A Semeiotic Account of Causation

  • Menno Hulswit
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 90)


The objective of this chapter is fivefold: (1) to point out that the current theories of causation are radically inadequate; (2) to show the historical roots of this inadequacy; (3) to formulate some conditions necessary to an adequate theory of causation; (4) to discuss some of CS. Peirce's insights regarding causation, and (5) to suggest a new approach to the problem of causation, based upon the semeiotic of Peirce.


Productive Event Receive View Objective Chance Aristotelian Conception Event Ontology 
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  1. 1.
    This does not hold for the singularist Anscombe (1971). She holds that causation means the production of an effect by a cause, rather than some sort of law-like relation between a cause and its effect.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See also Whitehead [1929] 1978, 237.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The examples are borrowed from Emmet 1992, 25.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Peirce thinks here of the interpretation of 'the law of the conservation of matter and energy,' according to which causation is transformation of energy and mass. This interpretation, which was rejected by Peirce, was formulated by Paul Carus (a critic of Peirce) as follows: &quote;The law of the conservation of matter and energy rests upon the experience (corroborated by experiments) that causation is transformation. It states that the total amount of matter and the total amount of energy remain constant. There is no creation out of nothing and no conversion of something into nothing&quote; (quoted in Peirce, CP 6.601, 1893).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    &quote;According to the dominant mechanical philosophy, nothing is real in the physical universe except particles of matter with their masses, their relative positions in space at different instants of time, and the immutable laws of the relations of those three elements of space, time, and matter. Accordingly, at any one instant all that is real is the masses and their positions, together with the laws of their motion. But according to Newton’s second law of motion the positions of the masses at any one instant is not determined by their positions at any other single instant even with the aid of the laws. On the contrary, that which is determined is an acceleration [the effect is the acceleration]. Now an acceleration is the relation of the position at one instant not to the position at another instant, but to the positions at a second and a third instant&quote; (RLT 199, 1898). For further explanation, see RLT 199-201.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See Peirce’s &quote;The Ethics of Terminology&quote; (EP II, item 19).Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    According to Peirce, association is &quote;a habit or disposition of mind in consequence of which an idea of on description is likely to bring into comparative vividness of consciousness an idea of another description&quote; (RLT 232, 1898).Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    In the explanation of his final scheme of classification (1904), Peirce had changed the word largely' by 'exclusively.' &quote;This classification [...] is to be regarded as simply Comte’s classification, corrected. That is to say, the endeavor has been so to arrange the scheme that each science ought to make appeal, for its general principles, exclusively to the sciences placed above it, while for instances and special facts, it will find the sciences below it more serviceable.&quote; (MS L 107, 1904).Google Scholar
  9. B.
    PRACTICAL SCIENCE For Peirce’s final scheme, see his &quote;A Brief Intellectual Autobiography.&quote; MS L 107, 1904.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Peirce borrowed the terms 'genuine' and 'degenerate' from the geometry of plane curves, where they refer to the irreducibility or reducibility of a figure to simpler figures (MS 304: 00035, 1903). For a thorough analysis of &quote;Genuineness and Degeneracy in Peirce’s Categories,&quote; see Kruse 1991.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Consider, for example, the following passage: &quote;If a sign has no interpreter, its interpretant is a &quote;would be,&quote; i.e., is what it would determine in the interpreter if there were one&quote; (EP II: 409, 1907).Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    This is my interpretation of the meaning of Peirce’s &quote;broader conception&quote; of sign (LW 81, 1908).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Menno Hulswit
    • 1
  1. 1.Heyendaal InstituteUniversity of NijmegenThe Netherlands

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