Much of the philosophical literature on causation has focused on the concept of actual causation, sometimes called token causation. In particular, it is this notion of actual causation that many philosophical theories of causation have attempted to capture.2 In this paper, we address the question: what purpose does this concept serve? As we shall see in the next section, one does not need this concept for purposes of prediction or rational deliberation. What then could the purpose be? We will argue (...) that one can gain an important clue here by looking at the ways in which causal judgments are shaped by people‘s understanding of norms. (shrink)
Judea Pearl has been at the forefront of research in the burgeoning field of causal modeling, and Causality is the culmination of his work over the last dozen or so years. For philosophers of science with a serious interest in causal modeling, Causality is simply mandatory reading. Chapter 2, in particular, addresses many of the issues familiar from works such as Causation, Prediction and Search by Peter Spirtes, Clark Glymour, and Richard Scheines. But philosophers with a more general interest in (...) causation will also profit from reading Pearl’s book, especially the material in chapters 7, 9, and 10, which is self-contained and less technical than other parts of the book. The present review is aimed primarily at readers of the second type. (shrink)
Recent work in psychology and experimental philosophy has shown that judgments of actual causation are often influenced by consideration of defaults, typicality, and normality. A number of philosophers and computer scientists have also suggested that an appeal to such factors can help deal with problems facing existing accounts of actual causation. This article develops a flexible formal framework for incorporating defaults, typicality, and normality into an account of actual causation. The resulting account takes actual causation to be both graded and (...) comparative. We then show how our account would handle a number of standard cases. 1 Introduction2 Causal Models3 The HP Definition of Actual Causation4 The Problem of Isomorphism5 Defaults, Typicality, and Normality6 Extended Causal Models7 Examples7.1 Omissions7.2 Knobe effects7.3 Causes versus background conditions7.4 Bogus prevention7.5 Causal chains7.6 Legal doctrines of intervening causes7.7 Pre-emption and short circuits8 Conclusion. (shrink)
Following Dretske (1977), there has been a considerable body of literature on the role of contrastive stress in causal claims. Following van Fraassen (1980), there has been a considerable body of literature on the role of contrastive stress in explanations and explanation-requesting why-questions. Amazingly, the two bodies of literature have remained almost entirely disjoint. With an understanding of the contrastive nature of ordinary causal claims, and of the linguistic roles of contrastive stress, it is possible to provide a unified account (...) of both phenomena. I provide such an account from within the framework of a probabilistic theory of causation. Relations of screening-off, long familiar to researchers in probabilistic causality, play a central role in this account. (shrink)
In the Sleeping Beauty problem, Beauty is uncertain whether the outcome of a certain coin toss was heads or tails. One argument suggests that her degree of belief in heads should be 1/3, while a second suggests that it should be 1/2. Prima facie, the argument for 1/2 appears to be stronger. I offer a diachronic Dutch Book argument in favor of 1/3. Even for those who are not routinely persuaded by diachronic Dutch Book arguments, this one has some important (...) morals. (shrink)
an observation to formulate a theory, it is no surprise that the resulting theory accurately captures that observation. However, when the theory makes a novel prediction—when it predicts an observation that was not used in its formulation—this seems to provide more substantial confirmation of the theory. This paper presents a new approach to the vexed problem of understanding the epistemic difference between prediction and accommodation. In fact, there are several problems that need to be disentangled; in all of them, the (...) key is the concept of overfitting. We float the hypothesis that accommodation is a defective methodology only when the methods used to accommodate the data fail to guard against the risk of overfitting. We connect our analysis with the proposals that other philosophers have made. We also discuss its bearing on the conflict between instrumentalism and scientific realism. Introduction Predictivisms—a taxonomy Observations Formulating the problem What might Annie be doing wrong? Solutions Observations explained Mayo on severe tests The miracle argument and scientific realism Concluding comments. (shrink)
We introduce a family of rules for adjusting one's credences in response to learning the credences of others. These rules have a number of desirable features. 1. They yield the posterior credences that would result from updating by standard Bayesian conditionalization on one's peers' reported credences if one's likelihood function takes a particular simple form. 2. In the simplest form, they are symmetric among the agents in the group. 3. They map neatly onto the familiar Condorcet voting results. 4. They (...) preserve shared agreement about independence in a wide range of cases. 5. They commute with conditionalization and with multiple peer updates. Importantly, these rules have a surprising property that we call synergy - peer testimony of credences can provide mutually supporting evidence raising an individual's credence higher than any peer's initial prior report. At first, this may seem to be a strike against them. We argue, however, that synergy is actually a desirable feature and the failure of other updating rules to yield synergy is a strike against them. (shrink)
Causation is a central topic in many areas of philosophy. In metaphysics, philosophers want to know what causation is, and how it is related to laws of nature, probability, action, and freedom of the will. In epistemology, philosophers investigate how causal claims can be inferred from statistical data, and how causation is related to perception, knowledge and explanation. In the philosophy of mind, philosophers want to know whether and how the mind can be said to have causal efficacy, and in (...) ethics, whether there is a moral distinction between acts and omissions and whether the moral value of an act can be judged according to its consequences. And causation is a contested concept in other fields of enquiry, such as biology, physics, and the law. This book provides an in-depth and comprehensive overview of these and other topics, as well as the history of the causation debate from the ancient Greeks to the logical empiricists. The chapters provide surveys of contemporary debates, while often also advancing novel and controversial claims; and each includes a comprehensive bibliography and suggestions for further reading. The book is thus the most comprehensive source of information about causation currently available, and will be invaluable for upper-level undergraduates through to professional philosophers. (shrink)
“Probabilistic Causation” designates a group of theories that aim to characterize the relationship between cause and effect using the tools of probability theory. The central idea behind these theories is that causes change the probabilities of their effects. This article traces developments in probabilistic causation, including recent developments in causal modeling. A variety of issues within, and objections to, probabilistic theories of causation will also be discussed.
One of the motivations for Salmon's (1984) causal theory of explanation was the explanatory irrelevance exhibited by many arguments conforming to Hempel's covering-law models of explanation. However, the nexus of causal processes and interactions characterized by Salmon is not rich enough to supply the necessary conception of explanatory relevance. Salmon's (1994) revised theory, which is briefly criticized on independent grounds, fares no better. There is some possibility that the two-tiered structure of explanation described by Salmon (1984) may be pressed into (...) service, but more work would have to be done. Ironically, Salmon's difficulties are similar to those suffered by his seventeenth-century predecessors. (shrink)
Clark Glymour, together with his students Peter Spirtes and Richard Scheines, did pioneering work on graphical causal models . One of the central advances provided by these models is the ability to simply represent the effects of interventions. In an elegant paper , Glymour and his student Christopher Meek applied these methods to problems in decision theory. One of the morals they drew was that causal decision theory should be understood in terms of interventions. I revisit their proposal, and extend (...) the analysis by showing how graphical causal models might be used to address decision problems that arise in “exotic” situations, such as those involving crystal balls or time travelers. (shrink)
There are many ways of attaching two objects together: for example, they can be connected, linked, tied or bound together; and the connection, link, tie or bind can be made of chain, rope, or cement. Every one of these binding methods has been used as a metaphor for causation. What is the real significance of these metaphors? They express a commitment to a certain way of thinking about causation, summarized in the following thesis: ‘In any concrete situation, there is an (...) objective fact of the matter as to whether two events are in fact bound by the causal relation. It is the aim of philosophical inquiry to analyze this objective relation.’ Through a variety of examples, I hope to cast doubt on this seemingly innocuous thesis. The problem lies not with the word ‘objective’, but with the word ‘the’. The goal of a philosophical account of causation should not be to capture the causal relation, but rather to capture the many ways in which the events of the world can be bound together. 1 The metaphors 2 Unpacking the metaphors 3 Theories of causation 4 The two assassins 5 The birth control pills 6 The smoker-protector gene 7 The bicycle thief 8 Further examples 8.1 Indeterminism 8.2 Probability-lowering causes 8.3 Parts vs wholes 8.4 Symmetric overdetermination 8.5 Delayers 8.6 Causation by omission 8.7 Double prevention/disconnection 8.8 Preemptive prevention 8.9 Quantitative variables 9 Conclusion. (shrink)
It it tempting to think that if an outcome had some probability of not occurring, then we cannot explain why that outcome in fact occurred. Despite this intuition, most philosophers of science have come to admit the possibility of indeterministic explanation. Yet some of them continue to hold that if an outcome was not determined, it cannot be explained why that outcome rather than some other occurred. I argue that this is an untenable compromise: if indeterministic explanation is possible, then (...) indeterministic contrastive explanation is possible too. In order to defend this conclusion, I develop an account of contrastive explanation. (shrink)
In recent years, there has been a philosophical cottage industry producing arguments that our concept of causation is not univocal: that there are in fact two concepts of causation, corresponding to distinct species of causal relation. Papers written in this tradition have borne titles like “Two Concepts of Cause” and “Two Concepts of Causation”. With due apologies to Charles Dickens, I hereby make my own contribution to this genre.
Making a Difference presents fifteen original essays on causation and counterfactuals by an international team of experts. Collectively, they represent the state of the art on these topics. The essays in this volume are inspired by the life and work of Peter Menzies, who made a difference in the lives of students, colleagues, and friends. Topics covered include: the semantics of counterfactuals, agency theories of causation, the context-sensitivity of causal claims, structural equation models, mechanisms, mental causation, causal exclusion argument, free (...) will, and the consequence argument. (shrink)
I advance a new theory of causal relevance, according to which causal claims convey information about conditional probability functions. This theory is motivated by the problem of disjunctive factors, which haunts existing probabilistic theories of causation. After some introductory remarks, I present in Section 3 a sketch of Eells's (1991) probabilistic theory of causation, which provides the framework for much of the discussion. Section 4 explains how the problem of disjunctive factors arises within this framework. After rejecting three proposed solutions, (...) I offer in Section 6 a new approach to causation that avoids the problem. Decision-theoretic considerations also support the new approach. Section 8 develops the consequences of the new theory for causal explanation. The resulting theory of causal explanation incorporates the new insights while respecting important work on scientific explanation by Salmon (1971), Railton (1981), and Humphreys (1989). My conclusions are enumerated in Section 9. (shrink)
Probability theory is a key tool of the physical, mathematical, and social sciences. It has also been playing an increasingly significant role in philosophy: in epistemology, philosophy of science, ethics, social philosophy, philosophy of religion, and elsewhere. This Handbook encapsulates and furthers the influence of philosophy on probability, and of probability on philosophy. Nearly forty articles summarise the state of play and present new insights in various areas of research at the intersection of these two fields. The articles will be (...) of special interest to practitioners of probability who seek a greater understanding of its mathematical and conceptual foundations, and to philosophers who want to get up to speed on the cutting edge of research in this area. The volume begins with a primer on those parts of probability theory that we believe are most important for philosophers to know, and the rest is divided into seven main sections: History; Formalism; Alternatives to Standard Probability Theory; Interpretations and Interpretive Issues; Probabilistic Judgment and Its Applications; Applications of Probability: Science; and Applications of Probability: Philosophy. (shrink)
A number of recent papers have criticized what they call the dynamical interpretation of evolutionary theory found in Elliott Sober’s The Nature of Selection. Sober argues that we can think of evolutionary theory as a theory of forces analogous to Newtonian mechanics. These critics argue that there are several important disanalogies between evolutionary and Newtonian forces: Unlike evolutionary forces, Newtonian forces can be considered in isolation, they have source laws, they compose causally in a straightforward way, and they are intermediate (...) causes in causal chains. Here we defend and extend the forces analogy by arguing that each of these criticisms is based on a misunderstanding of Newtonian forces. Our discussion also has the interesting consequence that natural selection turns out to be more similar to forces such as friction and elastic forces rather than the more canonical gravitation. (shrink)
There are a wide variety of theories of causation available in the philosophical literature. For the philosopher working in philosophy of mind, who makes use of causal concepts, what is to be made of this embarrassment of riches? By considering a variety of theoretical perspectives, she can discover which principles or assumptions about causation are robust, and which hold only within particular frameworks. In particular, she should be suspicious when the different premises in an argument can only be made true (...) by shifting between different theories of causation. I illustrate these themes using the causal exclusion argument. (shrink)
Hall [(2007), Philosophical Studies, 132, 109–136] offers a critique of structural equations accounts of actual causation, and then offers a new theory of his own. In this paper, I respond to Hall’s critique, and present some counterexamples to his new theory. These counterexamples are then diagnosed.
Causation is a topic of perennial philosophical concern. As well as being of intrinsic interest, almost all philosophical concepts — such as knowledge, beauty, and moral responsibility — involve a causal dimension. Nonetheless, attempts to provide a satisfactory account of the nature of causation have typically led to barrages of counterexamples. I hope to show that a number of the difficulties plaguing theories of causation have a common source.Most philosophical theories of causation describe a binary relation between cause and effect, (...) or at any rate, a relation that reduces to such a binary relation when certain background information is held fixed. Indeed, most theories provide the same general account of when this relation holds: in order to evaluate whether C causes E, we must make a comparison between two cases, which we may neutrally label as C and ∼C. Where theories of causation differ, of course, is in precisely what is being so compared. Regularity theories of causation require a comparison between what actually happens whenever C occurs, and what actually happens, elsewhere and elsewhen, when C does not occur. (shrink)
This article describes research pursued by members of the McDonnell Collaborative on Causal Learning. A number of members independently converged on a similar idea: one of the central functions served by claims of actual causation is to highlight patterns of dependence that are highly portable into novel contexts. I describe in detail how this idea emerged in my own work and also in that of the psychologist Tania Lombrozo. In addition, I use the occasion to reflect on the nature of (...) interdisciplinary collaboration in general and on the interaction between philosophy and psychology in particular. (shrink)
I distinguish three different concepts of causation: The scientific concept, or causal structure, is the subject of recent work in causal modeling. The folk attributive concept has been studied by philosophers of law and social psychologists. The metaphysical concept is the one that metaphysicians have attempted to analyze. I explore the relationships between these three concepts, and suggest that the metaphysical concept is an untenable and dispensable mixture of the other two.
Jonathan Schaffer introduced a new type of causal structure called 'trumping'. According to Schaffer, trumping is a species of causal preemption. Both Schaffer and I have argued that causation has a contrastive structure. In this paper, I analyze the structure of trumping cases from the perspective of contrastive causation, and argue that the case is much more complex than it first appears. Nonetheless, there is little reason to regard trumping as a species of causal preemption.
We provide a solution to the well-known “Shooting-Room” paradox, developed by John Leslie in connection with his Doomsday Argument. In the “Shooting-Room” paradox, the death of an individual is contingent upon an event that has a 1/36 chance of occurring, yet the relative frequency of death in the relevant population is 0.9. There are two intuitively plausible arguments, one concluding that the appropriate subjective probability of death is 1/36, the other that this probability is 0.9. How are these two values (...) to be reconciled? We show that only the first argument is valid for a standard, countably additive probability distribution. However, both lines of reasoning are legitimate if probabilities are non-standard. The subjective probability of death rises from 1/36 to 0.9 by conditionalizing on an event that is not measurable, or whose probability is zero. Thus we can sometimes meaningfully ascribe conditional probabilities even when the event conditionalized upon is not of positive finite (or even infinitesimal) measure. (shrink)
Judea Pearl (2000) was the first to propose a definition of actual causation using causal models. A number of authors have suggested that an adequate account of actual causation must appeal not only to causal structure but also to considerations of normality. In Halpern and Hitchcock (2011), we offer a definition of actual causation using extended causal models, which include information about both causal structure and normality. Extended causal models are potentially very complex. In this study, we show how it (...) is possible to achieve a compact representation of extended causal models. (shrink)
It is widely believed that many of the competing accounts of scientific explanation have ramifications which are relevant to the scientific realism debate. I claim that the two issues are orthogonal. For definiteness, I consider Cartwright's argument that causal explanations secure belief in theoretical entities. In Section I, van Fraassen's anti-realism is reviewed; I argue that this anti-realism is, prima facie, consistent with a causal account of explanation. Section II reviews Cartwright's arguments. In Section III, it is argued that causal (...) explanations do not license the sort of inferences to theoretical entities that would embarass the anti-realist. Section IV examines the epistemic commitments involved in accepting a causal explanation. Section V presents my conclusions: contra Cartwright, the anti-realist may incorporate a causal account of explanation into his vision of science in an entirely natural way. (shrink)
Carter and Leslie (1996) have argued, using Bayes's theorem, that our being alive now supports the hypothesis of an early 'Doomsday'. Unlike some critics (Eckhardt 1997), we accept their argument in part: given that we exist, our existence now indeed favors 'Doom sooner' over 'Doom later'. The very fact of our existence, however, favors 'Doom later'. In simple cases, a hypothetical approach to the problem of 'old evidence' shows that these two effects cancel out: our existence now yields no information (...) about the coming of Doom. More complex cases suggest a move from countably additive to non-standard probability measures. (shrink)
A simple counterfactual theory of causation fails because of problems with cases of preemption. This might lead us to expect that preemption will raise problems for counterfactual theories of other concepts that have a causal dimension. Indeed, examples are easy to find. But there is one case where we do not find this. Several versions of causal decision theory are formulated using counterfactuals. This might lead us to expect that these theories will yield the wrong recommendations in cases of preemption. (...) But they do not. The explanation, I argue, is that the ‘cause’ that has been the target of counterfactual analyses is a specific relation, ‘actual causation’, that is not needed for prospective deliberation. A simple counterfactual theory of causation seems to capture the notion of cause needed for causal decision theory. This shows, in opposition to some critics, that counterfactual theories of causation are not barking up the wrong tree. (shrink)
It is a commonplace that in philosophy, intuitions supply evidence for and against philosophical theories. Recent work in experimental philosophy has brought to bear the intuitions of philosophically naïve subjects in a number of different ways. One line of response to this work has been to claim that philosophers have expertise that privileges their intuitive judgments, and allows them to disregard the judgments of non-experts. This expertise is supposed to be analogous to the expertise of the mathematician or the physicist. (...) This paper critically evaluates this appeal to philosophical expertise. (shrink)
There is a tradition, tracing back to Kant, of recasting metaphysical questions as questions about the utility of a conceptual scheme, linguistic framework, or methodological rule for achieving some particular end. Following in this tradition, I propose a ‘means-ends metaphysics ’, in which one rigorously demonstrates the suitability of some conceptual framework for achieving a specified goal. I illustrate this approach using a debate about the nature of events. Specifically, the question is whether the time at which an event occurs (...) is an essential property of that event. I argue that this question is naturally transformed into a question about the methodology of causal modeling. In this new framework, the question concerns what kind of variables to use to represent the effects of potential interventions on a system. This question has a demonstrably correct answer, which sheds new light on the original question. (shrink)
In Belief and the Will, van Fraassen employed a diachronic Dutch Book argument to support a counterintuitive principle called Reflection. There and subsequently van Fraassen has put forth Reflection as a linchpin for his views in epistemology and the philosophy of science, and for the voluntarism (first-person reports of subjective probability are undertakings of commitments) that he espouses as an alternative to descriptivism (first-person reports of subjective probability are merely self-descriptions). Christensen and others have attacked Reflection, taking it to have (...) unpalatable consequences. We prescind from the question of the cogency of diachronic Dutch Book arguments, and focus on Reflection's proper interpretation. We argue that Reflection is not as counterintuitive as it appears — that once interpreted properly the status of the counterexamples given by Christensen and others is left open. We show also that descriptivism can make sense of Reflection, while voluntarism is not especially well suited to do so. (shrink)