A Defence of Manipulationist Noncausal Explanation: The Case for Intervention Liberalism

Erkenntnis 88 (8):3179-3201 (2023)
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Recent years have seen growing interest in modifying interventionist accounts of causal explanation in order to characterise noncausal explanation. However, one surprising element of such accounts is that they have typically jettisoned the core feature of interventionism: interventions. Indeed, the prevailing opinion within the philosophy of science literature suggests that interventions exclusively demarcate causal relationships. This position is so prevalent that, until now, no one has even thought to name it. We call it “intervention puritanism” (I-puritanism, for short). In this paper, we mount the first sustained defence of the idea that there are distinctively noncausal explanations which can be characterized in terms of possible interventions; a position we call “intervention liberalism” (I-liberalism, for short). While many have followed James Woodward (2003) in committing to I-puritanism, we trace support for I-liberalism back to the work of Jaegwon Kim (1974). Furthermore, we analyse two recent sources of scepticism regarding I-liberalism: debate surrounding mechanistic constitution; and attempts to provide a monistic account of explanation. We show that neither literature provides compelling reasons for adopting I-puritanism. Finally, we present a novel taxonomy of available positions upon the role of possible interventions in explanation: weak causal imperialism; strong causal imperialism; monist intervention puritanism; pluralist intervention puritanism; monist intervention liberalism; and finally, the specific position defended in this paper, pluralist intervention liberalism.

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Nicholas Emmerson
University of Iceland

Citations of this work

Plumbing metaphysical explanatory depth.Nicholas Emmerson - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-22.

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References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Explaining the brain: mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - New York : Oxford University Press,: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press.
Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference.Judea Pearl - 2000 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.

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