[hist-analytic] Davidson's Hume

steve bayne baynesrb at yahoo.com
Sat May 23 12:12:00 EDT 2009


"For if events were causes, then a true description of some event would be 'the cause of b', and, given that such an event exists, it follows logically that the cause of b caused b." (Davidson in Action and Events p. 150)

But does the fact that this means that it is logically necessary that the cause of b caused b is not so obvious. Let's take a look.

Suppose events were predecessors, then a true description of some event would be 'the predecessor of b', and, given that such an event exists, it follows logically that the predecessor of b preceded b.

Note the definite description 'the cause of b' and 'the predecessor of b' can be regarded in two ways (Donnellan 1966): attributive and referential. Suppose the claim in the 'predecessor' case is that predecessors are events. If so, then on Davidson's reasoning why can't we infer that it is a logical truth that the predecessor of b preceded b and that since this is absurd predecessors cannot be events? But some, Russell, have maintained that events are *defined* as what can occur in the relation 'before' or 'after'. Now the point we can derive from Donnellan's distinction.

Clearly, 'the cause of b caused b' follows if it is true that a caused b and the description 'the cause of b' obtains. But the problem, if it is a problem, is that this is true only of the attributive employment of the description. If we take the description 'the predecessor of b' as referential, then it is a contingent fact that 'the predecessor of b preceded b'. The same holds in the causal case, especially since we are speaking about singular causation.

It is necessarily true that whatever preceded b was a predecessor of b, but that *this* event or fact, etc. preceded b is not a necessary truth. Can we make this explicit using Donnellan's distinction. I am inclined to think so, but we may need to appeal to some other notion.

I haven't reached a firm position on this sort of criticism of Davidson. Part of the problem is that I don't think so much as rejected the necessity of causation, only that the "necesssity" was objectual (between events outside the mind). Note the connection here with some remarks by Melden on the causal theory of action.

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