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Erkenntnis

, Volume 78, Supplement 2, pp 215–235 | Cite as

A Relic of a Bygone Age? Causation, Time Symmetry and the Directionality Argument

  • Matt Farr
  • Alexander Reutlinger
Original Article

Abstract

Bertrand Russell famously argued that causation is not part of the fundamental physical description of the world, describing the notion of cause as “a relic of a bygone age” (Russell in Proc Aristot Soc 13:1–26, 1913). This paper assesses one of Russell’s arguments for this conclusion: the ‘Directionality Argument’, which holds that the time symmetry of fundamental physics is inconsistent with the time asymmetry of causation. We claim that the coherence and success of the Directionality Argument crucially depends on the proper interpretation of the ‘time symmetry’ of fundamental physics as it appears in the argument, and offer two alternative interpretations. We argue that: (1) if ‘time symmetry’ is understood as the time-reversal invariance of physical theories, then the crucial premise of the Directionality Argument should be rejected; and (2) if ‘time symmetry’ is understood as the temporally bidirectional nomic dependence relations of physical laws, then the crucial premise of the Directionality Argument is far more plausible. We defend the second reading as continuous with Russell’s writings, and consider the consequences of the bidirectionality of nomic dependence relations in physics for the metaphysics of causation.

Keywords

Physical Theory Dependence Relation Fundamental Physic Directionality Argument Time Symmetry 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Andreas Hüttemann and James Ladyman, the participants of Andreas Hüttemann’s colloquium in Cologne, and the members of our audiences at the conference Causality and Explanation in the Sciences in Ghent, and in Munich and Vancouver for their comments on earlier versions of the paper. We are also grateful for the comments we received from two anonymous referees for Erkenntnis. Special thanks to Bert Leuridan and Erik Weber for their editorial work. Matt’s research is supported by the John Templeton Foundation grant: New Agendas for the Study of Time: Connecting the Disciplines, at the Centre for Time, University of Sydney. Alex’s research is funded by the DFG Research Group Causation and Explanation (University of Cologne), and the Center for Philosophy of Science (University of Pittsburgh).

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Time & Department of PhilosophyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CologneKölnGermany

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