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Notions of Cause: Russell's Thesis Revisited

Don Ross and David Spurrett
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Vol. 58, No. 1 (Mar., 2007), pp. 45-76
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4489100
Page Count: 32
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Notions of Cause: Russell's Thesis Revisited
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Abstract

We discuss Russell's 1913 essay arguing for the irrelevance of the idea of causation to science and its elimination from metaphysics as a precursor to contemporary philosophical naturalism. We show how Russell's application raises issues now receiving much attention in debates about the adequacy of such naturalism, in particular, problems related to the relationship between folk and scientific conceptual influences on metaphysics, and to the unification of a scientifically inspired worldview. In showing how to recover an approximation to Russell's conclusion while explaining scientists' continuing appeal to causal ideas (without violating naturalism by philosophically correcting scientists) we illustrate a general naturalist strategy for handling problems around the unification of sciences that assume different levels of naïveté with respect to folk conceptual frameworks. We do this despite rejecting one of the premises of Russell's argument, a version of reductionism that was scientifically plausible in 1913 but is not so now.

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