Review of Kenneth Clatterbaugh 'The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy, 1637-1739'
Nadler (Steven)
Source: The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Sep., 1999), pp. 501-504
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Despite the intense interest that Hume continues to hold for philosophers working on causality1 and inductive reasoning, the seventeenth century is really the century for causation2. For it was in this earlier period that a number of pressing philosophical, theological and scientific issues conspired to make the questions around causation3 particularly acute.
  2. The same early modern philosophers who were trying to replace the older Aristotelian model of explanation in terms of four causes and metaphysical forms (often called 'occult powers') with the perspicuous mechanistic explanations of natural phenomena in terms of matter and motion were also nonetheless wedded to the traditional conception of God and his relationship to his creation.
  3. Many were also, to one degree or another, both devoted to the Aristotelian conception of science as a demonstrative enterprise and engaged in developing the more probabilistic model of the experimental method.
  4. Trying to reconcile these often competing commitments (to the old theology and the new science, to certainty and experiment) was not an easy affair, as Kenneth Clatterbaugh makes clear in his readable survey of how the major (and some minor) philosophers of the period approached the problem of causation4.
  5. Clatterbaugh' s analyses are built around two central problems.
    1. The first is the metaphysical problem of causation5: To state what conditions obtain at the level of ultimate metaphysical reality when causal statements are employed' (p. 3).
    2. The second problem concerns the epistemology of causation6, which involves two sub-problems:
      1. 'How can we know what goes on at the metaphysical level?' and
      2. 'How we know that an apparent causal interaction is a genuine causal interaction?'
  6. Both general problems arise in three distinct domains of causality7.
    1. First, there are the apparent causal relations between bodies in the material world.
    2. Then there is the alleged interaction between the human mind and the human body.
    3. Finally, and most problematically for the other two domains, there is the singular but universal causality8 said to obtain between God and his creation.
  7. It is the unwillingness of early modern philosophers like Descartes, Malebranche and Spinoza to jettison this last causal relationship that makes the other two types of causality9 so difficult to explain.


Review of "Clatterbaugh (Kenneth) - The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy 1637 - 1739".

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