Friday, October 22, 2004

Hume and Occasionalism

Brandon over at Siris provides a wealth of detailed philosophical material on a regular basis. He makes an interesting comment on my recent post on Augustine and the Incarnation. His post on event-causation also caught my eye. He rightly points out something many philosophers are unaware of, namely, the influence of the occasionalist Malebranche on Hume's theory of causation.

I would go so far as to say that Hume's analysis of causation in terms of (i) temporal precedence, (ii) spatiotemporal contiguity, and (iii) constant conjunction is occasionalism without God.

For what is the essence of occasionalism if not the view that no natural or 'secondary' cause is a true cause, and that there is only one true cause, namely, God? For Hume, no natural cause is a true cause since no such cause produces, or brings into existence, its effect. The relata of the causal relation are events, and the latter are Humean "distinct existences." To say that e1 causes e2 is just to say that (i) e1 temporally precedes e2; (ii) e1 and e2 are spatiotemporally contiguous, and that (iii) whenever an event of e1's type occurs, an event of e2's type occurs.

These three conditions can be satisfied by events between which there is no real-world connection such as a transfer of energy or momentum. On the Humean scheme, all there is in the world is regular succession. This is tanatamount to saying that e1's occurrence is merely the occasion, not the true (productive) cause, of e2's occurrence.

Brandon's view appears to be that all genuine causation is agent- as opposed to event-causation, but that (contra Malebranche) there are non-divine agents including perhaps material bodies. How then does Brandon fit together divine causation with natural causation? Is he a concurrentist like Freddoso? I myself argue that occasionalism is defensible in contemporary terms. A sketch of my position is presented in my article, "Concurrentism or Occasionalism?" (Amer. Cath. Phil. Quart., Summer 1996, pp. 339-359.) Not yet available on-line.