Monday, August 9, 2010

The Ambiguity of "Constitution"

Hurley (chapter 6) and Ross and Ladyman (chapter 7) are concerned about the very nature of the alleged fallacy. Hurley complains that philosophers employ the causal-constitutive distinction, on which the causal coupling fallacy trades, without motivating or explaining the distinction in detail. Ross and Ladyman argue that the distinction itself is not used in mature sciences such as economics and physics. (Menary, 2010, p. 13).
Another important thing to note is that "constitute" has at least two meanings.  "X constitutes a cognitive process" could mean something like X is a part, among perhaps others, that gives rise to a cognitive process.  On this reading, "X constitutes a cognitive process" would be closely related to "X realizes a cognitive process".  Alternatively, "X constitutes a cognitive process" could mean simply that X is a cognitive process.  Compare: That constitutes a good answer = That is a good answer.

So, on this second reading, the coupling-constitution distinction comes down to a distinction between X causing, or being caused by, a cognitive process, versus X being a cognitive process.  The nice thing about the word "constitution" is that it does have this ambiguity, which picks up on the ambiguity I think is to be found in the EC literature.

Here's what I found at www.dictionary.com:
1. to compose; form: mortar constituted of lime and sand.
2. to appoint to an office or function; make or create: He was constituted treasurer.
3. to establish (laws, an institution, etc.).
4. to give legal form to (an assembly, court, etc.).
5. to create or be tantamount to: Imports constitute a challenge to local goods.
I'm thinking #1 and #5 get at the ambiguity I'm describing.

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