Let's say person A picks up a pencil and drops it and person B catches it.

I think most people would agree that person A dropping the pencil allowed person B to catch it, but did not cause person B to catch it. I think we can also agree that person A dropping the pencil both caused the pencil to fall, and allowed the pencil to fall.

Based off of this one example, I would think that if X causes Y, then X allows Y. (That is, causing is a subset of allowing.) However, I'm not sure when something causes something else to happen rather than just allowing it to happen, and I'm curious as to where this line is drawn.

How do I tell if something causes something else to happen, and how do I tell if something allows something else to happen?

  • 2
    Gravity causes the pencil to fall, not the person. If person A was in orbit, the pencil would not fall. There are also questions of free will in this. If you replace person A and B with robots programmed to perform those actions, then we could say dropping the pencil caused robot B to catch it. So, you really need to break this down to some more fundamental questions about 1) cause and effect, and 2) free will. Then you have issues of language and meaning to sort through. You have a ways to go to address your question. Aug 30, 2020 at 23:42
  • 3
    This is a question about use of words more than philosophy, and the use of "cause" is not particularly coherent. It is not uncommon to say that someone not watering a plant "caused" it to die. And a person letting go of the pencil did not really cause it to fall. Gravity did too, they only "allowed" it. The concept of "causing" only superficially seems objective, but, as colloquially used, it is not. It singles out human role, is relative to context, and assigns responsibility conventionally. See the thread on causal responsibility.
    – Conifold
    Aug 30, 2020 at 23:45
  • 2
    @user3646932: Free will makes this more complex than you suggest. If you're a compatibilist, then person A did indeed cause person B to (decide to) catch the pencil.
    – Kevin
    Aug 31, 2020 at 17:25
  • You may wish to read the discussion 'Is the idea of a causal chain physical (or even scientific)?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/70930/…
    – CriglCragl
    May 11, 2021 at 10:23
  • @Kevin: That's a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of compatibilism
    – CriglCragl
    May 11, 2021 at 10:24

2 Answers 2


When you use 'allowing' there just needs to be a newly open possibility for a specific event to happen, but doesn't need to happen (like with the dropping of the pencil, which allowed the pencil to be catched) While cause always needs to be followed by the other event (like loosing hold of your pencil causes it to fall to the ground) although you often just shorten an logical structure by implying certain rules, through which the 'cause' happens (f. e.:loosing hold of the pencil allowed the gravity to pull he pencil down to the ground, or loosing hold of the pencil caused it to fall to the ground, where the law of gravity is implied).


"Cause" can come from many vectors. If you cause something it maybe because of deliberate permission (orders, etc), willful involvement (participation), negligence (didn't mean to).

"Allow" is Permission. In the argument to "Allow" it to happen. Boils down to Cause is "You're responsible, be it willfully or otherwise" Allow means You gave the all clear

You must log in to answer this question.

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