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On Causation

  • Charles A. Mercier

Through the kindness of Dr. Mercier we have been favoured with an advanced copy of the first instalment of a new work recently completed by him on the subject of Causation, with special reference to causes of death and causes of insanity. Owing to conditions now existing in consequence of the war, with, as a result, an extreme scarcity of suitable literary material for publication, as explained in the October number of the Journal, the Editors have had to face quite unprecedented difficulties; and they wish here to express their acknowledgments to Dr. Mercier for so generously coming to their aid in what may almost be termed a crisis in the history of the Journal. The second (and final) instalment of Dr. Mercier's book will appear in the April number.

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* Usually spelt Browne, but on the title-page of my copy of his works, dated 1686, four years after his death, his name is spelt as in the text.

* Nevertheless, a leader of the Germanised school of philosophers refers to Dr. McTaggart's essay in the following terms: “The greater part of what he says possesses, as one would expect from him, an almost convincing lucidity and vraisemblance.” Lucidity and vraisemblance ! Well, well I And convincing!

* A doubt, I find, is felt by a reader, whether the maintenance of the motion of a locomotive can properly be called an unchange; for it may be said—Are not all parts of the machinery continuously changing in position? Animal life also is a perpetual series of changes; how then can it be called an unchange? The answer is that the nature of things as it appears to us, and as for our purposes it is, varies according to the way in which we choose to contemplate them. An unchange, as I have defined it, is a way of contemplating things, just as a class is a way of contemplating things. No such thing as a class exists except in our minds. When several individual things have some quality in common, such as hardness, or whiteness, or motion, we may mentally group them together, and contemplate them together as all possessing that quality; and by the possession of that quality they are grouped together in our minds, and consolidated into a single object of contemplation—a class of hard, or white, or moving things. They are not grouped together in fact, or outside of our minds. Both the North Pole and the South Pole are white, and may be contemplated together as adjoining white things in the class of white things; but in fact they do not adjoin, but are wide asunder. To call things a class is to contemplate them together; and to separate them, not actually, but in contemplation, from other things that have not the class-quality. Just in the same way, we may take all the successive changes of a locomotive, both the internal changes of its parts, and the changes of position of the whole with respect to its surroundings, and contemplate them all together, as grouped and consolidated into a single object of contemplation, which we call, not a class, but an unchange. We call it an unchange, or the maintenance of an unchanging state, because, as movement, it does not change to rest, although there are forces in action—friction, gravity, and so forth—tending to bring it to rest. Each movement of the parts is a change, and may be so contemplated if we choose; but we need not so contemplate it. The movement of the whole is change of place with respect to surroundings, and may be so contemplated; but it need not be so contemplated. We may, if we please, regard the movement, not in contrast with surrounding things which remain at rest, but in contrast with its own possible state of rest, or in contrast with its being brought to rest, which would be a change of another kind, but still a change. So contemplated, the state of motion is not a change, but the maintenance of the unchanging state of motion. In short, it is an unchange.

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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 2514-9946
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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On Causation

  • Charles A. Mercier
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