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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Stephen Mumford's Metaphysics- My thoughts on Chapter 8

     In Chapter eight of Mumford’s Metaphysics, he discusses the idea of causation by absence. Although I understand the concept behind it, I would argue that some of the examples sound more to me of a relocation of a thing and not an absence of a thing. My notes while reading this section: ‘It is not an absence of a thing, it is a relocation of it. In most (and arguably all if I really sat down and thought about each example) of the cases Mumford presents, the cause by absence ‘thing’ does not disappear. It does not vanish, it just gets relocated.
For example, Mumford gives the example of ‘a car airbag, for instance, works when the force of a sudden stop is strong enough for a magnetic ball bearing to break free of the top of a metal pipe, in through which air can rush.’ (p.90-91). This is not an absences of the metal ball or air. They are both always present, they just get relocated (the ball gets moved and the air rushes in) causing the airbag to inflate.
This in turn alleviates the issue of treating an ‘absence as real’. Since nothing cannot cause something, this is a problem with causation by absence. Yet, if we recognize that it is in fact not an absence but just a relocation, then the cause can be viewed as real. Causation by relocation.
Another example, Mumford goes into the Kennedy assassination saying the absence of his security guards body (to intercept the bullet) was one of the causes of his death. Again, it was not to absence that caused it, he WAS there. It was the location, or lack of relocation rather, that caused the bullet to hit Kennedy. Had the security guard jumped in front of the bullet, it would have hit him instead of the President, and really had almost any object some between the bullet and Kennedy it would have stopped it. It came down to the location of objects, not the absences of them.

After completing this reading I would have to agree with Mumford’s closing statement for this chapter. “The subject of nothing is one of the most difficult in the whole of metaphysics. It is a tangle. The philosopher’s job is sometimes to disentangle things. After that has been done, we may hope it would show that nothingness, absences, lacks and so on, are no part of existence. They would be so much trouble if they were.” (p. 97).

1 comment:

  1. Much ado about nothing, indeed!

    It's amazing, how much has been said and written about it (it?) by philosophers through the ages. "Present in the mode of absence" was a stock phrase of my undergrad education, under the heavy influence of Heidegger scholars. I remember reading a very funny entry on the subject of Nothing in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The SEP has a pretty extensive entry on Nothingness too-https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness/

    Levity aside, the great cosmological question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" persists, and is important. Maybe the point is not that "nothingness, absences, lacks and so on, are no part of existence," but that human curiosity about SOMETHING and ANYTHING inevitably raises the question of NOTHING.