Natural Philosophy and the Use of Causal Terminology: A Puzzle in Reid's Account of Natural Philosophy

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 8 (2):101-114 (2010)
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Thomas Reid thinks of natural philosophy as a purely nomothetic enterprise but he maintains that it is proper for natural philosophers to employ causal terminology in formulating their explanatory claims. In this paper, I analyze this puzzle in light of Reid's distinction between efficient and physical causation – a distinction he grounds in his strict understanding of active powers. I consider several possible reasons that Reid may have for maintaining that natural philosophers ought to employ causal terminology and suggest that the underlying rationale for his views is his understanding of the aims of explanation and their connection to the interests of human agents. The ultimate aim of knowing the causes of phenomena is to mollify the natural intellectual curiosity of human inquirers and provide guidance that insures successful action. The discovery of laws governing phenomena fulfills this aim and, as such, it is appropriate for natural philosophers to employ causal terminology.
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