Applications of an Exact Theory of Causation and Teleology

Robert C. Koons

In this book, I develop a theory of causation, and I apply this theory to a large number of outstanding problems in philosophy, including such topics as:

Obviously, I cannot do justice to the vast literature on any one of these topics. However, in each of these topics, the concept of causation plays a central role, and I cannot claim to have developed an adequate theory of causation without at least beginning the task of testing my theory against the data provided by each of these problem areas. For this reason, I have been forced to cast my net very broadly.

I do not pretend to have said anything dispositive on any of these subjects in this book, but I do believe that the novel account of causation that I develop here enables me to make a genuinely original contribution in each case, one that I hope will stimulate further discussion.

In each case, confusion about the nature and conditions of causation have produced an impasse. The introduction of an exact account of causation, together with the development of some novel proposals, may help to move the discussion to more fruitful ground.

My account of causation has a number of unique features. Here are some of the more significant ones:

  1. Causal connections are defined without reference to space and time, permitting the construction of a noncircular, causal theory of spacetime.
  2. Since space and time are not taken to be intrinsic to the causal nexus, I am able to treat non-spatiotemporal conditions, including modal facts, as causes. This enables me to give a causal account of logical and mathematical knowledge.
  3. I am able to define a variety of forms of determinism and causal completeness, resulting in a demonstration of the compatibility of free will with certain forms of determinism.
  4. I give an account of higher-order causation, causal connections between causal connections and other facts, which enables me to give a rigorously realist account of proper functions (teleofunctions), as well as a theory of downward causation.
The overall structure of the project goes like this. The theory of causation (developed in chapters 12 through 15) is used to construct theories of the elements of spacetime (section 13.7.2), of higher-order causation (chapter 16), of natural information (chapter 19), and of enduring substances and their identity-conditions (chapter 9) . The theory of higher-order causation gives rise to a theory of teleofunctionality (chapter 4), and an account of the causal efficacy of logical and mathematical facts (chapter 6). The theories of information and teleology are combined, resulting in an account of the semantics of mental representations (chapter 5): a mental representation carries the content p just in case it has the teleofunction of carrying the information that p. The theory of mental representation is then used in developing theories of mind/body interaction, qualia and free will (chapter 7), and knowledge and induction (chapter 8) . Both the theory of teleology and that of mental representations are used in the development of a eudaemonistic theory of ethics (chapter 10), which in turn is used in sketching an account of moral realism (chapter 11).

Part I consists of three introductory chapters (including this one). In Part II (chapters 4 through 11), I lay out the applications of my theory of causation, giving special prominence to the definition and application of teleofunctionality. In Part III, I present the nuts and bolts of an exact theory of causation, and I conclude in Part IV with some historical issues and musings about possible future directions.