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Where would we be without counterfactuals?

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Bertrand Russell’s famous lecture ‘On the Notion of a Cause’ was first delivered to the Aristotelian Society on 4 November 1912, as Russell’s Presidential Address. The paper is best known for a characteristically provocative passage in which Russell positions himself between the traditional metaphysics of causation and the British crown, firing a broadside in both directions. ‘The law of causality’, he declares, ‘Like much that passes muster in philosophy, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.’ To celebrate the lecture’s approaching centenary, I offer a contemporary assessment of the significance and fate of the issues that Russell here puts on the table, and of the health or otherwise, at the end of its first century, of his notorious conclusion.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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