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Formal Causation: Rivals and Extensions


Causation is a basic feature of the structure of nature and thus in the centre of much research. Hitherto, however, the distinctive role and applicability of formal causation has been underappreciated. Formal causation is at play whenever a thing has a certain essential property because it is of a certain kind. E.g. that a particle has negative charge because it is an electron. Such kind-based explanations are ubiquitous across the sciences, and references to kinds are often indispensable. More controversially, such kind-based explanations point towards a specific variant of causation. During Formal Causation I (funded by DFG), I developed a mature theory of formal causation that would justify its applicability to contemporary metaphysics and philosophy of science. (1) I reconstructed Aristotle’s account, especially the non-hylomorphic variant with fewer ontological commitments found in his Posterior Analytics. (2) I applied the account of formal causation to topics of contemporary interest. Especially, (i) developed the non-modal account of essence such that it is able to deal with exceptions, (ii) discovered that in a case of formal causation the form is a full immediate ground, (iii) defended an account of laws of nature. Further work remains, both on the relation to possible rivals of formal causation, and on extensions. This project will investigate (1) Aristotle’s originally intended scope of the formal cause and his thoughts on the relations between the four causes distinguished by him; (2) the application of formal causation to occurrent entities like processes and events; (3) whether hylomorphic compounds can be thought of as mereological compounds of different parts, and if so what the relation to formal causation is; (4) whether formal causation should be thought of as a variety of downward causation and relate this to the debate about mechanistic explanations; and (5) formal causation as a type of metaphysical explanation.

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Whiteknights Campus Whiteknights House
RG6 6AH Reading
United Kingdom
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 212 933,76