Causal Production

As I argue in Chapter 3, although contemporary causal realists often appeal to the notion of causal production, they don’t really say too much about what exactly it is. They list what they think are the ingredients, but I find there are gaps and faults in the description of the process leading from input to output. Furthermore, they seem unaware of the detailed account of causal production—the standard view—that has been around at least since Aristotle. However, the standard view has its problems. In this chapter I will illustrate these problems and develop my ideas on how the standard view can be modified to overcome them.

The Standard View: A Reminder

The core idea of what I call the standard view is that new states of affairs are brought into existence when an already existing material substance changes due to an external influence, without which the change would not have occurred, and the new state of affairs had never existed. Typically, the external influence, or cause, is depicted in terms of an object possessing active causal powers, the Agent, which acts upon an object possessing passive powers, that object being called the Patient. Accordingly, a cause is the action of an Agent on a Patient, and an effect is the change produced in the Patient.

I emphasised three features of the standard view. First, that it depicts causal influence as something that is exerted between persistent particulars, not between events or states. Second, it depicts the exertion of influence as being unidirectional; it goes one-way from Agent to Patient. Finally, it does not identify causation with the action of the Agent alone, but with the way two or more material objects interact in virtue of their powers to produce a change in those very objects. In Hobbes’ words, ‘the efficient and material causes are both but partial causes, or parts of that cause, which in the next precedent article I called an entire cause’ (1656: Ch. IX, 4). It is this interaction between Agent and Patient—which is at the same time an exertion of influence between the two objects and a change in those objects—that I identify with a process of production, and which I believe we should recognise as the instances comprising the ontological category of causation. However, since the standard view is partly mistaken about the exact nature of that interaction, it needs to be modified.

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