Mario Bunge and the Current Revival of Causal Realism

In Michael R. Matthews (ed.), Mario Bunge: A Centenary Festschrift. Cham: Springer Verlag. pp. 205–217 (2019)
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Mario Bunge’s Causality and Modern Science is arguably one of the best treatments of the causal realist tradition ever to have been written, one that defends the place of causality as a category in the conceptual framework of modern science. And yet in the current revival of causal realism in contemporary metaphysics, there is very little awareness of Bunge’s work. This paper seeks to remedy this, by highlighting one particular criticism Bunge levels at the Aristotelian view of causation and illustrating its relevance for contemporary powers-based accounts. Roughly, the Aristotelian view depicts interactions between objects as involving a unidirectional exertion of influence of one object upon another. This idea of unidirectional action is central to the Aristotelian distinction between active and passive powers, and its corresponding distinction between active and passive objects. As Bunge points out, modern physics does not recognise the existence of any unidirectional actions at all; all influence comes in the form of reciprocal action, or interaction. If this is right, all notions deriving from or influenced by the idea of unidirectional actions—such as the concept of mutual manifestation and reciprocal disposition partners—risk being false by the same measure. Bunge drew the conclusion that the Aristotelian view is ontologically inadequate, but still advocated its use as the most useful approximation available in science. He considered, but ultimately rejected the possibility of a modified view of causation built on reciprocal action, because, in his view, it couldn’t account for the productivity of causation. Bunge’s critique of this particular aspect of the Aristotelian view cannot be overlooked in contemporary metaphysics, but it is possible to construe a modified view of causation that takes the reciprocity of interactions seriously without loss of productivity.
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