pp 1–10 | Cite as

Abstracta Are Causal

  • David FriedellEmail author


Many philosophers think all abstract objects are causally inert. Here, focusing on novels, I argue that some abstracta are causally efficacious. First, I defend a straightforward argument for this view. Second, I outline an account of object causation—an account of how objects (as opposed to events) cause effects. This account further supports the view that some abstracta are causally efficacious.


Abstract objects Causation Object causation Novels Dodd 



For helpful comments and discussion, thanks to Mark Balaguer, James Van Cleve, Sam Cumming, Katrina Elliott, Ashley Feinsinger, Deborah Friedell, Pamela Hieronymi, Andrew Jewell, Tim Juvshik, Dominic Lopes, Michaela McSweeney, Eliot Michaelson, Margaret Moore, Terence Parsons, Jessica Pepp, Gabe Rabin, Katherine Ritchie, Sheldon Smith, John Woods, Michel-Antoine Xhignesse, and audiences at the University of British Columbia, Temple University, Occidental College, and the Central European University Summer School in Ontology and Metaontology.


  1. Bach, K. (1987). Thought and reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Balaguer, M. (2001). Platonism and anti-Platonism in mathematics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Beebee, H. (2004). Causing and nothingness. In J. Collins, N. Hall, & L. Paul (Eds.), Causation and counterfactuals (pp. 291–308). MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Benacerraf, P. (1973). Mathematical truth. Journal of Philosophy, 70, 661–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brock, S., Maslen, C., & Ngai, J. (2013). A puzzle about fictional characters. In Fictionalism to Realism: Fictional and Other Social Entities, Carola Barbero, Maurizio Ferraris, and Alberto Voltolini (eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Burgess, J. P., & Rosen, G. (1997). A subject with no object: Strategies for Nominalistic interpretation of mathematics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  7. Callard, B. (2007). The conceivability of Platonism. Philosophia Mathematica, 15(3), 347–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Caplan, B., & Matheson, C. (2004). Can a musical work be created. British Journal of Aesthetics, 44(2), 113–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cole, J. (2004). An abstract status function account of corporations. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 44(1), 23–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cresswell, M. (2010). Abstract entities in the causal order. Theoria, 76, 249–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dodd, J. (2000). Musical works as eternal types. British Journal of Aesthetics, 40(4), 424–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dodd, J. (2007). Works of music: An essay in ontology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Douglass, F. (2003). The life and times of Frederick Douglass. Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  14. Dowe, P. (2004). Causes are physically connected to their effects: Why preventers and omissions are not causes. In C. Hitchcock (Ed.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Science, chapter 9, Blackwell (p. 2004).Google Scholar
  15. Dummett, M. A. E. (1973). Frege: Philosophy of language. Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  16. Evnine, S. (2009). Constitution and qua objects in the ontology of music. British Journal of Aesthetics, 49(3), 203–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fair, D. (1979). Causation and the flow of energy. Erkenntnis, 14, 219–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Friedman, J. (2005). Modal Platonism, an easy way to avoid ontological commitment to abstract Entitites. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 34(4), 227–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Juvshik, T. (2018). Abstract objects, causal efficacy, and causal exclusion. Erkenntnis, 83, 805–827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kaplan, D. (1990). Words. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 64(1), 93–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kim, J. (1993). Supervenience and mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kivy, P. (1987). Platonism in music: Another kind of defense. American Philosophical Quarterly, 24(3), 233–244.Google Scholar
  23. Levinson, J. (1980). What a musical work is. Journal of Philosophy, 70(1), 5–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lin, M. (2017). Time, causation, and abstract objects. Unpublished Manuscript.Google Scholar
  25. Linsky, B., & Zalta, E. (1995). Naturalized Platonism versus Platonized naturalism. The Journal of Philosophy., 92(10), 525–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Maddy, P. (1990). Realism in mathematics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Maddy, P. (2007). Second philosophy: A naturalistic method. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Merricks, T. (2001). Objects and persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Parsons, C. (2008). Mathematical thoughts and its object. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Price, H. (1996). Time’s arrow and Archimedes’ point: New directions for the physics of time. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Rosen, Gideon. (2017). “Abstract objects.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  32. Schaffer, J. (2000). Causation by disconnection. Philosophy of Science, 67(2), 285–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sider, T. (2003). What’s so bad about Overdetermination? Philosophy and Phenomenology Research., 67, 719–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Thomasson, A. (1999). Fiction and metaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Thomasson, A. (2007). Ordinary objects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. van Inwagen, P. (2007). “A materialist ontology of the human person”. Persons: Human and Divine (van Inwagen, Zimmerman, eds.) (pp. 199–215). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations