On the Nature of Coincidental Events

Axiomathes 32 (1):143-68 (2022)
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It is a common opinion that chance events cannot be understood in causal terms. Conversely, according to a causal view of chance, intersections between independent causal chains originate accidental events, called “coincidences.” The present paper takes into proper consideration this causal conception of chance and tries to shed new light on it. More precisely, starting from Hart and Honoré’s view of coincidental events, this paper furnishes a more detailed account on the nature of coincidences, according to which coincidental events are hybrids constituted by ontic components, that is the intersections between independent causal chains, plus epistemic aspects; where by “epistemic” we mean what is related, in some sense, to knowledge: for example, access to information, but also expectations, relevance, significance, that is psychological aspects. In particular, this paper investigates the role of the epistemic aspects in our understanding of what coincidences are. In fact, although the independence between the causal lines involved plays a crucial role in understanding coincidental events, that condition results to be insufficient to give a satisfactory definition of coincidences. The main target of the present work is to show that the epistemic aspects of coincidences are, together with the independence between the intersecting causal chains, a constitutive part of coincidental phenomena. Many examples are offered throughout this paper to enforce this idea. This conception, despite—for example—Antoine Augustine Cournot and Jacques Monod’s view, entails that a pure objectivist view about coincidences is not tenable.

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