Monday, May 14, 2018

Simultaneous and diachronic causation

The main problem with the idea that all causation is simultaneous is to make sense of the obvious fact of diachronic causation, as when setting an alarm in the evening causes it to go off in the morning. Here is a theory that has both simultaneity and diachronicity that bears further examination:

  • All causation between substances is simultaneous

  • There is diachronic causation within a substance.

We now have a model of how setting the alarm works, on the simplifying assumption that the alarm clock is a substance. In the evening, by simultaneous causation, I cause the clock to have a certain state. A sequence of diachronic causal interactions within the clock—accidents of the clock causing other accidents of the clock, say—then causes the alarm to go off. The alarm’s going off then, by means of simultaneous causation between substances, causes particles in the air to move, etc. In other words, the diachronicity of the causation is all internal to the substances.

An even more interesting theory would hold that:

  • All causation between substances is simultaneous

  • All causation within a substance is diachronic.

If we were willing to swallow this, then we would have a very elegant account of the internal time of a substance as constituted by the causal relations within the substance (presumably, the causal relations between the accidents of the substance).

4 comments:

Kenn said...

Interesting post

Peter said...

I ask this out of the depths of my own ignorance: Would the relativity of simultaneity (which, I take it, is supported by both special and general relativity) cause problems with either the precise formulation or even the coherence of such views?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yes, if the simultaneous causation is causation *at a distance*.

Gorod said...

I loved this post, very original and interesting, but I stumbled on that part about granting that the clock is a substance. I am a very amateur philosopher so correct me if I'm wrong or just confused, I wouldn't be surprised if I was.

I thought that machines were not substances, the substances are just their parts. In contrast, biological beings are substances, they really have a unity that transcends their parts (which we call life).

So your post would look much cleaner to me if you used an example from something that is decidedly a substance.

I can see the clock still following your rule, even if we don't deem it a substance: it would go off because of a long sequence of simultaneous causations between its parts.

But it would be nice to have an example of diachronic causation in a substance like a biological being (or even a spiritual being?).