File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9807, message 15

Date: Tue, 07 Jul 1998 16:02:44 -0700
Subject: BHA: Causal powers of absence - too much!

Dear Louis, Howard et al
Sorry for long silence brought about by absence of time.  I cannot
follow up (or sometimes, follow) all the arguments that my and Ruth's
'hard questions' have brought forth, but it's been a helpful discussion
from my viewpoint.  I shall make a brief final comment - final for me
that is - and hope that subsequent discussions of subsequent sections
will retrospectively clarify what I still do not grasp or do not accept.

I was struck by Colin's point that to ignore the causal powers of
absence risks reductionism, because (if I remember right) by putting
attention only on the positive, and often on the actual, it ignores
possibilities... an important political point.  I accept the point made
by Hans, Louis and others that absence is part of the entire causal
picture, and that generative mechanisms must include absences.  Louis
says 'Maybe an absence itself, determinate or not, cannot be a whole
causal mechanism'  That's right, it can't.  For as Hans said earlier,
what is the structure of an absence?  But, Louis went on, an absence
could 'form an essential compontent of a causal mechanism'.  Yes, I buy
it, but point out that absences may be 'essential to the efficacy of
causal powers' and part of generative mechanisms without having any
causal powers in their own right, I.E. AS A RESULT OF THEIR INTERNAL
NATURE OR STRUCTURE.   For why?  Because they don't have an internal
nature or structure.  Which shows us we are talking about causes in a
sense much nearer to the lay person's than to the scientist's.

The prisoner example Louis offers is interesting, although I don't think
it does the trick... you certainly could describe the prisoner's problem
in terms of real presence of constraints (instead of perceived or
imagined presence of constraints in the case of the deluded prson) just
as well as in terms of real absence of freedom.  But it's not the bars,
and prison walls, but the social relations which make them PRISON walls
that determines the *sort* of problem the prisoner faces (it's not like
getting accidentally shut into a cellar).  It now seems to me that if we
want to say those social relations are onts, we also have to say they
are de-onts, since whatever exists entails the absence of whatever its
presence precludes.  But the way in which absences are causally
efficaceous is surely different from the way in which presences are.

Still struggling here,


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