On Calcott’s permissive and instructive cause distinction

Biology and Philosophy 34 (1):1 (2019)

Pierrick Bourrat
Macquarie University
I argue that Calcott :481–505, Calcott 2017) mischaracterizes in an important way the notion of causal specificity proposed by Woodward :287–318, Woodward 2010). This leads him to rely too heavily on one single aspect of Woodward’s analysis on causal specificity; propose an information-theoretic measure he calls ‘precision’ which is partly redundant with, but less general than one of the dimensions in Woodward’s analysis of specificity, without acknowledging Woodward’s analysis; and claim that comparing the specificities of two or more causes under what he calls a competitive analysis of causes, does not permit to capture the distinction between permissive and instructive causes. After having restated Woodward’s analysis of causal specificity, I present an information-theoretic measure which, although related to Calcott’s measure, is more general than his and corresponds to the notion of specificity he missed in Woodward's analysis. I then show how this measure can be used, together with mutual causal information, to distinguish permissive from instructive causes in a competitive analysis of causes.
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-018-9654-y
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References found in this work BETA

Causation as Influence.David K. Lewis - 2000 - Journal of Philosophy 97 (4):182-197.
Making Things Happen. A Theory of Causal Explanation.James Woodward - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):233-249.
Causes That Make a Difference.C. Kenneth Waters - 2007 - Journal of Philosophy 104 (11):551-579.

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