Causation and Scientific Explanation in Locke Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Connolly, Patrick J.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy
  • This dissertation examines the topics of causation and scientific explanation in the philosophy of John Locke. The first half of the dissertation focuses on causation. Previous interpreters have assumed that Locke was offering a metaphysical theory of causation. I show that this was not Locke's project. He was instead offering a psychological account of causation; he was attempting to account for our cognition of causal processes and the sorts of causal attributions and judgments we make. On my view, Locke thinks we understand causation as a relation between two powers. So I begin by examining Locke's views on our ideas of power and relations. I show that Locke distinguishes between several different types of idea of power in the Essay. I then argue that by deploying these distinctions Locke can avoid the problems posed by his commentators. With respect to relations, I argue that Locke is interested in the psychology of relations; he seeks to explain relations as a mental comparison of ideas. I also argue, contra several recent interpreters, that Locke does not offer a metaphysical theory about external-world relations. Once we are furnished with an account of the ideas of power and relations, Locke's psychological account of causation becomes surprisingly clear. In the latter half of the dissertation I turn to questions about causation in the physical world and to scientific explanation. I examine the topics of mechanism, superaddition, laws of nature, and the status of hypotheses in Locke's thought. My general goal is to show that Locke's views on natural processes and scientific explanation are governed by a certain form of epistemic humility. I argue that because of this epistemically humble approach Locke did not make any substantive claims about the nature of causation in the physical world. On my view, Locke was agnostic about how the process of superaddition was meant to work, did not believe laws of nature were causally efficacious, and only endorsed scientific hypotheses which respected the strict limits to human knowledge.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Nelson, Alan Jean
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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