Constitution and Persistence

In Chapter 2 I introduced the distinction between characterising and explaining features of reality, arguing that neo-Humean accounts of causation only strive to characterise, while causal realist accounts strive to explain, all the while being compatible with neo-Humean characterisations on the level of description. Causal realist and neo-Humean accounts only disagree in so far as proponents of neo-Humean accounts of causation also explicitly endorse neo-Humean metaphysics, i.e. the view that there are no substantial connections in reality that could explain how causation appears in experience. I also claimed that extant accounts of the persistence of compound entities only characterise and do not explain. The only explanatory account of persistence I know of—that the world ultimately consists of permanent simples—only explains the persistence of simples. Now it is time to deliver on the promise of a causal account of the persistence of compound entities. Indeed, I think it also offers an explanation of the constitution of compound entities in contrast to mainstream accounts that merely characterise the relationships between the parts of constituted compounds (for an overview, see Wasserman 2018; Varzi 2019).

I think there are very obvious causal aspects to the constitution and continued existence of compound entities, especially in light of the scientific image of the world. Just consider the explanations given in secondary education physics and chemistry of the physical bonds that hold compound objects together, say, how elementary particles constitute an atom through continuous interaction. Physics, chemistry, and biology simply do not depict the entities they study as things that passively continue to exist as long as nothing destroys them; they continuously and actively preserve themselves through the interaction of their constituents. However, in philosophy it is rare to see anything more than a passing reference to the possibility that there might after all be something causal about persistence, except among proponents of process ontology. However, it is assumed that substance and process ontology are rival and incompatible views. I’ll return to that question in Chapter 7.

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