Finally tracked down my copy of _Essays on Actions & Events_. There are places where Helen Steward describes a certain view about the relationship between singular and sentential causal claims as 'Davidsonian', but I wasn't entirely clear where Davidson defends the view. Found it. In 'Causal Relations', he discusses the view that causes correspond to sentences rather than singular terms for events. On such a view, the logical form of (1) is given by (2):
(1) The short circuit caused the fire.
(2) Because there was a short circuit, there was a fire.
He argues persuasively that these differ in logical form and it seems that one of the take away lessons of that we should think of causal relations as holding between events and causal explanatory relations as holding between something else entirely. (He says sentences, but I'd prefer propositions or facts. Let's just call everything in this lot 'dicta'.) This leaves us with a question, which is how singular causal claims are related to sentential causal claims like (2). Davidson suggests on pp. 155 that (1) entails (2), but (2) doesn't entail (1).
I'm sort of surprised to see Davidson say this. If swallowing the Burgundy just is swallowing the poison, then wouldn't Davidson have to agree that both of these are true if one of them is?
(3) The swallowing of the Burgundy caused the death.
(4) The swallowing of the poison caused the death.
He wouldn't hold, however, that these are both true:
(5) Because there was a swallowing of Burgundy, there was a death.
(6) Because there was a swallowing of poison, there was a death.
I don't see how (5) and (6) can be entailed by (3) and (4) if both (3) and (4) is true but (5) is false. The truth of the singular causal claims doesn't turn on how the event is picked out. Sentential claims like (5) and (6) seem to provide us with information about causally relevant features that isn't provided by the singular causal claims that Davidson suggests entails them. So, he must be wrong, right?
I've been working through Davidson because I've been struggling to understand why he might have thought that reasons were causes. He says that they are in 'Actions, Reasons, and Causes', but I don't see anywhere in there any reason to think that reasons are causes as opposed to dicta. If he thought that sentences like (1) entailed (2) because (2) was really just some sort of generalization of (1) [a view that seems just completely unmotivated, so far as I can tell], then maybe he thought it didn't matter much whether we thought of reasons as causes or dicta. If there's no logical relationship between (1) and (2), however, maybe the question is a bit more pressing.
Here's a pitch for identifying reasons with dicta rather than causes. First, let's assume that Davidson is right and nothing can be both a cause and something that corresponds with or is the explanans. Second, let's note that we can identify the cause of an event and be utterly in the dark as to why something came to pass. It seems that questions about relevance often arise after we've identified a cause. It seems that these questions have all been put to rest, however, once an explanation is in place. We should identify reasons with dicta rather than causes for just this reason. When you have the reasons before you and they figure in a correct explanation, questions of relevance have all been settled. The singular causal claims don't settle these questions. So, singular causal claims don't identify reasons.