A Short History of ‘Causation’
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Philosophical theories are always answers to questions raised within certain historical contexts, which involve the common presuppositions of an era. A thorough insight into a particular philosophical problem therefore requires a historical perspective. Thus, in order to better understand the contemporary approaches to the complex issue of causation, and the problems they raise, it is necessary to have a clear insight into the historical evolution of the concept of cause.
In this article, I will show that the development of the history of the concept of cause reveals a remarkable discrepancy between the constancy in the use of terminology and the gradual shift in the meaning of the terms used. This development - which has largely remained unnoticed - requires analysis, if only because most contemporary discussions on the subject, which almost invariably stand in the tradition of Hume, seem to have been victimized by it. For, contrary to what is generally supposed, causation is not a univocal conception (which either can or cannot be further analyzed). It is an ambiguous conception, with at least two (or three) different meanings, each of which requires a critical analysis on its own. Hume's celebrated criticism concerns only one of these senses of cause, which is notably just a derivative sense.
The objective of this article is to discuss some important
historical moments in the evolution of the concept of cause, and, more
specifically, to discuss the conceptual tensions that are inherent to this
historical development. I will focus my attention upon the conception of cause
in, successively, Ancient Greek Philosophy (Aristotle and the Stoics), the
Middle Ages (Aquinas), and the Modern period (Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz,