, if they are correct, must have profound and far-reaching consequences. I shall try both to justify the claims and to trace some of their consequences for ontology. Such an investigation, moreover, cannot leave epistemology untouched. Throughout, I shall raise epistemological issues, though they do not become the central concern until Part three. There, I shall try to show how these three features, causes, universals, and the connection between them, breathe new life into a certain theory of empirical knowledge: how, in particular, they undergird epistemological realism. Without them, I believe that realism is a forlorn hope, and idealism or skepticism wins the game.

Empiricists have almost universally felt themselves forced to adopt a leaner ontology than mine. As a result, they find themselves hard-pressed to explain many of our most fundamental beliefs; in the end, many of these beliefs are either abandoned or disguised – as in Berkeley's characterization of our belief in material objects. I admire the intellectual heroism which such philosophical asceticism breeds; and also the methodological credo of empiricism, to which I aspire to adhere to throughout. But it is a mistake (I shall argue) to suppose that this credo deprives us of the right to assert the existence of causation and of universals. It is equally a mistake to suppose that it forces some form of idealism upon us.

Since I am by temperament (are not most of us?) a realist, this outcome of the richer ontology is welcome. But the victory, as always with such matters, is partial, tentative, disputatious, and not easily won. In many places I fear I have sacrificed detail in favor of scope. It is my hope that this sketchiness does not damage the . . .

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