The Hallmark of Necessary Connections in Causal Relations

Let us begin with the relation of cause and effect. A cause and effect relation can be spoken of as being general or as being a particular instance. For example:

Easterly wind causes ships to sail East. (General)

Vs.

The easterly wind causes the ship to sail East. (Particular)

As the above would imply, easterly wind is a cause of the effect of ships sailing East. However, perhaps sometimes easterly wind is no cause at all, such as in the case that it hits against no ships or anything else at all, and is moving so uniformly that it even doesn’t effect its surrounding molecules. Perhaps it does so in outer space (if things can be said to move East in outer space). In such a case, there is an easterly wind, but no effect. By this, the easterly wind is not a cause. However, the above example claims are not contradicted in any way. The former is still true since it is a general claim, perhaps restricted to easterly wind near the surface of the Earth. The claim there is that in general or for the most part, easterly wind causes ships to sail east. This won’t be made false by a particular instance of a sailing ship failing to go East, or of the easterly wind being no cause at all in a particular instance. For the latter claim, which is of a particular case, it is also not made false by what is actually the case of some other particular easterly wind and some other particular ship from the one it references.

Obviously, when a wind is not a cause, there will also be no effect or causal relation, so I won’t need to concern myself with whether there is a particular kind of causal relation involved (viz. one of necessary connections). In seeking necessary connections, I will concern myself with a cause only under the assumption that it indeed factors as a cause (i.e. has an effect). What is a necessary connection in a causal relation?

A necessary connection between a cause and its effect says that given the cause, the effect must result.

I want to highlight first of all that this claim is not a general claim. Note: ‘the cause’ and ‘the effect’. But let me defend for a moment that this is not just my taking a claim that is allowed to be general and forcing it to be particular. Actually, making it a general claim makes it incompatible with general causal claims from the start. What we mean by ‘general’ is here something like ‘for the most part’, or ‘more than half the time’. If we allow that necessary connections between a cause and an effect be that given some general cause, then its general effect must follow, a contradiction would follow. That is, if we think that necessary connections involve the claim that given a cause that results in its effect more than half the time, then the effect must result, this would be a logical absurdity in any causal relation that has as a result another effect from the one it has generally.

Not only is it possible for there to be claims of a general sort of causation if necessity is true, but we can also use necessity to make sense in the first place for why a different effect resulted than the one that generally results: it’s because the cause was different (i.e. in a different context, or of a different type), and this difference, not captured by the general claim, necessarily results in an effect of a different sort. (For more details about how a causal context can answer how necessary connections is compatible with general causation (particularly with a struck match that sometimes fails to light), see my previous post: Necessary Connections in Causal Relations.)

I’m of course not interested in further defending necessary connections against cases where some expected effect is prevented from occurring, since I think I sufficiently covered this in my previous posts on necessary connections (the first linked above and the one after that found here). This post is after all about the hallmark of necessary connections, and subsequently how by that hallmark it turns out that all forms and instances of causation exhibit necessary connections after all.

In particular instances of causation, a cause will restrict what can result or occur. So wind hits up against some sails, and this wind hitting against the sails restricts what results. Deterministically speaking, the wind hitting against the sails will alter the ship’s course along one trajectory. In this case, what can occur given the cause is indeed very narrow. However, it is not required that we speak only deterministically. Indeterministically speaking, the wind hitting against the sails makes the ship most likely to travel along trajectory A, more likely (to varying probabilities) to travel along trajectories B, C, or D, less likely (to varying probabilities) to head along E and F, and least likely to head along G. This is an appropriate way of such a wind restricting what can occur, since the wind is what is altering the probabilities that it heads one way rather than another, and the probabilities are themselves restrictive on what can occur. That is, they will be one probabilistic distribution, as opposed to some other.

Such a restriction on what can occur is the hallmark of a necessary connection. Causation, both deterministic and indeterministic, is restrictive on what can occur given the cause. In terms of must, the restriction is that given a cause, there must be one result that is either itself identical with one event or occurrence (in cases of deterministic causation), or else is identical with an event or occurrence that reflects or embodies a probabilistic distribution among other events or occurrences (in cases of indeterministic causation). The latter is not without necessary connections, since the result is probabilistically constrained and, regardless of how many other events can occur similarly probabilistically constrained, one of them must occur, and to the exclusion of the rest. There is perhaps more to get clear about the details for how this works, but what’s clear is that necessary connections are involved. This is true just in virtue of the cause restricting what can occur.

Perhaps it is wondered whether or not there is some other causal relation that neither leads to one event or occurrence, nor is probabilistically constrained. Imagine if you will some cause that results in something so arbitrary that it should not even be considered random. What would such a scenario look like? Take the easterly wind. When it hits the sail, the boat disappears. If the easterly wind is truly the cause here, then we may ask whether or not this result of the boat disappearing was its only possible result. If it is, then this would seem to be an instance of deterministic causation. That is, the easterly wind in this place and time hitting the boat resulted in one possible event, the boat’s disappearing. If not, then we may ask about how many other possible results there were given the cause. If the other results are more or less the wind behaving as usual by directing a trajectory, then we might ask how often it is that the boat should disappear, given the wind. Perhaps it’s exceedingly rare: the first and last time this will happen in our universe. However, it is hard to deny that this is a probabilistic constraint nonetheless–the key language here being ‘exceedingly rare’. To go more extreme and possibly forgo all probabilistic language, suppose we claim further that the boat disappeared for no reason at all. The boat just disappeared, and there is nothing to point to and give any account for when such things occur or how often they occur. However, saying that some event occurred for no reason at all would be identical with saying (or at least imply) that there was no cause for its happening. The wind would thus be no cause. With this discussion in hand, I think it’s obvious that all forms of causation restrict what can occur.

Since all causes restrict what can occur, and this is a hallmark of necessary connections, the conclusion is that all instances of causation have necessary connections.

 

 

 

 

 

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66 thoughts on “The Hallmark of Necessary Connections in Causal Relations

  1. The word “restricts” is not accurate. The correct word is “causes”. For example, suppose the easterly wind blew down a house. It has restricted nothing (unless you want to suggest it restricted the house from standing still), but it has “blown down” the house and “caused” the house to collapse. Same with the ship, without the wind, the ship just sits there. The wind “pushes” the ship in an easterly direction. Causes don’t restrict.

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  2. Hi Marvin, thanks for the comment!

    You say causes don’t restrict, yet the examples you give are just the sort I would give (and I think gave above) to show that they do restrict, so I probably was not as clear as I should have been about where or how exactly the cause restricts what occurs. Let me state where it occurs more clearly.

    Take the wind blowing down a house. In any part of what follows let me know if you disagree and, if so, where. The cause is the wind hitting the house and the effect is the house blowing over. Let’s assume this is a deterministic causal relation. And so, the cause has as its effect the one occurrence, that of the house blowing over. Given the cause, just this effect can occur. Now, I took it that this is as much as saying that the cause restricts what can occur, since there is just one effect given the cause, but I take it you’re unconvinced, so let me try and be more convincing on this point.

    The house does not become a jelly donut. Why not? Perhaps for a lot of reasons. But I think one main reason would be that this was no effect of the cause. The houses’ becoming a jelly donut is no effect of the cause of wind hitting against it. Why is that? Again, perhaps for a lot of reasons. Perhaps the internal substance of wind is incompatible with jelly donuts. Whatever the underlying reason, the main point would still be clear that jelly donuts don’t occur, and for the presence of the wind; rather the house blows down because of the wind. Jelly donuts are restricted from occurring given the wind.

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    • But jelly donuts are not waiting to occur. A “restriction” prevents something that otherwise might occur. You’re falling into the trap of spinning or mischaracterizing determinism as a constraint. And that is just inviting further mental mistakes and paradoxes.

      Let’s be clear, everything that happens is always causally inevitable. That’s a logical corollary of reliable cause and effect. But this is not an inevitability which is “beyond our control”, but rather it incorporates the decisions we make, for our own purpose and our own reasons, into the overall scheme of causation.

      What we will inevitably do is exactly identical to us just being us, doing what we do, and choosing what we choose. And that is not a meaningful constraint or restriction. In fact, without reliable cause and effect, we could not reliably cause any effect, and would no longer be free to do anything at all.

      So, all of our freedoms require a deterministic universe, especially free will, because without reliable cause and effect the will could never implement any intent.

      It makes just as much sense to say that reliable causation enables and empowers us as it does to say that it constrains or restricts us. It’s a psychological spin, a “glass half-empty or glass half-full” kind of thing.

      So what do you want to be doing? Do you want people to view themselves as puppets, with no responsibility for anything they do? Or do you want people to realize that many of the possibilities they imagine can actually be realized with a little confidence and a lot of work?

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      • “But jelly donuts are not waiting to occur.”

        Good point. Why are they not waiting to occur? It’s because there are no jelly-donut causes in the vicinity. Perhaps if the gust of wind were replaced by bakers in a bakery (perhaps microscopic bakers in microscopic bakeries), then a jelly donut would be waiting to occur.

        “A ‘restriction’ prevents something that otherwise might occur.”

        But might it otherwise occur if the cause is different? I think that’s all I need in order for it to follow that causes restrict what occurs.

        “You’re falling into the trap of spinning or mischaracterizing determinism as a constraint. And that is just inviting further mental mistakes and paradoxes.” What paradoxes?

        I see in the remarks that follow that perhaps you think that I am leaving out some crucial points about the self and free-decision-making and the particular causal capacities that these have. Perhaps that is right. I have not actually studied a whole lot about the self or free will. However, I do see free will as likely fitting a version of the indeterministic causal model I sketched above. Given a free, rational-decision-making-capable person in the vicinity, then perhaps there are any number of effects that may occur. There would be some, however, that cannot. If the person doesn’t know how to play basketball, the person won’t be able to slam dunk. More obviously: the person won’t be able to fly to Jupiter. So even if I am wrong about my causal model of the self or free-decision-making, it is yet still apt that a person is restricted from causing certain effects.

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  3. “Cause” is a verb. “Restrict” is a verb. They mean two different things. Handcuffs restrict one’s freedom. Restrictions always reduce one’s freedom. Causation underlies all events, all freedoms and all restrictions. The easterly wind causes the boat to drift easterly. Whether this is a freedom or a restriction depends entirely upon where the person on the boat wants to go.

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    • I agree that they mean different things. All I claim is that causes involve a restriction of a certain kind, namely a restriction on what can occur.

      I used ‘restriction’, but I could have used ‘limit’ or ‘confine’ or perhaps some better word. I’m not saying that any of these are synonymous with causation. Clearly they are not. I’m just pointing out a feature I think all causes exhibit, and then use that as a clear path to derive necessary connections.

      I am also not analyzing causation in terms of restriction, if that’s what you think I’m doing. There is more to a cause than that it restricts something else from occurring. Indeed, I used the fact that causes have effects as a starting point to then point out that causes also prevent other things from occurring, and from there that this is a hallmark of necessary connections. There is more to say about a cause than just that it limits certain things. Again, a cause produces an effect. We should also say something that would hopefully answer the following: Is there a further difference between a cause and an effect than just that one results from the other? How are we to understand ‘results’–is this relation synonymous with the ‘implies’ relation of first order logic? Is a cause a metaphysically different sort of object from that of an effect? Do “similar” causes produce “similar” effects? Is there such thing as an unreliable effect from a cause?

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      • A cause determines what does happen. Since there is but a single past, there will be a single future, since the future becomes the past as soon as it happens. However, as soon as you introduce the word “can” as when you said, “All I claim is that causes involve a restriction of a certain kind, namely a restriction on what can occur” you introduce an error.

        When we’re talking about causal inevitability, we’re speaking of something that “will” happen within the context of the real universe.

        But when we are speaking of what “can” happen, we are speaking within the context of our imagination. Because we do not know what “will” happen, we model different predictive scenarios in our minds. We say things like, “if this happens then that will happen”. Or we postulate a plan of action like, “If we want that to happen then we should do this”, and if our knowledge and reasoning are accurate, then when we do “this”, we get “that”.

        In the past tense, “can” becomes “could”. Such that when we review why we didn’t get “that” when we did “this”, we consider what “we could have done otherwise” to successfully get “that”, and perhaps we’ll try that next time.

        In the context of causal inevitability, there is but a single “will be”. There are no “possibilities”, no “maybes”, no “cans” or “can’ts”.

        Within the context of imagination, there is no “inevitability”. But there are plenty of “possibilities”.

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      • “A cause determines what does happen. Since there is but a single past, there will be a single future, since the future becomes the past as soon as it happens.”

        I may be able to accept that there is a single future, but it doesn’t follow that because the past is singular that the future is. The future may be open to more than one outcome prior to any particular outcome coming to be. This view is sometimes called a contingent future (One interesting read on this topic is Aristotle’s discussion of the truth of the proposition concerning a sea battle that won’t occur tomorrow).

        “However, as soon as you introduce the word ‘can’ as when you said, ‘All I claim is that causes involve a restriction of a certain kind, namely a restriction on what can occur’ you introduce an error.
        When we’re talking about causal inevitability, we’re speaking of something that ‘will’ happen within the context of the real universe.”

        For the record, I am neutral about causal inevitability if what we mean by this is that all causes have as its effect one singular event, as opposed to some probabilistically constrained disjunction of many of them. That is, I can accept deterministic causation and I can accept indeterministic causation. I take it from your comments that you do not think there are indeterministic causal relations, only deterministic ones. This is fine, and this should be okay for my view since I allow for either to be the case.

        “But when we are speaking of what ‘can’ happen, we are speaking within the context of our imagination. Because we do not know what ‘will’ happen, we model different predictive scenarios in our minds. We say things like, ‘if this happens then that will happen’. Or we postulate a plan of action like, ‘If we want that to happen then we should do this’, and if our knowledge and reasoning are accurate, then when we do ‘this’, we get ‘that’.”

        What can happen is not merely an epistemic notion; it is also an ontological one. Indeed the ontological one seems to be presupposed in any adequate epistemological account. For instance, if we say that ‘if this happens then that can happen’ is known, then it would be known only when it is true that this can happen if this happens (i.e. if it actually can happen if this actually happens–and not just thought or believed to be able to happen).

        “In the context of causal inevitability, there is but a single ‘will be’. There are no ‘possibilities’, no ‘maybes’, no ‘cans’ or ‘can’ts’.”

        Again, if determinism is true, then so be it. I haven’t seen how my view is any the worse. If there is, as you say, a single “will be” from a cause, then think of all the “won’t bes”. And because no other effect can result from the cause, it follows that no other effect can be. It can be given some other cause, but can’t be given this cause.

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      • Paul: “The future may be open to more than one outcome prior to any particular outcome coming to be.”

        Yes. Our possibilities are infinite. And it will be our mental process of imagining, evaluating, and choosing which possibility we will implement that will causally determine which possibility becomes the inevitable future. So, when the future is a possibility within our imagination it is open to more than one outcome.

        However, because our choosing is a deterministic process, it is theoretically (though seldom practically) possible to predict that future in advance.

        Paul: “I take it from your comments that you do not think there are indeterministic causal relations, only deterministic ones.”

        I don’t think there can logically be an “indeterministic cause” (by definition). A cause determines an effect. An indeterministic cause does, what?

        Paul: “If there is, as you say, a single “will be” from a cause, then think of all the “won’t bes”.

        It is impossible to think of all “the won’t be’s”. But here’s an example I use to explain indeterminism:

        Suppose we had a dial that let us adjust the determinism/indeterminism of our universe. When we turn it all the way to deteminism, I pick an apple from the tree and I have an apple in my hand. We turn the dial a little bit toward indeterminism and now if I pick an apple, I might find an orange or banana or some other random fruit in my hand. Turn the dial again, and when I try to pick an apple I find a kitten in my hand, or a pair of slippers, or a glass of milk. One more adjustment toward indeterminism — when I pick an apple gravity reverses!

        And that’s the problem with indeterminism. In theory, it means that we can never know what to expect when we attempt to cause something. — And, often it turns out that we don’t know. But in a deterministic universe, we may discover the cause of the effect we want and use that to improve our control of ourselves and our environment.

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      • If there’s one paper that got me interested in this topic of causation and necessary connections, it’s G.E.M Anscombe’s “Causality and Determination”. The pdf is available online. One example of indeterministic causation I take from her and will hopefully write a future post about it. Her example comes from Richard Feynman and is called “Feynman’s bomb”. The example is that of a bomb that is hooked up to a geiger-counter. Given a certain amount of radiation, the bomb will go off. When or if the bomb goes off, there is no doubt about what caused it — the radioactive material. However, that the bomb goes off at one time or another is random, since it is caused by radioactive decay. The bomb does not have to go off at any particular time, and perhaps it doesn’t have to go off at all, strictly speaking. Hence, given the radioactive material, it does not follow that the bomb goes off at any given time; but if it does, there is also no doubt that it was caused by the radioactive material. It is a case of indeterministic causation.

        (Your way of presenting quotes is more clear, so let me adopt that)

        Marvin: “It is impossible to think of all ‘the won’t be’s’.”

        I agree. There are too many to consider! There is so much that not only won’t be given the cause, but can’t be, since the (deterministic) cause has only the one effect. Supposing some other effects contradicts its having a single effect, and supposing some other effect contradicts the effect that it actually has.

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      • I would think that the bomb timing would be a prediction problem rather than a causation problem. “Determine” is one of those words with two meanings, as in “We could not determine (know) whether the reacti0n was determined (caused) by the increased temperature or the pressure.”

        Chaotic and random events seem to be problems of practical unpredictability rather than violations of reliable causality.

        I’m still thinking about the “won’t be’s”.

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      • No, I think I will still object to equating a cause with a restriction. A cause always makes something happen. A restriction always prevents something happening. One can cause a restriction or cause the release of the restriction. The act of causing is thus broader than the act of restricting. Thus the appropriate language is that causing something other than a restriction restricts nothing. Reliable causation is not itself a constraint. You’ll find it readily available in everything that ever happens.

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      • I don’t equate a cause with a restriction. A cause is more than the fact that it restricts what can occur. As you say, it makes something happen, for one. Making something happen is not identical with restricting other things from happening, even if the latter follows from the former.

        For example, the fact of a struck match causing the pile of wood to burn is not the same as the fact of a struck match restricting a jelly donut from appearing, since the jelly donut may be restricted from appearing in different ways. Most outlandishly, perhaps the struck match is a public decree that makes jelly donuts illegal. In that case, the match restricts jelly donuts from occurring, even if jelly donuts are made anyway. Such a restriction won’t imply the nonexistence of jelly donuts in the vicinity, only that they’re illegal. Even if we understand the restriction as a prevention of what can occur, and then go on to list all of the occurrences that are prevented given the struck match, the actual effect that does occur would be left unaccounted for. Nothing about what is prevented given the struck match implies that the wood does burn, only that wood’s being burned isn’t prevented. That it isn’t prevented merely leaves it open that it can occur. So again, a cause is more than a restriction of what can occur. They are not to be equated.

        Marvin: “A restriction always prevents something happening. One can cause a restriction or cause the release of the restriction. The act of causing is thus broader than the act of restricting.”

        For example, one can put handcuffs on someone or take the handcuffs off of someone. The person taking off the handcuffs causes the release of restriction on the person wearing them. I do agree. Yet this wouldn’t show that the cause of taking off handcuffs and the effect of the handcuffs’ being off is without numerous restrictions in the sense that I’ve been honing in on: for example, that the handcuffs don’t convert into a jelly donut. This is prevented from occurring, given the cause of the handcuffs being taken off, since the handcuffs’ being off is its effect.

        Of course, this is not the sort of thing we’d normally focus on. We wouldn’t pay the fact that jelly donuts are not following from any number of causes throughout the day a second’s notice (except of course from causes that do have jelly donuts as their effect). Yet it nonetheless follows that jelly donuts do not occur, from a lack of jelly-donut causes.

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      • Striking the match does not prevent jelly donuts from appearing. There is simply nothing causing jelly donuts to appear, or unicorns, or frying pans, or bedroom slippers, ad infinitum (minus the stuff for which causes do exist, which is where I was going with the infinite won’t be’s).

        There is a scientific, mathematic, or neutral form of “constraint”, where we would say, for example, that a formula produces results within certain “limits”. And I think that is the only form of “restrict” which applies.

        There are 3 impossible freedoms: freedom from causation, freedom from oneself, and freedom from reality. Because they are impossible, it is irrational to take the term “free” to imply any one of them. This especially applies to free will. If the will were free from causation, it could never implement its intent. If the will were free from oneself, it would be someone else’s will. If the will were free from reality, then it would only be a “wish” within a “dream”.

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      • The prevention I am considering follows from the fact that causes don’t just make anything at all happen. Some things are prevented from occurring, given the cause.

        Marvin: “Striking the match does not prevent jelly donuts from appearing.”

        It does in the sense of prevention I am considering. Striking the match does not cause just anything at all to occur. This would include jelly donuts. In no cases does the striking of a match cause jelly donuts (at least not immediately). Jelly donuts cannot occur for the striking of a match. Perhaps for something else, or for some intricate causal chain that begins with the striking of a match to some other immediate effect that eventually ends in a jelly donut, but not immediately or directly.

        Note that there is a more common-sense notion of prevention that may easily be confused with my notion. If there are other jelly-donut causes in the vicinity that typically have jelly donuts as its effect, but there is also a cause in the vicinity that prevents this typical outcome of jelly donuts from occurring (perhaps there is a fire that burns down a jelly-donut factory), then this would be a case of a causal preventer or defeater. In this picture, a jelly donut is being prevented from occurring, by the fire.

        This is NOT how I am thinking about what is prevented. The sort of prevention I am considering is not a prevention in the sense of a causal defeater that prevents some expected occurrence from occurring. Again, the prevention I am considering follows from the fact that causes don’t just make anything at all happen. Some things are prevented from occurring, given the cause.

        Marvin: “There is simply nothing causing jelly donuts to appear, or unicorns, or frying pans, or bedroom slippers, ad infinitum (minus the stuff for which causes do exist, which is where I was going with the infinite won’t be’s).”

        This is right. And implicit in this, it seems to me, is that there are various other causes in the vicinity of other sorts, those that cause temperatures to increase or decrease, for energy to dissipate or be absorbed (under various levels of description), and the like, and which explicitly do not allow for unicorns or the like to appear. Such things cannot appear from causes such as these.

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      • There are no causes that prevent the unicorn from appearing. There is only the lack of sufficient causes of the unicorn. Same with the jelly donut. The matches do not restrict unicorns or jelly donuts from appearing.

        Your example of the temperature might fit better. The cause of higher temperature prevents lower temperature. The causes of a coin landing heads up prevent the coin from landing tails up. And so forth. In any “either this or that” scenario one could say that the cause of “this” prevents “that”.

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      • No. However the striking of one of the matches in your cupboard will not restrict geneticists from creating a one horned horse. The only thing that striking the match will restrict is the ability to strike the same match again. You can either (a) strike the match now or (~ a) you can strike the match later. That’s the only kind of restricting that causing can do.

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      • So the cause, striking a match from my cupboard, restricts what can occur: a unicorn popping into existence on the match’s head. Given the former, the latter cannot be.

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      • Striking the match causes a flame to appear on the match head. It causes nothing else. It only restricts you from striking the match a second time. It is unreasonable to draw conclusions about unicorns or jelly donuts based upon striking the match (except maybe that if you were in the dark you’ll be able to see them now).

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      • How is it unreasonable to conclude that given the striking of a match from my cupboard, a unicorn cannot pop into existence fully-formed at the head of that match? You said you thought that it couldn’t. Was there no reason for you to conclude that?

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      • Again, there is nothing in the striking of the match that would suggest anything at all about unicorns or jelly donuts. Striking the match will neither cause them nor prevent them. By the way, isn’t the relationship between cause and effect a priori (by definition)?

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      • So were you wrong to conclude that? I don’t think you were. A determinist has every reason to conclude that given the striking of a match from my cupboard in my kitchen anytime this year, a unicorn cannot pop into existence fully-formed at the head of that match in an instance after its striking. I think you still hold that this is true.

        If you would prefer not to call this a ‘prevention’ of anything, then fine. All I mean by ‘prevention’ is a shorthand to the ‘cannot’ relation described above, which indicates a necessary connection. By the common-sense definition, I know that a cause is not waiting to produce such an effect, and that therefore the match is not going to prevent that effect from occurring. This is not the sort of prevention I have in mind. The one I have in mind is only the ‘cannot’ relation of the sort I got above.

        I think the relation between a cause and effect is a priori in that a cause goes with an effect, and that an effect goes with a cause. If someone denies that causes have any effects at all, we’d wonder what the person could mean by ’cause’, or suspect s/he was talking about something else. Same with effects. If one denied that effects had causes, we’d wonder what s/he was talking about. However, what the relation more specifically is between cause and effect is, as evidenced by the literature, debated and full of differing accounts. So this indicates that it’s not just by definition what the relation between cause and effect is, but is something to be found out or debated.

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  4. I’m only saying that striking the match causes a flame. It prevents striking it again, but restricts nothing else. What prevents a unicorn from appearing on the head of the match is not caused by the match, but by the absence of any cause for a unicorn on the match head. Causes cause. Restrictions restrict.

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      • If the match is wet it will not cause a flame. The wet match is not sufficient cause of a flame. The water prevents the friction required to cause a flame. The water is a cause that restricts the reaction. Drying the match is a cause that frees the reaction. One can cause freedom or cause restriction. But freeing can only cause freeing and restricting can only cause restriction. They would be subcategories under causation. Causation is the more general concept. Freeing and restricting are more specific concepts.

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      • Given the striking of my matches at my place, even the damp ones, not just anything follows. Let’s call what can follow a set of events, E. If so, then any event that contradicts E is prevented from occurring.

        (For the record, I take care of my matches. They are not damp!)

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      • The striking of the match prevents nothing outside of events related to the match. The only event related to the striking of the match is the flame. An event which contradicts E (the production of the flame) would be the matches getting wet. You’d strike the match but no flame would be produced. Depending upon the level of moisture, either the match will produce a flame or it will not.

        As to jelly donuts and unicorns, there is nothing at all we can say based upon the match. They are either independently caused or they are not caused. The match plays no reasonable role in causing or preventing either.

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      • So you’re committed to the view that given a set of causes C, anything at all can follow. But that’s absurd. An inventory of the causes would lead to certain things being incapable of occurring. My room has no causal capacity to bring about unicorns, and there’s no cause that’s capable of arriving in the next five minutes that could cause them to happen. Yet you think unicorns are capable of occurring in the next five minutes?

        If unicorns are indeed incapable of occurring in the next five minutes, then why is this? One answer is that there are no unicorn causes in the vicinity I’m describing. Yet we are assuming there are causes of a different sort in the vicinity (my room isn’t without causes after all). It follows from both of these points that the causes in the vicinity are incapable of producing unicorns. Whatever these causes are in particular (the things in my room, and the things that can make it here within five minutes), unicorns cannot appear here in the next five minutes. And this is (at least partly) because the causes that are in the vicinity have no unicorns as their effect. To deny this last statement is to accept that anything can follow from these causes regardless.

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      • Paul: “An inventory of the causes would lead to certain things being incapable of occurring.”

        ME: Why are you inverting this? Clearly an inventory of the causes would lead to certain things occurring. It cannot possibly lead to anything being “incapable” of occurring except for the very specific (NOT)(“certain things”). To account for everything that cannot occur you must inventory the whole universe of (what is caused), and then too it would be a limited set of (NOT)(what is caused), leaving plenty of room for all imaginary universes of imaginary events (our unicorns).

        Paul: “Yet you think unicorns are capable of occurring in the next five minutes?”

        ME: Of course not. But what is preventing the unicorns from appearing has nothing to do with the causes in your room, but has everything to do with the absence of any cause of unicorns. FOR EXAMPLE: Suppose 20 years ago scientists genetically engineered a pony with a horn. And suppose today was your birthday, and your friends and family hired several of these unicorns for your surprise party. And your party starts in 5 minutes, when they enter “the vicinity” of your room with the unicorns. — No causes “in the vicinity of your room” 5 minutes ago would prevent this from occurring.

        Paul: “To deny this last statement is to accept that anything can follow from these causes regardless.”

        ME: No. The unicorns do not follow from the causes in your room. They follow from separate causes which are totally unaffected by the causes in your room. The point is that the causes in your room do not “restrict” anything. They inevitably cause stuff.

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      • Marvin: “…what is preventing the unicorns from appearing has nothing to do with the causes in your room, but has everything to do with the absence of any cause of unicorns.”

        If this were true, then it would make no difference what the causal capacities in my room are. The unicorns would still be incapable of occurring regardless. Yet this is obviously false. If the causal capacities of a match head were to include spontaneously bringing unicorns into existence in my room, then they wouldn’t be prevented at all. This precludes there being an absence of unicorn causes, this is true, but the only reason such causes are now there at all is because we assumed that it makes no difference what the causal capacities of the causes in my room are. Clearly they make a difference. We didn’t bring in other causes, but merely assumed that the causal abilities of the ones already in the room changed. So the prevention has partly to do with the actual causes in the room.

        Marvin: “It cannot possibly lead to anything being “incapable” of occurring except for the very specific (NOT)(“certain things”).”

        I think this is fine. Anything incapable of occurring would by definition be true by negating the proposition that it occurs.

        Marvin: “To account for everything that cannot occur you must inventory the whole universe of (what is caused), and then too it would be a limited set of (NOT)(what is caused), leaving plenty of room for all imaginary universes of imaginary events (our unicorns).”

        I don’t need to inventory (much less account for) the entirety of things that do not ever occur given a set of causes. Just recognizing one is proof enough of them. Most causal relations can easily be recognized to have them.

        As for your example, I see that there are going to be unicorns. I would not deny that inserting unicorn causes will lead to unicorns. Yet you already answered that, for my example, which is a different set of causes, unicorns are incapable of occurring, and I hope I have showed just above why this partly rests on the causal capacity of the things in my room (and those things that can make it to my room in 5 minutes). Again, changing the causal capacities of those very things in my room in the way that I did would make a difference about whether or not unicorns can occur.

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      • Let me sum up my argument:
        A) Striking the match produced a flame, therefore we might say that striking the match “restricted” not-flame.
        B) Striking the match did not produce not-unicorns. Not-unicorns was “produced” by the absence of any causes for unicorns.
        C) Proof: Had there been sufficient causes for unicorns, there would have been unicorns, whether the match was struck or not.

        Therefore, a cause can only be said to “restrict” the absence of the specific thing caused, and nothing else.

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      • Thanks for summing up your argument. It does help clarify things.

        I agree with A.

        B has two propositions. Let’s call B1 the former proposition in its positive form, that the match produces not-unicorns (so what you claim is not B1 (~B1), that it’s not the case that the match produces not unicorns). And B2 will be the latter proposition as is.

        So in B you claim ~B1 and B2.

        The proof, C, is explicitly a proof that B2 is true.

        But B1 doesn’t contradict B2, so giving a proof of B2 is no grounds to reject B1. And I gave a proof of B1 at the start of my last post.

        Indeed, B2 is explicitly pointed out in that proof. That is, if you change the causal capacities of the match to be a cause of unicorns, then (trivially) there are now unicorn causes in the vicinity, and this indicates that unicorns will follow. It nonetheless shows that the actual causal capacities of the causes make a difference to what gets “produced”, or what cannot be for the causes that are present. Even if you still disagree with this, nonetheless your proof in C is for B2, and not for ~B1. So I don’t see how your conclusion follows.

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      • The match, whether struck or not, has no causal relation to unicorns. The match does not prevent them. The match does not cause them. If striking the match causes flame, then the ONLY thing that it prevents is ~flame.

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      • How does your second claim above follow from your first claim? A struck match does not cause unicorns, but how does that show not preventing them, and in what sense of preventing? And it looks like you’re rather agreeing with me, since the appearance of a unicorn is an event of the type ~flame.

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      • My point is that the appearance of a unicorn has nothing in common with ~flame. Thus the cause of flame has nothing to do with unicorn or ~unicorn. The only thing that the cause of flame can be said to prevent is ~flame. Any restriction beyond that is not logically supported.

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      • If we were to classify events as falling under the type that is ~flame (not a flame), then wouldn’t any event that isn’t a flame fall under it? What else could ~flame be besides events that are not a flame? Given that a flame occurs, ~flame explicitly doesn’t occur. What is that event that doesn’t occur? It’s a lot of events that don’t occur, among them being events involving unicorns. Any event inconsistent with the occurrence of the flame doesn’t occur, and that’s a lot of events that don’t occur.

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      • A) Striking the match produced a flame, therefore we might say that striking the match “restricted” not-flame.
        B) Striking the match did not produce not-unicorns. Not-unicorns was “produced” by the absence of any causes for unicorns.
        C) Proof: Had there been sufficient causes for unicorns, there would have been unicorns, whether the match was struck or not.
        Therefore, a cause can only be said to “restrict” the absence of the specific thing caused, and nothing else.

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      • B has two propositions separated by a period. The first is a negative claim I’ll symbolize as ~B1 (Claim: It is not the case that the match produced not-unicorns). The second I’ll symbolize as B2 (Claim: Not unicorns was “produced” by the absence of any causes for unicorns).

        So B is the claims ~B1 and B2.

        Let’s say you made a proof for B2. This wouldn’t be enough, without tying the two together, for a proof for ~B1.

        The proof, C, is a proof for B2, and not for ~B1. C says: “Had there been sufficient causes for unicorns, there would have been unicorns, whether the match was struck or not.” Very well, but were the causal capacities of the match altered to include unicorns, then this would make a difference in whether or not there are sufficient causes for unicorns. So adding this last statement to the proof C alters it from a proof for B2 to a proof for B2 and B1. This shows not only that this proof for B2 is no proof for ~B1, but that appending another statement proves B1 in addition to B2.

        Your conclusion is still true however, since it follows from B1: Unicorns, among other things, are what are absent of the specific thing caused.

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      • A) Striking the match produced a flame, therefore we might say that striking the match “restricted” not-flame.
        B) Striking the match did not produce not-unicorns (the match did not “restrict” unicorns).
        C) Proof: Had there been sufficient causes for unicorns, there would have been unicorns, whether the match was struck or not.
        Therefore, a cause can only be said to “restrict” the absence of the specific thing caused, and nothing else.

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      • I’m beginning to wonder where this “discussion” is going. You seem to have modified your “proof” for B by addressing none of issues I brought up, and just deleting the later statement that was previously in B! So I take it your proof in C is supposed to be a proof for B somehow?

        Let’s take a look.

        B says: Striking the match did not produce not-unicorns (the match did not “restrict” unicorns). C says: Had there been sufficient causes for unicorns, there would have been unicorns, whether the match was struck or not.

        Does the ability of a match to produce non-unicorns factor into its capacity to be a sufficient cause for unicorns? Indeed! For, suppose that the match did not produce a non-unicorn. Well now it would seem to be capable, logically speaking, of producing unicorns. Nothing is barring this from occurring, for all that has been said. Yet if it can produce unicorns, then it can be a sufficient cause for unicorns.

        Once again, C is no grounds to accept B, and adding to C leads to the rejection of B.

        How do A and B go together? If I accept A, then by that I already want to reject B. That is, I say that the match “restricted” not-flame, for producing a flame. And since it produced a flame, it follows that it produced a non-unicorn. Yet B rejects this! So I don’t know what’s going on with that.

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      • Paul: “Does the ability of a match to produce non-unicorns factor into its capacity to be a sufficient cause for unicorns? Indeed!”

        You have not demonstrated any “ability of a match to produce non-unicorns”. The ONLY thing the match can produce is flame, which prevents ~flame. And it is ONLY by producing a flame that it has the ability to prevent ~flame.

        There is nothing that can be done with the match that will produce any one of {unicorn, ~unicorn, jelly donut, ~jelly donut, asparagus, ~asparagus, et cetera, ~et cetera}.

        You assume that because the match, by producing a flame, prevents ~everythingelse. That assumption is clearly incorrect.

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      • So, that part where you quoted me, I demonstrated that in the bit that followed. That’s the part that matters, not the bald claim where I give no support. The form of the argument that follows is: If P, then Q. I don’t need to demonstrate that P is actually true in order to derive something, Q from it. I just need to assume that it’s true and see what follows.

        The other part of that proof, which I failed to add, is that when you go ahead and suppose that the match is able to produce (only) non-unicorns, then it’s explicitly prevented from producing unicorns. So, to repeat, suppose it’s unable to produce non-unicorns. Well then it cannot produce an event that is not a unicorn. So if it produces any event at all, it will be a unicorn. This is pretty proof positive that it’s able to produce unicorns, on the assumption that it is unable to produce non-unicorns. And if it’s again able to produce only non-unicorns, then it is explicitly prevented from producing unicorns. So this all would demonstrate the ability of a match to produce only non-unicorns factors into its capacity to be a sufficient cause for unicorns (again, because if it doesn’t have the former ability, then it is capable of being a cause of unicorns). What does that show, exactly? It shows that B is consistent with C, and not a proof against it. (Showing it’s consistent also looks to me like a proof of B!).

        Edit: I mean B to be in a positive form, and for the claim you were trying to prove to be ~B. My mistake.

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      • Paul: “So, to repeat, suppose it’s unable to produce non-unicorns. Well then it cannot produce an event that is not a unicorn.”

        Sorry, but that is untrue. And if the form fails to produce truth then there is an error, either in the form or the application of it.

        We agree that If X then (~X) is prevented. But you seem to be claiming that If X then (~A, ~B, ~C, …) are all prevented as well. And that does not logically follow, because there is no relation at all between X and A, nor between X and B, nor between X and C, and so forth.

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      • I like your response. I now understand exactly where it is that you disagree with me. I think it moves the conversation forward in a productive way.

        Marvin: “We agree that If X then (~X) is prevented. But you seem to be claiming that If X then (~A, ~B, ~C, …) are all prevented as well. And that does not logically follow, because there is no relation at all between X and A, nor between X and B, nor between X and C, and so forth.”

        To be explicit, I think that the event (~X) is equivalent with the set of events (A, B, C, . . . ). The right side helps to illuminate what (~X) even is at all. Denying the equivalency leads to (~X) being something I know not what. This comes out in the questions I have about (~X) below. So, this isn’t right: “But you seem to be claiming that If X then (~A, ~B, ~C, …) are all prevented as well.” If X, then what is prevented is ~X, which is equivalent with (A, B, C, . . . ) where the capital letter are events of the type ~X. Let me explain how (~X) is equivalent with (A, B, C, . . .). (Note, I edited some of the above after realizing that the lettering was off. I hope it’s clear!).

        Let’s first turn to objects for a moment and see if that might simplify things. If I say that there is an object in front of me that is not a squirrel, then what is that object? It can be any one of a whole list of things, right, as long as those things in the list are not squirrels. Saying that it’s a not a squirrel that’s in front of me is equivalent with saying that it can be anything that is not a squirrel in front of me. I have given the same amount of information, you might say, either way.

        Now let’s turn to events. These are like objects, but may include many of them related spatially and temporally and otherwise to one another. Now, when you consider the event ~(flame), what is it that you have in mind for understanding this? More specifically, if someone were to witness the event that is not a flame, what would it be like to witness it? What color would it be? What shape? What other relevant sensation would it be? What would it be like to witness ~flame? I ask because I really cannot see an answer to this question that doesn’t already accept or presuppose that ~flame is really just any one of a list of events that are not flames.

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      • The two forms are very different.

        In the case of objects you’re saying “What object am I thinking of? (hint, it’s not a squirrel)”. Thus the possibilities as to what you have are everything that is not a squirrel.

        In the case of events, the question was not “What event am I thinking of? (hint, it’s not a flame)”. That would be the parallel question to the objects. But that was NOT the question we were discussing.

        Our question was specifically (a) “What is caused by striking the match?” and (b) “What is restricted from occurring by striking the match?” We both agree that striking the match causes a flame. And we both agree that having caused the flame, ~flame was prevented. But nothing else is related to striking the match. Thus, nothing else is caused, and, nothing else is prevented. Whether jelly donuts or unicorns happen to show up or not is entirely a matter of other causes.

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      • The two forms? You mean between objects and events? When I brought up the object, I was discussing the equivalence in meaning between two statements. When I brought up the event, I was focused on the event itself, and not on any particular saying about it.

        Marvin: “In the case of objects you’re saying ‘What object am I thinking of? (hint, it’s not a squirrel)'”

        I said nothing whatsoever about thinking. What are you talking about?

        What I said has to do with meaning. If I were to receive a message, and the message read “There’s something in front of me, and it’s not a squirrel–signed, the messenger”–what would that mean? It would mean that there’s something that is not a squirrel in front of the messenger. What is this not a squirrel, well it’s some object that is not a squirrel. But many objects fit that meaning. That is a very large set of objects that fit that meaning. The parallel with events would be the sentence “There’s some event that’s not a flame in front of me”. A large set of events fit that meaning.

        Marvin: “We both agree that striking the match causes a flame. And we both agree that having caused the flame, ~flame was prevented.”

        What do you think that ~flame is? Is it an event? Is it a sort of object? Is it something else? Is it nothing at all (but what sense would it make that something is prevented that turns out to be nothing at all?)?

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      • Paul: “If I were to receive a message, and the message read “There’s something in front of me, and it’s not a squirrel–signed, the messenger”–what would that mean?”

        Marvin: It would mean that the messenger is looking at an object and asking “What object am I looking at? (hint, it’s not a squirrel).” This means that the object could be any object in the universe, except for a squirrel.

        Paul: “What do you think that ~flame is? Is it an event? Is it a sort of object? Is it something else? Is it nothing at all (but what sense would it make that something is prevented that turns out to be nothing at all?)?”

        Marvin: In this conversation, flame is an event caused by striking the match and ~flame is a possibility that is prevented (restricted from occurring) by successfully striking the match. (However, one may also say that ~flame was the state of the match prior to striking it).

        The match contains the potential to produce flame when struck and to prevent flame (assure ~flame) except when struck (safety feature of the match).

        The match contains no potential to produce unicorns or jelly donuts. Therefore it makes no sense to suggest that it in any way can cause or restrict their appearance.

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      • Marvin: “This means that the object could be any object in the universe, except for a squirrel.”

        Yes indeed.

        Marvin: “. . . ~flame is a possibility that is prevented (restricted from occurring) by successfully striking the match. ”

        ~flame is what sort of possibility though? You’d say it’s a possible event, right? What sort of possible event would it be? It’s an event that can be anything at all, even new things, so long as it isn’t a flame.

        (Side question: in what sense is ~flame possible if it cannot occur given the cause (successfully striking the match)? I think we’ve covered this: it’s possible given some other cause, but cannot be (is to be prevented), given this cause (or set of causes). At least that’s how I answer this. Yet again, what would ~flame look like as an actual effect of an actual cause? Or how would it look if its potential were realized?)

        Marvin: “The match contains no potential to produce unicorns or jelly donuts. Therefore it makes no sense to suggest that it in any way can cause or restrict their appearance.”

        The first sentence is true. The bit after ‘Therefore’ does not actually follow. How can I tell? To begin, restriction and production are two different concepts. To show one fails is not thereby to show the other fails. Also, there should be plenty of times when determinists can conclude that a certain cause has no potential to produce X. Indeed, it produces only Y. Yet surely X is prevented, given Y. So saying some cause lacks a potential doesn’t prevent it from preventing.

        Also, to just be explicit about this yet again, I’m using ‘prevent’ as that which cannot occur, given a cause or set of causes. It is in this sense alone that I am claiming that a cause prevents something. Given that a flame occurs, ~flame cannot occur. And ~flame is anything at odds with the flame, right?

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      • Paul: “And ~flame is anything at odds with the flame, right?”

        Marvin: The only things which can be said to be “at odds” with the flame are those specific things which prevent the flame from occurring, such as dampness of the match.

        ~flame is specific. It is different from ~(flame + everything else).

        If flame is true then ~flame is false. Nothing else can be said to be true or false based upon flame.

        If flame is prevented then ~flame is true. Nothing else can be said to be prevented based upon ~flame.

        Paul: “It’s an event that can be anything at all, even new things, so long as it isn’t a flame.”

        Marvin: I don’t think so.

        Paul: “(Side question: in what sense is ~flame possible if it cannot occur given the cause (successfully striking the match)? ”

        Marvin: ~flame is “possible” in the context of:
        (a) “I’m here filling my tank with gas and very bored. Gee, I sure could use a cigarette. But if I strike this match I’ll get a flame…hmm…maybe I should wait till I’m done (~flame).”
        (b) “Oh, what the heck, I’m lighting up. Oops! FLAME! Oh crap! I could had waited until later (~flame) IF I had a brain.”

        Hope that helps.

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      • Marvin: “The only things which can be said to be ‘at odds’ with the flame are those specific things which prevent the flame from occurring, such as dampness of the match.”

        Just to be clear, that’s ‘prevention’ in the sense of a causal defeater. That is, without the dampness, the match would have lit, but the dampness prevented it from lighting. Additionally, it’s not a good answer to my question about what cannot occur. I’ll show why it’s not.

        A struck match prevents ~flame, in the sense that ~flame cannot occur given a struck match. Now, you explain ~flame as being a causal defeater of flame. Yet, in what sense is it that a causal defeater of a flame cannot occur, given a flame?

        It’s in the same sense as why anything at all that isn’t a flame cannot occur–for contradicting the flame. Yet you think there is something special about causal defeaters in particular that delegate it to the class of things that cannot occur given the striking of the match, and that keep out things that are not causal defeaters. Whatever the reasoning is, it cannot be because of a contradiction, since this applies to all non-flames. So what is it? This is the main issue I take with your response, that it looks like an arbitrary and unprincipled limit on what counts as ~flame.

        Marvin: “~flame is specific. It is different from ~(flame + everything else)”

        The set is: {anything that is not a flame}, anything in it is in it for being non-flames; or for being, but not being flames.

        I like your gasoline example. However, it looks like you mean ~flame in the sense of our preventing flames from occurring, and not what cannot be for (e.g.) a struck match.

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  5. Paul: “This is the main issue I take with your response, that it looks like an arbitrary and unprincipled limit on what counts as ~flame.”

    From the beginning of this discussion you have repeatedly insisted that a specific cause of a specific event can prevent or restrict other events that are totally unrelated to that cause. I have insisted that the only thing that causing that event can prevent or restrict is that specific event, because all other events have their own causes.

    We’ve been going back and forth on this now for some 54 comments. And now your frustration with the fact that I do not agree with you seems to be leaking into a personal attack (“arbitrary and unprincipled”). I believe this conversation should have ended 50 comments ago.

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    • I don’t think that’s an accurate characterization of my response. I was literally asking for the principle that delineates the class of events that cannot happen for a cause or set of causes. I said that it looks arbitrary and unprincipled–that is, that there seems to be no principle that would separate those things that cannot occur given a cause from those things that can. Perhaps I am being unfair about asking for some principle as clear cut as the principle of non-contradiction, but there should be some reasoning that would separate those things that can and cannot be for a cause.

      I take it we share common ground in taking it for granted that some set of causes that deterministically produces a flame. That is, given the match, that’s dry, with oxygen, and a range of air pressure and friction, and then striking it with a good range of friction, then the flame follows. Now, given merely the cause, the striking of such a match, it follows that lots of things cannot follow, since only on thing follows, a flame. Where we disagree, I take it, is with the following. I want to say that what cannot follow is anything that’s not a flame. Anything at all; doesn’t really matter what. This is because such things would contradict its being a flame. This is my answer. Your answer, I take it, is that what cannot follow is only the things that can sometimes causally defeat a flame in other circumstances. But that seems like an arbitrary delineation.

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      • Paul: “Now, given merely the cause, the striking of such a match, it follows that lots of things cannot follow, since only on thing follows, a flame. Where we disagree, I take it, is with the following. I want to say that what cannot follow is anything that’s not a flame. Anything at all; doesn’t really matter what.”

        The match cannot cause jelly donuts or unicorns. On that we agree. But to say that it “prevents” or “restricts” jelly donuts or unicorns is to claim to much. To “prevent” or “restrict” is to perform some action or to take certain steps. For example, if we dip the matches in water then we “prevent” the flame when the match is struck.

        Knowing all that the match can cause (assuming we are not MacGyver and know for certain that it can only be used to produce a flame) may allow us to list an infinite-minus-1 number of things that it cannot cause. But that list, being nearly infinite, is useless and therefore meaningless.

        The match itself may be said (except by MacGyver) to be “restricted” to producing a flame. And when producing the flame (as when lighting up a dark basement) it prevents ~flame (darkness in the basement).

        But ~flame cannot be said to be “everything that is not a flame”, but only the one thing that is the “exact opposite” of a flame. Otherwise, when we blow out the flame, the basement would not only be dark again, but now it would be filled with unicorns and jelly donuts and an infinite-minus-1 number of other things.

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      • Marvin: “But to say that it ‘prevents’ or ‘restricts’ jelly donuts or unicorns is to claim to much. To ‘prevent’ or ‘restrict’ is to perform some action or to take certain steps. For example, if we dip the matches in water then we “prevent” the flame when the match is struck.”

        Once again, I’m not using ‘prevent’ in the sense of a causal defeater. Replace ‘prevent’ with ‘cannot be for the cause’, in most cases, to get my meaning. So you say it’s too much if we mean prevent exclusively in the sense a causal defeater, yet that’s not my sense. And it’s not as if I’m just using a word and butchering it’s meaning. If I say that there is some event x that cannot be for a cause C, then to say that C thereby prevents x is not to do violence against the word ‘prevent’.

        Marvin “But that list, being nearly infinite, is useless and therefore meaningless.”

        I don’t care about a list, but a list of numbers is infinite. It’s not useless. And the concept of a number isn’t meaningless.

        Marvin: “But ~flame cannot be said to be ‘everything that is not a flame’, but only the one thing that is the ‘exact opposite’ of a flame. Otherwise, when we blow out the flame, the basement would not only be dark again, but now it would be filled with unicorns and jelly donuts and an infinite-minus-1 number of other things.”

        ~flame is just those things that cannot be for the striking of a match. If you think this set has as its only member whatever is the ‘exact opposite of a flame’, then you have a very broad view about what can happen when I strike a match in my house. I rather think you could not be a determinist. Is a dry wooden house appearing at the tip of a match part of what can happen for the striking of a match in my room? It is not. And since it contradicts being a flame (let’s suppose for a moment only flames follow from matches in my house, even though more follows–such as a rubbed-off and slightly warmer match head), it cannot happen (it would be part of the set ~flame). Yet it appears that you allow for it to happen from a match in my room, since it’s not the exact opposite of a flame (or whatever else can happen given the striking of the match). So what prevents such an occurrence for you?

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      • Paul: “Once again, I’m not using ‘prevent’ in the sense of a causal defeater.”

        But that is the precise meaning of ‘prevent’. To prevent eliminates the possibility that something specific will be caused, as in Smokey the Bear’s admonishment: ‘Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.’ And we prevent forest fires by dousing the campfire, making sure the match is out, and other positive steps.

        Paul: “~flame is just those things that cannot be for the striking of a match. If you think this set has as its only member whatever is the ‘exact opposite of a flame’, then you have a very broad view about what can happen when I strike a match in my house.”

        There is nothing else that (cannot be), (due to the striking of a match). If you strike the match then you get a flame and all that directly results from that: the basement is lit and you avoid tripping over a box. If you don’t strike the match you get ~flame and all that directly results from that: the basement is dark and you trip over a box.

        That’s all you’re going to get from that match.
        Striking the match will neither produce nor prevent jelly donuts and unicorns.
        Not striking the match will neither produce nor prevent jelly donuts or unicorns.

        Paul: “Replace ‘prevent’ with ‘cannot be for the cause’, in most cases, to get my meaning.”

        That’s kind of what I’ve been recommending, except that the phrase ‘cannot be for the cause’ is unclear to me. If you mean to say that striking the match causes the flame and nothing else (except direct results like light and heat), then I agree. And if you mean to say that not striking the match prevents a flame, then I’d have to qualify that by adding prevents the flame from the match (there may be other sources of flame around that are not related to the match, and the match does not prevent those other flames).

        A cause causes what it causes. Lacking a cause prevents the specific effect.

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      • It’s such a basic point that I’m defending, that it’s hardly necessary to defend it.

        The point goes:

        (i) There is a flame and only a flame that (immediately) follows from a set of causes (think of a set of causes as a whole circumstance the cause is in, i.e. dry, not a lot of wind, etc.;–commonsensically, striking a match in my room).

        If you think (i) is false, then you may not be a determinist; however, this is okay, since I want non-determinists to accept my argument too–so if you don’t accept (i), just say so, and I can give you the extra piece of the puzzle.

        So granted (i) for now, then this follows: (ii) given that very set of causes (not some other set of causes), anything that is not a flame will not follow.

        How so? As (i) says, only a flame follows. If something else were to follow, then it would not be only a flame that follows.

        So (ii) follows from (i). That’s the point.

        Now perhaps you’re wondering where the ‘cannot’ bit that I also claim fits in here, as in ‘something that’s not a flame cannot follow from that set of causes.’ What’s this all about? So let’s assume for a moment that it’s possible for something that’s not a flame to follow from the set of causes, but that, nevertheless, only a flame follows. Well that sounds contradictory. The very occurrence of something that’s not a flame resulting from that very set of causes, would once again contradict (i). Since contradictions are not possible (they are necessarily impossible), and assuming the occurrence of something that’s not a flame resulting leads to a contradiction, such an occurrence must be impossible. For the set of causes, something that’s not a flame cannot be an (immediate) result.

        You want to tell me that ‘prevent’ is the wrong word? Is that the point of this discussion? I’ve said several times exactly what I mean by it, and I defended my use of it in post 4 way above (and indeed in my last post). Let’s call it ‘preventish’ instead. It doesn’t really matter.

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      • I always presume perfect determinism. By that I mean perfectly reliable cause and effect. Everything that happens is always causally inevitable. However causation operates at three different levels: physical, biological, and rational. Each level is also perfectly deterministic. However, to accomplish accurate prediction one must incorporate all three sets of causes, and sometimes an interplay or transference between the three. We humans happen to be significant sources of biological causation and the predominant source of rational causation. And we call our calculated choosing processes “free will”. That’s just to tell you where I’m generally coming from.

        Your scenario (I), if I understand correctly, is “a specific set of circumstances which can produce a flame, and nothing but the flame, IF a match is struck, but which will do nothing at all if the match is not struck”.

        Now in (ii) you seem to be saying that “IF a match is struck then anything that is not a flame will not follow”. And that is an ambiguous statement due to the double negative. The statement could be mistakenly interpreted as “everything except a flame is prevented from happening”. And that’s the “causal defeater” we’ve been arguing over.

        It seems clearer to me if we remove the ambiguity as I did in (I) “can produce a flame, and nothing but the flame”. This correctly curtails the scope of the causation, and limits it to the subject of the flame, and nothing else. After all, there is nothing that can be said about that said about that specific set of causes except that it will produce only a flame.

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      • Marvin: “Your scenario (I), if I understand correctly, is ‘a specific set of circumstances which can produce a flame, and nothing but the flame, IF a match is struck, but which will do nothing at all if the match is not struck’.”

        That’s right.

        Marvin: “Now in (ii) you seem to be saying that ‘IF a match is struck then anything that is not a flame will not follow’. And that is an ambiguous statement due to the double negative. The statement could be mistakenly interpreted as ‘everything except a flame is prevented from happening’. And that’s the ‘causal defeater’ we’ve been arguing over.”

        I don’t know how you’re interpreting this sort of prevention as a causal defeater. Given the striking of a match in my room, I don’t presume that there is some expected cause that fails to come about. An example of a causal defeater is when I strike the match as someone pours water over it. I expected that the match would light, but it did not, since the water prevented its lighting. Or, if we’d rather not say that causal defeaters have to do with one’s expectations, then perhaps we would say that struck matches in my room light, typically speaking, and their not lighting indicates a causal defeater, which would then be understood as an occurrence that is not normal. But in another sense, the water was just a regular cause, which in these particular circumstances resulted deterministically in the match’s become wet and unlit–regardless of what I expect or what typically happens–i.e. regardless of its additional role as a causal defeater. Now, in my claim (ii), I don’t see how anything that is not a flame not following (or being prevented from following) due to the actual causes in play are anything like the match acting as a causal defeater against non-flames when it lights, (for one, since non-flames may be precisely what is a-typical and not to be expected–i.e. no water is expected, and no water arrives). The sort of ‘prevent’ I have in mind is of a logical sort–what cannot be for contradicting what is. It’s much closer to the flame as it were.

        Just to be explicit about this, let me repeat (ii): given that very set of causes (not some other set of causes), anything that is not a flame will not follow.

        The reason anything that is not a flame will not follow is because any and all non-flames contradict what follows, the flame. Hence they are impossible. Hence there is a limit on what can occur given the particular cause. I hope this explains better what I mean by ‘prevent’ and (ii).

        Using a deterministic example, this result seems highly trivial; I think it’s more illuminating about necessary connections in indeterministic causal relations, but I didn’t explain that nearly well enough in my original post.

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      • I understand what you mean to say as “striking the match causes only the flame, and nothing else”. “Nothing else” would imply “striking the match will not cause jelly donuts”, “striking the match will not cause unicorns”, ad infinitum (-1 for the flame which it will cause).

        But if I expand “nothing else” to “nothing else will happen”, then I’ve made a slightly different assertion, suggesting, for example, that I know in advance that it will not accidentally set something else on fire.

        That is the type of problem I’m having with “anything that is not a flame will not follow”.

        What I’m hearing is “anything that is not a flame” (and now I’m thinking of jelly donuts and unicorns) and “will not follow” (and now I’m wondering why they cannot also show up, since their causes have nothing to do with whether we strike the match or not).

        Paul: “The reason anything that is not a flame will not follow is because any and all non-flames contradict what follows, the flame.”

        I think I understand what you’re saying. I’m just not used to the language of formal logic. (For example, to me, there is no “contradiction” between a unicorn and a flame being in the same room. The contradiction is with the scenario of a room without a unicorn before the match is struck and a room with a unicorn after the match is struck, given no other causes than striking the match).

        Paul: “I think it’s more illuminating about necessary connections in indeterministic causal relations”

        An “indeterministic causal relation” is self-contradicting. I’m pretty sure that’s a unicorn.

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      • Thanks, that’s really illuminating.

        I think I should clarify more about when it is that a cause has changed to be some other cause. I take it that the causes change with the effect; so the effect is one in relation to some cause, but once the effect is instantiated it is now a cause for some new effect (if not in all, then in most cases).

        So, for example, the match, after being lit, will just be a dead match. The effect of the dead match will now in turn be a cause for its own effects (albeit ones not really interesting to us). It will absorb or dissipate heat in its immediate surroundings in equilibrium with the temperature of the room, rather than creating a significant increase in temperature (among other effects) with a fire.

        So, I think we should think of particular causal relations as dynamic and becoming new at each moment. So when I think of causes, it’s sort of like a snapshot of the vicinity at a time, such that the effects of such causes are like a repriming of a gun for new effects given that the causes have now changed (or even that what were previously (typically speaking) effects are now causes for new and perhaps different effects).

        So I was not very clear what it meant that unicorns can happen for different causes, but not for these particular causes, which are at a moment, and which can quickly change. If unicorns happen in the next day or so, it would have to be for different causes, where different causes can be the same objects that have changed (exactly what has changed about them is their very causal capacities, so this is why we should classify them as being different causes).

        Marvin: “An ‘indeterministic causal relation’ is self-contradicting. I’m pretty sure that’s a unicorn.”

        If what you think is self-contradicting about them is that they are causal but without some effect that necessarily follows (or without necessary connections), then I agree. However, this is a delicate thing to sell. I take it most philosophers assume by default that such causal relations–think quantum relations, or probabilistic outcomes–are without necessary connections, and even that this should be the way to define them. I will say that some of the papers I’ve read make a point of saying that indeterministic causation is not to be confused with chaos, or as I would say, without a constraint on what can occur. I plan to cover a model for understanding indeterministic causal relations in my next post!

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      • I’ve been deep in the compatibilism argument online, and pointing out that perfectly reliable causation (deterministic inevitability) is not a meaningful constraint, because what you will inevitably do is exactly identical to you just being you, doing what you do, and choosing what you choose. And that is not a meaningful constraint.

        That’s why I was sensitive to the suggestion that causation restricts. I don’t know that this is a problem, but I wanted to feel out the concept, so I posted the initial comment, to kick it around.

        I do still find “anything that is not a flame will not follow” to be troublesome language, not necessarily in what it says literally, but in what it suggests. But we’ve discussed that.

        “Indeterminism” seems to be a word that people use to suggest has limited implications. Some suggest that it only applies to quantum mechanics, and that at higher levels of organization, determinism holds. I generally presume that cause and effect are perfectly reliable at all three levels: physical, biological, and rational. But I correctly defined find free will perfectly compatible with correctly defined determinism. The problem is when people view determinism as a constraint (which it isn’t) leading them to reject reliable causation to rescue their version of free will, which is actually freedom from reliable causation.

        As to indeterminism, I employ an extreme example to demonstrate that indeterminism eliminates all freedom. It goes like this: Suppose we had a dial that let us adjust the determinism/indeterminism of our universe. When we turn it all the way to determinism, I pick an apple from the tree and I have an apple in my hand. We turn the dial a little bit toward indeterminism and now if I pick an apple, I might find an orange or banana or some other random fruit in my hand. Turn the dial again, and when I try to pick an apple I find a kitten in my hand, or a pair of slippers, or a glass of milk. One more adjustment toward indeterminism — when I pick an apple gravity reverses!

        So, that’s the indeterminism I was referring to when I suggested there were no causal relations that were indeterministic.

        Without reliable cause and effect, we cannot reliably cause any effect. All our freedoms, including free will, require a deterministic universe.

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    • And I might be wrong that it’s an arbitrary delineation. I may have even been reading your argument all wrong. Please say a bit more if you wish.

      I do appreciate you commenting on my blog. Your questions and comments have actually helped quite a bit in getting these issues more clear.

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