Regularity theory of causation

Theory – primarily associated with, and originated by, David Hume (1711-1776) – which analyzes causation in terms of nothing but regular sequence (together, in Hume’s case, with priority in time and contiguity in time and, where relevant, space).

The basic form of the theory says that one event causes another if it is followed by it and is such that events of the first kind are regularly followed by events of the second kind.

The point of the theory is to dispense with any mysterious causal necessity, and also to distinguish causal connections from logical connections: one event cannot logically necessitate another (Hume was the first to clarify this distinction).

The theory is therefore reductionist in nature, and versions of it appeal to empiricists and positivists.

Recently, however, the extent to which Hume himself adhered to the theory has come into dispute.

Also see: causal realism

J L Mackie, The Cement of the Universe (1974); sophisticated modern version reckoning to stay within the frame of the theory

Causality (also referred to as causation,[1] or cause and effect) is influence by which one event, process, state or object (a cause) contributes to the production of another event, process, state or object (an effect)[2] where the cause is partly responsible for the effect, and the effect is partly dependent on the cause. In general, a process has many causes,[3] which are also said to be causal factors for it, and all lie in its past. An effect can in turn be a cause of, or causal factor for, many other effects, which all lie in its future. Some writers have held that causality is metaphysically prior to notions of time and space.[4][5][6]

Causality is an abstraction that indicates how the world progresses,[7] so basic a concept that it is more apt as an explanation of other concepts of progression than as something to be explained by others more basic. The concept is like those of agency and efficacy. For this reason, a leap of intuition may be needed to grasp it.[8][9] Accordingly, causality is implicit in the logic and structure of ordinary language.[10]

In English studies of Aristotelian philosophy, the word “cause” is used as a specialized technical term, the translation of Aristotle’s term αἰτία, by which Aristotle meant “explanation” or “answer to a ‘why’ question”. Aristotle categorized the four types of answers as material, formal, efficient, and final “causes”. In this case, the “cause” is the explanans for the explanandum, and failure to recognize that different kinds of “cause” are being considered can lead to futile debate. Of Aristotle’s four explanatory modes, the one nearest to the concerns of the present article is the “efficient” one.

David Hume, as part of his opposition to rationalism, argued that pure reason alone cannot prove the reality of efficient causality; instead, he appealed to custom and mental habit, observing that all human knowledge derives solely from experience.

The topic of causality remains a staple in contemporary philosophy.

One thought on “Regularity theory of causation

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