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Ideas of J.L. Mackie, by Text

[Australian, 1917 - 1982, Born in Sydney. At University College, Oxford University.]

1955 Evil and Omnipotence
B p.95 Is evil an illusion, or a necessary contrast, or uncontrollable, or necessary for human free will?
     Full Idea: Perhaps evil is an illusion, or it is necessary for good to exist, or in humans it is required because we have free will, or God lacks the full power to control it, but none of these looks convincing.
     From: report of J.L. Mackie (Evil and Omnipotence [1955], B) by PG - Db (ideas)
Pref. p.92 The propositions that God is good and omnipotent, and that evil exists, are logically contradictory
     Full Idea: There is a contradiction between the propositions that God is wholly good, God is omnipotent, and evil exists, and one of them has got to give way (assuming good eliminates evil, and omnipotence has no limit).
     From: report of J.L. Mackie (Evil and Omnipotence [1955], Pref.) by PG - Db (ideas)
1965 Causes and Conditions
p.70 Mackie tries to analyse singular causal statements, but his entities are too vague for events
     Full Idea: In spite of Mackie's announced aim of analysing singular causal statements, it is doubtful that the entities that he is concerned with can be consistently interpreted as spatio-temporally bounded individual events.
     From: comment on J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965]) by Jaegwon Kim - Causes and Events: Mackie on causation 3
     A reaction: This is because Mackie mainly talks about 'conditions'. Nearly every theory I encounter in modern philosophy gets accused of either circular definitions, or inadequate individuation conditions for key components. A tough world for theory-makers.
p.71 Necessity and sufficiency are best suited to properties and generic events, not individual events
     Full Idea: Relations of necessity and sufficiency seem best suited for properties and for property-like entities such as generic states and events; their application to individual events and states is best explained as derivative from properties and generic events.
     From: comment on J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965]) by Jaegwon Kim - Causes and Events: Mackie on causation 4
     A reaction: This seems to suggest that necessity must either derive from laws, or from powers. It is certainly hard to see how you could do Mackie's assessment of necessary and sufficient components, without comparing similar events.
p.189 A cause is part of a wider set of conditions which suffices for its effect
     Full Idea: The details of Mackie's analysis are complex, but the general idea is that the cause is part of a wider set of conditions which suffices for its effect.
     From: report of J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965]) by Tim Crane - Causation 1.3.3
     A reaction: Helpful. Why does something have to be 'the' cause? Immediacy is a vital part of it. A house could be a 'fire waiting to happen'. Oxygen is an INUS condition for a fire.
p.407 Mackie has a nomological account of general causes, and a subjunctive conditional account of single ones
     Full Idea: For general causal statements Mackie favours a nomological account, but for singular causal statements he argued for an analysis in terms of subjunctive conditionals.
     From: report of J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965]) by Michael Tooley - Causation and Supervenience 5.2
     A reaction: These seem to be consistent, by explaining each by placing it within a broader account of reality. Personally I think Ducasse gives the best account of how you get from the particular to the general (via similarity and utility).
1 p.34 A cause is an Insufficient but Necessary part of an Unnecessary but Sufficient condition
     Full Idea: If a short-circuit causes a fire, the so-called cause is, and is known to be, an Insufficient but Necessary part of a condition which is itself Unnecessary but Sufficient for the result. Let us call this an INUS condition.
     From: J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965], 1)
     A reaction: I'm not clear why it is necessary, given that the fire could have started without the short-circuit. The final situation must certainly be sufficient. If only one situation can cause an effect, then the whole situation is necessary.
3 p.47 The virus causes yellow fever, and is 'the' cause; sweets cause tooth decay, but they are not 'the' cause
     Full Idea: We may say not merely that this virus causes yellow fever, but also that it is 'the' cause of yellow fever; but we could only say that sweet-eating causes dental decay, not that it is the cause of dental decay (except in an individual case).
     From: J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965], 3)
     A reaction: A bit confusing, but there seems to be something important here, concerning the relation between singular causation and law-governed causation. 'The' cause may not be sufficient (I'm immune to yellow fever). So 'the' cause is the only necessary one?
4 p.48 Necessary conditions are like counterfactuals, and sufficient conditions are like factual conditionals
     Full Idea: A necessary causal condition is closely related to a counterfactual conditional: if no-cause then no-effect, and a sufficient causal condition is closely related to a factual conditional (Goodman's phrase): since cause-here then effect.
     From: J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965], 4)
     A reaction: The 'factual conditional' just seems to be an assertion that causation occurred (dressed up with the logical-sounding 'since'). An important distinction for Lewis. Sufficiency doesn't seem to need possible-worlds talk.
9 p.52 The INUS account interprets single events, and sequences, causally, without laws being known
     Full Idea: My account shows how a singular causal statement can be interpreted, and how the corresponding sequence can be shown to be causal, even if the corresponding complete laws are not known.
     From: J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965], 9)
     A reaction: Since the 'complete' laws are virtually never known, it would be a bit much to require that to assert causation. His theory is the 'INUS' account of causal conditions - see Idea 8333.
9 p.54 Some says mental causation is distinct because we can recognise single occurrences
     Full Idea: It is sometimes suggested that our ability to recognise a single occurrence as an instance of mental causation is a feature which distinguishes mental causation from physical or 'Humean' causation.
     From: J.L. Mackie (Causes and Conditions [1965], 9)
     A reaction: Hume says regularities are needed for mental causation too. Concentrate hard on causing a lightning flash - 'did I do that?' Gradually recovering from paralysis; you wouldn't just move your leg once, and know it was all right!
1977 Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong
p.107 The 'error theory' of morals says there is no moral knowledge, because there are no moral facts
     Full Idea: Mackie's 'error theory' of ethics says that if a fact is something that corresponds to a true proposition, there are actually no moral facts, hence no knowledge of what moral statements are about.
     From: report of J.L. Mackie (Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong [1977]) by Pascal Engel - Truth 4.2
     A reaction: Personally I am inclined to think that there are moral facts (about what nature shows us constitutes a good human being), based on virtue theory. Mackie is a good warning, though, against making excessive claims. You end up like a bad scientist.