Friday, March 3, 2023

Having multiple sufficient causes

It would be useful for discussions of causal exclusion arguments for physicalism to have a full taxonomy of the kinds of cases in which one effect E can have two sufficient causes C1 and C2.

Here is my tentative list of the cases:

1. Overdetermination: C1 and C2 overdetermine E

2. Chaining: Ci sufficiently causes Cj which sufficiently causes E (where i = 1 and j = 2 or i = 2 and j = 1)

3. Constitution: Ci sufficiently causes E by being partly constituted by Cj which sufficiently causes E (where i = 1 and j = 2 or i = 2 and j = 1)

4. Parthood: Ci sufficiently causes E by having the part Cj which sufficiently causes E (where i = 1 and j = 2 or i = 2 and j = 1).

If parthood is a special case of constitution, then (4) is a special case of (3). Moreover (2)–(4) are all species cases of:

1. Instrumentality: Ci sufficiently causes E by means of Cj sufficiently causing E (where i = 1 and j = 2 or i = 2 and j = 1).

Note that the above cases are not mutually exclusive. We can, for instance, imagine a case where we have both chaining and overdetermination. Let’s say I aim a powerful heat gun at a snowball. Just in front of the snowball is a stick of dynamite. The heat melts the snowball. But it also triggers an explosion which blows the snowball apart. Thus, we have overdetermination of the destruction of the snowball by two causes: heat and explosion. However, we also have chaining because the heat causes the explosion.

I wonder if we can come up with an argument that (1)–(4), or maybe (1) and (5), are the only options. That seems right to me.