A number of theories of causation posit that causes raise the probability of their effects. In this paper, we survey a number of proposals for analyzing causal strength in terms of probabilities. We attempt to characterize just what each one measures, discuss the relationships between the measures, and discuss a number of properties of each measure.
This paper extends the account of actual causation offered by Halpern and Pearl . We show that this account yields the wrong judgment in certain classes of cases. We offer a revised definition that incorporates consideration of defaults, typicality, and normality. The revised deﬁnition takes actual causation to be both graded and comparative. We then apply our deﬁnition to a number of cases.
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)
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)
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)
The conserved quantity theory of causation aims to analyze causal processes and interactions in terms of conserved quantities. In order to be successful, the theory must correctly distinguish between causal processes and interactions, on the one hand, and pseudoprocesses and mere intersections on the other.Moreover, it must do this while satisfying two further criteria: it must avoid circularity; and the appeal to conserved quantities must not be redundant. I argue that the theory is not successful in meeting these criteria.
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.
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)
“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.
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)
Concerning any object of philosophical analysis, we can ask several questions, including the two posed in the title of this paper. Despite difficulties in formulating a precise criterion to distinguish causal processes from pseudoprocesses, and causal interactions from mere spatiotemporal intersections, I argue that Salmon answered the first of these questions with extraordinary clarity. The second question, by contrast, has received very little attention. I will present two problems: in the first, it seems that Salmon has provided exactly the conceptual (...) resources needed to solve the problem; in the second, it is difficult to see how causal processes and interactions may be used to shed any light. In general, the way to carry Salmon's program forward will be to demonstrate that these resources can be made to do real philosophical work. (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)
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)
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)
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)
Despite the platitude that analytic philosophy is deeply concerned with language, philosophers of science have paid little attention to methodological issues that arise within historical linguistics. I broach this topic by arguing that many inferences in historical linguistics conform to Reichenbach's common cause principle (CCP). Although the scope of CCP is narrower than many have thought, inferences about the genealogies of languages are particularly apt for reconstruction using CCP. Quantitative approaches to language comparison are readily understood as methods for detecting (...) the correlations that serve as premises for common cause inferences, and potential sources of error in historical linguistics correspond to well-known limitations of CCP. (shrink)
Philosophers have used the probabilistic relation of screening-off to explicate concepts in the theories of causation and explanation. Brandon has used screening-off relations in an attempt to reconstruct an argument of Mayr and Gould that natural selection acts at the level of the organism. I argue that Brandons reconstruction is unsuccessful.
Larry Wright and others have advanced causal accounts of functional explanation, designed to alleviate fears about the legitimacy of such explanations. These analyses take functional explanations to describe second order causal relations. These second order relations are conceptually puzzling. I present an account of second order causation from within the framework of Eells' probabilistic theory of causation; the account makes use of the population-relativity of causation that is built into this theory.
Introduction: One of the most influential theories of scientific explanation to have emerged in the past two decades is Salmon's causal/mechanical theory (Salmon 1984). According to this account, scientific explanations describe a network of causal processes and interactions. In this paper, I will use an example from evolutionary biology to argue that the causal nexus, as characterized by Salmon, is not rich enough to account for many causal explanations in the sciences.
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)
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)
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)
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)
Gerald Massey has constructed translation manuals for the purposes of illustrating Quine’s Indeterminacy Thesis. Robert Kirk has argued that Massey’s manuals do not live up to their billing. In this note, I will present Massey’s manuals and defend them against Kirk’s objections. The implications for Quine’s Indeterminacy Thesis will then be briefly discussed.
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)