On Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 4:59 PM, meekerdb <meeke...@verizon.net> wrote:
>
> In fundamental physics where evolution is time-symmetric, the distinction
> between cause and effect is just an arbitrary choice.  In more practical
> terms cause usually refers to some part of a process we could chose to
> control.  If a cable breaks and drops something, we say the accident was
> caused by cable failure - because what we think we could have done to
> prevent the accident is use a better cable.  We don't say gravity caused it
> because we can't turn off gravity.


Quoting Bill Vallicella:

“Suppose a man dies in a fire while in bed. The salient cause might be
determined to be smoking in bed. No one will say that the flammability
of the bedsheets and other room furnishings is the cause of the man's
incineration. Nevertheless, had the room and its furnishings not been
flammable, the fire would not have occurred. The flammability is not
merely a logical, but also a causal, condition of the fire. It is part
of the total cause, but no one will consider it salient. The word is
from the Latin salire to leap, whence our word 'sally' as when one
sallies forth to do battle at a chess tournament, say.   A salient
cause, then, is one that jumps out at you, grabbing you by your
epistemic shorthairs as it were, as opposed to being a mere background
condition.

What these examples show is that there is an ordinary-language use of
'cause' which is context-sensitive and interest-relative and (if I
may) point-of-view-ish. A wholly objective view of nature, a Nagelian
view from nowhere, would not be able to discriminate the salient from
the nonsalient in matters causal. In terms of fundamental physics, the
whole state of the world at time t determines its state at subsequent
times. At this level, a short-circuit and the current's being on are
equally causal in respect of the effect of a fire. Our saying that the
short-circuit caused the fire, not the current's being on, simply
advertises the fact that for us the latter is the normal and desired
state of things, the state we have an interest in maintaining, and
that the former is the opposite.”

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