Doing : an essay on causation, events, and action in the most general sense
Essay on causation, events, and action in the most general sense
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.
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Our world is populated not just by things, such as bombs, matches, and people, but also by events, like explosions, ignitions, and decisions. Part I, "Doings", is centered around my attempt to capture the nature of events. Events straddle the realms of thing and fact, eluding analysis, making this a difficult task. Yet it is an important one, because events play crucial roles in so many places: in philosophy of action and mind, in syntax and semantics, and particularly in metaphysics, where they are widely supposed to be the only true causes and effects. Part II, "Thing Causation", argues that the true causes are things. I first argue that previous theories have failed to capture the nature of events. Jaegwon Kim's well-known view takes every event to be associated with a triple of a thing, a repeatable that the thing instantiates, and a time of instantiation. Kim uses this one-to-one association to give existence and identity criteria for events.I argue that Kim's "events" are not really events at all; insofar as we can make sense of them, they are more like facts or propositions. But Kim's approach should not be abandoned altogether; the problem is not with association itself, but rather with Kim's assumption that association is one-to-one. Dropping this assumption results in a moderately coarse-grained conception of events that better matches our ordinary conception. It shares most of the theoretical virtues that Kim's view enjoys; most importantly, association can still be used to give existence and identity criteria. And it has a number of significant theoretical advantages over Kim's view, two of which I develop in depth : these moderately coarse-grained events are robust enough to support a version of token physicalism that does not collapse into type physicalism, and they illuminate the logical structure of the determinate-determinable relation. A second topic in Part I is the distinction between events and states.This distinction usually is either ignored, or else captured by taking events, but not states, to be changes in things over time. The latter approach is too narrow, for it precludes instantaneous events, and it forecloses a "dynamic" picture of fundamental reality, on which there are goings-on that (unlike changes) do not consist merely in reality being one way and then another. Instead, events are best understood as cases of things doing something, or simply "doings". Rockslides, for instance, are cases of rocks sliding, and sliding is something rocks can do. Things done, like sliding, are a special sort of repeatable. Thus I say that events are associated with triples of a thing, a repeatable that can be done , and a time. I develop this very broad notion of "doing something" by appealing to a linguistic distinction between dynamic and stative verbs.This distinction is central to the linguistics literature on aspect, and it is also philosophically important, since dynamic verbs stand for things done, whereas stative verbs stand for properties. Once we understand what events are, it emerges that events are not the sorts of entities that could cause, except in a derivative sense. In Part II, "Thing Causation", I argue that causation most fundamentally involves a thing causing another thing to do something. It is most fundamentally people and explosive substances, not actions and explosions, that cause. Causation between events is reducible to thing causation, but no reverse reduction is possible. I also touch on a number of other questions, including whether causation is partly normative, whether causation can occur even when no particular entity does any causing, and whether free agency involves causation by an agent.Regarding the last of these, I argue that agent causation is coherent and real, and the best-known objections to it fail completely, but agent causation on its own does not do the heavy lifting some agent-causal theorists expect from it. What is needed for agent-causal freedom is not just any causing done by an agent, but causing that is basic -- that the agent does not do by doing anything further.
Thesis: Ph. D. in Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, September, 2020Page 163 blank. Cataloged from student-submitted PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 149-162).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Linguistics and Philosophy.