Dissertation, Princeton University (2004)

Antony Eagle
University of Adelaide
The essays that constitute this dissertation explore three strategies for understanding the role of modality in philosophical accounts of propensities, randomness, and causation. In Chapter 1, I discuss how the following essays are to be considered as illuminating the prospects for these strategies, which I call reductive essentialism, subjectivism and pragmatism. The discussion is framed within a survey of approaches to modality more broadly construed. ;In Chapter 2, I argue that any broadly dispositional analysis of probability as a physical property will either fail to give an adequate explication of probability, or else will fail to provide an explication that can be gainfully employed elsewhere . The diversity and number of arguments suggests that there is little prospect of any successful analysis along these lines. ;The concept of randomness has been unjustly neglected in recent philosophical literature, and when philosophers have thought about it, they have usually acquiesced in views about the concept that are fundamentally flawed. In Chapter 3 I try to redress this. After indicating the ways in which the existing accounts are flawed, I propose that randomness is to be understood as a special case of the epistemic concept of the unpredictability of a process. This proposal arguably captures the intuitive desiderata for the concept of randomness; at least it should suggest that the commonly accepted accounts cannot be the whole story and more philosophical attention needs to be paid. ;Russell famously argued that causation should be dispensed with. He gave two explicit arguments for this conclusion, which can be defused if we loosen the ties between causation and determinism. In Chapter 4, I define a concept of causation which meets Russell's conditions but does not reduce to triviality. Unfortunately, a further serious problem is implicit beneath the details of Russell's arguments, which I call the causal exclusion problem. Meeting this problem involves deploying a pragmatic account of the nature and function of modal concepts. Russell's scruples about causation can be accommodated, even as we partially legitimise the pervasiveness of causal explanations in folk and scientific practice
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