Necessary connections and distinct existences

Authored by: Alexander Miller

The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics

Print publication date:  April  2009
Online publication date:  April  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415396318
eBook ISBN: 9780203879306
Adobe ISBN: 9781134155866


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A white billiard ball collides with a stationary black billiard ball at time t and a fraction of a second later, at time t+, the black ball moves off towards one of the pockets on the billiard table. At t+, a spectator sneezes. Call the collision of the white ball with the black ball at t event e 1, the black ball moving off at t+ event e 2 and the spectator sneezing at t+ event e 3. Intuitively, we would judge that e 1 caused e 2 but that e 1 did not cause e 3. What are we doing when we make causal judgements such as these? One answer is that we are expressing beliefs: when we judge that e 1 caused e 2 but not e 3 we are expressing the belief that e 1 stands in a relation to e 2 that it does not stand in to e 3. What relation? One answer is the relation of necessary connection: the occurrence of e 1 made necessary the occurrence of e 2. On the other hand, although e 1 was followed by e 3, the occurrence of e 1 did not make necessary the occurrence of e 3. Given e 1, in some sense e 2 (unlike e 3) had to happen. Causal realism, as understood here, holds that causal judgements express beliefs about necessary connections between events, that at least some of these beliefs are true (and justified), and that they are true in virtue of the obtaining of mind-independent states of affairs. (We can also think of the causal relation as obtaining between objects or facts, but throughout this entry we will think of it as obtaining between events). So causal realism holds that the judgement that e 1 caused e 2 expresses a belief that there is a relation of necessary connection between them, that this belief is true (and justified), and that the obtaining of this relation in no way depends upon the thoughts, feelings or mental activity of humans.

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