The Question of Iterated Causation

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This paper is about what I call the Question of Iterated Causation (QIC): for any instance of causation in which c1…ck cause effect e, what are the causes of c1…ck’s causing of e? In short: what causes instances of causation or, as I will refer to these instances, the “causal goings-on”? A natural response (which I call “dismissivism”) is that this is a bad question because causal goings-on aren’t apt to be caused. After rebutting several versions of dismissivism, I consider the view that QIC, though not illegitimate, is easy to answer: the causal goings-on are apt to be caused but are plainly uncaused (“brutism”). However, I will argue that brutism too has a serious problem: namely, it leads to a highly implausible kind of armchair indeterminism. Next I consider some substantive candidate answers to QIC, none of which, I argue, is particularly promising. The paper’s final conclusion is twofold: QIC is at least as difficult as the more well-known Question of Iterated Grounding; moreover, the largely overlooked regress problem that it raises gives us at least some defeasible reason to avoid causation in theory-building.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-473
Number of pages20
JournalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2022


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