Causal reasoning and backtracking

Philosophical Studies 147 (1):139 - 154 (2010)
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I argue that one central aspect of the epistemology of causation, the use of causes as evidence for their effects, is largely independent of the metaphysics of causation. In particular, I use the formalism of Bayesian causal graphs to factor the incremental evidential impact of a cause for its effect into a direct cause-to-effect component and a backtracking component. While the “backtracking” evidence that causes provide about earlier events often obscures things, once we our restrict attention to the cause-to-effect component it is true to say promoting (inhibiting) causes raise (lower) the probabilities of their effects. This factoring assumes the same form whether causation is given an interventionist, counterfactual or probabilistic interpretation. Whether we think about causation in terms of interventions and causal graphs, counterfactuals and imaging functions, or probability raising against the background of causally homogenous partitions, if we describe the essential features of a situation correctly then the incremental evidence that a cause provides for its effect in virtue of being its cause will be the same.



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James M. Joyce
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

References found in this work

Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Judea Pearl - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The direction of time.Hans Reichenbach - 1956 - Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. Edited by Maria Reichenbach.
Causation.David Lewis - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (17):556-567.
Causality.Judea Pearl - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.

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