Causing and Nothingness with Helen Beebee
April 4th, 2020
39 mins 22 secs
About this Episode
Can the absense of something ever be a cause? For example, image you forget to water your plants and your plants all die. Did your failure to water them cause the plants to die? Many people report the intuition you obviously have caused your plants to die, but shocking as it may at first seem, could this intuition actually be wrong?
Links and Resources
- Helen Beebee
- The paper - "Causing and Nothingness"
- The volume - Counterfactuals and Causation
- Background on The Metaphysics of Causation
- On the Notion of Cause 'Philosophically Speaking' by Helen Steward
- Background on the philosophy of David Lewis
- Overview paper by Sara Bernstein "The metaphysics of omissions"
- New work in cognitive science by Henne et al. "A Counterfactual Explanation for the Action Effect"
- "A Demonstration of the Causal Power of Absences" by Tyron Goldschmidt (via DailyNous) get ready to lol
"The causal history of the world is a mass of causal processes: events linked by a vast and complex web of causal relations. In order that the causal history of the world should look the way it does look, rather than some other way, there must have been no extra events impinging on it - for those extra events would have had effects that would have changed the causal history of the world in various ways. If Godzilla had impinged upon the causal history of the world, that causal history would have gone very differently. We might even, if circumstances demanded it, want to explain happenings in the world by citing Godzilla’s absence (though it’s hard to imagine that we should ever want to do so). But I see no need to think of Godzilla’s lack of impingement as a kind of causation."
"There just isn’t any objective feature that some absences have and others lack in virtue of which some absences are causes and others are not. So any definition of causation by absence which seeks to provide a principled distinction between absences which are and are not causes is bound to fail: no such definition will succeed in carving nature at its joints."