Quick: What’s the difference between a causal mechanism and a (productive) cause?
I bet you will say that the causal mechanism is the “means whereby” the cause causes what it causes. Insulin lowers blood sugar … <wait for it> … by enabling the body to metabolize it.
Here, insulin (given its powers) is the cause. Lowered blood sugar is the effect. And “enabling the body to metabolize it” is the causal mechanism. Yes? And it looks as though we need both categories, causes and causal mechanisms.
But what if we just say “Insulin has the power to catalyze metabolism”? Now we don’t seem to need the causal mechanism any more. We just need the productive cause – able to do whatever it is that things of its kind are able to do. What’s going on?
I am not at all persuaded that the category of “causal mechanism” is a natural conceptual kind, as it were. I think we need the category of “substance” (loosely construed), and I think we need that of “property,” including powers, and I am pretty sure I think that we need that of “process,” too. These categories, I should note (as I think I did in an earlier post), are Brian Ellis’ in Scientific Essentialism. I’m pretty sure that I think that we need all three, in order to say what we need to say about causation. But “causal mechanisms” — I’m ambivalent about the category. I have a hunch that it is actually a mash-up of the categories of cause and process.
I have a new paper on this. Let me know, if you’d like to read it. Also, let us all know if there is something on the topic that you recommend. Other than the thoughts that you share in your comments, that is. :-)