A Relic of a Bygone Age? Causation, Time Symmetry and the Directionality Argument

Erkenntnis 78 (2):215-235 (2013)
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Bertrand Russell famously argued that causation is not part of the fundamental physical description of the world, describing the notion of cause as “a relic of a bygone age”. This paper assesses one of Russell’s arguments for this conclusion: the ‘Directionality Argument’, which holds that the time symmetry of fundamental physics is inconsistent with the time asymmetry of causation. We claim that the coherence and success of the Directionality Argument crucially depends on the proper interpretation of the ‘ time symmetry’ of fundamental physics as it appears in the argument, and offer two alternative interpretations. We argue that: if ‘ time symmetry’ is understood as the time -reversal invariance of physical theories, then the crucial premise of the Directionality Argument should be rejected; and if ‘ time symmetry’ is understood as the temporally bidirectional nomic dependence relations of physical laws, then the crucial premise of the Directionality Argument is far more plausible. We defend the second reading as continuous with Russell’s writings, and consider the consequences of the bidirectionality of nomic dependence relations in physics for the metaphysics of causation.

Author Profiles

Alexander Reutlinger
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
Matt Farr
Cambridge University


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