Causation, physics, and fit

Synthese 194 (6):1945–1965 (2017)
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Abstract

Our ordinary causal concept seems to fit poorly with how our best physics describes the world. We think of causation as a time-asymmetric dependence relation between relatively local events. Yet fundamental physics describes the world in terms of dynamical laws that are, possible small exceptions aside, time symmetric and that relate global time slices. My goal in this paper is to show why we are successful at using local, time-asymmetric models in causal explanations despite this apparent mismatch with fundamental physics. In particular, I will argue that there is an important connection between time asymmetry and locality, namely: understanding the locality of our causal models is the key to understanding why the physical time asymmetries in our universe give rise to time asymmetry in causal explanation. My theory thus provides a unified account of why causation is local and time asymmetric and thereby enables a reply to Russell’s famous attack on causation.

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Christian Loew
Umeå University

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