[hist-analytic] Davidson's Hume

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Thu May 28 07:05:02 EDT 2009

I agree with Prof. Aune that "we should consider that it was contingent all along." 
We might, even, want to "extend" the contingency. We might want to say that 
causes may be contingently causes and, also, it is only contingent that a cause has 
a certain effect. This is the thesis that causes do not determine, even if they *are* 
causes. I don't believe in the long run this will hold up. However, I am skeptical of 
the idea that the cause and effect relation between events described in the sentence 
'my tripping caused me to fall' is, ultimately, a conflation of laws taken together with 
initial conditions. In other words I think there is much to be said for singular causation 
in the sense of Ducasse. I'm still undecided but the Humean position, I no longer believe, 
is impregnable. 



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Bruce Aune" <aune at philos.umass.edu> 
To: "steve bayne" <baynesrb at yahoo.com> 
Cc: hist-analytic at simplelists.com 
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 6:51:24 AM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific 
Subject: Re: Davidson's Hume 

I am late to respond to Steve’s rejoinder to my observation because I 
have been occupied with non-philosophic matters. I have not read all 
the comments his original email provoked, so I may be covering old 
ground. But I would like to clarify my earlier remark a little, anyway. 

When I spoke of Davidson’s error, I had in mind the fact that “the 
cause of b caused b” contains a definite description, which Davidson, 
thinking of Russell rather than Donnellan, should have taken to imply 
that b has one and only one cause. In a subsequent note Steve asked 
what happens if we deny “the cause of b caused b.” From a Russellian 
point of view, the definite description in the denied sentence shows 
it to be equivalent to “There is one and only one cause of b and this 
one thing caused b: in symbols, “Ex[(y)(Cyb <-> y=x] & Cxb].” The 
denial of this quantified sentence, expressed in English, reduces to 
“Either there is more than one cause of b or b has no cause.” The 
error I said Davidson made amounted to neglecting the logical 
possibility that b has more than one cause. In speaking of logical 
possibility here, I mean possibility in the narrow logical (or 
formal) sense, not possibility in some broader sense. It is not a 
logical truth that an occurrence has exactly one cause. It is not a 
logical truth that an occurrence has any cause at all. 

Steve did mention the possibility that the definite description “the 
cause of b” might be used purely referentially in the given sentence, 
not attributively. When Donnellan introduced the notion of a purely 
referential description, he observed that such a description may pick 
out a referent that does not strictly satisfy it. He illustrated this 
by an example like this: “The man over there drinking a martini is 
my thesis advisor.” The referent of the description is a certain man, 
one that the speaker believes to be drinking a martini. But that man 
may not actually be drinking a martini; he may be drinking water in a 
martini glass. But the "referential" description might pick him out 
just the same. Suppose that ”the cause of b” is used, in “The cause 
of b caused b,” in this referential sense. Although the speaker uses 
the description to refer to an occurrence he or she believes to be 
the cause of b, the speaker’s belief may be false: the actual cause 
of b may have been some other occurrence. If this is so, the 
speaker’s statement is contingently false. I think we should 
consider that it was contingent all along. 

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