Philosophy Research Seminar - Prof John Schwenkler (Florida State University)
|Dates:||25 November 2020|
|Times:||15:15 - 17:00|
|What is it:||Seminar|
|Organiser:||School of Social Sciences|
This year we are running all of our research seminars online using Zoom. If you would like to attend, and are not included on our events mailing list, please email Dr Stephen Ingram to request the Zoom meeting details.
Seminars will take place on Wednesdays, and will run from 15.15-17.00, with a 5 minute break between the talk and the Q&A. The Zoom meeting will be available to join from 15.00.
- The Varieties of Causation
- In chapter 8 of Action, Emotion, and Will, Anthony Kenny claims that we can classify verbs of performance according to Aristotle's categories of existence: any performance is either (i) a bringing of something into existence, (ii) a terminating of a thing's existence, (iii) an alteration in the properties of a thing, or (iv) a bringing about of change in a thing's location. Notably missing from this list is Aristotle's category of change in quantity. My paper explores how effective Kenny's schema is classifying the variety of ordinary causal verbs, i.e., verbs that describe ways in which one entity acts on another.
- To do this, I take my bearing from the systematic classification of English verbs in Beth Levin's English Verb Classes and Alternations, which proceeds from the hypothesis that the syntactic behavior of English verbs is determined by the semantic properties or "meaning components" of the wider classes that particular verbs fall into. On this hypothesis, the exploration of the grammar of a class of words is eo ipso an investigation of their shared conceptual content. A subsidiary aim of my paper is to introduce this body of research and show its applicability to the general problem of finding where philosophically interesting concepts are deployed in ordinary language: my contention will be that these turn up in the grammar of our language more often than in the use of any special words that are used to express them, and that the tools of lexical semantics are useful in revealing these grammatical patterns, which more often than not we employ automatically and without any consciousness of the conceptual categories they express.
- Having laid out this programme, I begin by proposing criteria for distinguishing causal verbs from verbs that do not describe ways of causing change, and then for distinguishing whether a given use of a verb relates to one or another of Kenny's four Aristotelian categories. I then apply these criteria to the full range of Levin's verb classes, and discuss a few of the more interesting cases in some detail. One important lesson of this inquiry is that the ordinary concept of causation finds expression in many more ways than with the use of the lemma "cause", and that these uses are not just a motley, but exhibit clear patterns of logical coherence. Another is that the transitive use of what Levin calls Grow verbs, i.e., verbs like "grow" and "hatch" but also (I think) "farm", "breed", and "raise", seem to describe a distinctively causal way of relating to change in the quantity of some entity or entities -- a kind of process that I believe deserves further scrutiny.
Travel and Contact Information
This event will run online - contact Stephen Ingram for details on accessing the Zoom meeting.