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Phil 437

PHIL 437: History of Metaphysics

Lecture 13

Theories of Causality


David Hume argues that causality is merely a cognitive joining of otherwise unrelated events. He provides an example of billiards balls: when I strike a cue ball which hits the 8-ball and proceeds to roll into the left-corner pocket, I cannot say that this caused my bookie Fernando to break my knee caps. I can only establish that I did not have the necessary money to pay for my wager, and then I received an ass-whooping bad enough that I swore several times to sweet baby Jesus* that I didn’t think my tibia was supposed to bend like that. Again, did this cause my wife to leave me? No. We can only point to what has happened (me gambling away our nest egg, showing up beaten and drunk to our daughter’s wedding, taking bets during the ceremony of how long it’ll take for my petite dumpling’s marriage to fail, and denying all of it at couple's therapy later that week) and then to what has happened next (me chain-smoking outside a Motel 6). Some attempt to use probabilistic reasoning, like pointing to the fact my daughter has had a “poor and frequently absent” father figure in order to ground that she will be mired in “an unmistakable lack of trust which only becomes apparent during year 2 and unbearable by year 3” so that there's "not a chance in hell her husband realizes this less than a year in," but ultimately such means are not absolute. Although we may live in a deterministic universe, we are still well within the system, and, as such, cannot have complete information which would be necessary to render such claims as knowledge. In this case, I did not account for the fact that my sugar pea is allergic to men with a temper and that my former son-in-law could only hide his for the time they were dating plus two months.

On the other hand, Kant believes we can justify claims of causality, relying on indexing perceptions over time. For example, as I write these lecture notes on the plane home from visiting the home in which I put my bat of a mother since I’m no longer welcome with my ex-wife, daughter, and newborn grandchildren, I can index my perceptions about the angry flight attendant trying to get me to turn off and stow my laptop: My mind’s eye glosses from top to bottom, so at t=0, I perceive unruly brown hair. At t=1, I perceive a wrinkly black blazer with a lipstick stain on the lapel. At t=2, I see the attendant unconsciously adjust his wedding ring. At t=3, I see that the bottom of his shirt pokes out through his unzipped fly. However, this is merely a subjective way to represent this attendant; the man beside me not-so-subtly trying to masturbate could just as easily have perceived the lipstick stain, the wedding ring, the fly, then the hair; or the fly, the ring, then the hair; the ring, the hair, then the fly and so on. Thus, there can be nothing which directly corresponds to our apperception. However, there are instances of objective indexing. Consider the event as described by the following: At t=0, the flight attendant is at the front of the plane, near the cockpit. At t=1, he walks briskly past my seat in the middle of the plane. At t=2, he knocks on the bathroom door in the rear, and at t=3, it opens and he enters. It would be impossible for even the intercontinental dirtbag sitting next to me to index in successive time these same events differently. Since there is a necessary progression of events, there must be something which mediates them through our understanding. This faculty of our understanding is what Kant views as causality.

*Whether baby Jesus exists, and if he does, if he is indeed sweet, will be the focus of the subsequent course in this sequence, PHIL 438.

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