Extra-Causalism and the Unity of Being

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Extra-Causalism and the Unity of Being

ABSTRACT: This paper identifies a thesis held widely in contemporary empiricist and naturalist metaphysics, viz., causalism — the view that to be is to be part of the causal structure of the world. I argue against this thesis, defending what I call extra-causalism. Claims that entities with no obvious causal role, like unexemplified properties and points of space, are unreal, or, if they are accorded reality, that they must have some discoverable — perhaps merely counter-factual — causal significance, are dogmatic and ad hoc. Another view logically independent of causalism, but often held by its advocates, is what may be called the thesis of ontic levels, the idea that there is a primary or basic sort of being (usually accorded the entities of the natural sciences), and at least one derivative or non-basic kind of being. I argue against this as well, claiming that extra-causalism and the unity of being are compatible with a fully naturalist and empiricist view of the world. Metaphysical causalism appears to involve misunderstanding the actual character and aims of natural science.

The causalism/extra-causalism contrast as intended here is a shifting continuum of opposing positions, not a single thesis and its denial. Some causalists, for example, accord universals what may be regarded as a secondary causal role. The sky's being blue or an apple's being sweet may have effects, and in virtue of those facts the constituent universals are parts of a causal story, the causal network of the world. Such a causalism as this insists only that putative entities making no contribution to this network are in fact pseudo-entities. So realism with regard to universals or other abstracta need not i...

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...ntific naturalism is the soundest guide that there is to the objective or intrinsic character of the universe. If putative entities are dubious or problematic proportionate to their distance from the core items of theoretical physics, it is understandable that the causal structure of the world, and the items necessarily involved in it, should be 'centred' or 'privileged' for ontology.

Though this outcome is understandable, I want to argue that a genuinely scientific or naturalist or empiricist point of view, or set of commitments, does not require, or even significantly lean to, causalism. This large aim can only of course be intimated and sketched in the time available to me here, with, I hope, the beginnings of plausible argument in the direction of its realization.


(1) Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991, p. 460.
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