In Martin Cohen (ed.), Essentials of Philosophy and Ethics. Hodder Arnold (2006)

Brad Weslake
New York University, Shanghai
hen Democritus (460–370 BC) said that he would rather discover one true cause than gain the kingdom of Persia, he signalled both the difficulty and the value of gaining causal knowledge. It is arguably the acquisition of causal knowledge that is the primary goal of scientific enquiry; and within philosophy, causation has played a central role in recent theories of reference, perception, decision making, knowledge, intentional and other mental states, and the role of theoretical terms in scientific theories. Indeed, Samuel Alexander (1859–1938) suggested that causation was of the essence of existence itself with his dictum that to be real is to have causal powers. Moreover, assumptions about the nature of causation structure a great deal of discussion elsewhere in philosophy. For example, debates over free will often take as their starting point the question of how we can be free if our intentions to act are themselves part of the causal order. Again, debates in the metaphysics of mind often revolve around the claim that since every physical event has a physical cause, the mind must itself be in some sense physical in order to be the causal source of our actions qua physical events
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