The categories of causation

Synthese 203 (1):1-35 (2023)
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This paper is an essay in what Austin (_Proc Aristotel Soc_ 57: 1–30, 1956–1957) called "linguistic phenomenology". Its focus is on showing how the grammatical features of ordinary causal verbs, as revealed in the kinds of linguistic constructions they can figure in, can shed light on the nature of the processes that these verbs are used to describe. Specifically, drawing on the comprehensive classification of English verbs founds in Levin (_English verb classes and alternations: a preliminary investigation_, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993), I divide the forms of productive causal processes into five classes, corresponding to Aristotle's ontological categories: there are processes that cause change in location, in state, and in quantity; and that lead to the creation and destruction of substances. These broader categories are then subdivided into other ones, corresponding to different Levin classes, according to further differences in the causal processes they involve. I conclude by discussing the relevance of this argument to research in metaphysics and experimental philosophy.

Author's Profile

John Schwenkler
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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