Abstract Objects, Causal Efficacy, and Causal Exclusion

Erkenntnis 83 (4):805-827 (2018)
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objects are standardly taken to be causally inert, but this claim is rarely explicitly argued for. In the context of his platonism about musical works, in order for musical works to be audible, Julian Dodd argues that abstracta are causally efficacious in virtue of their concrete tokens participating in events. I attempt to provide a principled argument for the causal inertness of abstracta by first rejecting Dodd’s arguments from events, and then extending and generalizing the causal exclusion argument to the abstract/concrete distinction. For reasons of parsimony, if concrete tokens or instantiations of abstract objects account for all causal work, then there is no reason to attribute causal efficacy to abstracta, and thus reason to maintain their causal inertness. I then consider how one of the main arguments against causal exclusion, namely Stephen Yablo’s notion of “proportionality”, could be modified to support the causal efficacy of abstracta. I argue that from a few simple premises Yablo’s account in fact supports their causal inertness. Having a principled reason for the causal inertness of abstracta appears to entail that the musical platonist must admit that we never literally hear the musical work, but only its performances. I sketch a solution to this problem available to Dodd, so that the musical platonist can maintain that musical works are abstract objects and are causally inert while retaining their audibility.

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Tim Juvshik
Middlebury College


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