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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: March 2008

14 - Explanation and causation

This chapter deals with the views of the Stoics and Epicureans, and the various sceptical attempts to undermine their pretensions to explanatory understanding. Causal contexts are referentially transparent; explanatory ones are opaque. The Hellenistic theorists were concerned with both explanation and cause. The Stoic concept of containing causation was extended beyond the explanation of persistent states to cover events and processes. The chapter discusses antecedent cause and preceding causes, before examining Chrysippus' views on dispositions and powers. The distinction between real causes and mere prerequisites is found in Plato (indeed the Hippocratics); and Galen, too, talks of causal prerequisites. The Epicureans were untroubled by what they took to be the impossibility of offering certain, precise, and incontrovertible explanations for a wide range of phenomena (principally meteorological and seismic). For a more full-blooded empirical attitude to the business of causation and explanation, one needs to turn to the medical schools, indeed principally to the school known as the Empiricists.
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The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy
  • Online ISBN: 9781139053617
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