Is 'Cause' Ambiguous?

Philosophical Studies 179:2945-71 (2022)
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Causal pluralists hold that that there is not just one determinate kind of causation. Some causal pluralists hold that ‘cause’ is ambiguous among these different kinds. For example, Hall (2004) argues that ‘cause’ is ambiguous between two causal relations, which he labels dependence and production. The view that ‘cause’ is ambiguous, however, wrongly predicts zeugmatic conjunction reduction, and wrongly predicts the behaviour of ellipsis in causal discourse. So ‘cause’ is not ambiguous. If we are to disentangle causal pluralism from the ambiguity claim, we need to consider what other linguistic approaches are available to the causal pluralist. I consider and reject proposals that ‘cause’ is a general term, that the term is an indexical, and that the term conveys different kinds of causation through implicature or presupposition. Finally, I argue that causal pluralism is better handled by treating ‘cause’ as a univocal term within a dynamic interpretation framework.

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Phil Corkum
University of Alberta


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