2.54 Causation

Category: Metaphysics

Keywords: causation, causes, causally, causal, causality, caused, cause, chain, effects, effect, smoking, fire, cancer, factor, occurred

Number of Articles: 385
Percentage of Total: 1.2%
Rank: 36th

Weighted Number of Articles: 392.6
Percentage of Total: 1.2%
Rank: 27th

Mean Publication Year: 1980.7
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1979.2
Median Publication Year: 1985
Modal Publication Year: 1998

Topic with Most Overlap: Laws (0.045)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Models (0.0607)
Topic with Least Overlap: Liberal Democracy (0.00022)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Duties (0.00101)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the causationtopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 1998 when 2.4% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1920 when 0.1% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.54 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.127: Causation.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Causationtopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 0.9%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 1.0%. Ethics - 0.2%. Philosophical Review - 1.0%. Analysis - 1.5%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 0.3%. Journal of Philosophy - 1.3%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 1.0%. Philosophy of Science - 1.8%. Noûs - 1.5%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 1.1%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 1.7%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 2006 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 2.0% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1920 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.1% of the articles.

Figure 2.128: Causation articles in each journal.

Table 2.129: Characteristic articles of the causation topic.
Table 2.130: Highly cited articles in the causation topic.


For a topic that I thought was one of the central, even dominant, topics in twentieth century metaphysics, this ended up having a smaller presence in the data than I expected. It’s not tiny, either thirty-sixty or twenty-seventy depending on which measurement is used. But the graphs don’t jump up nearly as much as I expected.

Partially this is because it’s kind of hard to get the boundaries of discussions of causation right. Here are three things that different models struggled with.

  1. A lot of models wanted to separate out pre-Lewisian work on causation, often centered around Mackie, from Lewisian work. This model decided (correctly I think) that they belong together.
  2. The boundary between work on causation, and work on laws is pretty blurry. The boundary between work on causation and work on explanation might be even blurrier.
  3. A lot of recent work on causal models looks distinctive enough that it can get carved off, as it does here into a topic on models.

This model is very confident that Lewis’s two Journal of Philosophy articles belong either in causation or in laws, but it’s not completely sold on them being causation articles.

Table 2.131: David Lewis, “Causation.”
Subject Probability
Causation 0.5751
Laws 0.1878
Propositions and implications 0.1577
Sets and grue 0.0411
Table 2.132: David Lewis, “Causation As Influence.”
Subject Probability
Causation 0.4061
Laws 0.2321
Ordinary language 0.1954
Modality 0.0278
Abortion and self-defence 0.0208

And this isn’t a shortcoming of the models, I think. These topics really do blend together, and it’s hard to say where one starts and the other ends. One advantage of using a probabilistic model like this is that blurred boundaries can be modeled as intermediate probabilities, and it is still possible to roughly measure the size of each topic without making arbitrary distinctions. The three problems above still remain, and one could put the boundary between causation and laws, explanation and models at very different places. But I think this is a decent picture of the size of discussions of causation over time.

Note one other thing about this topic. There is an early Russell paper that is (just barely) in the topic.

Table 2.133: Bertrand Russell, “On The Notion Of Cause.”
Subject Probability
Causation 0.1369
Ordinary language 0.1287
Laws 0.1226
Idealism 0.0846
Temporal paradoxes 0.0613
Verification 0.0575
Time 0.0482
Definitions 0.0444
Chemistry 0.0353
Thermodynamics 0.0337
Methodology of science 0.0328
Denoting 0.0281
Propositions and implications 0.0261
Freedom and free will 0.0260
Psychology 0.0233

But it barely shows up in the graphs. This is such a common phenomenon; topics that are huge parts of late twentieth-century philosophy are also the topic of early Russell papers. But the Russell papers made next to no impact in these journals at the time he wrote them.