Omissions and Causal Explanations

In Francesca Castellani & Josef Quitterer (eds.), Agency and Causation in the Human Sciences. Mentis Verlag. pp. 155–167 (2007)
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Abstract

In previous work I have argued that talk about negative events should not be taken at face value: typically, what we are inclined to think of as a negative event (John’s failure to go jogging) is just an ordinary, positive event (his going to the movie instead); it is a positive event under a negative description. Here I consider more closely the difficulties that arise in those cases where no positive event seems available to do the job, as with putative cases of causation by omission. In particular, I elaborate on Helen Beebee’s idea that not all causal explanations are reports of causation. When we mention John’s failure to turn off the gas as an explanans of why there was an explosion, we do not say what caused the explosion. We do not mention any of the relevant causes. We just remark that one sort of event that was supposed to occur, and whose occurrence would have prevented the explosion, did not in fact occur.

Author's Profile

Achille C. Varzi
Columbia University

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