Empiricism Must, but Cannot, Presuppose Real Causation

Hans Radder*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this article, I put forward a basic philosophical claim: empirical scientific knowledge, that is, knowledge generated in experimental and observational practices, presupposes real causation. My discussion exploits two core notions from the philosophical analysis of scientific experimentation and observation: the aim of realizing object-apparatus correlations and the required control of the relevant interactions between environment and experimental or observational system. The conclusion is that, without the notion of real causation, acquiring epistemically sound empirical knowledge is impossible. Several empiricist objections to this conclusion are discussed and refuted. As a consequence, empiricism faces an unsolvable dilemma: either it cannot account for empirical knowledge or it should accept the existence of unobservable but real causal interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-608
Number of pages12
JournalJournal for General Philosophy of Science
Issue number4
Early online date8 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to Sebastian De Haro and Phyllis Illari for helpful comments and suggestions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Empirical knowledge
  • Empiricism
  • Real causation
  • Science in practice


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