Can One Deny Both Causation by Omission and Causal Pluralism? The Case of Legal Causation
39 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2006
Date Written: May 11, 2006
Various distinguished philosophers (e.g. Dowe, Armstrong, Salmon and Beebee) deny causation by omission by holding that causing things involves a physical interaction and therefore omissions cannot be causes. With only rare exceptions (e.g. Menzies), it is also common to deny causal pluralism by assuming that even though the concept of causation appears in various disciplines, it has a core meaning that can be captured by a single unified concept. In this paper, I argue that one cannot coherently deny both causation by omission and causal pluralism. At least one of them has to be accepted. My argument stems from a discussion of the usage of causation by omission in the law. In various legal fields, lawyers commonly regard omissions as causes. I show that these cases of causation by omission have to be captured by the concept of causation because the action/omission distinction is much more fragile than is currently conceived. I distinguish between two types of omission, qualitative and quantitative: whilst the literature focuses on the first, I show why the second creates more serious problems, especially for those who seek to deny causation by omission. I then show why dismissing legal causation as a mistaken usage of the concept of causation requires an acceptance of causal pluralism.
Keywords: causation, causality, omission, pluralism
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