causality and causal relationship

causality and causal relationship

the relationship between two events, such that one brings about the other. Usually a causal relationship is claimed where:
  1. a spatial and temporal contiguity exists between two events;
  2. one event (the cause) precedes the other;
  3. the second event appears unlikely to have happened without the first event having occurred.

Where it also appears that a particular type of event always or usually occurs in a particular way, i.e. a ‘lawlike’ relationship, this is usually regarded as further reinforcing a claim that a causal relationship exists. It should be noted, however, that a lawlike association may exist between two events without this implying a causal relationship. A distinction can also be drawn between an ‘immediate cause’ (e.g. striking a match to light a fire) and more underlying ‘explanatory’ causation (e.g. the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere).

Philosophers, especially recently, have not been happy with the concepts of cause and causality. The concepts are difficult to reconcile with conceptions of logical implications in classical LOGIC. For example, if we refer to an increase in prices caused by increased taxation, the increase in taxation is neither a ‘necessary’ nor a 'S ufficient’ condition for an increase in prices. Furthermore, epistemologically, the provisional nature of scientific knowledge always means that claimed ‘causal relationships’ can never be stated conclusively Further issues concerning sociology specifically are:

  1. whether the sense in which ‘cause’ and ‘causation’ arise in connection with purposive actions is compatible with conceptions of causality in physical science (e.g. see WINCH); and
  2. whether FUNCTIONAL EXPLANATION is a form of causal analysis. See also EXPLANATION.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000