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An action-related theory of causality

Gillies, D; (2005) An action-related theory of causality. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science , 56 (4) pp. 826-842. 10.1093/bjps/axi141. Green open access

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Abstract

The paper begins with a discussion of Russell?s view that the notion of cause is unnecessary for science, and can therefore be eliminated. It is argued that this is true for theoretical physics, but untrue for medicine where the notion of cause plays a central role. Medical theories are closely connected with practical action (attempts to cure and prevent disease), whereas theoretical physics is more remote from applications. This suggests the view that causal laws are appropriate in a context where there is a close connection to action. This leads to a development of an action-related theory of causality which is similar to the agency theory of Menzies and Price, but differs from it in a number of respects, one of which is the following. Menzies and Price connect ?A causes B? with an action to produce B by instantiating A, but, particularly in the case of medicine, the law can also be linked to the action of trying to avoid B by ensuring that A is not instantiated. The action-related theory has in common with agency theory of Menzies and Price, the ability to explain causal asymmetry in a simple fashion, but the introduction of avoidance actions together with some ideas taken form Russell enable some of the objections to agency accounts of causality to be met. The paper begins with a discussion of Russell?s view that the notion of cause is unnecessary for science, and can therefore be eliminated. It is argued that this is true for theoretical physics, but untrue for medicine where the notion of cause plays a central role. Medical theories are closely connected with practical action (attempts to cure and prevent disease), whereas theoretical physics is more remote from applications. This suggests the view that causal laws are appropriate in a context where there is a close connection to action. This leads to a development of an action-related theory of causality which is similar to the agency theory of Menzies and Price, but differs from it in a number of respects, one of which is the following. Menzies and Price connect ?A causes B? with an action to produce B by instantiating A, but, particularly in the case of medicine, the law can also be linked to the action of trying to avoid B by ensuring that A is not instantiated. The action-related theory has in common with agency theory of Menzies and Price, the ability to explain causal asymmetry in a simple fashion, but the introduction of avoidance actions together with some ideas taken form Russell enable some of the objections to agency accounts of causality to be met.

Type: Article
Title: An action-related theory of causality
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1093/bjps/axi141
Additional information: Imported via OAI, 7:29:01 3rd Mar 2007
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Science and Technology Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/465
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