Are Causal Laws a Relic of Bygone Age?

Axiomathes 27 (6):653-666 (2017)
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Bertrand Russell once pointed out that modern science doesn’t deal with causal laws and that assuming otherwise is not only wrong but such thinking is erroneously thought to do no harm. However, looking into the scientific practice of simulation or experimentation reveals a general causal comprehension of physical processes. In this paper I trace causal experiences to the existence of innate causal capacity by which we organize sensory information. This capacity, I argue, is something we have got in virtue of natural selection as can be seen from experiments with intelligent animals like crows and chimpanzees. So understanding the empirical world is impossible without the use of causal categories. The reason why Russell believed that modern science does not refer to causal laws is, I think, because he argued that the laws of mathematical physics give us a non-causal description of reality. In contrast to such a claim I hold that theoretical laws are prescriptive rules of description rather than descriptions themselves.

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Jan Faye
University of Copenhagen


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