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Comments on `Causality, Senses and Reference'. - U.T.Place

This section of Rockwell's paper raises the important issue

of distinguishing between cases where we are dealing with

two descriptions differing in sense which refer to one and

the same thing and cases where we are dealing with a causal

relation between distinct existences. He points out quite

rightly that as we move away from paradigm cases of identity

such as `Water is H2O' and `The Morning Star is

the same object as the Evening Star' the more difficult this

distinction is to draw. What he does not discuss is the

direction in which we are moving when we move away from the

standard cases he mentions. This is something we pick up

only from the examples he discusses beginning with a

particular instantaneous event, the death of Socrates.

Now it appears to be the case that if, for the time

being, we put aside cases such as `Water is H2O'

where we are dealing with a type or kind of thing and focus

on cases where we are dealing only with tokens or

particulars, we find that if we put cases of particular

substances in Aristotle's sense of that term such as the

planet Venus at one extreme, there is progression through

particular processes and activities, such as the mental

process which produced this piece of prose, instantaneous

events such as the death of Socrates, to at the other

extreme a particular relation such as that between a

particular dog and its owner or a particular dispositional

state such as my belief that it's not going to rain this

afternoon. Along this dimension we find that the number of

predicates that are true of the particular diminishes as we

move from particular substances to particular dispositional

states. Moreover, although types in general have far fewer

predicates true of them than do the corresponding tokens/

particulars, the same diminution in the number of predicates

that are true can be observed as we move from substance

types, such as billiard balls in general or water in

general, to dispositional property types, such as

brittleness in general.

That said, I cannot accept the death of Socrates and

Xanthippe's becoming a widow as two descriptions of the same

event. These are descriptions of two distinct and causally

related events. Becoming a widow is a matter of acquiring a

social status with distinctive legal and social rights and

obligations, a status which a woman acquires on and by

virtue of the death of her husband. The relevant causal

counterfactuals which show that this is a causal relation


`If Socrates had not died when he did, Xanthippe

would not have become a widow when she did'

`If Xanthippe had predeceased (or been divorced

from) Socrates, she would not have become a widow

on his death'.

What is wrong with

`If Xanthippe had predeceased (or been divorced

from) Socrates, Socrates would not have died as

and when he did'

is that it inverts the causal relation, and makes an effect

into the cause.

If you want an example of a genuine case of another

description of the same instantaneous event as the death of

Socrates, how about the event whereby Socrates' heart

stopped beating, given that no attempt was made to re-start

it? Although it's a slightly odd way of putting it, it is

still true that if the event whereby Socrates' heart ceased

to beat had not occurred when it did, Xanthippe would not

have become a widow as and when she did.

You will see from this that I agree with Kim and

Goldman in thinking that Socrates' death and Xanthippe's

widowhood are discrete events; but reject their view that

there are NO cases of different descriptions of the same

event. I have some sympathy with Goldman's view that "only

two SYNONYMOUS (I would prefer to say `conceptually

connected') descriptions can refer to the same event." But

the reason for this, I believe, is connected to the

relatively small number of predicates that apply in the case

of instantaneous events, even particular ones. The number

of predicates that go with a particular ontological category

appears to be a function of the number of spatio-temporal

dimensions involved. Thus substances both in the

Aristotelian and in the modern sense are located and

extended in both the three spatial dimensions and one

temporal dimension. Processes and activities are similarly

located and extended; but their spatial location and

extension is parasitic on the spatial location and extension

of the participating substances. Think of a telephone

conversation between someone in the US or the UK and someone

in Australia. Where is that? Instantaneous events, such as

the death in which the process of dying terminates, are

located, but not extended in time and located, but hardly

extended, in space. Relations are extended and with some

qualifications located in time and located, but not

extended, in space. Dispositional states are extended in

time within certain often undeterminate temporally located

limits, but to my intuitions it makes no sense to talk of

either spatial location or extension in such cases.

This latter is part of the reason for thinking, as I

do, that dispositional states cannot be the same thing as

the underlying structures on which their existence depends.

But that in no way diminishes my conviction that in the case

of substances and processes macro-and micro-descriptions

relate to one and the same thing. To raise the question

whether mental and neurological PROPERTIES are or are not

identical rides roughshod over a distinction on which I have

insisted since 1956, but which no one else appears to

recognize, the distinction between the story we tell about

mental processes/consciousness and the story we tell about

mental dispositions, particularly propositional attitudes.

The status of instantaneous events such as the death

that ends the process of dying is, of course, a problem for

a view such as mine that construes the reductionist issue

differently in the case processes and dispositional states.

For it would seem that in the biological and mental cases

instantaneous events are constituted by the temporal

interface between an antecedent process and a subsequent and

consequent dispositional state. That means that, on my view

which holds that processes are, but dispositional states

are not, identical with their structural composition/

underpinning, no simple answer can be given to the question

`Are instantaneous biological/mental events identical with

the structures that underlie them?'

To take Kim's stabbing and killing case, I would

certainly want to agree that in so far as Brutus' stabbing

Caesar caused Caesar to die, the stabbing and the killing

refer to the same action on the part of Brutus. But whereas

the `stabbing' mentions only what Brutus did, `killing'

mentions the effect of what he did, namely the event whereby

Caesar died. There is no contradiction involved in saying

that Brutus stabbed Caesar but failed to kill him. This is

just another case of a particular of which more than one

predicate is contingently true. It is not remotely

comparable with the case of a belief and the underlying

state of the brain. The analogy here is between the state

of being dead and the cessation of the metabolic processes

which keep an organism alive. That, according to me, is a

causal relation between distinct existences. The same is

true of the relation between a belief and the underlying

state of the brain. In the case of the stabbing and the

killing both are descriptions of an action, an action of

Brutus. In the dispositional cases the belief and the state

of being dead are states of the person. The cessation of

the metabolic processes and the state of synaptic

connections that underlie a belief are states of those

structures. Identity between events and states for my money

requires identity between the substances involved.

Turning to the issue of causality, to suppose that

causal relations hold between objects, i.e. substances, is

clearly a mistake - though I can't think of a causal

relation that doesn't involve some kind of interaction

between two or more substances. On the other hand to speak

of causation as a relation between events is to ignore the

whole domain of statics where causal relations are between

states, not events. Moreover, in the case of an event it

also ignores, as the paper implicitly points out, all those

multiple contributory causal factors which need to be in

place as persistent states before the effect is finally

set in motion by the triggering event (e.g., the lighting of

the touch paper.

While I very much endorse the emphasis on the

invariable multiplicity of causes, I think, it's important

in talking of the causes of an event or state of affairs to

distinguish between those causal factors that are still

operative so long as the state persists or when the event

occurs and those that are part of the complete causal story

of how the event or state of affairs came to be, but which

have ceased to exist or to operate by the time the effect

comes to exist. Talking of "the metaphysical cause of an everything in the universe that was responsible

for that event taking place" strikes me as over-inclusive.

I will forbear to comment on the appalling quotation

from Kim 1993. Trying to disentangle the conceptual

confusions it contains would take an essay as long again as

this is already.

That causes have effects that are epiphenomenal in the

sense illustrated by Dennett's example of the shadow, must

be granted. But it's important to note that such effects

are only epiphenomenal RELATIVE to some intention of an

agent or some interest on the part of an investigator. In

themselves they are just as much effects as those that are

intended or in the focus of interest.

There's a lot I could say about causal laws and laws of

nature. I would confine myself to three dogmatically stated


1. As is stated in the paper, causal laws (i.e. verbal

formulae) are invariably subject to a CETERIS PARIBUS

(other things being equal) clause.

2. Causal laws cannot be adequately represented by a

proposition of the form `If p then q'. The conditional

relation they express is between the existence/occurrence of

states and events, not between the truth of propositions.

3. The truthmakers (the events or states of affairs whose

existence or non-existence makes the proposition true) for

causal law statements are the dispositional states of

particular substances. There are no universal substantive

laws of nature in general as envisaged e.g., by David


I note finally that I haven't said anything about the

concept of a property, and whether or not there are emergent

properties. On this I will say only two things. Firstly, I

hold that the only genuine properties are dispositional

properties. Secondly, I hold that the dispositional

properties of the whole are invariably emergent relative to

the parts and THEIR dispositional properties on which the

properties of the whole depend in a causal sense. But here

the direction of causation is upward rather than downward.