Oxford Studies in Metaphysics - Vol. 1

By Dean W. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

10. The Intrinsic Character of Causation

Ned Hall


1. INTRODUCTION

There is surely something to the idea that the causal structure of a process is intrinsic to it—determined, that is, by the intrinsic natures of the events that make up the process, together with the ways in which they are juxtaposed with one another, together with the laws that govern that process. Consider a simple case.

Suzy Alone: Suzy, an expert rock-thrower with a taste for minor
acts of destruction, throws a rock at a bottle. The rock hits the
bottle, shattering it. Her throw is a cause of the shattering. Isn’t it
also clear that, in addition to the laws, whatever makes it a cause of
the shattering is to be found wholly within the sequence consisting
of the throw, the shattering, and the events in between?1 Whatever
is happening off-stage, as it were, would seem to have no bearing
on the causal status of her throw.

As further evidence that some such thesis of Intrinsicness (as I will call it) guides our thinking about causation, consider a variant.

Suzy First: This time Suzy’s friend Billy throws a rock at the bottle,
too. He’s just as expert as she is, but a bit slower. Consequently, her
rock gets there first; but if she hadn’t thrown it, the bottle would
have shattered all the same, thanks to his throw.

Billy’s throw in Suzy First disrupts the neat nomological relationships that held between Suzy’s throw and the shattering in Suzy Alone. For example, the shattering no longer counterfactually depends on her throw; nor does her throw belong to a unique set of non-redundant

1 Maybe we didn’t need to say “in addition to the laws”—maybe, that is, the fact that the process is governed by such-and-such laws is itself intrinsic to that process. We will come back to this issue later.

-255-

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