Unphilosophical Considerations on Causality in Physics [1971b]

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 21)


Historically, the elaboration of the scientific concept of causality as a fundamental element of rational thinking is a by-product of the development of the formulation of the laws of motion of material bodies and their successful application to the dynamics of the solar system. Especially this last circumstance strongly influenced early epistemological reflection in encouraging radical idealizations, such as the law of inertia and the resulting notion of force as producing acceleration and thereby uniquely determining the motion. Thus, the concept of physical causality became endowed right from the start with the connotations of necessity and determinism. The belief in the adequacy, of this deterministic causality was strengthened by the initial success of the attempt to reduce all physical phenomena to mechanical processes; such a view of the physical world was not necessarily atomistic, but it accepted the basic idea that all forces were essentially contact interactions between elements of matter. It is true that the force of gravitation, and later those of electricity and magnetism, were treated as long range interactions. This, however, was regarded as a phenomenological description, which ought to be reduced to some local form of interaction between the elements of ordinary matter and those of some subtle medium through which such forces could be propagated even in the absence of gross matter. Although this radically mechanistic view had to be abandoned, and the transmission of electromagnetic and gravitational interactions ascribed to autonomous agents, the basic causal structure of physical theory in its final classical form was fully upheld in this theory: all interactions of the material atoms and atomic constituents with the fields of electromagnetic and gravitational force arc strictly local and lead to causal relations of a deterministic character.


Causal Relation Atomic System Classical Physic Material Body Deterministic Causality 
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© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel

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