[MaFLa] Huoranszki Ferenc (CEU) - The Contingency of Causal Relations

Katalin Farkas farkask at ceu.hu
Wed Nov 26 13:24:52 CET 2008

The CEU Philosophy Department cordially invites you to a talk (as part
of its Departmental Colloquium series)
Ferenc Huoranszki (CEU)
The Contingency of Causal Relations

Tuesday,2 December, 5.30 PM, Zrinyi 14, Room 412

One of the most puzzling issues about causation is its modal character.
On the one hand, causation makes the occurrence of certain events
non-accidental and it supports the truth of the corresponding
counterfactuals, both of which imply that the relation between cause and
effect is not contingent. On the other hand, most philosophers have been
persuaded by Hume’s arguments that causal relations are contingent.
Traditional answers to the puzzle assume either - as Hume did - that
‘necessity is not in the objects’ or, alternatively, that there are
different sorts of necessities and hence, although causation is
contingent in one sense (in the sense of ‘absolute’ or ‘metaphysical’
necessity), it can be nevertheless necessary in another ‘nomological’
sense. The first solution is, however, unbelievable to most of us,
whereas the second has never managed to provide a non-circular account
of the notion of nomological necessity as distinct from the metaphysical
    In the talk I shall suggest a different understanding of the
contingency of causal relations that may account for all the Humean
insights without endorsing Humean metaphysics. In arguing against the
view that causal relations are necessary Hume formulated two different
claims. On the one hand, he claimed that there is not a necessary
connection between certain powers and (different species of) objects. On
the other hand, he argued that we do not have an idea of powers which
imply necessary connection between distinct existences. The latter claim
is, however, too strong. It seems that we do have a notion of power-like
properties as functions from (kinds of) circumstances to (kinds of)
effects. If causal relations are indeed contingent, they are contingent
for a different reason. The reason is that causation is not always a
transitive relation. I shall argue that there is no single ‘yes or no’
answer to the question concerning the transitivity of causal relations
and that the issue of transitivity - contrary to what most Humeans hold
- is not independent of the issue of contingency. In fact, it is with
reference to intransitivity that we can explain in which sense causation
is contingent.
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