Dec 24, 2008

laws and causes

i've been trying to articulate this thought for a while, and found someone else who did it for me (georg von wright, found in howard becker's tricks of the trade). there are two types of causal understanding: the predictive form, in which we understand the law that connects a set of causes with effects, and the retrodictive form, in which we understand how it was that a set of causes resulted in a given effect. the latter form is retrospective in nature and acknowledges that the relationship between cause and effect is probable, not determinate. this is intimately connected with weber's concept of elective affinity, where we retrospectively understand what currents of ideas and history combined to give rise to a particular outcome. as schutz points out, the past is determined but the future is always uncertain. in other words, it is as investment houses are prone, rightly, to saying: past performance is no indicator or guarantee of future performance.

From the fact that a phenomenon is known to have occurred, we can infer back in time that its antecedent necessary conditions must also have occurred, in the past. And by 'looking into the past' we may find traces of them in the present.
Georg Henrik von Wright, Explanation and Understanding

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