I'm teaching a class celled Metaphysics and Epistemology this semester. One of the books for the class is by John Carroll and Ned Markosian and it's entitled An Introduction to Metaphysics. A number of students found the example of the passage below perplexing (this appears on page 29):
"When Socrates drank the hemlock and died in the Athenian prison, his wife, Xanthippe, became a widow. Did Socrates' death cause Xanthippe to become a widow?... Many philosophers find this conclusion unacceptable. The worry is that any relation holding between these two events is bound not to be of the tangible/physical sort one normally expects causation to be. The connection seems to be too much a conceptual matter. To drive home this point, sometimes it is argued that, since Xanthippe was not in the prison with Socrates, his death could not have caused her to become a widow. She became a widow the instant he died. Since there is no instantaneous causal action at a distance in a world like ours where no signals travel faster than light, his death didn't cause her widowhood."
If I were taking the class, I'd be tempted to write one of my papers on something related to this example. There are some fascinating questions that are raised in this short passage. Can there be instantaneous causation at a distance? Does causation require a "tangible/physical" bond between two events? If she became a widow the instant he died, then what (if not his death) caused this effect?
I'm hoping readers will make some suggest some answers to these questions and shed some light on these issues.