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A Modal Free Lunch

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The meaning and truth conditions for claims about physical modality and causation have been considered problematic since Hume’s empiricist critique. But the underlying semantic commitments that follow from Hume’s empiricism about ideas have long been abandoned by the philosophical community. Once the consequences of that abandonment are properly appreciated, the problems of physical modality and causal locutions fall away, and can be painlessly solved.

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    The form of causation at issue is what Hall [4] has called “production”, and we can in parallel fashion isolate what we may call “productive explanation”: explaining by citing how a result was produced by the sequential operation of the laws of physics over time. This is not to deny that there are other forms of explanation, or that the everyday notion of causation is more open-textured than that of physical production. But the everyday notion is also highly context- and interest-dependent, and does not admit of any clean analysis.


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    Hume D (2007) An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

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    Maudlin T (2010) The Metaphysics Within Physics. Oxford University Press, Oxford

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    Goodman N (1983) Fact, Fiction and Forecast. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

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    Hall N (2004) Two concepts of causation. In: Collins J, Hall N (eds) Causation and Counterfactuals. A Banford Book, Cambridge, pp 225–276

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Correspondence to Tim Maudlin.

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Maudlin, T. A Modal Free Lunch. Found Phys (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10701-020-00327-7

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  • Modality
  • Physical necessity
  • Causation
  • Physical law
  • Direction of time
  • Subjunctive conditionals