Review of Collins, Hall, and Paul, Causation and Counterfactuals [Book Review]


As you scroll through this review, you move your hand; this causes the mouse to move; in turn this causes, via a series of intermediary events, changes on your screen. A bit more reflection shows that this case is entirely mundane: causal relations are a ubiquitous feature of the physical world. Causal relations are also, according to many philosophers, at the center of phenomena like knowledge, perception, linguistic meaning, mental content, belief, free action, and right action. In fact, one is hard put to think of an important philosophical notion that has not received a causal analysis, especially in recent analytic philosophy. Consider a few from the theory of knowledge. According to the causal theory of knowledge, knowledge is true belief caused by what makes the belief true. Or, according to a competing view, knowledge is true belief caused by a reliable belief forming process, where a reliable process is one that causes a high ratio of true to false beliefs. According to the causal theory of perception, seeing that the cup is on the table consists in being in a perceptual state that is appropriately caused by the cup and the table. Causation, it seems, is absolutely central. We will need to understand causation itself if we are to understand either causal theories in philosophy or the nature of the surrounding world.

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Peter Murphy
University of Indianapolis

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