This paper explores the question of whether all or most explanations in biology are, or ideally should be, ‘mechanistic’. I begin by providing an account of mechanistic explanation, making use of the interventionist ideas about causation I have developed elsewhere. This account emphasizes the way in which mechanistic explanations, at least in the biological sciences, integrate difference-making and spatio-temporal information, and exhibit what I call fine-tunedness of organization. I also emphasize the role played by modularity conditions in mechanistic explanation. I (...) will then argue, in agreement with John Dupré, that, given this account, it is plausible that many biological systems require explanations that are relatively non-mechanical or depart from expectations one associates with the behaviour of machines. (shrink)
This article discusses the role of simplicity and the notion of a best balance of simplicity and strength within the best systems account (BSA) of laws of nature. The article explores whether there is anything in scientific practice that corresponds to the notion of simplicity or to the trade-off between simplicity and strength to which the BSA appeals. Various theoretical rationales for simplicity preferences and their bearing on the identification of laws are also explored. It is concluded that there are (...) a number of issues about the role of simplicity within the BSA and its relation to strength that need to be addressed before the BSA can be regarded as an adequate account of laws. 1 Introduction2 The Best Systems Account3 The Trade-Off between Simplicity and Strength: Preliminary Considerations4 Alternative Conceptions of the Relationship between Simplicity and Strength5 Two Roles for Simplicity6 Simplicity in the Best Systems Account: Curve-Fitting7 Simplicity as a Corrective for Overfitting8 Descriptive Simplicity in the Best Systems Account?9 Simplicity as Due to Human Intellectual Limitations10 Summary11 Concluding Remarks. (shrink)
This paper explores some issues having to do with the perception of causation. It discusses the role that phenomena that that are associated with causal perception, such as Michottean launching interactions, play within philosophical accounts of causation and also speculates on their possible role in development.
This paper defends an interventionist treatment of mechanisms and contrasts this with Waskan (forthcoming). Interventionism embodies a difference-making conception of causation. I contrast such conceptions with geometrical/mechanical or “actualist” conceptions, associating Waskan’s proposals with the latter. It is argued that geometrical/mechanical conceptions of causation cannot replace difference-making conceptions in characterizing the behavior of mechanisms, but that some of the intuitions behind the geometrical/mechanical approach can be captured by thinking in terms of spatio-temporally organized difference-making information.
This paper provides a restatement and defense of the data/ phenomena distinction introduced by Jim Bogen and me several decades ago (e.g., Bogen and Woodward, The Philosophical Review, 303–352, 1988). Additional motivation for the distinction is introduced, ideas surrounding the distinction are clarified, and an attempt is made to respond to several criticisms.
This paper attempts to elucidate three characteristics of causal relationships that are important in biological contexts. Stability has to do with whether a causal relationship continues to hold under changes in background conditions. Proportionality has to do with whether changes in the state of the cause “line up” in the right way with changes in the state of the effect and with whether the cause and effect are characterized in a way that contains irrelevant detail. Specificity is connected both to (...) David Lewis’ notion of “influence” and also with the extent to which a causal relation approximates to the ideal of one cause–one effect. Interrelations among these notions and their possible biological significance are also discussed. (shrink)
This paper explores some issues concerning the nature and structure of causal explanation in psychiatry and psychology from the point of view of the “interventionist” theory defended in my book, Making Things Happen. Among the issues is explored is the extent to which candidate causal explanations involving “upper level” or relatively coarse-grained or macroscopic variables such as mental/psychological states (e.g. highly self critical beliefs or low self esteem) or environmental factors (e.g. parental abuse) compete with explanations that instead appeal to (...) underlying, “lower level” or more fine gained neural, genetic, or biochemical mechanisms. (shrink)
Manipulablity theories of causation, according to which causes are to be regarded as handles or devices for manipulating effects, have considerable intuitive appeal and are popular among social scientists and statisticians. This article surveys several prominent versions of such theories advocated by philosophers, and the many difficulties they face. Philosophical statements of the manipulationist approach are generally reductionist in aspiration and assign a central role to human action. These contrast with recent discussions employing a broadly manipulationist framework for understanding causation, (...) such as those due to the computer scientist Judea Pearl and others, which are non-reductionist and rely instead on the notion of an intervention. This is simply an appropriately exogenous causal process; it has no essential connection with human action. This interventionist framework manages to avoid at least some of these difficulties faced by traditional philosophical versions of the manipulability theory and helps to clarify the content of causal claims. (shrink)
This paper discusses some issues concerning the relationship between the mental and the physical, including the so-called causal exclusion argument, within the framework of a broadly interventionist approach to causation.
Counterfactual theories of causation of the sort presented in Mackie, 1974, and Lewis, 1973 are a familiar part of the philosophical landscape. Such theories are typically advanced primarily as accounts of the metaphysics of causation. But they also raise empirical psychological issues concerning the processes and representations that underlie human causal reasoning. For example, do human subjects internally represent causal claims in terms of counterfactual judgments and when they engage in causal reasoning, does this involves reasoning about counterfactual claims? This (...) paper explores several such issues from a broadly interventionist perspective. (shrink)
This article explores some issues having to do with the use of experimental results from one‐shot games to reach conclusions about the existence of social preferences that are taken to figure in the explanation of cooperation in repeated interactions in real life. †To contact the author, please write to: Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125; e‐mail: email@example.com.
What is the relationship between, on the one hand, the sorts of causal claims found in the special sciences (and in common sense) and, on the other hand, the world as described by physics? A standard picture goes like this: the fundamental laws of physics are causal laws in the sense that they can be interpreted as telling us that realizations of one set of physical factors or properties “causes” realizations of other properties. Causal claims in the special sciences are (...) then true (to the extent that they are) in virtue of “instantiating” these underlying causal laws; as it is often put, the latter serve as “truth-makers” for the former. The picture is thus one according to which the notion of cause, as it occurs in the special sciences, is reflected or “grounded” in a fairly straightforward and transparent way in a similar notion that occurs in fundamental physics. This paper explores some alternatives to this picture. (shrink)
This article surveys some of the philosophical issues raised by recent experimental work in economics on so-called social preferences. This work raises a number of fascinating methodological and interpretive issues that are of central importance both to economics and to social and political philosophy.
We use the phrase "moral intuition" to describe the appearance in consciousness of moral judgments or assessments without any awareness of having gone through a conscious reasoning process that produces this assessment. This paper investigates the neural substrates of moral intuition. We propose that moral intuitions are part of a larger set of social intuitions that guide us through complex, highly uncertain and rapidly changing social interactions. Such intuitions are shaped by learning. The neural substrates for moral intuition include fronto-insular, (...) cingulate, and orbito-frontal cortices and associated subcortical structure such as the septum, basil ganglia and amygdala. Understanding the role of these structures undercuts many philosophical doctrines concerning the status of moral intuitions, but vindicates the claim that they can sometimes play a legitimate role in moral decision-making. (shrink)
expose some gaps and difficulties in the argument for the causal Markov condition in our essay ‘Independence, Invariance and the Causal Markov Condition’ (), and we are grateful for the opportunity to reformulate our position. In particular, Cartwright disagrees vigorously with many of the theses we advance about the connection between causation and manipulation. Although we are not persuaded by some of her criticisms, we shall confine ourselves to showing how our central argument can be reconstructed and to casting doubt (...) on Cartwright's claim that the causal Markov condition typically fails when there are indeterministic by-products. Why believe the causal Markov condition? Causation and manipulation The argument Indeterministic by-products and the causal Markov condition The chemical factory counterexample and PM2 Conclusions: causation and manipulability. (shrink)
This paper explores the relationship between a manipulability conception of causation and the causal Markov condition (CM). We argue that violations of CM also violate widely shared expectations—implicit in the manipulability conception—having to do with the absence of spontaneous correlations. They also violate expectations concerning the connection between independence or dependence relationships in the presence and absence of interventions.
This article defends the use of interventionist counterfactuals to elucidate causal and explanatory claims against criticisms advanced by James Bogen and Peter Machamer. Against Bogen, I argue that counterfactual claims concerning what would happen under interventions are meaningful and have determinate truth values, even in a deterministic world. I also argue, against both Machamer and Bogen, that we need to appeal to counterfactuals to capture the notions like causal relevance and causal mechanism. Contrary to what both authors suppose, counterfactuals are (...) not "unscientific" - a substantial tradition within statistics and the causal modelling literature makes heavy use of them. (shrink)
The explanation of inertia based on “Mach's principle” is briefly revisited and an experiment whereby the gravitational origin of inertia can be tested is described. The test consists of detecting a small stationary force with a sensitive force sensor. The force is presumably induced when a periodic transient Mach effect mass fluctuation is driven in high voltage, high energy density capacitors that are subjected to 50 kHz, 1.3 kV amplitude voltage signal, and threaded by an alternating magnetic flux of the (...) same frequency. An effect of the sort predicted is shown to be present in the device tested. It has the expected magnitude and depends on the relative phase of the Mach effect mass fluctuation and the alternating magnetic flux as expected. The observed effect also displays scaling behaviors that are unique to Mach effects. Other tests for spurious signals suggest that the observed effect is real. (shrink)
Woodward's long awaited book is an attempt to construct a comprehensive account of causation explanation that applies to a wide variety of causal and explanatory claims in different areas of science and everyday life. The book engages some of the relevant literature from other disciplines, as Woodward weaves together examples, counterexamples, criticisms, defenses, objections, and replies into a convincing defense of the core of his theory, which is that we can analyze causation by appeal to the notion of manipulation.
In this paper I criticize the commonly accepted idea that the generalizations of the special sciences should be construed as ceteris paribus laws. This idea rests on mistaken assumptions about the role of laws in explanation and their relation to causal claims. Moreover, the major proposals in the literature for the analysis of ceteris paribus laws are, on their own terms, complete failures. I sketch a more adequate alternative account of the content of causal generalizations in the special sciences which (...) I argue should replace the ceteris paribus conception. (shrink)
Over the past several years Haisch, Rueda, and others have made the claim that the origin of inertial reaction forces can be explained as the interaction of electrically charged elementary particles with the vacuum electromagnetic zero-point field expected on the basis of quantum field theory. After pointing out that this claim, in light of the fact that the inertial masses of the hadrons reside in the electrically chargeless, photon-like gluons that bind their constituent quarks, is untenable, the question of the (...) role of quantum zero-point fields generally in the origin of inertia is explored. It is shown that, although non-gravitational zero-point fields might be the cause of the gravitational properties of normal matter, the action of non-gravitational zero-point fields cannot be the cause of inertial reaction forces. The gravitational origin of inertial reaction forces is then briefly revisited. Recent claims critical of the gravitational origin of inertial reaction forces by Haisch and his collaborators are then shown to be without merit. (shrink)
This paper describes an alternative to the common view that explanation in the special sciences involves subsumption under laws. According to this alternative, whether or not a generalization can be used to explain has to do with whether it is invariant rather than with whether it is lawful. A generalization is invariant if it is stable or robust in the sense that it would continue to hold under a relevant if it is stable or robust in the sense that it (...) would continue to hold under a relevant class of changes. Unlike lawfulness, invariance comes in degrees and has other features that are well suited to capture the characteristics of explanatory generalizations in the special sciences. For example, a generalization can be invariant even if it has exceptions or holds only over a limited spatio-temporal interval. The notion of invariance can be used to resolve a number of dilemmas that arise in standard treatments of explanatory generalizations in the special sciences. (shrink)
The question of the cause of inertial reaction forces and the validity of “Mach's principle” are investigated. A recent claim that the cause of inertial reaction forces can be attributed to an interaction of the electrical charge of elementary particles with the hypothetical quantum mechanical “zero-point” fluctuation electromagnetic field is shown to be untenable. It fails to correspond to reality because the coupling of electric charge to the electromagnetic field cannot be made to mimic plausibly the universal coupling of gravity (...) and inertia to the stress-energy-momentum (i.e., matter) tensor. The gravitational explanation of the origin of inertial forces is then briefly laid out, and various important features of it explored in the last half-century are addressed. (shrink)
This paper explores the idea that laws express relationships between properties or universals as defended in Michael Tooley's recent book Causation: A Realist Approach. I suggest that the most plausible version of realism will take a different form than that advocated by Tooley. According to this alternative, laws are grounded in facts about the capacities and powers of particular systems, rather than facts about relations between universals. The notion of lawfulness is linked to the notion of invariance, rather than to (...) the metaphysical notion of a necessary connection. (shrink)
It is noted that Popper separates the creation of concepts, conjectures, hypotheses and theories—the context of invention—from the testing thereof—the context of justification—arguing that only the latter is susceptible of rigorous logical analysis. Efforts on the part of others to shift or eradicate the demarcation established by this distinction are discussed and the relationship of these considerations to the claims of “strong artificial intelligence” is pointed out. It is argued that the mode of education of scientists, as well as reports (...) of celebrated scientists, support Popper's judgement in this matter. An historical episode from Faraday's later career is used to illustrate the historiographical strength of Lakatos' “methodology of research programs.”. (shrink)
The Schuster-Blackett (S-B) conjecture, which supposes the relationshipM/J=βG 1/2 /2c between the magnetic dipole moments (M) of celestial objects and their angular momenta (J), where G is the Newtonian constant of gravitation, c the speed of light, and β a dimensionless constant of order unity, is examined in the context of the evolution of pulsar gyromagnetic ratios. It is demonstrated that the evolution of pulsar gyromagnetic ratios is not consistent with the strong form of the S-B conjecture where β is (...) taken to be a constant. The pulsar evidence, which shows evolution withM/J constant for individual short-period pulsars, however, does admit the validity of a weaker form of the S-B conjecture, where β is allowed to take on a range of values. It is also shown that the only conventional explanation of the origin of pulsar magnetic fields that produces evolution where the gyromagnetic ratio remains constant for individual pulsars which generates magnetic fields of sufficient strength, the thermally driven Hall-field-limited battery effect, may not convincingly account for the observed behavior of pulsars. A few of the implications of the S-B conjecture and the pulsar evidence are explored. (shrink)
This paper explores, in a rather schematic way, some issues having to do with the conception of causation and explanation implicit in regression analysis. I argue that (a) regression analysis does not yield lawlike generalizations but rather claims about causal connections in particular populations and that (b) regression analyses are not plausibly viewed as part of a neo-Humean program of analyzing causal claims in terms of claims about patterns of statistical association. I also argue that (c) the conception of explanation (...) implicit in regression analysis is deductive and involves the exhibition of a pattern of counterfactual dependence between mean values of the independent and dependent variables. (shrink)
This paper is an assessment of an attempt, by James Greeno, to measure the explanatory power of statistical theories by means of the notion of transmitted information (It). It is argued that It has certain features that are inappropriate in a measure of explanatory power. In particular, given a statistical theory T with explanans variables St and explanandum variables Mj, it is argued that no plausible measure of explanatory power should depend on the probability P(Si) of occurrence of initial conditions (...) in the systems to which T applies or the magnitudes of the conditional probabilities P(Mj/Si), in the manner in which Ir does. (shrink)