CFP: Causation and Reduction: From Metaphysics to the Sciences

Submission deadline: December 15, 2019

Conference date(s):
April 4, 2020

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Conference Venue:

Department of Philosophy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, United States

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In his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), Hume rested all of our knowledge of matters of fact—empirical truths as opposed to truths about mathematics or logic—on our knowledge of causation. He wrote, “All reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of Cause and Effect. By means of that relation alone we can go beyond the evidence of our memory and senses” (26). But while Hume thought that all of our empirical knowledge depends on our knowledge of cause and effect, he was skeptical that we had rational access to causal relations, writing that “there is a step taken by the mind which is not supported by any argument or process of the understanding” (41). And he argued that we have no sense impression of causation or of any real connection between events. We never find causation as such in our ordinary experience. Rather, we infer that two events are causally related from other things that we directly experience, such as their regular association and their temporal relations.

Many philosophers since Hume have attempted to do away with the causal relation, reducing it to something supposedly more accessible or less mysterious. Candidates today include patterns of counterfactual dependence, patterns of probabilistic dependence, processes involving the transfer of a conserved quantity, and non-causal nomic dependency or determination. But is reduction the right strategy with respect to causation? And does the causal relation really play such a central role in science and ordinary life as Hume assumed? These and related questions are matters of contemporary philosophical debate, and they are also pressing concerns in many sciences today.

Therefore, we invite submissions on the theme, “Causation and Reduction: From Metaphysics to the Sciences.” We are especially interested in papers on the following specific topics:

  • Is the causal relation a primitive, fundamental part of the structure of the universe? Or can it be reduced or eliminated in favor of something else, such as counterfactual dependence?
  • Is some principle of causality fundamental to scientific practice? If so, then what does the relevant principle look like? If not, then is causation relevant to science at all?
  • Is causation just part of a folk theory of the world? If so, what does that folk theory look like? Does a folk theory of causation do any work in science?
  • How can we know anything about causation? Are there formal or universal rules for causal reasoning?
  • Is causation a relation? If so, what are its relata?
  • Is the grounding relation different from the causal relation?

The conference will be held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, April 4, 2020. Keynote addresses will be given by John D. Norton (http://www.pitt.edu/~jdnorton/jdnorton.html) and Michael Strevens (https://as.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/as/faculty/michael-r-strevens.html). To submit, please send either a paper or an extended abstract (up to 1,000 words in length) prepared for blind review AND a separate identifying title page to Christy Foster at foste@illinois.edu by December 15, 2019.

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