I have been browsing some posts in this StackExchange where I encountered a rather odd proposition that

Gravity and other forces are non-entity causes.

I fail to see how that is the case. I would argue that gravity and other forces are the effects of entities that cause them.

From a Coulomb's perspective, a source charge (physical entity) has some charge property, that when it comes near a test charge it exerts a force on it. For if there were no source charges present, the test charge would not be affected in any way. It suffices to state that it is actually the source charged entity that causes the motion of the test charge, rather than some non-entity cause, essentially the force, that causes the motion of the test charge. A similar example can also be used to explain the Newtonian Gravity and how even over there we don't need a non-entity cause.

Moreover, if the above is true, then are there any non-entity causes? Any conceptions or examples we may have acquired in reality?

  • Could you provide a link to the posts where the quoted claim is made. It is hard to tell what is meant without context. Certain forms of nominalism would treat forces and causal laws as non-entities and only individual instantiations of them as existent. Even your own statements that "gravity and other forces are the effects" can be interpreted as making them non-entities. In any case, it does not really make sense to ask which is "true", only what language is more convenient, economical, etc., on balance.
    – Conifold
    Jul 20, 2018 at 22:27
  • Without the non-entity causes such as gravity mediating between entities we would have entities acting at a distance. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_at_a_distance Jul 21, 2018 at 12:11
  • @FrankHubeny So in other words, a source entity causes the required interaction which causes the motion of test entity? Will that be an adequate representation of the phenomenon? Jul 21, 2018 at 13:10
  • That's how I'm seeing it at the moment. We need that mediating reality. However, it also depends on what one means by an entity. According to the article "In Maxwell's theory, the field is its own physical entity". At the moment I can't answer the question, but I up voted it. Jul 21, 2018 at 13:26

1 Answer 1


If by definition physical forces are non-entity causes, the answer to your question is moot. This points to the fact that we need a clear definition of what is meant by "entity" and "non-entity" causes.

In your example, a single charge has no force. A force exists only when two or more such charges are in the proximity of each other. The same is true for gravity.
The charged particle (physical entity) does not "have" the force. It is their interaction that creates it. Since neither particle (entity) has the force, the force must be non-entity.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .