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The Monist

Volume 83, Issue 2, April 2000

Applying Mathematics

Sheldon R. Smith
Pages 274-295

Resolving Russell’s Anti-Realism About Causation
The Connection Between Causation and the Functional Dependencies of Mathematical Physics

In "On the Notion of Cause," Bertrand Russell expressed an eliminativist view about causation driven by an examination of the contents of mathematical physics. Russell's primary reason for thinking that the notion of causation is absent in physics was that laws of nature are mere "functional dependencies" and not "causal laws." In this paper, I show that several ordinary notions of causation can be found within the functional dependencies of physics. Not only does this show that Russell's eliminitivism was misguided, but it shows that Russell's opponents, such as Nancy Cartwright, who think that mere functional dependencies cannot capture causal claims, also underestimate the causal content of such equations.

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