The practical value of spurious correlations: selective versus manipulative policy

Analysis 68 (4):298-303 (2008)

Authors
Maarten Van Dyck
University of Ghent
Bert Leuridan
University of Antwerp
Abstract
In the past 25 years, many philosophers have endorsed the view that the practical value of causal knowledge lies in the fact that manipulation of causes is a good way to bring about a desired change in the effect. This view is intuitively very plausible. For instance, we can predict a storm on the basis of a barometer reading, but we cannot avoid the storm by manipulating the state of the barometer (barometer status and storm are effects of a common cause, viz. atmospheric conditions). In §1 we present textual evidence which shows that this view is very popular. In §2 we show that this standard view is too restrictive: the practical value of causal knowledge is wider. In §3 we introduce the distinction between ‘manipulative policy’ and ‘selective policy’ as a theoretical framework to account for this wider practical value.
Keywords causality  policy  manipulation  intervention  selective policy
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DOI 10.1093/analys/68.4.298
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