, Volume 158, Issue 3, pp 457-476
Date: 10 Dec 2010

Causes of causes

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Abstract

When is a cause of a cause of an effect also a cause of that effect? The right answer is either “Sometimes” or “Always”. In favour of “Always”, transitivity is considered by some to be necessary for distinguishing causes from redundant non-causal events. Moreover transitivity may be motivated by an interest in an unselective notion of causation, untroubled by principles of invidious discrimination. And causal relations appear to “add up” like transitive relations, so that the obtaining of the overarching relation is not independent of the obtaining of the intermediaries. On the other hand, in favour of “Sometimes”, often we seem not to treat events that are very spatiotemporally remote from an effect as its causes, even when connected to the effect in question by a chain of counterfactual or chance-raising dependence. Moreover cases of double prevention provide counterexamples to causal transitivity even over short chains. According to the argument of this paper, causation is non-transitive. Transitizing causation provides no viable account of causal redundancy. An unselective approach to causation may motivate resisting the “distance” counterexamples to transitivity, but it does not help with double prevention, and even makes it more intractable. The strongest point in favour of transitivity is the adding up of causal relations, and this is the point that extant non-transitizing analyses have not adequately addressed. I propose a necessary condition on causation that explains the adding up phenomenon. In doing so it also provides a unifying explanation of distance and double prevention counterexamples to transitivity.